(this serves as a companion to yesterday's message)
Mrs. Copeland was the toughest teacher I ever encountered. She loaded us up with work in class, and then assigned projects to be completed at home. This seemed pretty onerous for sixth graders, and Mrs. Copeland also bore a no nonsense "Do your work or else!" demeanor that made her seem crotchety and cantankerous to many of her students. She actually wasn't (my mother knew her personally), but she believed her classroom persona required a bit of fearsomeness and even intimidation. Mrs. Copeland's method worked for me. I never more applied myself in school than the year I spent in her class.
"Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (II Corinthians 7:1).
The New Testament plainly teaches that a proper place for fear exists in Christians' walk with the Lord. Like Mrs. Copeland - and far more - our Heavenly Father knows that we require the honing of discipline, along with the encouragement of lovingkindness. Solomon taught that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of both wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). In the passage above, the Apostle Paul informs us that fearing God also has a place in the continuance of our growth in His grace and truth. The issue involves the love that seeks the best interest of its recipient, as opposed to pleasantries that might make us feel better while allowing harm to ravage our actual well being. Mrs. Copeland understood this in the academic sense, and instilled a healthy dose of fear in her students. Thus, the memory of her glimmers with the realization of her good will toward us, even as she sought to keep our noses to the grindstone. Even more, she serves as a good reminder of how God deals with us in both tenderness and firmness.
One more thing about Mrs. Copeland confirms my recollection of her. She gave me the first Bible I ever owned. One day, as class began, a group of gentleman entered our classroom carrying boxes. The men were members of the Gideon organization, a worldwide group of laymen devoted to placing the Scriptures in people's hands and hearts. The men opened the containers and distributed copies of the New Testament to each student. I can still recall the thrill of my first possession of God's Word. Mrs. Copeland saw to it that her students had access to the Gospel, and invited her Gideon friends to bless us with Scripture. I think about this often, and about her. It would be several years after her gift of the Bible that I came to know the Christ of the Bible. But I have little doubt that her love for the Lord, His Word, and her students had much to do with my salvation. "The Lord gave the Word: great was the company of those that published it" (Psalm 68:11).
I look forward too seeing Mrs. Copeland in Heaven. I'll thank her there, both for her toughness as a teacher, and her faithfulness as a witness to the Lord and His Word. Both aspects illuminated my heart to the Lord she sought to convey to her students. Thus, her legacy remains with me in this moment, and forevermore.
"Stablish Thy Word unto Thy servant, who is devoted to Thy fear."
Weekly Memory Verse
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.