As an educator and school administrator, I have participated in many school-year-ending activities, including graduations. One of the interesting things about graduations is that – like many endings – it is also a beginning, which is why they are also called commencements (the dictionary definition of “commencement” is “a beginning or start”). During these times of celebration, there are often speeches and recognitions given that serve to remind the audience of where these students have come from and to challenge the students in their future direction. These speeches could be considered as words that motivate, inspire, and direct as young people go out into the world – or, words to (literally) go by.
Many years ago, when I was asked to deliver a commencement address at a graduation ceremony, it was this idea that prompted me to think of examples in Scripture that might qualify as commencement speeches. I started looking for stories that showed someone giving or receiving some kind of “send-off,” a speech or challenge that provided motivation and direction to that individual as he prepared to begin a journey of life or ministry. There were three that came to my mind. All three describe events in which God spoke to a person, speaking words that give us an important lesson, as the person was being sent out by God. It seems that God was giving words to go by.
The first example is that of Adam, who could be said to be the father of mankind. He, along with Eve, had brought sin into world, and now they were being sent out of the garden. However, God still had a plan unfolding and wanted to bless them, so before sending them out, He issued a challenge (or perhaps a directive) in Genesis 1:28 when He said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” God provided Adam and Eve with a calling to care for His creation, and to be a manager and leader over the earth. As a faithful follower of Jesus, these words to go by are for us a call to do what God calls us to do, and do it well.
The second example is that of Abram (his name had not yet been changed to Abraham), who could be said to be the father of Israel. God knew the role that Abraham was going to play in the founding of His nation, so spoke to Abraham before sending him out on his mission. Genesis 12:1 tells us that God directed Abraham when He told him, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” God provided Abraham with a calling to embark on a mission as one chosen by God to represent Him, even without knowing the outcome or ultimate destination (he only knew that God would show him at the right time). Again, as a faithful follower of Jesus, these words to go by for us are a call to go where God sends us to go, and be His ambassador.
The third example is that of Jesus, who could be said to be the father of Christianity. Jesus had not yet begun His ministry, and until this point people only knew – by way of John the Baptist – that the Messiah was coming. Jesus approached John the Baptist while he was baptizing people, and John immediately recognized the Savior. Jesus was then baptized by John, officially initiating His ministry, and at that point God spoke from heaven and said, in Mark 1:11, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” God provided Jesus with words of encouragement to begin His ministry, knowing the rejection and pain He would experience. Once more, as a faithful follower of Jesus, these words to go by for us are a call to be who God made us to be, and live to please Him.
Regardless of where you are serving or in what capacity you lead, these are three valuable challenges that we can carry with us into our ministries for the rest of our lives. As you commence from this moment in time – as you go from here – remember these words to go by:
- Do what God calls you to do, and do it well
- Go where God sends you to go, and be His ambassador
- Be who God made you to be, and live to please Him