I used to live near a hardware store that employed a man I’ll call Tom. Tom seemed to be in a foul mood every time I saw him. With a scowl, a quick step, and a loud, curt voice, he gave the impression of wanting to get this over with so he could move on to the day’s next annoyance. His belt and pockets bristled with useful items—keys, multi tool, utility knife, flashlight, pens, tape measure—as if he expected trouble and figured he may as well be ready for it. It was unpleasant to be in Tom’s company.
Tom was also the most helpful person I’ve ever met in a hardware store. If I needed an odd-sized bolt, a way to join two different kinds of pipe, or a tool for performing some singular task, Tom was the man to see. Once, after making a purchase at Tom’s store, I nearly broke my car key. This key took a special jiggle to make it turn, and this time it twisted and nearly snapped in two instead of turning at all. I took the key back into the store and gave it to Tom. Tom straightened the key, made a copy of it, and scolded me for letting it get so badly worn. Copied keys are often inferior to their originals, but this new key was a marvel, working smoothly and needing no jiggling.
Even after that I didn’t enjoy being with Tom. I couldn’t see into his heart, but his conduct always felt disrespectful. Tom’s demeanor must have driven some customers from his store in spite of his remarkable competence.
As a teacher, I’m sometimes bothered by a sense that I’ve been performing a task rather than loving and serving people. All of my knowledge, experience, and effort as an educator is sterilized when I don’t love my students. Sooner or later, they will realize that I’m feeding them like livestock rather than nurturing them as children. I shouldn’t be surprised when they start learning and behaving like livestock, too.
But when I love my students, my labors are exponentially more fruitful. I am sensitive to their unique needs and preferences. My lessons are designed to help them learn, not to be easy for me to present. Discipline centers on redemption and restoration, not punishment. My students will learn to trust me; even when I make mistakes they will know that I had their best interests at heart, and we can move forward together. As Colossians 3:14 says, love “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (ESV).
Doesn’t that sound great? We’ll see how it goes with my eighth graders today. It’ll go just fine if I, as instructed by Paul in Philippians 2, put on the mind of Jesus (whose relationship to me is not unlike my relationship with the smelliest, most uncouth 14-year-old in my classroom).