Commencement Speaker Pays Student Debt for Graduating Class

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Monday, May 20, 2019
Commencement Speaker Pays Student Debt for Graduating Class

Commencement Speaker Pays Student Debt for Graduating Class


There are more than four thousand colleges and universities in the United States. I’m guessing that none of them heard a commencement address quite like the one delivered at Morehouse College yesterday.

Robert F. Smith, a billionaire investor known as the wealthiest black man in America, told the crowd that he and his family would pay off the entire graduating class’s student debt. David A. Thomas, president of Morehouse, called Mr. Smith’s generosity “a liberation gift, meaning this frees these young men from having to make their career decisions based on their debt. This allows them to pursue what they are passionate about.” 

Mr. Smith’s gift may be worth about $40 million, according to Morehouse officials. 

“I have loved you with an everlasting love” 

Imagine that you were one of the 396 young men graduating from Morehouse yesterday. I can think of three reasons you might decline Mr. Smith’s remarkable generosity. 

You could do so out of a self-reliant determination to pay your debts yourself. You could refuse to feel indebted to Mr. Smith. Or you could consider yourself unworthy of such grace. 

Now let’s consider Robert Smith’s gift to the Morehouse graduates as a parable. 

The Creator of the universe considers our eternal life worth the death of his Son: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

Our Father loves us unconditionally: “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37–39). 

God’s love for us is unwavering: “His steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136:26). It “surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). It is inclusive: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1). 

In short, God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). 

Anything God has ever done, he can still do. 

However, for most of my life, I have struggled to accept God’s grace. It’s not that I think I can pay my spiritual debts myself and earn my way into heaven, or that I don’t want to be indebted to God. Rather, it’s hard for me to see myself as worthy of such love. 

I know my sins and failures, my guilt and shortcomings and weaknesses. I know how unlovable I truly am. You may feel the same way about yourself. 

It helps to remember that God’s love for us is not based on our character but on his: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). As a result, we can do nothing to deserve or to lose his love. 

But there’s another reason our Father values us so highly, one that has gripped me in recent days. 

Because God knows us better than we know ourselves, he knows what we could be if we were fully dependent on him. He knows the impact we could make on our culture if we were fully led by his omniscience and empowered by his omnipotence. 

He knows that what he did with his first followers, he can do with us. And he knows that what he is doing around the world, he can do in our culture as well. 

I’ve witnessed physical healings in Cuba. I’ve met people in Bangladesh who experienced dreams and visions. I’ve worshiped with believers in China who are risking their futures and even their lives to serve Jesus. 

Anything God has ever done, he can still do. What he is doing in one part of the world, he can do anywhere in the world. The difference is not in him but in us. 

“When I am weak, then I am strong.” 

I wonder if the way many of us devalue ourselves is limiting God’s ability to use us. Our performance-based culture teaches us that we are what we do. But nothing we do is good enough to earn the approval of a perfect God. 

So, we settle for what we have rather than seeking all that God wants for us. And we wonder why our churches are not more effective in reaching the lost and impacting our culture. 

It’s not that our God is too small, as J. B. Phillips warned in his classic book by that title. It’s that we are. 

The fact is, we’re right. You and I are too fallen and finite, too frail and flawed to change our broken world. The good news is that admitting our weakness is the key to experiencing our Father’s transformational strength. 

God cannot do for us what we try to do for ourselves. But when we admit how desperately we need God, we hear his radical response: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Then we can testify: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10). 

Being “poor in spirit” changes everything 

Jesus taught us: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). To be “poor in spirit” is to admit how desperately we need God. When we do, we make him our king and experience the “kingdom of heaven.” And we are “blessed” with his best for us and through us. 

Would God say that you are truly “poor in spirit” today, that you are utterly dependent on him? If not, would you pray for a vision of what your Lord could do with your life if you were? Would you then give him all you have to receive all he has for you? 

If we are not “poor in spirit” today, nothing will change. If we are, nothing will remain the same.

NOTE: God never spoke of the United States in the Bible. But the principles he set down in its pages are timeless and relevant to you today. 

If you want to know the Lord’s heart for our country, the best place to start is by looking in his Word, as I have done in my new book, How Does God See America?

Please request your copy when you give today.

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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Publication Date: May 20, 2019

Photo Courtesy: Public Domain