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May 8th, 2019

"Under Authority"

From: "The Walk: The Life-Changing Journey of Two Friends"


3Trust in the Lord and do what is good;

dwell in the land and live securely.

4Take delight in the Lord,

and He will give you your heart’s desires.

5Commit your way to the Lord;

trust in Him, and He will act  -Psalm 37: 3-5

  I had to get special permission to take Bill's Life of Paul class since it was a graduate class and I was still an undergraduate.  I tried first to get into his New Testament 100 class, but it was already full.  Had I known what I was getting myself into, I would have put off studying under Dr. Lane for a year or two, but one of the great graces of God is that we rarely know what we are really getting ourselves into.

  On the first day he strode into class, armed with his syllabi.  He stood before the class, looking us over, seeing if we were ready to hear what he was about to say.

  "I am William Lane," he said with a seriousness that made me uncomfortable.  "And all you need to know about me is, I am a man under authority - the authority of God's Word, the authority of the Lordship of Jesus Christ!"

  At the outset he wanted us to know that even though we would be under his considerable authority for the semester, he too was a man under authority.  This knowledge marvelously leveled the professor and his students without undermining him in the least.

  From that moment, though I barely knew him, I experienced something unique about our relationship.  My ears seemed to be tuned to his voice.  I am, even today, able to recall practically everything he ever said to me.  It was as if God had designed my ears to receive this man's wisdom.

  Bill loved to use the example of two tuning forks.  "If you take two C tuning forks, tap one and simply hold it next to the other, the one that wasn't tapped will begin to resonate.  It's like that with hearts as well," he would say.  "Sometimes when we hear God's Word, something inside our hearts starts to resonate.  That is because we were created to hear His Word."

  Bill lectured with an infectious enthusiasm, often pacing between the rows of seats.  Occasionally he would embellish a lecture with a booming hymn that originated more from a Christ-centered childlikeness than from naiveté.  His class became the high point of every week.  Being prepared was not a priority, but the priority.  Making an A wasn't the point; pleasing him was.

  The middle of the term came before any of us realized it.  Bill had not yet given us any papers to write or any tests.  In student terms this meant that an inordinate amount of weight would be accorded to only a couple of exams.  In a class like the Life of Paul, that was a pretty scary prospect!

  Finally, close to midterm, Bill announced that he would give a test at the end of the week.  He would be out of town at a professional meeting, so a graduate student would proctor the exam.  Bill would return the next Monday.  We would "be responsible" for all the material up to this point .  He might as well have said, "You will be having your heads chopped off on Friday."

  We all crammed as best we could in our desperate little study groups, going over reams of class notes.  To emphasize the importance of the exam, I seem to remember we were even given the day off before the test to prepare.  That Friday we came together, not unlike our forefathers gathering in the bowels of the Roman arenas, waiting to be thrown to the lions.

  In reality it was worse than we had imagined.  None of us had even seen a test like this.  Pages and pages of questions asking for lengthy interaction on the smallest and most obscure points.  Not a fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice question to be seen anywhere!  The exam called for Ph.D.-level responses.  I remember staggering out of the room somewhat dizzy and wondering if it was too late to drop the course without getting an "incomplete."

  Bill returned on Monday, as he said he would.  The graduate student who met his plane was reported to have said, "Your Life of Paul students are dropping the class like flies!"

  The next time class met, there were already several empty seats.  I only came back in order to ask him in person about dropping the class.  Bill didn't seem fazed at all as he walked in with the pile of graded test papers under his arm.  He proceeded to hand out in silence, walking up and down the aisle, placing the papers facedown on the proper desks.  He did not have to call out each individual; he already knew all our names.

  I didn't even look up at him when he came to my desk.  I turned the paper over; "43" was written in red at the top!  I tried not to let my face show my emotions, lest one of my classmates might be looking at me.  I'm dead, I thought.

  When Bill was done passing the papers out, he sat down casually on his desk at the front of the classroom.  The expression on his face indicated that he was about to say something important.  My guess was that it would be one of his favorite phrases.  "Lo rachamim."  Hebrew for "No mercy!"  I can still taste the fear in my mouth at the sound of his mischievous words.

  After a long pause, he began.  "I want you all to know how disappointed I am in you."

  I thought, This is going to be worse than I imagined.

  "I want you all to know that I am disappointed in you because you did not trust me."  The tone of his voice sounded hurt.  "You should have known that I would adjust the grades, given the low scores."

  I had heard Bill speak from his intellect for some six grueling weeks.  This was the first time I remember ever hearing him speak from the heart.  In his characteristic naiveté, he could not understand why so many others had already dropped out without even speaking to him.

  "It is more important to say 'I trust you' than it is to say 'I love you,'" Bill often said.  We had not trusted him, and he was disappointed.  Moreover, he was hurt.

  Bill was the professor; we were the students.  He had the rightful authority to ruin us with those test grades - we had failed, and miserably so.  But Bill was a man under authority of a different kind.  He had learned that this kind of authority cares for its own and can always be trusted to give a compassionate response.

  That was when I decided I would take every class he offered.  I ended up doing that; in six years I missed only one of his classes - on the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I realized that I wanted to study with Bill, despite the effect it would have on my grade point average.  A hard-won C from him meant more than an A from almost anyone else.


For I too am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go! ’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come! ’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this! ’ and he does it.” - Luke 7:8

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