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Life in the City

Key Lessons Learned at Moody Bible Institute
  • Gary Chapman
  • September 8, 2021

Gary Chapman learned about Moody Bible Institute from his North Carolina pastor: “I know it is in Chicago, and I know it was started by an evangelist by the name of D. L. Moody. He was the Billy Graham of his day in the 1800s.” That’s all it took—he enrolled in the fall of 1955 and graduated in 1958. Now he looks back on his long ministry career, thankful for the impact of his Moody education. As a pastor and counselor who’s been married for more than 45 years, Gary’s written The 5 Love Languages and many other bestselling books. It all started with key lessons he learned at Moody.

I don’t remember much about the long bus ride from Salisbury, North Carolina, to Moody Bible Institute. What I do recall is arriving in Chicago, taking my two suitcases, and walking to the street and waving my hand at a taxi driver. In a few minutes, I arrived at 820 North LaSalle Boulevard, paid the driver, and walked through the Arch onto the campus of Moody Bible Institute. Little did I know that my world was about to radically change.

Since the boys’ dorms were full, I was assigned to live at the Lawson YMCA two blocks from the Institute. Moody had leased the fifth floor as additional space for young men. So I rolled my two suitcases down Chicago Avenue and looked up at the high-rise YMCA building. Living with a roommate from Iowa, I did something I had never done—learned to share a room with someone else. It was also at the YMCA that I learned to swim. I had never been to a swimming pool. (Life was different in the ’50s in small-town North Carolina.)

Moody’s curriculum was organized around vocational goals. There was the pastors course, the missionary course, the music course, the youth ministers course, and so on. Moody was a training school for students who felt led to pursue Christian ministry. Obviously, I chose the pastors course. The next three years, my life was filled with courses designed to train young men to be pastors. I studied Old Testament Survey and New Testament Survey. Then we had in-depth courses on individual books of the Bible. I studied Greek, hermeneutics, and homiletics. (I had never heard of these words.) In fact, I was exposed to many things I had never heard of before. It would be an understatement to say that my mind and heart were greatly expanded by my studies at Moody.

It was at Moody that I learned there were Christians who were not Baptists. (Go ahead and laugh.) In my small town, we did have a Methodist and a Presbyterian church, and I had heard about Pentecostals, but in my mind the Baptists were the real Christians. At Moody, I met students who had labels I had never encountered. I came to realize that the Christian family is much larger than I ever imagined. What really surprised me was that we all seemed to be more similar than different. We were all committed to Christ as Savior and Lord. We all wanted to follow His plan for our lives.

At Moody, I met students who had labels I had never encountered. I came to realize that the Christian family is much larger than I ever imagined. 

I also learned much outside the classroom. Each student at Moody had a Christian service assignment each semester. Every week, students were scattered across Chicago involved in various ministries. I worked in jails, hospitals, boys’ clubs, rescue missions, and more. The objective was to give students practical experience in ministry, not just classroom studies. I still have vivid memories of these opportunities to serve in the “real world.” I am deeply grateful for the impact these experiences had on my life. One memory that stands out is helping with an afternoon Sunday school for inner-city children. As students, we walked the neighborhood, from apartment to apartment, gathering children and walking them to our meeting place. Then we would teach them stories from the Bible and what we could learn from those stories. For those who were old enough to understand, we taught them how God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to show us how much He loved us. We explained the good news that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we could become God’s children and live forever with Him. I have often wondered what happened to each of those children. I am reminded of the story that Jesus told about planting seeds. Some seeds fell along the path and were trampled; others were eaten by birds; others fell on the rocks and among thorns. But some fell on good ground and yielded “a hundred times more than was sown” (Luke 8:8). I hope that some of our gospel seeds fell on “good ground” in the hearts of those children. Only Heaven will reveal the fruit of our seed planting. This side of Heaven, we will never know the full results of our efforts to love others as Christ has loved us, but I have learned to leave the results to Him and rejoice in the privilege of sowing seed in His name.

Mentoring kids. Gary Chapman with children in spring 1956.

It was at Moody that I learned to have a daily “quiet time” with God, to sit with my Bible and ask God to bring to my attention what I needed to hear from His Word. I developed the pattern of reading through the Scriptures a chapter each day listening to God and seeking to apply the Scriptures to my life. Nothing has impacted my life more than this daily time with God. It is a practice I have followed through the years.

Yes, I talk with God throughout the day, seeking His wisdom in whatever I am doing. But in my mind, there is no substitute for my “sit-down” time with God each morning. Another lesson I learned is that forgiveness does not remove all the consequences of wrongdoing. The professor had given us a test, and the following class, he handed out our test and asked us to grade ourselves. He went over each question and gave the correct answer. We were to give ourselves a check if we had answered correctly and an X if we did not have the correct answer. One question involved writing from memory a particular verse from the Bible. I don’t remember the verse, but I do remember that I missed one word. I had written a “that” when it should have been a “which.” The professor stressed that the quote had to be exact in order for each of us to give ourselves a check. I thought, “Who cares if it is a ‘that’ or a ‘which’? I got the verse correct.”

Later that afternoon I was plagued with the reality that I had given myself a check when it should have been an X. I could not shake the guilt. So I got on my knees beside my bed and, with tears, admitted to God that I had sinned. I arose knowing that God had forgiven me. If there is one thing the Bible teaches clearly it is that God will forgive anyone who confesses sin and asks for forgiveness. That is the central message of the Bible. Christ paid our penalty on the cross so that God could forgive us and still be righteous and holy.

Knowing that God had forgiven me, I also knew that I had to confess my failure to my professor. The apostle Paul said about himself, “I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:16). I had made my peace with God—now I needed to take the second step. I went to the office of my professor and told him what I had done. He thanked me for being willing to admit my failure and told me that he was certainly willing to forgive me. Then he said, “Now, I will have to take this to the ethics committee and let them decide what should be done.” That statement sent me into shock. I’m thinking, “What does this have to do with the ethics committee?” But of course, I said “okay” and walked out of his office.

A week later, I was informed that the committee had decided to give me a zero on the entire exam. My first thought was, “This is unfair. I made things right with God and the professor. Why would they want to punish me?” I wrestled with the question, “Does it really pay to be honest?” It took me a few days to work through my emotions, but I eventually realized that forgiveness does not remove all the consequences of sin. The Bible is filled with examples of this reality. Follow the life of King David in the Old Testament, and you will see this played out in his life.

I have never forgotten this (hard) lesson. Over the years in my counseling ministry, I have been able to help couples realize that when we fail each other in marriage, we need to confess our failures and forgive each other. However, forgiveness does not remove all of the consequences of our failure. Yes, a wife may genuinely forgive a husband who has had an affair, but forgiveness does not restore trust. Nor does forgiveness remove the emotional pain in her heart. Trust must be regained over time as he chooses to be trustworthy in the future. Emotional healing takes time and an understanding husband who does not tell her that she needs to “get over it.”

This lesson, learned as a young student, has served me well. It has become abundantly clear that when God says, “Don’t do that,” He speaks out of love. When He says, “Do this,” He also has my well-being in mind. All of God’s words to us grow out of His love for us.


Excerpt from Life Lessons and Love Languages: What I’ve Learned on My Unexpected Journey by Dr. Gary Chapman

About the Author

  • Gary Chapman

Dr. Gary Chapman ’58 is a pastor, bestselling author, and Moody Radio host.