The Code

One of my favorite works of literature is the Middle English poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” 

Gawain is the nephew of King Arthur and the most valiant and noble knight of the Round Table.  He is a Christian and lives by a strict code.  In fact, the five points of his code are etched into his shield—kindness, brotherly love, a pure mind, courtesy, and piety.

One semester, not long ago, I was discussing this code with my students. 

So, what do you think? I ask.

“It’s too hard,” one of my students says.

“What do you mean—It’s too hard?  Shouldn’t these characteristics define our behavior?”

“You can’t be nice to everybody,” he says.  “I work in a shoe store and this old lady comes in and she asks me how much a pair of shoes is and I told her the price was right there on the sign and she asked me again so I said the price hadn’t changed—it was still 30 dollars just like on the sign.  Then she asked me if I was sure the sign was right because 30 dollars sounded like too much, and I said, ‘Lady I don’t set the price it’s 30 dollars’ and then I walked off.” 

“So you were mean to an elderly woman?”

“I wasn’t mean. I just got impatient with her.  She was being impossible and I lose my patience with people like that—You can’t be nice to everybody.  You can’t love everybody.”

“Jesus loved everybody,” I remind them.

The entire class groans.

“Jesus was God—He was perfect.  You can’t compare us to Him.  There’s no way we can be like Jesus.”

“We’re supposed to try,” I say.  They are quiet.

“What’s your own code?” I ask them.  They are still quiet.  I try a different approach.  “So is there a code here on campus?”  And one of them replies, “You shouldn’t get drunk.”

“Okay, so sobriety is the first part of the code.”

“And gambling—You shouldn’t gamble.” 

“No gambling.”

“You got to act like a Christian.”


“And you can’t curse.”

“No cursing.”

“You shouldn’t dress suggestively.”


“And you can’t dance.  Unless it’s a university approved event and then you can only dance twice a year.”

“This looks like a really good Southern Baptist code.”

Everyone laughs.

“So, how do these rules resemble your own personal code?”

This time a few of the students respond.

“I try to be open minded.”

“I try to do better and to be better every day.”

“I try to be tolerant.”

“I want to lead by example.”

“I try to do the right thing.”

“How do you define the right thing?” I ask.

“I just try to do what I think is best.”

“But what is your framework for that? I say. “How do you know what is right?”

“I just rely on myself, and if I think it’s right, I do it.”

“So you go on instinct.  You go with your gut.”

“Yes—I do what I think I should do and I don’t care what others think.”

“That could be dangerous, right?  Not to have a framework or a foundation for your code?”

No response.

“You want to know my code?” I ask.

“Love God—Love my wife.  And don’t do anything in private that I wouldn’t do in public.  Basically, stay out of trouble.” 

They all laugh.

“What—You can’t picture me getting in trouble?”

They can’t.

“You can’t picture me getting mad at the driver that cuts me off or is going too slow or the school bus that stops in front of me to let a kid off and I have to wait and I’m late for an appointment?”

“You gotta be careful with that Dr. C because you have an ETBU sticker on your car.”

“Yes.  That’s what my wife says—Be careful.” 

“So—How about Galatians 5:22-23?”

“The fruit of the Spirit,” they say.

“Yes. Do you know them?”

A lot of them do. 

“Are these too hard?  Because they aren’t that much different from Gawain’s code.” 

I can see they are thinking. 

The class ends.  I tell them goodbye.  And I remind them to keep the faith.    

And I pray that they keep thinking—about what it means to have a code.  And what the code looks like.  And where the code comes from.  And I pray for a miracle in my class—that my students will come to know Jesus and that they will love Him deeply and follow Him faithfully. 

I pray hard for the miracle of renewed minds and transformed lives.



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Stan Coppinger

Professor of English at East Texas Baptist University

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5 thoughts on “The Code

  1. I really appreciate this blog. I’m going to have to keep thinking as well. Thinking about what code I live my life by, or more so what I should strive to live by. Thank you for sharing this piece.

  2. I think really highly of this blog post Dr. Coppinger. I really appreciate that fact that you care so much for your students.

  3. I will tell you what my code is I learned it while in the USAF it is
    Integrity first
    Service before self
    Excellence in all I do
    I may not always succeed at meeting this code, but I strive to do my best.

  4. I would argue that your love for other people is pronounced enough that it deserves a code item as well. Loved this post.

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