Keeping Education in Its Place
A SKILLFUL artist knows how to create depth. The details in the foreground are given greater prominence than those in the middle ground and background. It is much the same with our priorities in life. Some of them merit more prominence than others.
Jesus Christ said: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them.” (Matthew 5:3) Thus, spiritual values should be right up front. In contrast, material possessions should be of less significance.
Where does education fit into the picture? It is certainly not an insignificant detail to a Christian. Some amount of secular education is usually necessary to fulfill the Scriptural obligation given by the apostle Paul: “If anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” (1 Timothy 5:8) Furthermore, the commission Jesus gave his followers, to make disciples, “teaching them to observe all the things [he] commanded,” requires that one ‘take in knowledge’ and then effectively instruct others.—Matthew 28:19, 20; John 17:3; Acts 17:11; 1 Timothy 4:13.
Yet, education must be kept in its place. It should not be pursued merely for the sake of shining scholastically or acquiring impressive degrees. Giving the pursuit of education undue prominence is self-defeating. Granted, it may provide some temporary material benefits. But as wise King Solomon observed: “You work for something with all your wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and then you have to leave it all to someone who hasn’t had to work for it.”—Ecclesiastes 2:21, Today’s English Version.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are interested in education, not for its own sake, but to enhance their usefulness in God’s service and to support themselves. Since their ministry is a nonprofit work, many have to rely on secular employment to make a living. This can be especially challenging for full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses, called pioneers. They must maintain an intensified schedule in the ministry while making adequate provision for themselves and their families if married.a—Proverbs 10:4.
After weighing the various factors involved, some of Jehovah’s Witnesses have chosen to undertake supplementary education. Of course, they have had to exercise caution in order to keep education in its place. What has aided them in doing this? “Several factors helped me,” says a young Brazilian named John. Even when I had to study at night, I did not miss Christian meetings. I also made it clear to my classmates from the start that I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Eric, also from Brazil, took advantage of opportunities to talk to others about his beliefs while extending his education. “I considered the school my special territory,” he says. “I was able to conduct Bible studies with several teachers and students, five of whom are now baptized, two of them serving as elders.”
Richard went back to school part-time to receive a degree in drafting. “My schooling helped me to find work to support myself and my wife,” he says, “but it also opened a door of opportunity. As I traveled to quickly built Kingdom Hall construction projects and spoke to those in charge, I learned that there was a need for draftsmen.b My education is now being put to good use in these projects. Additionally, my wife and I hope eventually to serve either at the world headquarters or on the international construction projects of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
At the same time, many of Jehovah’s Witnesses have met the challenge of providing for themselves and their families without extra schooling. “I support myself by doing housework two days a week,” explains Mary. “Ironically, I make more money per hour than some of the people I work for. But I view my work as a means to an end. It keeps me in the pioneer work, and I have no regrets.”
Steve feels similarly. “When I began pioneering,” he says, “some said to me: ‘What are you going to do if you get married and have a family? Will you be able to make ends meet?’ As it turns out, I’ve done so many different kinds of work that I’ve got experience in just about everything you can imagine. Now that I have a wife to support, I find that I am making more than some college graduates who work at our agency.”
Unbelieving fathers may have required minor children to take on supplementary education, and they have Scriptural authority to do this. However, in such cases, and in line with Matthew 6:33, youths may take on courses that will help them to become more useful in Jehovah’s service or even allow them to engage in the full-time ministry at the same time as attending a school.
The Greatest Education
All of Jehovah’s Witnesses, regardless of their educational status, have something in common. They recognize that the most important education available today has its source in God’s Word, the Bible. John 17:3 says: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” No matter what secular education a Christian obtains, taking in knowledge of Jehovah and his Son, Jesus, must be a priority.
This pattern was set by first-century Christians. Manaen was “educated with Herod the district ruler,” yet he was present and active among the prophets and teachers of the Antioch congregation. (Acts 13:1) Similarly, Paul received what today would be comparable to a university education. Nevertheless, after becoming a Christian, he kept his training in its place. Rather than using it to overawe others, he used his knowledge of sociology, law, and history to preach to people of all sorts.—Acts 16:37-40; 22:3; 25:11, 12; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Philippians 1:7.
First-century Christians were not known primarily for their educational status. Many were “unlettered and ordinary,” not having been trained in the rabbinical schools. But this does not mean that they were uneducated. On the contrary, these men and women were equipped to defend their faith—an ability that gave evidence of solidly based learning.—Acts 4:13.
All Christians, therefore, are keenly interested in education. At the same time, they endeavor to “make sure of the more important things,” keeping education—and any other endeavor—in its proper place.—Philippians 1:9, 10.
a It is noteworthy that highly educated apostle Paul chose to support himself in the ministry by means of tentmaking, a trade that he likely learned from his father. Tentmaking was not easy work. The goat-hair cloth used, called cilicium, tended to be stiff and rough, making it difficult to cut and sew.—Acts 18:1-3; 22:3; Philippians 3:7, 8.
b The expression “quickly built” refers to a highly organized method of construction developed by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The volunteers who work on these projects are not paid; they give freely of their time and resources. Each year in the United States about 200 new Kingdom Halls are built, and another 200 are remodeled using this method.
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A Well-Earned Recommendation
The year before his graduation from high school, Matthew thought seriously about how he could support himself while pursuing a career as a full-time minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After prayerfully considering the matter, Matthew and his parents felt that further education would be an asset to reaching his goal. Thus, he applied for a scholarship. Matthew’s school counselor added a letter of recommendation, stating:
“During the past two-and-a-half years, it has been my pleasure to be Matt’s counselor and friend. Matt is a well-grounded individual . . . He is deep in faith and strong in conviction, which permeates his relationships and actions.
“Over the years, Matthew has been training for the ministry. A minister of his faith does not receive any monetary compensation. It is truly a labor of love. A selfless young man, Matt is thoughtful and considerate. This scholarship can provide a means of support for this man of faith to continue his training and volunteer work.
“Speaking of volunteer work and community service, Matt has conducted countless hours of door-to-door preaching on weekends and after school and during summers. He works within the community and with a broad cross-section of people. Matt has demonstrated his leadership abilities and skills in conducting Bible studies with both the young and the old alike. . . . He is able to inspire people and help them reach their true potential. Within the classroom, teachers have commented that he is always a positive influence. He leads class discussions and is a powerful debater. . . .
“Matt is one of the finest young men that I have had the pleasure to counsel. He is well liked and respected by his peers and teachers. His integrity is of the highest caliber.”
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Jehovah’s Witnesses are interested in education primarily to become more effective servants of God