An Educated Man
“YOU behold his calling of you, brothers, that not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth.” (1 Corinthians 1:26) As these words indicate, there is a danger in being steeped in worldly wisdom or having a high social position. Such things can be a hindrance to one’s accepting the good news.—Proverbs 16:5; Mark 10:25.
Nevertheless, in Paul’s day some who were wise in a fleshly way did accept the truth, and one of these was Paul himself. Well educated and seemingly from a prominent family, Paul was a zealous evangelizer. He thus showed that privileged ones in this world can serve Jehovah if their heart is right. They can even use their secular abilities in Jehovah’s service.—Luke 16:9.
A Native of Tarsus
Paul was born in Tarsus, “no obscure city,” as he later described it. (Acts 21:39) Probably it was there that he gained a knowledge of languages—particularly a mastery of Greek—that was invaluable in his missionary work. Life in Tarsus would have exposed Paul not only to Jewish ways but also to Gentile culture, experience that he used in later years as apostle to the nations. He knew how to express the truth in a way that they could understand. (1 Corinthians 9:21) As an example, consider his speech to the Athenians reported in Acts chapter 17. There, he skillfully wove references to Athenian religion and even a quotation from one of their poets into his presentation of the truth.
A Roman Citizen
Paul had another worldly advantage. He was a Roman citizen, and he used this also for the furtherance of the good news. In Philippi, he and his companions were beaten and jailed without a trial. It was illegal to do this to a Roman citizen, and when Paul brought this fact to the attention of the authorities, they allowed him to remain and minister to the congregation before he left for his next destination.—Acts 16:37-40.
Later, when appearing before Governor Festus, Paul took advantage of his Roman citizenship to appeal his case to Caesar. Thus, he made a defense of the good news before the highest authority of the Roman Empire.—Acts 25:11, 12; Philippians 1:7.
Paul received training in a practical way that later proved useful. He was taught tentmaking, likely by his father. Thanks to this, he could maintain himself in the ministry when funds were low. (Acts 18:1-3) He also received an intensive religious education. He was brought up as “a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.” (Acts 23:6) Indeed, he studied at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the most illustrious of Jewish teachers. (Acts 22:3) Such an education, perhaps comparable to a quality university education today, suggests that his family was quite prominent.
A Proper View
Paul’s background and training offered a bright future in Judaism. He could have gone far. However, once he accepted that Jesus was the Messiah, Paul’s goals changed. When writing to the Philippians, he outlined some of his former worldly advantages and said: “What things were gains to me, these I have considered loss on account of the Christ. Why, for that matter, I do indeed also consider all things to be loss on account of the excelling value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”—Philippians 3:7, 8.
This educated man did not look back with longing on what he could have done with his worldly education; neither did he use his “great learning” to overawe others. (Acts 26:24; 1 Corinthians 2:1-4) Rather, putting full faith in Jehovah God, he referred to his previous prospects, saying: “Forgetting the things behind and stretching forward to the things ahead, I am pursuing down toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God by means of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13, 14) Paul valued spiritual things.
Nevertheless, Paul used that previous training in Jehovah’s service. When he said of the Jews, “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God,” he spoke from personal experience. (Romans 10:2) As a practicing Pharisee, he certainly had a zeal for God and for the Scriptures. After Paul became a Christian, his zeal was tempered with accurate knowledge, and he could use his early education for a righteous purpose. In the book of Hebrews, for example, he used his profound knowledge of Israelite history and temple worship to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian system.
Today some who are wise in a fleshly way also respond to the good news. People with all kinds of educational qualifications, as well as members of all kinds of professions and trades, have accepted the truth and used their previous training in Jehovah’s service. Nevertheless, whatever their secular education, Christians never lose sight of the fact that the vital qualifications are spiritual. These are “the more important things” because they can lead us to everlasting life.—Philippians 1:10.