The Training of Saul - Acts 9:20, 22

20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God. . . .” 22Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.
Acts 9:20, 22 (NRSV)

“Don’t get an education,” the pastor told me.  “If you’re called to preach, just preach.”  He was convinced that all I needed to be a pastor was the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  He told me that if I got an education it would be a slap in the face to God; like saying, “You’re not enough.  I need an education too!”  As evidence he pointed me to Saul’s (soon to be Paul’s) conversion story.  And he’s right; Saul seems to have launched right into a ministry of proclamation.  But there’s a lot more to Saul’s story than these two verses.

There is no denying that he immediately displays an affinity for what we might call apologetics.[1]  But we can’t forget that at this point Saul is no ordinary Jew.  He was a disciple of the renowned Jewish teacher, Gamaliel.  Even he acknowledged that his Jewish education was thorough and exceptional for a man his age.[2] In his letters he displays a massive educational background that encompasses everything from Stoic philosophy to Jewish Mysticism.[3]  The operating feature, however, of his education is that it was not an end unto itself.  

We’re going to learn a lot about Paul over the next months, but allow me to plainly dispel the idea that Paul gives us a model of leadership that doesn’t include education.  To the contrary, the Holy Spirit seems to have used his education to a great advantage for the Church.  Now I don’t want to suggest that a pastor has to have a formal education.  There are lots of places around the world where that is impossible.[4]  But I do think it is imprudent and unnecessary to beleaguer pastoral education.  In my own pastoral experience I have found my education to be incredibly helpful.  I hope you’ve found it helpful.  And that’s the point I want to get at, River Street, you have resources.  You can rely on those resources in a way that sets them up as competitors with the Spirit, or you can submit then to the work of the Spirit. Paul, as much as any follower in history, understood that his education could be used in service to Christ. That’s what I want to do with my own education.  That’s what I want River Street to do with its building, it’s morning service, it’s Simple Supper, it’s office hours.  They can all, if used incorrectly, become a slap in the face to God, but they each can also be used to the benefit of the Kingdom.  There’s this great passage in Revelation where people are laying crowns at the throne of Christ.  I like to think that I don’t have to wait for the end of time to put my education at his feet.  Will you, with me and Paul, lay your crown down and pray, Jesus infuse this knowledge (crown) with your character of compassion and mercy and do with me as you wish, for I am assured the world will be better off for it

9And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, 11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Revelation 4 (NRSV)

[1] Apologetics is the art of defending the faith against scrutinizers. 
[2] See Acts 22:3 and Galatians 1:14.
[3] He uses a bunch of Stoic phrases and images in Colossians, but Christianizes them.  In Romans he repeatedly incorporates themes from 4 Ezra, which was a popular mystical Jewish text in the 1st Century.  For more on either of these you can check out my Dictionary of Paul and His Letters.
[4] Although less so than ever before and I think it is in the Church’s interest to continue to make pastoral education more and more available.


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