The Education Expectation
Around the world, education is seen as one of the most valuable things a person could have. But we in the UK seem to respond either with apathy or idolatry when it comes to our education. Either we don’t care for school, or we fall into the trap of believing our education is everything: our livelihood, our future, our sense of worth and value to society.
School can so often be unbearably stressful as important exams draw near and teachers repeatedly threaten students with what will happen if they don’t put the work in. And there is no let up at home, with parents’ constant nagging to work hard to ensure a bright future. The truth is that more often than not, this well intentioned support seems to suggest that there is nothing more important than getting a good education.
It certainly is true that education is important, but aren’t I more than the grades, qualifications and letters I can put next to my name on a CV?
In Philippians 3, Paul shows off his qualifications, but not to show how great he is but to show how futile it is to find our identity in these privileges and achievements.
“If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” (3:4-6)
The first half of this list relates to Paul’s own family and ancestral heritage as he was born into a devout Jewish family, however the second half relates to his own personal accomplishments, among them his education. He was trained as a Pharisee with a deep knowledge of not only the Law of Moses but the detail of the traditions and laws of the Pharisees. In Acts 22:3 we can see that he learnt this from the famous Jewish teacher, Gamaliel and therefore had a highly regarded education; he mentions it because it gives him some status and authority.
However, in his own words, Paul counts all his privilege and qualification as proverbial dog-poo when compared to knowing Christ as Lord. The word the NIV translates as garbage, in the Greek is much better translated as dung, but who uses that word anyway, unless they are on a David Attenborough documentary.
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…” (3:7-8)
The point is clear. Paul more than anyone had a reason to boast in his own privilege and achievements, but knowing Jesus Christ as Lord is worth immeasurably more.
Does this mean we should not bother getting an education? As Paul would say, “By no means!” Of course education, knowledge and learning are good. I don’t need to tell you why it’s important to study hard; your parents and teachers will have no doubt told you a thousand times.
However, is it a reason for boasting? Is it where you find your sense of worth? Have you got your identity tied up in the grades you get or the university you’ve got into?
As hard as it is to realise sometimes, when our parents, teachers and society at large are telling us our future lives depend on our educational performance, the school or university you go to and the grades you achieve do not define who you are. Before God, we are seen as right and holy because of Jesus. We are loved and are a child of God, not because we’ve made the grade, but because Jesus took the exam, nailed it and got full marks!
Even if we are fortunate enough and smart enough to get the top grades and go to the best university, may we, like Paul, see it in perspective, considering these achievements nothing because of the surpassing worth of Jesus.