One of the most educated and credentialed men in the world is Dr. Hardial Singh Sainbhy. He has earned a total of thirty-five degrees in many different subjects. He holds 15 masters degrees and five doctoral diplomas and numerous bachelors degrees including one in law. He is obviously a highly intelligent individual and has worked hard throughout the years. His accomplishments are worthy of great respect and admiration.
In our epistle reading, the Apostle Paul reminds the Galatians of his credentialed life. "I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors." As a Pharisee Paul was a student of the great Rabbi Gamaliel who was greatly respected. Paul himself appears to have had great admiration among his peers. Paul was quite the credentialed individual.
Whatever plans Paul had in mind for himself, God had other things in store for the apostle-- "But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles..." It was certainly the case that God would use Paul's credentials. In reading through his letters we can see a skilled interpreter of Scripture at work in reasoning through the Good News as the fulfillment of Israel's sacred writings. There is no doubt that God used Paul's Pharisaic training, but Paul's credentials were in and of themselves not sufficient for the work God had called him now to accomplish after his conversion.
There is one important point Paul wants to make in reference to his credentials earned and the call received. The credentials were given by a human authority, but the call came from God-- "I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus." The credentials came before the call in order of timing, but the call comes before the credentials in order of importance; and God would use Paul's accredited character in service to his commission to preach the gospel to the nations.
Credentials come in many forms. Yes, there are formal credentials that come from institutions of higher learning, vocational and trade schools and certificates in one form or another. There are also the unofficial credentials that come from experience and on-the-job training. No matter what our training and knowledge, for Christians our credentials must be in service to the call. The churches in Judea rejoiced when they heard the news that "the one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy." The call was what made the difference and it was what gave Paul his authority.
Sometimes the credentials come before the call; at other times the call determines the credentials. But whether the credentials are appropriated by the call or the call shapes the credentials, what is ultimately important is not the order in which one follows the other, but the singular importance of one over the other.
The credentials are always in service to the call.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)