The Holy Spirit hasn’t revealed a lot about the personal life of the Apostle Paul. In fact, there are relative few details about any of the great characters of the Bible. But there are little snippets from time to time about David, Abraham, Nehemiah and Daniel. And then every once in a while Paul pulls back the curtain just a bit to let us look into his closet.

In this second personal letter to Timothy, his son in the ministry, he does just that. There is quite a bit of interesting information in the scripture we just read, but I want to focus on one point. And that encourages us to look even further back to the beginning of the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. I want to consider the education Paul received throughout his life, and how it was continuing even as his life was drawing to a close. The great teachers in Paul’s life included his parents, Gamaliel, Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And, in addition to some other factors, besides life in general, I believe that his education involved reading.

This will be a simple lesson. But I’m sharing it with you because I believe that most of these things should be a part of our lives as well. I have given this the title: “The Education of an Apostle,” but it could be an example of any of God’s saints.

For Saul, before he became known as Paul, his education began with his parents at home in Tarsus.

It was a cultural duty of every Jewish mother to teach her daughters to be good mothers and homemakers. And every father taught his sons the scriptures, the Jewish traditions and the trade his father taught him. So scripture tells us that Paul was a tentmaker, with experience in tanning hides and preparing leather. But then along with the ability to earn a living, with the help of the local rabbi and synagogue, he also learned the Old Testament scriptures.

I wonder if Paul’s love for Timothy was due in part to seeing a reflection of himself in that young man. Saul, grew up, among heathen unbelievers, not too many miles from where Timotheus grew up. And while Timothy’s father was an unbeliever, his mother’s side of the family were strong in the Jewish faith. This induced Paul to write in chapter one of this letter: “I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also” – II Timothy 1:5.

How long did Saul stay in Tarsus, growing and learning at the feet of his father and rabbi? I have no idea. I also don’t know whether or not his father was that rabbi. But I do know the great value there is in growing up in a house where the Word of God is love and shared. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” – Proverbs 22:6. The foundation Saul received at home eventually produced fruit in the godly Apostle Paul.

Eventually Saul was sent to Jerusalem to learn from one of the great masters there – Gamaliel.

Much later, in his defense before a Jewish Mob, and before he was sent to Rome for trial, he said in Acts 22 – “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.”

I can only guess why Saul was sent away to the big city, and those guesses include: He was a prodigy, a genius, who so impressed his rabbi that he pushed the boy toward a higher education. Perhaps that man personally knew the great Rabbi Gamaliel, and made arrangements for the boy. Maybe Saul’s father was living out his own dreams in the person of his son. We have no idea how old Saul was at the time, but he was certainly a lot older than Samuel had been when Hannah sent him to learn under the High Priest, Eli. If I had to guess, I’d say that Saul was twelve, give or take a year or two.

Most likely there were very few students in the school of Gamaliel. The education was basically one on one. So, this was an extreme honor for a young man. It appears that Saul was obviously going places in the religious world. And the quality of his education was most likely exceptional.

Now – have you ever considered Luke 2 in the light of history of Saul of Tarsus? I am not saying this actually took place, but wouldn’t it have been interesting if it had? Turn to Luke 2:41 – “Now (Jesus’) parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. If Jesus was visiting with the great doctors of the law in Jerusalem, it was likely that Gamaliel, one of the greatest of them, was among them. And if Gamaliel was there, what was the likelihood that his students were also there? How old was Jesus at the time? Twelve you say? Is it possible that Saul, as a student, shook hands with this amazing country bumpkin from Galilee? And if that actually took place what would he have thought about the wisdom of young Jesus? Was he impressed? Did he see a potential rival? Did he think that Jesus was a heretic? In some way, Christ may have been a part of Saul’s education when he was about twelve years old.

For the next twenty years or so, Saul was learning the doctrines of the Pharisees.

Some of those doctrines were true and valuable, but many were false and dangerous. Isn’t that true of life in general, and true of the way in which we were educated? Many of us grew up in the midst of evolution, agnosticism, humanism and some other poisonous ism’s. Condemn public school education if you like, we were raised in it – and still God saved us. The Lord is still working miracles. I am not defending public education, but it is not a guaranteed dead-end in the Lake of Fire.

Saul continued to study, but while it was religious, it was not a truly Christ-based education. And then at some point his sophomoric attitude kicked in. In many schools – high school and college, in the first year, the students are called “freshmen,” then follow the “sophomore,” “junior” and “senior” years. Sophomores, kids who have successfully completed their first year, often look down on incoming, ignorant freshmen. As you may know, the word “sophomore” comes from a combination of the Greek terms “sophos” (which means “wise”) and mōros (which means “foolish” or “mornonic”). A sophomoric attitude includes conceit, pretentiousness and intellectual over-confidence. At some point it seems quite clear that Saul because moronic in the application of his religious wisdom.

After another ten or fifteen years, he may have considered himself to have surpassed his teacher. He was spreading what he believed he had been taught, teaching in the synagogues of the Libertines, and Syrenians, and Alexandrians, of them of Cilicia, where he had been born, and of Asia – Acts 6:9. Gamaliel had shown some restraint and wisdom in dealing with Christ and the Christians, but Saul did not. By the time we see him in Acts 7 he had become a murderous bully. When Stephen was executed for “heresy” – they “cast him out of the city, and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” Saul was captain of the mob who murdered Christ’s martyr Stephen. That is what bad education can do to a person.

But then Saul met Christ, in Acts 9, and a new phase of his education began.

I will skip over the details of Saul’s conversion, because we have touched on it many times over recent months.But that is when he began to learn the truth, because Christ is “the way, the truth and the life.” If he never learned another thing, but he knew the Lord as Saviour, he could be considered well taught.

As you know, at the time of his conversion he was blinded, seeing nothing for three days – Acts 9:9. For three days he didn’t eat, he may not have slept, he didn’t read or apparently talk with anyone. For three days his education took a very different turn. And under the ministry of the Holy Spirit, he had time to sift through all that he had learned about God from the scriptures he had been taught. With the witness of the Lord in his heart, he sifted, screened and filtered everything he thought he knew. Did he realize that it was the Holy Spirit who was his teacher at that point? He may not have known. Just as we may not be fully aware that the Spirit is bringing scriptures into a new light within us. But then the physical light was restored by way of a miracle through Ananias. And I’m sure that Saul learned a great deal asking questions of Ananias and listening to his words.

But then he went from Damascus out into the Arabian desert.

It is commonly said that Galatians 1:15-17 reveals that Saul spent time in the seminary of Christ Jesus. “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem…” Scholars argue whether all of these three years were spent in Arabia, but that is a possibility. Whatever its length, Saul became intimately familiar with his Saviour, and with the doctrines of Jehovah. He was able to straighten out the confusion of the Pharisees into the doctrines of Bible Christianity.

And it set him on a path of growing closer and closer to his Saviour, worshiping Him and serving Him the way that Christians ought to worship and serve. It became his motto, his goal and the joy of his earthly life, “that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” Reading through Paul’s epistles, it seems that he was never content with what he knew of the Lord at that moment. He was ever learning and never able to come to the ultimate knowledge of Him who is the Truth.

Paul also began to look on the wisdom and education of others differently. By the time hel came to Athens, he was familiar with the literature of the heathen. He was able to quote and use the education of the Greeks to point them to the Christ of the Scriptures.

During this time his learning about Christ was with the purpose of sharing what he learned of Christ. We are given the gospel to share the gospel. We are given Bible truth – Christian doctrine – to share that truth with others. The Lord hates – I don’t mind using that strong word here – the Lord hates the person who hoards anything, especially the good things of God. Look at Jesus’ parables to see illustrations of this hatred that God has. We have been given a Christian education for a purpose – to teach what we know of the Lord to others. Paul spent his life doing just that – learning and sharing – learning and sharing – growing and giving away.

And that brings us to our original text – II Timothy 4:13

Timothy, “the cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.” At this time, Paul, was confined to some sort of Roman prison, with not much of an open ministry. It appeared to the eye that Paul’s life was just about over. He says, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” – 1:6. But he was not sitting around on his hands, wasting his time. He was still learning, still growing, still actively drawing closer and closer to his Saviour. When I go on a trip, as we just did in Tennessee, I study maps, visit websites, and try to become familiar with the area I hope to visit. I believe that Paul was doing the same sort thing spiritually.

“Timothy, I need you to bring the books and parchments.” I have read and heard various guesses as to what those books and parchments were. And all I can do is add to those guesses, because no man knows for sure. I have read scholarly articles explaining the differences between books and parchments, but they really don’t add much – except confusion. But my two cents worth of opinion is that these materials did not include the scriptures. I can’t believe that Paul had been in Rome for a while without carrying the 39 books of the Old Testament and perhaps the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John with him. So were these requested books, copies of some of his own epistles or the writings of his friend Luke? It is possible but not necessarily so, and we just don’t know.

Whatever they were why did he ask for them? I have read that he wanted to bequeath them to Timothy and Titus. But why should Timothy bring them all that way, just to carry them home again? My opinion is that Paul wanted material to read and study during the winter months which were coming on. I think, he was still learning and growing, still reading and re-reading good material. I think he was doing what we all should be doing – striving to grow in our Saviour, Christ Jesus. Yes, we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit for this, but the Lord usually uses means to attain that goal. This growth is especially important the nearer we come to the moment when we actually look into Jesus’ face.

I will close with this one question: How much will your education affect your eternity?

Will both the saint who has come to know Christ through intimate conversation and service, be recognized by God only as much as the man who only knows that Jesus died for him? Will the man saved “yet so as by fire” be honored as much as the real student/disciple of Christ? How much of our time, our work, and our pleasures will be burned up as wood, hay and stubble? If we are feasting on God’s Word, and devouring the best that Christian authors have to share with us, won’t those things constitute at least some of our gold, silver and precious stones?

At the end of his life, Paul was saying, “bring me some good books to read and study.” He wasn’t going to let the last few months of his dying mind and life go to waste. And neither should we.