If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ,* the righteousness from God based on faith.
Let’s stay for another day on yesterday’s text from Acts, before we leave Paul and Barnabas in Antioch. You will remember that Paul had not been trusted when he came to Jerusalem, even though at least 3 years had passed since his experience on the Damascus road. It was Barnabas who had convinced the Christians in Jerusalem to accept Paul. But then his vigorous preaching there had gotten him into trouble and Barnabas and other friends had taken Paul to Caesarea and shipped him off to Tarsus, his home.
Tarsus – was where his family lived and engaged in their tent-making business. The city of Tarsus was located along what is now the southern coast of Turkey, and was a key city on the east-west trade route. Tarsus had been granted the status of a “free city” by the Roman Emperor, which meant they did not have to pay taxes to Rome. The city was known for its education and Greek culture. Paul’s father, however, was not only a citizen of Tarsus, but also a citizen of Rome. How did a Jewish tent-maker become a Roman citizen? No one knows, but likely by some service to the pro-consul fighting in the area in one of Rome’s many wars; later in Acts we will see that Paul is a Roman citizen by birth. His parents, however, were devout Jews, as we learn from Paul himself in his letter to the Philippians, which has been quoted above. Paul’s parents had raised him in the faith, carefully educating him in Greek, but then sending him off to Jerusalem at a young age, lest the foreign influences affect him. He studied in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel, the most famous of the first-century Pharisees, one whose writings are still studied by Jews today. Although no one knows for sure when Paul was born, it is likely that he was still in Jerusalem because he was continuing to associate with the school there, and with the Pharisees, after completing his own studies. So, we see a young man, avid in his faith, a defender of the faith as it has been taught him, feeling so strongly that he was actively persecuting the Followers of the Way.
But then, his dramatic experience of the risen Christ – Paul says that he actually saw Christ himself – changed his life totally. He preached in Damascus, and had to escape from there; he spent time in the desert in that region, probably 3 years – likely working through his own beliefs, and figuring out what he believed about Jesus, through prayer and scripture study. After that he went up to Jerusalem – but after a time had to escape there, and return to Tarsus. Now, how do you think his parents felt, or what did they think, when the son they had so carefully raised to be a faithful Jew returned as an advocate for Jesus of Nazareth? Perhaps they had already died – and Paul ran the tent-making business? Perhaps he preached in the surrounding areas. At any rate, it was some ten years before Barnabas sought out Paul to work with him in Antioch.