“And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers”
And I advanced in Judaism
Before Paul became a Christian, he had a sterling religious career, for he “advanced” beyond many. “Advance” means to strike forward and cut a way forward. Secular Greek used this word to refer to pioneer woodcutters who went ahead of the army, blazing a new trail through the forest so the military could move forward quickly and without encumbrance. The idea here is that Paul innovated systems for furthering his religion. Paul, the Pharisee, obtained breakthroughs in dealing with this new religion called Christianity.
“They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee” (Acts 26:5).
beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation,
Paul surpassed other leaders in Israel. He had a brilliant career in Judaism. He outstripped his contemporaries in pioneering new areas for Judaism. He was a very successful Pharisee. Paul was notorious for his persecution of the church. He was brutal and bloodthirsty with his religion– infamous for his opposition to Christianity. Religion has a tradition of brutality.
“I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished” (Acts 22:4-5).
“Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities” (Acts 26:9-11).
being more exceedingly zealous
Paul clearly excelled above his peers in his commitment to eradicating Christianity. He was an uncompromising adherent to legalism. He went to any extreme with passionate intensity for his cause. Paul says, in effect, “I was a passionate professional persecutor of the church. In doing so, I was outstanding in my religion.” Even in the face of all this, the supernatural power of the gospel of grace brought him to the Savior.
for the traditions of my fathers.
Paul lived for legalism. His tradition was one of religious rules that went beyond the Law of Moses. These rules defied compliance. There was not the slightest orientation to grace in his background. It was a performance and works mindset based on ancestral tradition. All his previous education and prejudices were the polar opposite of grace.
Some people use religion as a platform for self-advancement.
Many people use religion to gain standing among their peers. Their main goal is to impress people. They desire to be noticed. Self-promotion creates a sense of rivalry.
Religion has a history of brutality. Religious history is full of intolerance and prejudice. We should turn in our faith if it makes us intolerant toward others.