Bible Study “Run (the race of faith) Resolutely Week of June 26-July 2

Week 4:  June 26-July 2, 2016

Read: Acts 17:1-15 (Mission in Thessalonica & Beroea)

These people (Paul and Silas) have been turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6c).  What a compliment for the life changing work of these Jesus followers.  In an agricultural metaphor, they were plowing the soil of people’s hearts, turning the soil upside down.  The stirring of the Holy Spirit was at work.  The truth is that wherever the Holy Spirit is at work, two things often happen: lives are being changed for good and for God and other people resist the good news and often stir up more resistance. Most commonly in the New Testament experience, resistance to the Spirit of God comes from the establishment or whomever has some power and control.

Looking in the mirror                                                                                                          Like most of us, I am a creature of habit.  My day has rhythm and it is quite routine.  I get up about the same time whether working, a day off or on vacation.  My route to work is almost always the same day after day.  I order the same coffee each morning and rarely if ever vary it. Some may accuse me of leading a boring life.  I would say that I am comfortable and enjoy life.

I have almost always relied on running to relieve my frustration and stress.  I have run for fun and relaxation and on rare occasion when I was younger for competition.  What suits me best is to settle into a pace, relax and run.  Then something had to go and change.  It’s my body.  I can no longer sustain longer runs at the same pace.

The choice is mine: I can listen to my chiropractor who has been urging me for years to switch to biking for the sake of my aging body, quit running all together or try and learn how my body can run at age 60.  Because I chose the latter, this means that I need to study and learn what my body may be saying to me these days.

In a nutshell, there are slow-twitch fibers in your muscles (the ones I train the most); medium and fast twitch fibers.  Building capillary capacity in slow, medium and fast twitch is all about pace.  Capillaries increase in number to deliver more oxygen (Magill, Schwartz, Breyer, Building Your Running Body, New York: The Experiment, LLC, 2014, p. 138).  One key for my sustained ability to run is to change up my pace training.  I need to add variety to my training, especially faster and shorter runs.

As a church and as a Christian, we run resolutely when we train with purpose and know the aim which Jesus has in store for us as his witnesses.  Our witness, if it is to be effective, always emerges from a loving attitude.  Unlike a judging attitude which looks for something wrong or something to condemn, a loving attitude looks for common ground and something to affirm.  With our eyes wide open to what God may be doing and a loving attitude toward anyone we meet, we step into God preferred purpose as we express God’s love in a smile, kind word, a curious question, and enjoy the unfolding conversation.  Let the Holy Spirit guide you.  If appropriate, name the name of the one who loves them so much – – – Jesus.

This is a new day for me in my training as a runner.  I am experimenting with this whole idea of changing the pace and distances of my running.  What’s going to work for me?  I do not know yet.  It’s trial and error.

Some of us at Grace Church are new to the idea of having our eyes wide open to what God is doing in our life, say nothing of stepping into the experiment of being a purposeful witness of God’s love in Christ.  It is trial and error.  Persistence is key.  We learn as we experiment.  We must keep our eye resolutely on the purpose of God in Christ.  God loves this world and the people in it.  God shows love to people distant from God and the church through you and me.

Paul did not do this work alone.  The first team included Barnabas and John Mark.  The second team was made up of Silas, Timothy and Luke.  The point is that we do not run resolutely with the purpose of God alone.  We are part of a church, a community of Jesus followers.  Share your stories of witness.  Pray for each other.  Where possible, involve another person in your mission.  Jesus sent his first followers out two by two.

Spotlight on Jason

The church in Thessalonica likely met in the home of Jason, the compatriot of Paul according to Romans 16:21.  According to this verse Christian tradition calls him Jason of Tarsus, the hometown of Paul.  Jason was a Jewish convert to the Christian faith who opened his home to Paul, Silas and Timothy who stayed with him during the few weeks the mission team was in Thessalonica.  As a base of operation for the fledgling Thessalonian church, sharing stories of Jesus, exploring what it means to live Christian and praying and worshipping God was likely a daily occurrence.  Jason’s house would be filled with Jews and gentiles who responded in faith in Jesus from Paul’s preaching in the synagogue and were hungry to learn and experience life in Jesus’ name, what we call discipleship.

The cost of Jason’s faith became clear in just a few weeks as a mob was formed in a strong reaction to this new Jesus movement in Thessalonica.  There was an uproar in the city.  They heard about Jason and went to his house and dragged him out together with others meeting there.  They were brought to city hall with the charge of serving another king other than Caesar.  Jason opened his heart and his home to a story and a people who threatened the Empire and irritated the religious institutions.  In the house of Jason in Thessalonica the church was born in this city.

The Reading

The story of the planting of the Christian church in Thessalonica, Macedonia (Acts 17:1-9).  The missionary team led by Paul and Silas travel along the Via Egnatia road (the main east-west road across Macedonia) and arrive in Thessalonica, the headquarters for the Roman governor and the leading city in the province of Macedonia.  The team was in this city for at least three weeks as Paul debates from Scripture in the synagogue on three Sabbaths.  The positive response to the message that Jesus is Messiah included a few Jewish men, many faithful Greeks and women leaders.

The negative reaction to Paul’s message and the supposed threat to the newly forming church in Thessalonica became volatile.  Together, the mission team and the new church community decided it was best that Paul and his team leave town immediately under the cover of night.  They left quickly for Beroea.

The story of the planting of the church in Beroea (Acts 17:10-15).  When the team was a safe distance from Thessalonica, they would have rested for the night before continuing their two – three day walk, forty-five miles south of Thessalonica.  The length of time in Beroea is unclear but it was long enough for Paul and his teaching in the synagogue to get a strong response of new followers including Greek women and men who were local leaders.  Word spreads back to Thessalonica of the activity of the Christian mission team who send agitators to stir up crowds (more than one action).  Some of the new Jesus followers took Paul to the coast and traveled with him by boat to Athens before they returned home.  Silas and Timothy remained behind to continue teaching and examining Scripture with the new church (v. 11).  Unlike Philippi with Lydia or Jason in Thessalonica, we do not discover the name of the house church host in Beroea.

The opening paragraph in today’s reading began with a few thoughts on the Holy Spirit as the power of God at work in and through the church and the resistance it often meets.  In Acts 9, when Paul was converted, the Spirit forewarned that Paul would face much suffering for  making Jesus as Messiah known.  We should not be surprised if we too find people who do not want to join us in following the Lord.  We have a ripe opportunity right now to change peoples’ lives with the love of the Lord; from despair to hope, from addiction to freedom, from adrift in a self-absorbed or success-absorbed life to finding our true purpose in the God of the universe and God’s son Jesus Christ.  We must learn to trust the Spirit who can take our best effort and use it to accomplish a God-thing.  The Spirit will give us insight and wisdom as we listen for the inner nudge that the Spirit provides.

I am convinced that God is and wants to accomplish even more life-changing work in our community in and through the people of Grace.  I need you to trust God in that truth!  Paul did not travel alone nor do this work alone, it was a team effort.  Grace Church and Preschool is just such a team that God has called and empowered with the Holy Spirit for this purpose in this and with eyes wide open to God’s possibilities, let us step into the Spirit and step out into our community and share the love of Jesus.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think there was such a strong reaction to Paul and the formation of a new Christian community in Thessalonica?
  2. How would you have reacted if you were in Jason’s shoes having opened your home to be the center of the church in this community?
  3. In order for a church to survive in the conditions in Thessalonica or Beroea it takes certain characteristics. What would you name as important for a church to survive and thrive in those conditions?  Do you possess those characteristics?  Why or why not?
  4. What do you think it requires to be a thriving church in our culture? What does that look like?