Run (the race of faith) Resolutely
A six week study on Acts 16:1-18:23
Out of nowhere Mike showed up at our conference track meet in his green and yellow Graceville High School track uniform. The Kelly green uniform against his white skin made him look all the paler. It was the final meet before districts to qualify for regionals and then on to the state meet. Graceville did not even have a track team that year and Mike had never run in a track meet before. “This ought to be fun to watch,” I thought to myself.
Mike looked even stranger as he stepped out on the track wearing white high-top Converse basketball shoes. He was untrained and had only run a few times from his farmhouse to the barn. The event was the two mile run. The rest of the field were all kids I knew as we had all run in the previous twelve or so meets that spring. My teammate Scott and I had won all of the two mile races that junior year of high school. The only question was would it be Scott or me who would win conference that year.
The gun sounded as the race began. Mike took off running as if it were a hundred yard dash with his knees pumping high and his elbows flying. I recall smiling to myself thinking he would die before he even finished the first of eight laps around the track. To my surprise, Mike was a quarter lap ahead of us at the end of the first lap. By the end of lap two, Mike was half a lap ahead of us. By the midway point of the race, Mike was three quarters of a lap ahead of us. I was shocked and my heart was sinking. Mike won conference that year beating Scott and me by half a lap.
Mike ran with a fixed focus. He never looked back. Our theme verse for this six week study on the second missionary journey of Paul and Silas is from 1 Corinthians 16:13-14: Keep alert, stand firm in your faith (run resolutely), be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love, (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). While the verse literally says we are to stand firm in our faith, it lacks movement. There is value in standing strong on the promises of God. As we read and discuss the sending nature of God in Acts, we know that God sends us among our neighbors, family and co-workers to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus. Run resolutely means to live and be sent by God with purpose and unwavering determination. What is that purpose? God wants all people to know and experience the amazing love of Jesus. How does that happen? God works through people like you and me!
Consider these verses. Paul wrote: For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.1 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19-24). And, I do not run aimlessly (1 Corinthians 9:26a), or put in the positive: I run resolutely.
This six week study is shamelessly written to convince us as a church and you as a follower of Jesus that we have been called and sent by God to show and tell the love of Jesus. We can complain all we want about the negative changes in our community, country and world but it will change nothing. What can change our community is to introduce people to the life changing power of Jesus. When we connect with the life-giving purpose of the God of love it changes us from being self-absorbed to see with eyes wide open that there is greater joy in life when we serve God and others.
The Great Commandment to love God and love others is written on all of our hearts by the Author of Life but many of us cannot read it. We need someone who has read it, understands it and can come alongside us to help us discover this truth – the truth of Jesus Christ. This is the purpose of our church and of our life as Christians.
Some of you may be saying that you could never do that – talk about Jesus or share his love. That is what I thought about Mike. He had not trained nor run in races before. I would not have believed that Mike could win a two mile race without ever having run competitively. Mike fixed his eyes, moved his feet and the rest is history. God has given us everything we need and it is called the Holy Spirit. God is calling us as a church and you as a follower to “run resolutely” by purposely living and showing the love of Jesus so that others may come to believe and be part of God’s mission in and through his body the church. Are you willing to be used by God for God’s purpose? I challenge you to step on God’s track, move your feet and see what happens!
We will be reading and discussing the second mission trip of Paul and Silas in Acts 16:1-18:23. While I love running and it may not be your cup of tea, the Looking in the Mirror section will introduce some running information tied to our run resolutely discussion of the purposes of God. Each week will include a sketch on various workers in God’s mission. At Grace, we stress the importance of community: to worship God, encourage and strengthen faith together, build relationships and serve and witness together. Like a human body that needs all its body parts working together to be strong and healthy, we need each other as a church. This is God’s design. This section will underscore that God’s mission in the book of Acts included way more than Paul. It was a community effort – the work of a team together. Finally, there are discussion questions for you to discuss with others.
Keys to understand how God works:
- It all begins with God. God initiates a relationship with us and we respond. God persistently pursues and woos us because God is a God of love – a relational God.
- It’s all about relationships. Life is a collection of relationships. God created us for relationships – to love God and people…the Great Commandment (Luke 10:25ff).
- God works through people. A major way that God get stuff done on earth is through imperfect people like you and me. People come to discover and believe in God through the witness of others.
- Changed circumstances often lead to new discoveries. When your road of life comes to an intersection, you have to make a directional choice which can lead to something new. Transitional times in life like an illness, relational break-up or job loss can disrupt our patterns of comfort enough that we may be open to discover that life’s truest meaning is found in others: both in God and other people.
- No one is beyond God’s ability to reclaim and recycle for good and for God. All people have a root of good because God created everyone and everything God created is good. Jesus never gave up on anyone. He saw potential in everyone to find their true home in the God who created them. We are to be salt and light to others to bring out the best in them and point them to the love of Jesus.
- There’s no perfect time, just the right time. With Eyes Wide Open any time can be the right time to see God at work in others as well as our own situation.
As you review or read over these statements, which ones matter the most to you? Why? Are there any of them that do not make sense to you or matter less than others? Why not? Are these statements communicated often enough so that our church can grasp and live them out? Or are we boring you by repeating them too many times?
Week 1: June 5-11, 2016
Read: Acts 15:36-16:5
It was time for Paul and Barnabas to return and do a follow up visit on all of the churches they had planted in Asia Minor during their first mission trip (Acts 13-14). Their work was not completed by converting a few followers of Jesus and doing some preliminary discipleship training. There simply was no way that they could preach, teach and organize the newly formed church in a brief one to two month stint in any given city. It was time to check in: Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing, (Acts 15:36).
Looking in the Mirror
Start small. Be consistent. Make sure it’s doable. For any runner starting out on a new running discipline, these three simple statements are important for sustainable success. One of the biggest killers of discipline is trying to do too much too soon. This fact can be observed every year when the calendar flips and new Christmas gym gifts have been opened and New Year’s resolutions made. The gym is filled with new faces in new workout outfits for the first few weeks. Some burst in, aggressively exercise and find themselves in so much pain the next day they do not return. Others stay longer but when their normal routine kicks back in they cannot justify the gym time.
Consistency is what trains the body and the mind. Consistent conditioning of the body strengthens and reshapes the muscles. It is best to start small and increase gradually. Take a day off to rest, stretch and replenish the body. Be committed to consistency. And above all, know what fits in your day and life so that you do what is doable for you.
Spotlight on Timothy
Timothy is a Greek name which means one who honors God. Timothy is a co-worker and traveling companion of the Apostle Paul during the second missionary journey. Timothy, along with his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois were Jewish Christians from the city of Lystra in southeast Asia Minor (modern day Turkey, see the map in Appendix 2). Timothy was likely converted to Christianity during the first time Paul and Barnabas visited and preached in Lystra (Acts 14:8-20). When the witness of Paul led a person to faith in Jesus Christ he referred to them in his letters as my child (see 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Timothy 1:18).
Paul also called the members of the house churches he plants his children. I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children…Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church, (1 Corinthians 3:14, 16-17). Paul invested a great deal of himself in teaching the Christian faith as well as its practical application in daily life and as a church community.
If Timothy’s family was Jewish, as the Acts account asserts, they had not been very religious Jews because Timothy was never circumcised (Acts 16:3). Timothy and Eunice and perhaps even Lois are Greek names, not Jewish names. Unlike Paul and Barnabas whose Jewish names were Saul and Joseph, we only know the Greek names of Timothy and his family.
Timothy’s father was a Greek. Religious Jews, as a rule, did not marry outside of their faith. This is an additional fact that points to Eunice being a Hellenized and not overtly religious Jew before she became a follower of Jesus. However, when this household heard the call of the gospel, we may assume they became passionately involved in the mission and ministry of the local house churches. The church in Lystra and Iconium (located 24 miles northeast of Lystra) evidently knew Timothy well enough to testify to his Christian character. They saw Christ reflected in his life.
Paul, Silas (called Silvanus in the letters of Paul), Timothy and perhaps others departed from Lystra and traveled northwest across Asia Minor to the seaport city of Troas (its ancient name is the historic city of Troy made famous by the legend of the Trojan horse). They sailed across the Aegean Sea to the island of Samothrace and on to the seaport city of Neapolis (See Appendix 2). From the port, they walked on the famous Via Egnatia roadway (connecting Byzantium or Istanbul today in the East across Macedonia the Adriatic Sea in the West) ten miles to Philippi. Do not be deceived: this was not a Mediterranean cruise! Pirates occasionally presented a challenge. Shipping vessels were for commerce and military transport so there were no passenger ships. Passengers slept on the deck above the cargo hold. The distance from Lystra to Philippi was about 665 miles.
Paul and his companions would have traveled by foot on stone paved Roman roads at a pace of 12-15 miles a day. This was often hilly and demanding travel. Provisions and places of rest when traveling to new cities and regions created its own challenges. When the church was planted by either persecuted Christians who fled to a city and formed a house church or was planted by the evangelical work of evangelists like Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy or other disciples of Jesus, the new followers of Jesus occasionally opened their homes to these workers of the gospel. This provided Paul and his companions a place to stay in future travels. Otherwise, as a tentmaker, Paul could stitch a tent for the team.
Timothy became a partner in the work of the Lord in several different ways. First of all, he likely served as the scribe for a number of Paul’s letters including the first letter to the Thessalonians 1:1 – Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians (note the use of “we” in the letter, ie. 1:2). A similar greeting and use of “we” appears in the second letter to the Thessalonians. The second letter to the Corinthians, the letter to the Philippians and the Colossians all include Timothy in the greeting together with Paul. Timothy was an important part of the correspondence with these four churches.
Secondly, Timothy was a co-worker and emissary of Paul (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Paul wanted to return to the church in Thessalonica while he was in Athens but he was prevented from returning (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18). Instead, Paul sent Timothy as his ambassador to strengthen and encourage the church (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Timothy also served as a messenger to Paul from the Thessalonian church (1 Thessalonians 3:6).
In the first letter to Timothy, it makes clear that Timothy was a young pastor: Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity (4:12). It may be Timothy’s youthfulness that caused some conflict when Timothy served as Paul’s representative at some churches. Immediately following Paul’s words of sending Timothy on his behalf to the Corinthian church, he anticipates their negative reaction: But some of you, thinking that I am not coming to you, have become arrogant. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people, but their power. For the kingdom of God does not depend on talk but power (1 Corinthians 4:18-20).
Furthermore, Timothy must have been a bit timid or shy. Paul went on to conclude his letter to the church in Corinth: If Timothy comes, see that he has nothing to fear among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord just as I am; therefore let not one despise him (1 Corinthians 16:10-11). Timothy may have suffered from some illness as well: No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments (1 Timothy 5:23).
Whether we are talking about the church in the days of Paul or Martin Luther or today, one thing is certain, it is made up of people. Pastors, evangelists and lay people are all imperfect. Conflict, disagreements and misunderstandings happen. By the time Second Corinthians was written, even though Timothy and Paul wrote the greeting, it is Titus who became Paul’s representative to the church in Corinth (see 2 Corinthians 7:6, 13-14; 8:6, 16, 23, 12:18). Timothy continues to work closely with Paul and other churches. We may try to be “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:22), but who we are we fooling – we will not please everyone. We can only try to do our best and let go of the rest!
Significant relationships emerge out of the conversations where trust is built. It often takes time to build trust and to prove you are trustworthy. Trust builds confidence in the relationship. It is possible to learn something about a relationship when trust is burned one time. If trust is burned a second time, who is the fool to trust yet again?
There is much about the departure of John Mark during the first mission trip that we do not know. Was there a death in his family? Was Mark ill? Did the team have a disagreement? Or was it simply for some personal reason that Mark returned to Jerusalem. No matter, Barnabas wanted his cousin Mark to rejoin the second trip. Paul on the other hand felt his trust had been broken. Unity in the team to minister and work effectively was important to Paul. This is evident in his letter to churches who were divided or had conflict. Paul always pushed for the idea of unity. A trustworthy core makes a team strong and effective.
As a result, Paul and Barnabas parted company and divided up into two mission teams. This was a significant decision and like any such break up, it had to be painful. When many Greek-speaking Jews in Antioch became followers of Jesus, the church in Jerusalem wanted to know what was happening so they sent Barnabas as their representative. In other words, the church in Jerusalem found Barnabas trustworthy and gifted in communication so he was sent to Antioch. When he saw the amazing grace of God at work in Antioch (Acts 11:19-26), Barnabas traveled west to Tarsus to locate and retrieve Paul who he must have heard preach in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-30).
Barnabas recognized a special gift in Paul as an evangelist and teacher. It is clear in the biblical story that Paul was also as an evangelist, a church planter and not a pastor or local shepherd of a congregation. God gives all different types of gifts to plant, grow and guide the Christ’s church. Barnabas likely had a gift of teaching and encouraging the church in its health and formation. For the year they spent teaching and organizing the house church in Antioch and during the first mission trip, Barnabas and Paul were a complimentary team. It was an incredible season together.
When the wheels came off around the decision on Mark, it reminds us that we do not know what the future holds in a relationship. The difference in perspective blew the partnership between Barnabas and Paul apart. Divorce or a break-up is often nasty. It is painful but when a relationship becomes unmanageable staying together can be even more nasty or painful. Some of us do relationships well, others of us have known the challenge of relationships. No matter what, God is compassionate and forgiving.
God honored the call (Acts 13:2-3) and blessed the work of Barnabas and Mark as they returned to Cyprus and Paul and Silas as they returned to Syria, Cilicia and Asia Minor. While the story of Barnabas and Mark disappears from Acts after chapter 15, it moves forward with the overarching story of Paul and now Silas and Timothy. While we do not want to minimize the pain of the break-up of Barnabas and Paul, we cannot ignore the fact that two teams were now busy extending the mission of God and strengthening the baby church.
- What is God putting on your heart or mind as a result of this reading?
- How has our stigma about divorce hurt the church and its mission?
- What example can you think of where division ends up in multiplication?
- What is your prayer?