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2. Week Two: A Unique Race

Soul Food

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others.

Paul in Galatians 6:4 MSG

The Christian race isn’t a sprint nor is it a competition. Rather we run a great endurance race together in community that requires perseverance and faithfulness to finish well.

God designed each of us for a particular race. Some of our races are more visible while others involve more difficult obstacles. Just as God creates us with certain physical attributes, he also gives us spiritual gifts that fit his purposes for us as individuals. As Jesus’s disciples, we’re designed by God to fill particular places of service. Each of us runs a unique race, so comparisons with others take the focus off the goal.

This week we’ll consider Paul’s race. Although we don’t have the same call from God as Paul, we can learn how to run and finish well from him.

Consider memorizing your Soul Food verse. It’s a message we often need to remember.

Part One Study

When Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he already fervently loved God, but that encounter caused him to understand the fullness of what that meant. He recognized that Jesus was one with the God he had always served. His path was no longer persecuting followers of Jesus but making them.

From last week’s study we saw that the Lord described Paul to Ananias as “. . . my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15–16). Years later Paul quoted Ananias’s words about him: “The God of our ancestors has already chosen you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear a command from his mouth, because you will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:14–15).

We’ll eventually read about these other occasions when Paul shared his story. At one point he spoke before Governor Festus, the Jewish King Agrippa and his sister Bernice, sharing with them some of Jesus’ words on the Damascus road: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet, for I have appeared to you for this reason, to designate you in advance as a servant and witness to the things you have seen and to the things in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:15b-18).

From What You’ve Read Today, State In One Sentence God’s Purposes For Paul’s Life.

So what happened then? How did Paul begin fulfilling that call on his life? Below is a chart outlining what Paul did in the years immediately after he began following Jesus.

As you go through the chart on the next page, read as many of the verses as you can. Before that, however, read the Part One questions on page 22 so you have them in mind as you read.

Paul’s Early Travels

This chart adopts the chronology found in Rediscovering Paul.1

Bible passage

Location

What happened there?

Dates

Acts 9:1-19b (You read this in Week One)

Trip to and time in Damascus

Jesus revealed himself to Saul & called him to obey. After Ananias laid hands on him, Paul regained his sight and was baptized. Soon left for Arabia.

Total 3 years

A.D. 34-37

Galatians 1:17

Arabia

Paul spent time in Arabia.

Galatians 1:17; Acts 9:19b-25*

Damascus

Paul proclaimed Jesus in synagogues, amazing everyone and confounding them by proving Jesus was the Messiah. Some Jews plotted to kill him, but Paul escaped in a basket over the city wall.

Galatians 1:18-20; Acts 9:26-30

Jerusalem

Paul met with Cephas (Peter) for 15 days, seeing only him and James, the brother of Jesus. Hellenists tried to kill him so he returned to Tarsus.

A.D. 37

Gal. 1:21 & possibly 2 Cor. 11:23-27

Syria & Tarsus in Cilicia

Preaching

A.D. 37-46

Acts 11:25-26

Antioch

Barnabas, having been sent to Antioch by the church leaders to check out the new church there, went to Tarsus and got Saul. They taught great numbers of people there.

A.D. 47

Galatians 2:1-10; Acts 11:27-30**

Jerusalem

2nd visit to Jerusalem with Barnabas & Titus taking a gift to church for famine relief. Paul checked out the accuracy of his gospel presentation with church leaders. James, Cephas, and John approved & agreed Paul would go to the Gentiles while they went to Jews.

A.D. 48 (based on 14 yrs. from Paul’s conversion)

Acts 12:25

Antioch

Return to Antioch with John Mark

A.D. 48

*Some scholars place Acts 9:19b-22 (Paul’s time teaching in Damascus) after the trip to Arabia and some place it before. Luke, the author of Acts, simply skips the Arabian stay, forcing speculation as to the specific chronology since he spent time in Damascus both before and after Arabia.

**There is debate as to whether Galatians describes Paul’s visit to Jerusalem in Acts 11 or the one in Acts 15.

Now Record Your Insights Into Paul’s Early Days Of Following Jesus With These Questions In Mind:

  • What insights do you have into the man Saul as he grew as a disciple and witness for Christ?
  • Describe the reactions to Saul from the various people he encountered after his life changed. How do you think you would have reacted and why?
  • What do these passages reveal about God?

*** Consider what you’ve learned about Barnabas from the verses in the chart and also in Acts 4:32-37. Do you need a Barnabas in your life who believes in you and encourages you? If so, where can you put yourself with strong Christian women who’ve walked with God longer than you have? Once you connect with someone, ask her to coffee to simply talk and ask questions about her life and her walk with Christ. If you want to meet further, ask her if she would meet with you periodically. OR perhaps YOU need to be a Barnabas for a younger believer. Look for women who need to be encouraged to recognize and respond to opportunities to serve God.

Part Two Study

Today we’ll read an incident in Acts 11 which begins when Saul is in Tarsus in Cilica, as noted on the chart on Part One. Then we’ll read in Acts 13, which occurs after the dates on the chart.

Read Acts 11:19-26 and Acts 13:1-4 (c. A.D. 48). Then journal your thoughts on these questions:

  • What impresses you about the church in Antioch?
  • How did God use this church in connection with his purposes for Paul?
  • What does this story reveal about God?
  • What is God saying to you from Paul’s story?

In our individualistic society, it seems reasonable to push for what we believe is God’s agenda for us rather than wait on God’s Spirit to confirm his will for us through the church body. When God is ready to send his people forward, you can bet that he can and will. He is sovereign over all.

***Read the story in John 21:15-23. What is Jesus’ answer to our tendency to compete with others in the race of the Christian life?

Part Three Study

Today we’ll investigate Paul’s unique race further. Paul is called an apostle. The word apostle is the Greek word apostolos, from the verb meaning to send. It means one sent, an ambassador. “It designates the office as instituted by Christ to witness of Him before the world.”2

Read these passages and then comment on the questions below: 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, 9:16-17; 2 Corinthians 5:18b-20; Colossians 1:25-29; 2 Timothy 1:8-12.

  • What is the common thread in what Paul says about his ministry? Why do you think he emphasized this in his letters to various churches?
  • How does that relate to the ways Paul adjusted his life in order to follow God’s plans for him?
  • What is God saying to you from these verses today?

Despite having grown up in the church, I was clueless that God prepared each Christian for a unique race which requires his/her God-given gifting. Once I realized that God expected me to use my gifts, I needed direction as to what they were. My Bible teacher suggested that God would give me a desire to do the work for which I was gifted. At that time the only thing that sounded remotely interesting to me was teaching the Bible because I had been greatly influenced by a former teacher, so I asked God for an opportunity to use that gift if I had it. The next morning the leader of our small group Bible study asked me to step in and lead at the last minute because she woke up very sick. I was scared to death, but I couldn’t say no when I’d prayed for a chance to do that very thing. To my surprise, teaching the Bible gave me energy and excitement, and despite me, God used me. Before I had that teaching opportunity, I had served in other ways, but my efforts were unsuccessful and totally tired me out—good clues I didn’t have the needed gifts.

Clearly, Paul’s call was more specific than most of us experience because Christ personally identified his ministry. We, however, often have to eliminate and try out possible gifts to be sure.

  • What do you know about your spiritual gifts and the strengths that God has given you? Plan to share that with your group. How do you need to adjust your life to use those gifts and follow him? If you don’t know, ask your group for suggestions of where to start.

God’s kingdom work depends on all of us doing our part. As we work together in our various areas of gifting, the Holy Spirit works through us and God receives the glory. You are essential to the work of God in this world. Discover your gifting, learn from those who have that gift, and serve.

*** Read the New Testament passages on spiritual gifts: Romans 12:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:4-16; 1 Peter 4:1-11. Ask for input from several believers who are knowledgable about spiritual gifts as to how they see you gifted, OR volunteer in an area of interest and ask for input about how it went. How did you feel about serving in that way? Find out how others think it went. Feel free to contact us at BOW3 for help discovering how God has made and called you.

This week’s story is from Jana who discovered the passion that helps her fulfill God’s calling.

A Runner’s Story: Jana

I’ve always had an affinity for working with women and children. They’re whom I’m most comfortable around and seem to relate to the best. I really became aware of this when I started traveling, both for fun and on mission trips.

On my mission trip to Africa, I ended up helping with the nightly service for children. I so enjoyed interacting with them, playing games with them, and teaching them how much God loved them.

On my trip to China, I went for the purpose of determining how best our church could help with children’s ministries. I ended up having lots of encounters with the mothers and other women there and had the opportunity to encourage them and see the challenges they were dealing with. This inspired me to try and connect them with resources here that would help them with studying God’s word and receiving training on how to teach and lead women.

These encounters helped me realize how much the women and children here at home also need training, encouragement and love. They inspired me to seek ways of helping here at home. Wherever God leads, I hope to have more opportunities to serve women and children.


1 Capes, 78–79.

2 Spiros Zodhiates, Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1992), 238.

3 https://beyondordinarywomen.org/contact-alternative/

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