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3. Week Three: A Bold Runner

Soul Food

Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Courage requires overcoming fear—fear of others, fear of loss, fear of all sorts of consequences. Out of self-protection, we often shy away from speaking truth. As Christians, we’re called to be bold because we trust in God—not that he’ll protect us from all harm but that he’ll go with us through any hard consequences and reward us in the end for being bold in the face of suffering for Christ.

I can’t think of any biblical character, except Jesus of course, who better exhibits this kind of courage over the course of many years than Paul, as we’ll see. This week’s study focuses on that aspect of his character.

Part One Study

Last week we read that the Spirit told the church leaders to send Paul and Barnabas out on God’s work (Acts 13:2). We’ll see today that they took with them a young man, John Mark (Acts 12:25; 13:5) the author of the gospel of Mark, on what we now call Paul’s first missionary journey. You might want to download a good online map of Paul’s trip or look in the back of your Bible if you like visuals. (I found this free map1 easy to understand.)

As you read the stories, notice Paul’s boldness—a necessity when spreading a revolutionary message. In a world that called Caesar Lord (Greek Kyrios), the gospel called people ruled by Rome to embrace Jesus as the one and only Lord (also Kyrios), serving him alone. As N.T. Wright says, “Paul’s ‘missionary’ journeys . . .were aimed at the establishment of a new kind of kingdom on earth as in heaven. A kingdom with Jesus as king. The kingdom—Paul was quite emphatic about this— that Israel’s God had always intended to set up.”2

The last page of this lesson (p. 30) provides a chart listing the places Paul visited on this first journey

—for those of you who like keeping track of such things. As you read about this mission trip, fill in the chart as you go.

Read Acts 13:4-14:28, And Write Your Insights Into These Questions:

  • How do you see Paul’s boldness on this journey?
  • What do you learn about Paul and Barnabas’s strategy from this first missionary journey?
  • What do you learn about God from these stories?
  • What is God saying to you from these stories?

*** Read from Bible study sources and commentaries about the places and/or events that interest you from this reading.3

Part Two Study

We ended Part One with Paul and Barnabas back in Antioch where their first mission trip began. “And they remained no little time with the disciples” (Acts 14:28 ESV). It was likely during this furlough that Paul wrote the first of his thirteen epistles in our Scriptures, the letter to the Galatians, a region where he had planted churches on his previous trip.

From the outset of Paul’s ministry, he met Jewish opposition, as we’ve already seen. But resistance also arose from Jews who, like Paul, now followed Jesus. Their transition from the Law of Moses (given only to Israel) to the church (comprised of Jew and Gentile) was a hard one.

Wright explains: “It wasn’t simply that the idea of the One God becoming human was a shock to the system … It was, just as much, that the implications of all this for the ancestral way of life were either not clear or all too disturbingly clear. Paul’s own question, what it would look like if the One God created a new single family of ‘brothers and sisters’ in the Messiah, had potentially revolutionary answers. And traditional societies do not welcome revolution.”4

Many of these Jewish believers insisted that it was necessary for Gentile believers to follow the law of Moses by being circumcised. Paul’s letter to the Galatians indicates that such men had arrived in Galatia after his visit there, convincing the new believers that they must be circumcised. The authors of Rediscovering Paul point out the seriousness of the issue: “For Paul himself … the question of law was not merely academic. It threatened to divide the body of Christ.”5

***God’s covenant with Abraham required men to be circumcised to be members of God’s covenant people. Read Genesis 17:9-14 where God initiated the covenant of circumcision. Read Exodus 4:18-20, 24-26 for a strange story that emphasizes how strongly God felt about its necessity. Journal your thoughts.

Read Galatians 5:1-6 First, And Then Read Galatians 2:11-14, Filling In The Chart On P. 30 And Journaling About The Questions Below:

  • What was Paul’s stand on the need to circumcise Gentiles who followed Jesus? What do you find in Paul’s language that suggests the importance Paul gave to this issue?
  • Imagine Paul publicly calling out Cephas (Peter), an apostle who walked with Christ long before Paul did. What do you think you would have done if you had seen Peter and other leaders pleasing a group of Jewish Christians by refusing to eat with Gentile Christians (likely because of the Law’s dietary restrictions)? Why? Consider what message their actions sent about the church to Gentiles and why this rebuke was a public one. Journal your thoughts.
  • Read Acts 16:1-3. (We’ll reread these verses next week as we look at Paul’s second journey.) Read also Galatians 2:1-5, contrasting how Paul treated the issue of circumcision differently with Timothy and Titus. Consider what made their situations different. Note: Although by the 2nd Century A.D. Jewish law decreed that a child with a Gentile dad and Jewish mom was considered Jewish, he still had to be circumcised.6
  • How, where and/or with whom is God asking you to be more bold?

The church today is divided on many issues. Some of them are gospel issues while others are secondary. Racial unity takes on added importance when viewed as a gospel issue in light of Paul’s message in Galatians. (BOW’s conversation on the subject “Leading Toward Racial Reconciliation —It’s a Gospel Issue” is available on video or podcast.)7

When is it right to take a strong stand and when do we simply live in peace? Paul’s position provides guidance regarding divisions that undermine the gospel that says all are sinners and all Christians are one in Christ. But many issues aren’t as central. You might watch BOW’s free video “Choosing Trustworthy Resources 3--Determining the Central Truths of our Faith”8 for helpful guidelines. (The whole series is available on video or podcast.)

Part Three Study

After Paul completed his first missionary journey, he spent some time in Antioch and then went down to Jerusalem for an important meeting (c. A.D. 49) purposed to deal with the kinds of theological issues we’ve already seen arise because of Gentile believers (Acts 15:1-6). We now call it the Jerusalem Council. Keep in mind that the early church was made up of Jews and Jewish proselytes for several years (before Acts 10 when Peter shared the gospel with the Gentiles), so including Gentiles involved questions that the church had not previously dealt with.

*** Read Luke’s account of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:1-35. Journal anything you find significant about the issues that Paul boldly stood for in his letter to the Galatians. What do you learn from the leaders of this meeting?

Now Read Passages From Paul’s Writings That Help Us Understand His Courage Or Boldness In The Midst Of Many Difficult Hardships. Write Your Thoughts From The Questions Below On These Verses: Romans 1:15-17; 15:14-22; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, 14-16; 2 Corinthians 1:8-11; 3:11-12; 4:7-18 (Including Our Week’s Verses); 2 Timothy 4:14-18.

  • From the hints in these passages from Paul’s letters, how would you describe what motivated Paul’s boldness?
  • What do you sense in these passages about what made it hard for Paul to courageously keep going at times?
  • What is God saying to you this week about your own boldness? If you feel you have failed to be bold, ask God for forgiveness and the faith to trust him when you should be bold.

This week’s story is from Dr. Sandra Glahn, Professor at Dallas Seminary.9 I asked her to write it because I so admire her bold, yet gracious way of standing for truth.

A Runner’s Story: Sandra Glahn

My husband and I endured years of infertility that included multiple pregnancy losses, failed adoptions, and an emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy. And all that heartbreak spanned a decade before we finally had the successful adoption of our daughter.

Along the way, our spiritual journey resulted in a public ministry. It started when I attended an informal support group for fertility patients. Among these friends I found that when I shared my own heartache with strangers of other faiths or no faith, we often transitioned naturally into discussions about life’s big questions. Why am I here? Is there a God? Does he have a plan? And much as my heart was breaking, I found God always carried me. So, in speaking with those who walked alone, part of me wanted to tell of my hope. And doors opened for me to share with a broader audience. But a big part of me just wanted to keep my journey to myself.

A story God used to change my heart was the one in the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus heals a woman with a twelve-year menstrual issue (Mark 5:25–34). Rather than allowing her to slip away into the crowd without telling anyone about the goodness of God, Jesus calls out and asks who touched him. Busted. She comes and falls at his feet and tells him everything—her whole menstrual history and how he fixed it—right there in front of God and everybody. Why would he require that? So that everyone present might know he is God. And he is good.

Revisiting that story moved me toward more boldness. So, I began to share more. And to my pleasant surprise, I found that my openness contributed both to others’ healing and also to my own as I saw God using me.

Decades later, that experience has spilled over into other areas. For example, my infertility journey led me to explore lots of questions about God’s design for men and women. Is motherhood actually a woman’s ultimate calling? Did God make men to lead and women to follow? Can we take verses with commands to wives and husbands and assume from them something innate about men and women? Does a closed womb mean God’s disfavor? So. Many. Questions. And in answering them, I’ve had to relook at the Bible but also at influences of culture, including my evangelical Christian subculture. Consequently, as I’ve gone public with what I’ve learned, I’ve had thousands of conversations with men and women about “the role of women.” Sometimes that topic makes people angry. People sometimes make assumptions about my motives. And my character. But I try to share freely. Because after many conversations on this topic, other people make statements like, “I finally feel like I have wings,” and “So God doesn’t like men better than women” or “So I don’t have to be an Alpha Male to be a good man?”

Jesus was full of grace and truth. And I need both. I try to listen. And I seek to discern how much information my conversation partner actually wants. But ultimately love compels me to share—not abrasively—but boldly. Gently. With grace. I don’t always get it right. But I have a great model in Christ. And I sense him urging me to share with the crowd—because he and his word have always been faithful. And that is really great news.

Paul’s First Missionary Journey (Link To Map)10

Place Visited

Acts

Notes/Outcome of the visit

Seleucia

13:4

Salamis on Cyprus

13:5

Paphos on Cyprus

13:6-12

Perga in Pamphylia

13:13

Pisidian Antioch

13:14-52

Iconium

13:51,

14:1-6

Lystra

14:6-20

Derbe

14:20-21

a

Lystra, Iconium & Pisidian Antioch

14:21b-2

3

Perga in Pamphylia

14:24-25

Attalia

14:25


1 https://www.conformingtojesus.com/images/webpages/pauls_first_missionary_journey1.jpg

2 Wright, 106-107.

3 Dr. Thomas Constable’s free notes can be found at https://planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/pdf/acts.pdf

4 Wright, 77.

5 Capes, 140.

6 Keener, 366.

7 https://vimeo.com/album/4826757 for video or https://beyondordinarywomen.org/racial-reconciliation-a-gospel-issue/ for podcast

8 https://vimeo.com/261199690 or link to https://vimeo.com/album/5065391 to watch the entire video series or listen to the podcasts at https://beyondordinarywomen.org/bow-podcast-episodes/

9 Sandra Glahn’s complete bio is on our website. Her blog at aspire2.com covers many of the issues she mentions in this story.

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