5. Week Five: Focused On The Goal
What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be tied up, but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.
Paul to his friends in Acts 21:13
As I write this in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, I just read about Rebecca, a nurse who works in the Covid-19 unit at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, who “has moved into an RV and hasn’t seen her 7-month-old daughter in more than 5 weeks Rebecca is crystal clear about why she’s making the sacrifice: ‘I’m temporarily stepping out of my day-to-day life as mom so that I can play a part in making it possible for someone to keep their mom—or to help someone say goodbye to their mom.’”1
Just like a successful runner, Rebecca has her eye on a great purpose, a goal, that requires sacrifice to achieve.
So far we’ve watched Paul willingly face opposition and persecution because of a bigger purpose, a greater goal than his own comfort, safety, peace and freedom. That’s our theme for this week’s lesson.
Part One Study
We previously read about Paul’s visit to Thessalonica on his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-9). After only three weeks he was forced out of the city (Acts 17:2,10). His concern about the welfare of the baby Christians that made up the new church motivated him to follow up with a letter, likely written when he was in Athens or Corinth. (See Acts 18:1 and/or the chart of the second journey on the previous page.) FYI: After receiving the report that they were flourishing in the faith, he quickly followed up with a second letter from Corinth.
Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-3:10, And Record Your Thoughts About These Questions:
- What do you learn in these verses about Paul’s motivation(s) or goals?
- A letter is obviously far more personal than Acts, an historical book. What insights do you have about the person Paul that Acts doesn’t reveal?
- Is there someone you sense God’s Spirit nudging you to check up on today? If you contact anyone, share the outcome with your small group. (You don’t need to share any names.)
*** We’re skipping some verses on Paul’s third journey. If you want to read them all, begin today with Acts 18:23-19:1, following the chart in the Appendix “Paul’s Final Journeys.” We’ll pick up from there in Part Two’s starred assignment.
Part Two Study
Today we jump into Luke’s account of Paul’s third mission trip at the point when he arrives in Ephesus and follow him until his arrival in Jerusalem. (See the online map.)2 As you read, think about Paul—a real person traveling by foot to places he’d never been, going on despite all the opposition and persecution he’s already faced on two previous journeys. Keep that in mind as you consider the hardships and persecution he encountered on this journey.
Read Acts 19:1-10, 23-41; 20:1-6, 17-38; 21:1-15, Or Do The Starred Reading Covering All The Verses. Journal About All The Questions Below The Starred Assignment As You Do Your Reading. Note That Our Soul Food Verse Is In Acts 21:13. (Keep Notes On The Chart “Paul’s Final Journeys” In The Appendix P. 61.)
**** Read the entire story of Paul’s third journey, beginning at 19:1 and reading all the way through Acts 21:15. Write notes on the chart in the Appendix.
- What do you learn from Paul about sacrifice for a great goal from these stories?
- What can you add to what you’ve already learned about Paul’s heart for the church?
- Read about at least one of the miracles connected to Paul during this trip: Acts 19:11-12, Acts 19:13–20 or Acts 20:7-12. (Also note 2 Corinthians 12:11b-12.) What questions or thoughts do you have about what happened? What do these stories reveal about God?
- What is God saying to you today in light of Paul’s stories?
If you’re wondering, as I do, about the comments the disciples in Tyre made to Paul (Acts 21:4), here are Dr. Thomas Constable’s thoughts:3
There is ample evidence in the text that Paul was not disobedient to God in going on to Jerusalem (cf. 9:16; 19:21; 20:22-24; 21:14; 23:1, 11). Nevertheless, some students of Scripture have criticized Paul for proceeding. It seems probable that one or more prophets in the church at Tyre also foretold His arrest in Jerusalem (20:23), and that they, anxious about his safety, urged him not to proceed.
Paul, however, regarded it not as a prohibition but a divine forewarning so that he would be spiritually prepared for what would happen.4
“Duty called louder than warning to Paul even if both were the calls of God.”5
Add any additional thoughts to your journal about this quote about Paul and his goal/motivation.
Part Three Study
We have two letters to the Corinthians while on this third trip, and there appears to be a lost letter to them written between those two. 1 Corinthians was written from Ephesus (Acts 19:1-20:1), and 2 Corinthians from Macedonia (Acts 20:1-2). (See the chart “Paul’s Final Journeys” on p. 61 in the Appendix for dates.) The Corinthian church was divided, and Paul was so concerned that he not only wrote these letters, but he also apparently took a couple of short trips to follow up while still based in Europe. Let’s see what we learn about Paul’s focus from these letters and also from the letter he wrote to the Philippians from prison about ten years later.
*** Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-3:4 which describes the problems in the church in Corinth. Journal about the ways these quarrels had affected the Corinthians and their own races.
Read 1 Corinthians 3:5-15; 4:1-4; 2 Corinthians 1:8–10; 4:7-12, 16-18; 5:9-11; Philippians 3:7-14. Meditate On These Verses And Then Journal As You Consider These Questions:
- Which verses are most meaningful to you at this point in your life? Why?
- In Paul’s last letter, he calls on his mentee Timothy to “be self-controlled in all things, endure hardship, do an evangelist’s work, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). In what situations have you seen Paul exhibit these values through the stories so far?
- We aren’t all called to be evangelists, as Paul and Timothy were, but we are all called to love God and others by sharing the gospel as we serve in our homes, workplaces and communities, and by embodying the love of Christ through our sacrificial lives. What has God been saying to you about your own life focus and goals through Paul’s example?
Thirty years ago I faced the most difficult and discouraging situation of my life. I had been teaching the Bible and serving as a lay leader in my church for years. Previously I had dealt with disappointments, but never before had I been so wounded by people that I almost quit.
I answered the phone one night to hear a couple in our church (whom I’d known for years) assail my character for an hour based on what they said they knew about my motives—none of which had ever entered my mind. Although I wasn’t surprised by their attack because of past experience with them, it still hurt, and it hurt badly that anyone would ascribe such motives to me. Because, as they put it, they “needed to warn others about me,” they slandered me. I felt that they had compromised my ministry. I couldn’t quit thinking that God would be better off without me impeding his work.
What do you do in that case? I spent lots of time with God and his Word. I sensed his Spirit reminding me of several truths: he had called me to use the gifts that he had given me, so I was responsible to do so; he was greater than the slander and in control; and serving others isn’t about my glory but God’s. Over time the opposition and criticism that hurt so badly became the catalyst for redirecting me to ministry on two church staffs and teaching me much about myself and how to persevere.
God used his Word and his people to remind me that my gifts and ministry are his, not mine. And that truth means that giving up isn’t an option for those whose goal is to please the Lord.
3 Dr. Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Acts 2020 Edition,” 422. Accessed at https://planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/pdf/acts.pdf
4 Quotation from Homer A. Kent, Jr., Jerusalem to Rome. New Testament Studies series. Brethren Missionary Herald, 1972; reprint ed., (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House and BMH Books, 1985) 159.
5 Quotation from Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 vols. (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931) 3:360.