8. Week Eight: Invested
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.
[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Paul in Colossians 1:24, 28-29 ESV
To run well requires the runner’s investment in time, energy and money, and that involves sacrifices.
A great runner needs the appropriate clothing for the climate and the right pair of shoes, which quickly wear out and need replacing. Even the leisurely walks I take with my husband and dog require shoes that fit my feet and gait, so I don’t get plantar fasciitis as I did by doing too much walking barefoot on a beach vacation. All such equipment costs the runner who wants to run her best.
Anytime we choose to invest in one thing, we sacrifice something else. Parents give up freedom in order to invest in their children. Premiere athletes leave family behind to get the best coaching.
Generosity means sacrificing personal wants for others.
Paul was all in to follow Christ and earn his reward in the end, as seen in our Soul Food verses above. This week we’ll look at how that required an investment in people and churches that required sacrifice.
Part One Study
We’ve followed Paul on his early years as a follower of Jesus, three mission trips and through years of imprisonment. Our attention now turns to Paul’s epistles or letters. Let’s check out their possible timing so we put their messages in context of the events we’ve already studied in Acts.
In Week Three we saw that Galatians was written between Paul’s first and second journeys while he was back at his home base in Antioch. On his second mission trip he wrote two letters to the Thessalonians. (See the chart on p. 36.) Both 1 and 2 Corinthians as well as Romans appear to be written on his third journey. (See the chart in the Appendix on p. 61.)
The third trip ended in Jerusalem and Paul’s arrest. He likely penned the so-called prison epistles while under guard in Rome. Philippians fits the descriptions in Acts; Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon possibly came from that same period. If not, Paul wrote them while imprisoned in Caesarea.1
Paul’s last three letters were addressed to individuals. He likely wrote Titus and 1 Timothy after being released from the Roman imprisonment described at the end of Acts and 2 Timothy during a final Roman imprisonment, as noted on the chart of his final journeys. Luke didn’t include any information in Acts on events after the first Roman imprisonment.
Let’s see what we learn about Paul’s investment in others from these letters.
We’ll Start By Reading 1 Corinthians 9:11-27; 2 Corinthians 11:7-9; 12:14-15a.
- What do you see about Paul’s sacrifice to reach people with the gospel?
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in part to respond to questions they had asked. (See 7:1.) One area of confusion was whether a Christian could eat meat sacrificed to idols. Although Paul’s specific answer may not affect us today, through it we learn a lot about Paul’s attitude about the concerns of others.
Read Paul’s Reply In 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 And 10:23-33, And Write Down Your Thoughts About These Questions, Keeping In Mind How His Answer Involves Investing In People.
- How does Paul’s answer guide you as you invest in other church members?
- What do these passages reveal about God?
- Have you sacrificed your own rights to love your neighbors? Explain. If not, is there a right you should give up to love them as Christ loved us?
Being in the midst of a pandemic where the use of face masks has been recommended by medical experts, I was reminded how pertinent the biblical principles on our freedoms can be to our decisions.
*** Read Romans 14:1-15:3 in light of Paul’s response about eating meat offered to idols, and journal your thoughts about investing in other believers.
Part Two Study
We focus today on the ways that Paul invested in the churches he planted. Although I’m guessing most of us aren’t church planters, we are called to invest in our fellow believers in our churches. As you read, consider what you learn from Paul’s example.
Although we’ll read verses from many different letters, it’s not really a lot of reading.
Read 1 Corinthians 4:14-21; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10; 7:2-13; Galatians 4:19; Philippians 1:7-8; Colossians 1:24, 28-29 (This Week’s Soul Food); 2:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 2:5-12; 3:1-10. Journal Your Insights In Light Of These Questions:
- What is your impression of Paul’s investment in the lives of the people in these churches?
- What most stands out to you about Paul’s investment? Why?
- What is God saying to you today about your own investment in the race?
*** Compare Paul’s comments in Philippians 2:3-11 with what you learn about him in this section’s reading.
I think this comment from Rediscovering Paul describes well what we’ve read about Paul in this section: “Paul loved to think of himself as the father of his converts, he did not refer to them as his disciples; they were his children.”2
Although I can’t be a father, I’ve felt the emotions that Paul describes as a mother. Paul’s use of the term father in relationship with his disciples helps us recognize the responsibilities and deep connection we should have with those whom we spiritually parent.
Part Three Study
Paul’s willingness to invest heavily in churches even after he left them behind physically grows from attitudes deeply embedded in his heart. We’re going to read about those today.
Read 1 Corinthians 15:3-10; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6; 12:1-10; Galatians 2:20; 6:14; Ephesians 3:8-13; 1 Timothy 1:12-17, And Note Your Responses To These Questions:
- How did Paul describe himself? How do you see that attitude motivate his investment in the churches?
- What do you learn about God from these passages?
- What is God saying to about your attitude?
Christians are new creations made by God. We’re forgiven and accepted by the Father, as Paul taught so well. And yet Paul continued to describe himself as an unworthy sinner. He recognized that God could use him despite his past, and yet that past led him to great dependence on God.
*** Comment on Paul’s continued mention of his history in light of Jesus’ words in the story in Luke 7:36-50.
Father God, humble us by reminding us of our failures and your marvelous grace. Use the past to motivate us to invest in others, always depending on your power to run the race you’ve given us.
This week’s story features a woman who was once unconcerned and reluctant to invest her time and efforts in a mission trip but who eventually invested heavily in loving and caring for the people she met.
A Runner’s Story: Irish
For years I heard testimonies in church from people who had traveled to far-away countries to share the gospel and teach God’s Word. I even had close friends who went on mission trips. Their commitment and experiences were inspirational, but never once did I consider going myself. In fact, I think I laughed when anyone suggested that I should go too. My heart was hard, and I had no interest.
So, God began the process of softening my heart, repeatedly exposing me to the lives of women who were completely sold out to God. His message to me was inescapable, and eventually I began to pray, “God, show me what you want me to do. I’ll do anything.” Soon after I began praying that way, I had a dream in which God made it clear that I too was to go to a far-away country and share the gospel. I was shocked but also excited about the next step. Since I had received repeated invitations from a mission organization to join them in their work in Tanzania, I accepted their invitation. After months of preparation, I was ready to serve with a team that would plant 20 churches in remote villages.
In Tanzania I shared the gospel in huts, in fields, in marketplaces and even in schools. I spoke with men, women and children who had a variety of responses to me—curiosity, skepticism, hostility and even fear. Time after time and in every situation, God gave me the words to speak and the courage to speak them. The people I spoke to looked different from me and lived differently from me, but they were just like me . . . in need of a Savior. Those moments when they recognized their need and said yes to Jesus were worth every fear, discomfort and inconvenience that I experienced.
I returned to plant churches in Tanzania seven more times, sharing the gospel and teaching God’s Word. On each of those trips, I was able to revisit many of the churches that our team had planted on previous trips. These were times of amazement, encouragement and celebration as we learned what God had done among them since our time together. To this day because of technology, I continue to hear from many of the believers that I served with who share with me how God is growing His church in places I’ve never heard of and will never see.
“So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11 NASB).