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Running According to the Rules (Week 8)

“Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.”

1 Corinthians 9:24-25

“Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.”

1 Corinthians 9:24-25

We all know that every competition has a set of rules; any participant who fails to follow them is disqualified. In 1980 Rosie Ruiz was the apparent first-place female runner in the Boston Marathon, completing the race in a record time of 2:31:56. However, race officials disqualified her when it was determined that she had not run the entire race but had instead jumped in from the crowd and sprinted to the finish!

God has placed us here to run a race for him, and we must run carefully or we will disqualify ourselves from the race that we were intended to run. Yes, God is forgiving, and God continues to use us even when we fail badly, but our choices and our actions may result in God’s using someone else in the place we should have served. We will miss the blessing in this life of seeing God produce fruit, and we will miss reward in the next life.

As we see in our memory verse, Paul knew the danger of losing focus and discipline. He was committed to run in a way that pleased God and that commended him to others so that he could earn a reward at the finish.

Day One Study

Before we continue the story of Paul, let’s talk about what the “rules” are for the race. We know that we no longer live under the Law of Moses, as we have seen in a number of scriptures written by Paul. However, God does call his servants to live according to his word. We do not live lawlessly; instead, out of love for Jesus we live holy lives. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). We live according to the rules because we love him and want to please him, not because we are scared of judgment. Let’s look at some of the verses Paul wrote on this subject.

Read 1 Cor. 9:24-27, which includes this week’s memory verse.

    1. What was Paul doing in order to run well enough to win the prize? How does Gal. 5:22-23 relate?

    2. Sharing question: Consider how discipline or self-control affects other areas of your life. How could failing to be self-controlled result in your failing in other areas, which could then affect your ability to serve God fully? On a scale from 1-10, how much personal self discipline do you exhibit? In light of what you saw in Galatians, what can you do to grow in this quality?

    3. Look at the following scriptures, and write down briefly what you learn in each verse about how God expects his people to live, his “rules”:

        a. 2 Cor. 7:1

        b. Eph. 4:22-24, 31

        c. Phil. 1:27-28

        d. Col. 3:12-13

        e. 1 Thess. 4:2-7

    4. Sharing question: In what areas from the preceding verses do you most struggle? How do they affect your race for God?

    5. How does John 14:15 relate to the verses in #3?

Extra Training: Read through 1 John 4:7-5:4. What additional understanding or explanation of John 14:15 does this give you?

    6. Responding to God: Draw a picture of yourself in training for the race, exercising discipline in the area which you mentioned in the previous question. You could draw a stick figure saying “NO!” to something that draws you away from the life God would have you live.

Day Two Study

At the end of last week’s lesson Paul was in Jerusalem, being held in the Roman barracks because of a riot of the Jews who opposed him. Now, on to the next installment of Paul’s story! (Paul’s story reminds me of a television series where each episode ends with a crisis for the star!)

Extra Training: Read about the plot to murder Paul in Jerusalem and his escape in Acts 23:12-22.

Read Acts 23:23-24:27. This is a fairly long passage, but as a story, you should be able to read it fairly quickly.

Fyi: “Felix was Antonius Felix, a freedman of Antonia, mother of the Emperor Claudius. . . [who] became procurator of Palestine in A.D. 52/53. His administration was notorious for its corruption, cynicism, and cruelty.”9

    7. Where was Paul sent and why (Acts 23:23, 31-33)? (Antipatris was a city where they stopped for the night, about half-way to their destination.)10

    8. What kind of man was Felix, according to this record of him in Acts?

    9. Describe Paul’s time of imprisonment under Felix.

    10. Sharing question: What do you see in Paul’s character during unfair and difficult situations that most impresses you? Why? Is there anything in the verses from yesterday’s lesson in #3 that applies?

    11. Responding to God: Talk to God about how you respond under duress, injustice, and pressure. Ask him to show you where you fail to look like Jesus. Confess and forsake that sin. Ask for grace to let God’s Spirit empower you to show forth his glory at such times. Write your thoughts, prayer, or poem below.

Day Three Study

Finally, there was a new procurator, Festus; I wonder if that may have given Paul some hope for an end to his imprisonment!

Read Acts 25:1-12.

    12. Why would it have been dangerous for Paul to go to Jerusalem to be tried (Acts 25:2-3)?

    13. Summarize the interaction between Paul and Festus.

Extra Training: Read Acts 25:13-26:31, which takes us to the end of Paul’s stay in Caesarea. Consider Paul’s concern for the salvation of all, even unjust rulers.

    14. From the following verses, to what conclusions concerning Paul’s case did these various people in power come?

        a. The Roman commander in Jerusalem: Acts 23:26-30

        b. Festus: Acts 25:17-20

        c. King Agrippa, Bernice, and Festus: Acts 26:30-32

Read Acts 26:28-29, which occurred at the end of Paul’s defense before King Agrippa and company.

    15. What was Paul’s concern for those who were imprisoning him without any real evidence?

    16. Responding to God: Sit before God silently, asking him for insight into your own soul. What is your attitude toward people who have treated you unfairly, unjustly, or even with contempt? Have you prayed for their salvation or harbored unforgiveness and bitterness toward them? Are you concerned for them as Paul was for his jailers? What about others, people whom you don’t like for various reasons? Are you praying for them? How could your attitude prevent you from serving God in this situation? Write down what he shows you.

    17. Sharing question: Be honest with your group. Share what God showed you as you listened to him in the previous question. How are you praying now? If you are struggling, write a prayer request for yourself concerning this issue to share with your group this week.

Day Four Study

Paul was finally sent to Rome by ship so that Caesar could hear his appeal. This trip likely occurred late autumn through early spring of A.D. 58-59.

Extra Training: Read Acts 27:1-8. Research the ships of that day and follow Paul’s route as you go through the rest of this lesson.

Read Acts 27:8-44.

    18. Summarize the story, writing a headline if you wish.

    19. Paul gave the ship’s crew some encouragement and advice, based on what God had shown him (Acts 27:10, 22-26, 30-32, 33-36). Describe how their responses to his words change during the course of the trip.

    20. What do you learn about Paul’s character from this story? How did he live out what he said he believed? Do any verses from Day One #3 apply?

    21. Responding to God: Ask God to show you someone who isn’t a Christ-follower who needs encouraging. Ask him to show you some verses that you could use to encourage her. Write her a note including those scriptures.

    22. Sharing question: Write down what you did and share it with your group.

Day Five Study

We left Paul at the end of Acts 27 shipwrecked and stranded on Malta.

Read Acts 28:1-10.

    23. What miracles did Paul do on Malta and how did the natives respond?

Extra Training: Read Acts 28:11-24 and any commentary you have on Paul’s trip to Rome.

The authorities in Rome allowed Paul to be imprisoned in a house with only one guard (Acts 28:16). Because of this, he had the freedom to meet with many people. At this time he called for a meeting with the Jewish leaders.

Read Acts 28:23-31.

    24. How do you see Paul still running his race at the end of Acts?

    25. Sharing question: We have seen Paul continue running according to the rules, keeping his eyes on the prize before him. What have you learned from him so far about perseverance and faithfulness to your race?

    26. Responding to God: Ask God to show you some specific ways to keep on keeping on right now, especially if you are facing disappointment or discouragement in your race. Thank him for the ways that he has encouraged you this week through the life of Paul.

Today’s story is from a runner who has learned how to keep her eyes on Jesus so that she can persevere and run well, according to the rules.

Story of a Real Runner: Peggy

I have kept a vision of the work God has for me over the long haul through prayer and Bible Studies. I think that the more we seek instruction, the easier it is to be closer to God and to His purpose for our life. I have been a Christian since the age of nine years old. I am now in my 60’s. From the ages of twenty through forty, I was on-again and off-again with God. I always read my Bible, but didn’t always do what was pleasing to God. As a parent wanting to raise godly children, I turned to more serious Bible studying and to more prayer. It became a habit and now it is second nature to pray and study God’s word. Of course, I’d love to say that I never falter, but that would be dishonest. There are times that I have to tell myself that I need God’s word to help me live each and every day. Sometimes I become so lax when I’m between Bible studies. But God has placed on my heart to keep Him close at all times. My number one priority should be doing God’s will. I do think about God a lot. I think that the Holy Spirit is more dear to me than ever before. I want to serve God and do His will with enthusiasm!

Moms Running the Race (by Susan)

As moms, we are constantly modeling the Christian life to our children. Our children hear what we say and they watch what we do. We may tell them, “It is wrong to lie.” If they hear us be dishonest with a friend, with our husband, or even with a clerk in a store, they realize that our actions do not match with our words. Even though they may not say a word, they notice our failure to do what is right. Our conduct reveals what we really believe.

I always hoped that my children would know when I was teaching them something and that they would somehow see the importance of that. However, I wanted them to ignore what I thought were “non-teaching” times which were everyday occurrences. Unfortunately, my children considered every minute of every day a teaching time. If I yelled at another driver, I soon got to hear those words back at a later time. My actions became like seeds. I planted them and then I got to reap the harvest again and again.

Action Step: Is there an area in your life in which your words and your actions are not matching? Ask the Lord to reveal one thing you need to do differently in order to be obedient to his commands. Write down what he reveals to you and how you will respond.


9 Note in NET Bible on Acts 23:24.

10 Note in NET Bible on Acts 23:31.

Related Topics: Faith, Curriculum