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Using Hardships as Opportunities (Week 7)

Energy for the Race

“And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and the knowledge of the truth.”

    2 Timothy 2:24-25

    Energy for the Race

    “And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and the knowledge of the truth.”

      2 Timothy 2:24-25

    Although I don’t run, I do try to care for the body that God has given me; however, to be honest I don’t do very well at it. I allow anything and everything to distract me and keep me away from the gym! Sometimes it seems that life is opposed to my being in shape and gives me every excuse not to work out. I need encouragement!

    Similarly, in the race of life we will encounter every reason to quit running for God. One of the most difficult hardships we may face is the opposition of those we love. Paul also dealt with this issue; his own people, the Jews, consistently resisted him and his message of Jesus. It happened in various cities on his journeys, and this week we see it occur in the very heart of Jerusalem. Although discouragement could have sidetracked him in his race, Paul continued running, loving those who opposed him and taking every opportunity to share God’s message with them.

    Day One Study

    Let’s return to the chronological story of Paul from Acts. In Acts 21 he completed his third missionary journey when he arrived in Jerusalem about 57 A.D.

    Read Acts 21:17-26.

      1. What rumor about Paul’s teaching had circulated among the Jews (Acts 21:20-21)? Why was it upsetting to them?

    Extra Training: The teaching they attributed to Paul was not the issue that had been decided by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, but they sound similar. What differences do you see here and in Acts 15:5-11, 20-21?

      2. What did the church elders suggest that Paul do to avoid conflict with these Jews (Acts 21:22-24)? How did Paul respond to their request?

    There are several suggestions as to the nature of this vow or purification. A likely option for its purpose was “to restore purity after he has traveled in Gentile-areas; for the others, it is an affirmation of their Nazirite vow of at least thirty days.”7

      3. Would you agree with the decision for Paul to be purified in light of the situation in Jerusalem? Consider 1 Cor. 9:12, 19-22 and Gal. 1:10, which you read in previous lessons.

      4. Sharing question: Who in your life is from a different cultural or religious background than yours? Perhaps it is a co-worker or neighbor. Can you think of any barriers that stand in the way of your reaching her with the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Are there barriers that can be removed so that you don’t shut her off from hearing you? Talk with your small group if you are uncertain; they may have some good ideas for you.

      5. Responding to God: Pray for this person and ask God to show you ways of loving her. Write down your prayer and your thoughts below.

    Day Two Study

    Once again there was a near-riot caused by those who disputed Paul. If you have time, read Acts 21:27-40 as your Extra Training for today.

    Rather than say “enough is enough”, as I probably would have done, Paul used the situation as an opportunity to continue his race and to care for his people, whom he loved.

    Read Acts 22:1-22.

      6. What was Paul’s approach to sharing the gospel to this Jewish audience? In what ways do you see him try to get them to listen rather than reacting negatively to him? How does Paul model this week’s memory verse? (Be sure and read it and learn it!)

      7. Sharing question: We all move toward God in different ways, just as Paul shared in this passage. Share the story of your journey of faith. Spend some time writing it out and summarizing it so that there is time to hear stories from several women in your group:)

      8. How did the crowd react to Paul’s story (Acts 21:22)? What do you think touched them off?

      9. Sharing question: If you have ever had a negative reaction to your story of faith, share what happened with your group. Did this opposition make it more difficult for you to share again? How did it make you feel?

      10. Responding to God: Thank God for the ways that he drew you to himself. Perhaps he used something dramatic as he did with Paul or perhaps he placed you in a family of believers. Write out a prayer or poem below.

    Day Three Study

    Today we continue the story of the riot in Jerusalem as the Jews demanded that the Romans deal with Paul.

    Read Acts 22:22-29.

      11. What did the Roman soldiers do when the Jews again created an uproar over Paul?

      12. How did Paul use the law to his advantage?

    The Roman commander was frightened to hear that Paul was a Roman citizen. Dr. Darrell Bock explains: “The beating in Acts 22 is known as a flagellatio, since whips (flagella) would be used. . . .The flagella were used on noncitizens and slaves.” He also quotes Cicero saying that “to bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him an abomination, to slay him is almost an act of murder.”8

    Extra Training: Read more about Roman punishment. You may find more information in your commentaries on the gospels where Jesus was scourged by the Romans.

      13. Sharing question: Close your eyes and picture yourself in Paul’s place—your own people trying to kill you, the Romans wanting to beat you, no one seeming to hear your story. How would you have felt at this point? How would you have felt about the Jews? Be honest!

      14. Read Rom. 9:1-5. How did Paul feel about his people?

      15. Sharing question: Is there anyone in your life who is a thorn in your side, so to speak? Someone who opposes you, argues with you, takes advantage of you, or treats you badly? What feelings do you have toward him or her? How can you respond to her/him in love? Have you considered that your love may open the door of opportunity to share Jesus’ love, if not with this person with those who watch?

      16. Responding to God: Ask God for the love you need for others who treat you unfairly and oppose you in any way, maybe at work, maybe in your family. Write a prayer for those who come to mind.

    Day Four Study

    Once again Paul was forced to defend himself against those who opposed him, in this case the Jews.

    Read Acts 22:30-23:11.

      17. Paul didn’t share his story this time. What was his strategy for dealing with the Jewish leadership?

      18. Do you think Paul’s plan worked or not? Why?

      19. What happened the next night while Paul was in the soldiers’ barracks (Acts 23:11)? How was it both encouraging and discouraging?

    Extra Training: Read in Joshua 1:1-9 when God called Joshua, another great leader, to take courage because of what he was facing. What parallels do you see? How do both passages encourage you?

      20. Sharing question: Share about a difficult time in your life when God sent encouragement to you in some form. Perhaps he used a Bible verse, a friend’s words, a song, a sermon, or simply a quiet word in your heart.

      21. Responding to God: Think about a tough situation you face today. Draw a picture of yourself being encouraged by God, who is there although unseen.

    Day Five Study

    Yesterday we read in Acts 23 that the Lord appeared to Paul to give him courage to face what was ahead. We studied in Week 6 that Paul encouraged others running the race. Today we’ll look at some of the other ways that God encouraged him. We have read some of them before but others will be new to you as you read.

      22. Read all of these verses. (This is your whole day’s work so it’s not as long as it looks!) Jot down your thoughts about the ways that God sent Paul encouragement. Consider the situation at the time and why Paul needed it.

          a. Acts 16:6-10

          b. Acts 16:25-32

          c. 2 Cor. 12:7-10

          d. Gal. 4:13-14

          e. Phil. 2:25

          f. Phil. 4:15-18

          g. 2 Tim. 1:15-18

          h. 2 Tim. 4:16-17

      23. Sharing question: Which of the verses in the previous question spoke to you personally? How and why?

    Extra Training: Even Jesus needed special encouragement at times of great hardship. Can you think of times in his life when God encouraged him in some way? If you have time, scan through one of the gospels considering this question.

      24. Responding to God: Thank God for one way he has encouraged you this week. If a person was involved, write a note thanking her as well. Write down your prayer.

    Story of a Real Runner: Alma

    My brother-in-law has always liked me as a person, but not as a Christian.  He is married to my husband's only sister. He is Hindu and was not happy at all when my husband accepted Jesus as his savior. My brother-in-law chose to retaliate by ignoring me and just being rude to me whenever I visited their home. His father was very much the same way, always making comments about me being too much of an independent thinker, not allowing my husband to just tell me what to do. He did not agree about things such as my husband helping with household chores because of his cultural background.

    I have prayed a lot about these through the years; every time I visited, I would stop about a block before their home and ask Jesus to help me show them His love and not to respond to their comments in a bad way. I have also prayed a lot for the Lord to give me an opportunity to present the gospel to them. On Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my sister's father-in-law became very ill, and we stopped to visit him at the hospital. God gave me the opportunity to present the gospel, and I told him that I loved him. He responded well and just smiled. Later my brother-in-law came into the room, and the three of us prayed together. I was amazed at the opportunity the Lord had planned. They both thanked me for the prayer! I could not believe it! I told the two of them that I love them and that Jesus loves them even more. The father died the following Saturday. I was not able to go to his funeral, but my sister went and told me that "The Prayer on the Mount" was read at the Hindu funeral, as one of his favorite "poems".

    The day after Christmas, the Lord allowed my husband to give his testimony to my brother-in-law. He is very interested in reading Mathew and Mark. He was very nice to me. 

    I believe all of us treat others badly some times, not because we are bad people but because we allow ourselves to be used by the devil to be mean to one another, especially non-believers.  But as believers, we should be aware of this and love our enemies so much that they ask themselves, "Why is this person being so nice to me even when I am not nice?" This gives us the opportunity to show the love of God to them. 

    Moms Running the Race (by Susan)

    Have you ever wanted to escape or resign from your responsibilities as a mom? When I was really tired and nothing seemed to be going well, I certainly wanted to escape. The only problem was that I did not have a place to go:)

    Paul is a model for us in the way he dealt with hardships and discouragement. Not only did he not try to escape or resign, he persevered. In fact, he went beyond mere perseverance to reach out in love to those who were opposing him. We cannot emulate Paul’s example except through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us. Only the Lord can give us the kind of love that reaches out to share the gospel with those who oppose us.

    Is there someone in your life who is negative about your relationship with Christ? Is there someone who is treating you unfairly because you are a follower of Christ? Is someone in your family critical of the way you are trying to rear your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? It would be much easier to avoid these people as much as possible, but following the example of Christ and of Paul requires that we pray for them, love them, and continue to try to reach them for Christ.

    Action Step: Think of at least one person who is discouraging you or who is opposed to you in your walk with Christ and in your trying to rear godly children. Pray for this person’s salvation and ask the Lord to give you a heart of love and forgiveness toward him or her and an opportunity to share Christ’s love.

    7 Darrell L. Bock, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Acts (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Academics, 2007), 647.

    8 Bock, 664.

Related Topics: Suffering, Trials, Persecution, Character Study, Curriculum

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