Welcome to week 3 of our Lenten Bible Study! In case you missed it from the last post, I've posted 4 comments (1 for each of the sections of the bible study) that you can respond to with questions or comments from each section as you work through the study at your own pace throughout the week. I encourage you to read what others may have posted and to respond to them in order to be in dialogue with one another.
s mentioned in the intro video, this week we'll be talking about failure and our fear of it. Did you know that more people are afraid of failing than are afraid of spiders? I think this is pretty telling of our relationship to success and failure. Before we go too far, I want to ask each of you to think of a time that you feared failing and you ended up succeeding. Feel free to share with the group if you feel led to. What was it that was so fear-producing about that given situation or scenario? What was it that ultimately allowed you to succeed? How did you feel after succeeding? Now I'd also like for you to take a moment to think of a time that you feared failing and then actually failed. Again, what was so fear-producing about that given situation or scenario? How did you feel after failing? In hindsight, was there anything you could have done differently to succeed or anyone that you could have leaned on to at least alleviate the impact of the failure? Try to remember these stories and feelings as we go through the rest of the bible study this week.
II. Digging into the Text
Read Acts 18:5-11 in the NRSV below, or in your favorite translation as many times as necessary to really internalize the passage. If you are using a different translation and there is something noteworthy about the difference(s) in wording, please mention in it in the comments below!
When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized. One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people." He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
Post any questions, comments, or reflections about your initial reading of the passage in the comments below.
So in this passage, Paul is in Corinth proclaiming the gospel. Most of the Jews, though not all of them, refused to believe the gospel. If the story were to stop here, then I'd have to say that Paul's efforts were a failure, and it's far to easy for many of us to skim over this initial portion of the story to get to his success. But I'd like to sit for a minute with his "failure" here. In order to get into the frame of mind that Paul may have been in at this point in his ministry, we have to go back to the preceding chapter (Acts 17:16-32). Paul had just left Athens where he had met with mixed success/failure in converting the learned Greeks. He then met with failure in converting many of the Jews of Corinth, though he had some success with a gentile audience. How might you react if, after modest success in Athens of people receiving the gospel, your time in Corinth began with little-to no success? I know that I'd begin to feel dejected, and then I would likely begin to really fear failing (again) to the point that I might freeze up and not even try anymore. Maybe some of you would react the same way. But this isn't the end of the story. The risen Christ tells Paul to not be afraid and to continue preaching the gospel, and Paul obeys and begins to experience a degree of success. It seems as though Paul experienced success when he fully leaned on Christ and Christ's word.
Another story is helpful to fill out our understanding of our fear of failure. I'd like for you to read Jeremiah 32:1-15 (NRSV translation is provided below).
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Zedekiah had said, "Why do you prophesy and say: Thus says the LORD: I am going to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it; King Zedekiah of Judah shall not escape out of the hands of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face and see him eye to eye; and he shall take Zedekiah to Babylon, and there he shall remain until I attend to him, says the LORD; though you fight against the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed?"
Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say "Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours." Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself." Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.
And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, got witnesses, and weighed the money on the scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judea's who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought and sold in this land.
So, in this passage, Jeremiah is effectively under house arrest for prophesying against the king of Israel and on trumped up charges of deserting to the enemy (Babylonians) in his trying to go to Anathoth to obey God. In this story, the city of Jerusalem is under siege by the Babylonians, and the Israelites are about to be deported to Babylon, and, yet, God tells Jeremiah to purchase land. Why would God do this? Jeremiah is obedient and does just as God asks. Jeremiah is obedient even when he knows that it is going to end in certain failure. He buys a field that he won't be able to use. The jar and the deeds are a reminder to the people that they will indeed return and reclaim their land.
What do these two passages together tell you? What might they mean for us?
If you have any thoughts or questions combining the first two sections, feel free to comment below and then listen to this week's podcast!
f you have questions about anything in the podcast, let us know in the comments section, and, as always, feel free to mention anything for the betterment of the group or anything that strikes you.
IV. So What?
At this point, I'd like for us to briefly take a look at all the other biblical figures that "failed." Adam and Eve failed, Cain failed, Abraham failed, Moses failed (and was actually quite afraid of failure), the Israelites during the conquest failed, Saul failed, David failed, Solomon failed, the disciples failed, Jesus even appeared to fail. What do all of these individuals (or groups) have in common? God never gave up on them. Even Cain, the first murderer, received grace-filled protection from people who might seek vengeance upon him. Abraham did not trust God enough that he lied about his relationship with his wife Sarah multiple times. Moses, who saw God and yet still did not fully trust in Him failed. Peter denied Christ and Thomas doubted - even the people who walked with Jesus failed. And yet, even after failures such as these, God never gave up on any of these people. What should this tell us about our fear of failure? It is my humble opinion that some failure is simply inevitable in our lives. The best we can do is recognize that God never gives up on us, and if God never gives up on us, then why should we fear anything, especially failure?
As always, discussion below is encouraged. I hope to see you all on Sunday. Have a blessed, fearless week.