Romans, chapters 1-3

“[…] ‘The righteous one will live by reason of faith.'”
~Romans 1:17

In his letter to the congregation in Rome, Paul explains that even those who suppress God’s Word ought to have a sense of right and wrong based on observing nature. (Rom. 1:18-20)
Does this mean that God judges us based on our own individual criteria, and we do not need to be held to absolute universal standards?
How do we know what it means to have good enough faith or to be righteous?
Paul says God’s righteousness is revealed in the good news. (Rom. 1:16,17)
When he speaks of faith, he is not speaking of an impersonal higher power who saves everyone regardless of their actions. (Rom. 1:21,29-32)
Yet, it takes more than knowledge of God to have faith. (Rom. 2:17,18,21)
If we listen to our own conscience, we can be at peace if we “work what is good.”
However, we cannot save ourselves.
We rely on God’s mercy. (Rom. 3:24; 4:5,25)
But if we are also to “live by reason of faith,” we do well to strengthen that faith by deepening our understanding of God’s good news and of his creation. (Rom. 2:10,13,15,16)
God’s Word tells us he judges us based on the sincere motives behind our actions and not merely on what we think or do. (Rom. 2:29)
The higher standard we’re being judged against is whether or not we do things out of love. (Matt. 22:37-40)

Acts, chapters 21 & 22

“You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the Law. But they have heard it rumored about you that you have been teaching all the Jews among the nations an apostasy from Moses […].”
~Acts 21:20,21

I can’t quite seem to wrap my head around how the elders in Jerusalem sent Paul into clear and present danger based on rumors.
While they must have had the best intentions when ordering Paul to go into the temple, I cannot imagine modern elders ever asking a member of the congregation to make such a bold statement at the risk of his or her life. (Acts 21:4,11,12)
Their decision is all the more surprising because in a way, the people they were trying to win over were immature Christians who were unwilling to part with Jewish customs. (Acts 21:24,27,28; Rom. 2:28,29)
Paul humbly acceded, willing to make just about any personal sacrifice to settle divisiveness. (1 Cor.9:20)
Rather than crouch away from responsibility, he seized the opportunity to try to ‘legally establish the good news’ not only in Jerusalem, but throughout the Roman empire. (Acts 24:10-22; 25:10-12; Php. 1:7)
Most Christians today will never have to put themselves in life-threatening situations to prove their faith in God’s Word, but from time to time our humility is tested when our elders ask us to do something that does not make sense to us.
We should always try to put the congregation’s peace and unity before personal opinions. (Php. 1:8-10)

Acts, chapters 19 & 20

“I do not consider my own life of any importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear thorough witness to the good news of the undeserved kindness of God.”
~Acts 20:24

Paul did not feel entitled to the privilege of teaching others about Christ.
He humbly recognized that he was a sinner and attributed the success of his ministry to Jehovah God. (1 Cor. 3:6; 15:9,10; 1 Tim. 1:12,13)
When a need for financial aid struck the congregation in Jerusalem, Paul personally risked his life to carry relief over to them. (Rom. 15:25,26)
He fulfilled his sense of debt towards God, grateful for the ransom sacrifice that allowed him to be God’s friend. (2 Cor. 5:18)
If we have the privilege of sharing God’s good news with others, may we equally treasure it.

Acts, chapters 17 & 18

“[Apollos] was acquainted only with the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, and when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him into their company and explained the way of God more accurately to him.”
~Acts 18:25,26

Apollos was an eloquent Jew of the well-educated city of Alexandria. (Acts 18:24)
He evidently learned of Jesus at least nineteen years prior to this account, before Pentecost and the pouring of holy spirit.
Despite being well-versed and a skilled speaker, he humbly allowed the Christian couple to spiritually enlighten him.
In time, he came to be a respected missionary working under the congregation’s arrangements. (Titus 3:13)
In our ministry, we sometimes encounter spiritual people who are somewhat familiar with the Scriptures and who profess faith in Jesus.
If we patiently help them develop a more accurate knowledge, we may be surprised at their willingness to learn the truth and serve God alongside us. (1 Cor. 3:6,9; 1 Tim. 2:3,4)

Acts, chapters 15 & 16

“Barnabas was determined to take along John, who was called Mark. Paul, however, was not in favor of taking him along with them […]. At this there was a sharp burst of anger, so that they separated from each other.”
~Acts 15:37-39

All three men involved in the discord were spiritually strong and had an extraordinary record of service to God. (Acts 13:4,5)
Still, there was at least one occasion in which Paul was disappointed by Mark, and eventually, he and Barnabas had a grave argument about it.
In time, though, Mark took on more responsibilities and even wrote a gospel account of Jesus’ life, having been eyewitness to some events. (Mark 14:51,52; Phm. 23,24; 1 Pet. 5:13)
Some time prior to the completion of the gospel, Paul came to forgive Mark and even requested his company in Rome. (2 Tim. 4:11)
This account teaches us that while Christians should constantly strive to display patience and self-control, we are not perfect and from time to time, will have serious disagreements with other mature Christians. (Gal. 5:22,23)
But much like Paul, Barnabas and Mark, such disagreements should not impede our desire to continue serving Jehovah to the best of our abilities. (Acts 15:39b,40)
That a fellow believer has a differing point of view does not automatically disqualify them as a spiritually strong person.

Acts, chapters 9-11

“When [Barnabas] arrived and saw the undeserved kindness of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all to continue in the Lord with heartfelt resolve.”
~Acts 11:23

The early Christian congregation was changing in the sense that it was no longer exclusive to Jews or Jewish proselytes.
Barnabas was a Levite who had converted to Christianity. (Acts 4:36)
He was appointed an apostle because holy spirit moved him to do missionary work. (Acts 13:4; 14:14)
When he saw the enthusiasm with which the new converts in Antioch received the good news of the kingdom, he sought out Paul and together they helped strengthen the congregation. (Acts 11:25,26)
It was there that “by divine providence” Christ’s disciples were first called “Christians.”
In Greek, the phrase translated “heartfelt resolve” literally means “purpose of the heart.”
Other synonyms could be: firmness, conviction, determination.
Barnabas not only told his new spiritual family to stay in the truth; he took them under his wing and nurtured their faith.
Through personal sacrifice, tolerance toward others, and a joyous spirit, he exemplified ‘continuing in the Lord with heartfelt resolve.’

Acts, chapters 4 & 5

“You have lied, not to men, but to God. […] Why did you two agree to make a test of the spirit of Jehovah?”
~Acts 5:4,9

Ananias and his wife Sapphira were members of the Christian congregation in Jerusalem.
They tried to deceive their brothers and sisters by claiming they had contributed more than they had really given. (Acts 5:1,2)
Some people lie to preserve their reputation or advance their interests.
While some can deceive their friends and family, it is impossible to deceive God. (He. 4:13)
The Apostle Peter acted as God’s representative when he questioned Ananias and his wife about their deception.
He was moved to do so by God’s holy spirit.
In that sense, the couple was trying to lie to God.
As imperfect humans, from time to time we may be tempted to try to get away with improper behavior even while we serve Jehovah.
We must remember that Jehovah hates deception to the point of equating it with violence. (Ps. 5:6; Prov. 6:16,17)
If we learn to be honest with ourselves and with those around us, we can maintain a good standing before God. (Zech. 8:16,17; Luke 6:45)