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 27 & 28

“After [Paul] said this, he took bread, gave thanks to God before them all, broke it, and started eating.”
~Acts 27:35

Paul was in Caesarea, on the northwest coast of modern day Israel, when he appealed his case to be heard before Caesar.
He was escorted to Rome under the care of army officer Julius, who treated him fairly. (Acts 25:11; 27:1,3,42,43)
Despite his suggestion that the ship and all aboard stay in Fair Havens for the winter, the journey continued.
Fair Havens was located on the south coast of the island of Crete, and they were trying to reach the nearby port city of Phoenix, about seventy-five kilometers (47 mi) northwest of there.
But shortly after departing, a violent wind drove them southwest past the tiny island of Cauda. (Acts 27:14-16)
They managed not to capsize for around the next 1000 km (620 mi) until they neared the island of Malta.
The crew had started to lighten the load on the second day of the journey, and on the fourteenth day, Paul said: “Today is the 14th day you have been waiting anxiously, and you have gone without taking any food at all.” (Acts 27:18,33)
Paul could have become bitter and self-centered in those circumstances.
He could have focused on the unfairness of his situation.
The account says the storm was battering them and their hope had started to fade. (Acts 27:20)
Still, Paul encouraged others to eat and even thanked God for the provision of bread. (Acts 27:34,35)
How much more productive it is to approach life’s afflictions with faith and a gracious spirit. (Prov. 15:13,15; Eph. 5:20)

Acts, chapters 25 & 26

“[…] Because I have experienced the help that is from God, I continue to this day bearing witness to both small and great […].”
~Acts 26:22

It is not easy for most Christians to put ourselves out there, knocking on strangers’ doors, or greeting others on the street.
Most of us do not naturally have a “sales personality.”
Speaking to neighbors, acquaintances, or strangers about spiritual matters requires a great deal of resiliency and tact.
Realistically, most people do not want to be approached about something so personal.
Those who do like to have spiritual conversations are usually discouraged by friends or family who are afraid they will be brainwashed. (Matt. 10:35,36)
As imperfect humans, we may also experience friction between our partners in the ministry from time to time.
But like Paul, we humbly recognize that we are only able to carry on God’s work through the strength he gives us to endure, despite our own limitations. (Matt. 24:13,14; 1 Cor. 9:19-23; Php. 4:13)

Acts, chapters 23 & 24

“At the same time [Felix] was hoping that Paul would give him money. For that reason, he sent for him even more frequently and conversed with him. But when two years had elapsed, […] he left Paul in custody.”
~Acts 24:26,27

How can a Christian distinguish between giving a bribe and tipping an official to ensure a service is rendered?
The Bible clearly condemns bribing. (Ps. 15:1,5)
But what could be considered a bribe in one country, could be considered a customary tip in another.
I remember a traffic officer in Mexico who would not release us until my aunt (not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses), implied she would give him a tip.
On other occasions in which my husband and I were pulled over, we accepted citations for minor traffic infractions instead of handing over any cash.
But it is true that many government officials, especially in developing nations, do not make enough money to live on, so whether or not a Christian decides to tip one is a matter of personal conscience. (Mark 12:17; 1 Cor. 10:31-33)
It would be blatantly wrong to give something with the intent of evading justice or seeking preferential treatment over others(Deut. 16:19; Matt. 7:12)
Despite his reputation for corruption, Felix as governor did have a legal right to hold Paul indefinitely without handing him a verdict. (Watchtower. 2001, December 15. “I Appeal to Caesar!”)
If Paul had caved in to bribing him, he would have been breaking Roman law.
As Christians, we find comfort in knowing that Jehovah will bring ultimate justice and he cannot be bought. (Deut. 10:17)

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 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 12-14

“[…] They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and threw them outside their boundaries. […] And the disciples continued to be filled with joy and holy spirit.”
~Acts 13:50,52

Jesus had foretold the type of joy his disciples would reap on account of persecution:
“Happy are you whenever men hate you, […] and denounce your name as wicked for the sake of the Son of man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for look! your reward is great in heaven […].” (Luke 6:22,23)
Paul and Barnabas were physically thrown out of Antioch of Pisidia by “God-fearing” women and prominent men after only about one week of preaching there.
But the many Greek-speaking new disciples were happy despite the opposition because they knew they had God’s spirit. (1 Pet. 4:14)
While some modern day Christians enjoy more freedom of worship than others, all of us undergo various trials to our faith.
Whatever we are experiencing, if we endure with a positive attitude, we will also be blessed with a feeling of joy. (Jas. 1:2,3)