The Tested Quality of Our Faith—A Cause of Praise and Honor
“In this fact you are greatly rejoicing, though for a little while at present, if it must be, you have been grieved by various trials, in order that the tested quality of your faith . . . may be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”—1 Pet. 1:6, 7.
1. Give historical examples of persecution faced by worshipers of Jehovah.
THROUGHOUT the history of mankind men of faith have been put to the test, harassed and persecuted by those opposing them. This was true of Abel, who was killed by his own brother because his sacrificial offering to God was viewed with favor while Cain’s was not. It was true of the Jewish prophet Jeremiah, who was thrown into a miry cistern for faithfully declaring the word of his God. It was true of the founder of Christianity, Jesus, because of his exposé of religious hypocrisy and because of his willingness to carry out the will of his Father.
2. How does the book of Hebrews describe the trials of faithful ones?
2 A record of the trials and faith of many such persecuted ones, both men and women of times past, is recorded for us in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. What courage it must have taken for these servants of God to maintain their faith when being tortured, mocked, scourged, put in bonds and imprisoned, even being stoned or dying by the sword! As Paul, a disciple of Jesus, commented: “The world was not worthy of them.” And yet they all had not only a solid faith, an “assured expectation,” but also the confidence that “God foresaw something better” for them. (Heb. 11:1, 2, 38, 40) What was it that they looked forward to with such confidence that they were willing to endure any kind of trial?
3. To what did they look forward with confidence?
3 It was the heavenly kingdom that these faithful men and women put confidence in, “a kingdom that cannot be shaken,” God’s kingdom of righteousness. Paul reminded the Hebrew believers of his day of the awesome display of Jehovah God’s majesty at Mount Sinai when the Law covenant was given. But he explained that something far grander was to come, the establishment of the heavenly kingdom that was to rule over, not just Israel, but the whole earth. “Wherefore, seeing that we are to receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us continue to have undeserved kindness, through which we may acceptably render God sacred service with godly fear and awe.”—Heb. 12:18-28.
HATRED FOR CHRISTIAN WITNESSES
4. What kind of treatment did early Christians face?
4 It is appropriate that the word “martyr,” which is of Greek origin, literally means “witness,” for many were the early Christian witnesses who endured persecution, even martyrdom, rather than abandon their faith. Paul himself was involved in such matters, as he later testified: “I used to imprison and flog in one synagogue after another those believing upon [the Lord Jesus]; and when the blood of Stephen your witness was being spilled, I myself was also standing by and approving and guarding the outer garments of those doing away with him.”—Acts 22:19, 20.
5. What are some individual examples of faithfulness?
5 Another early Christian martyr was James the brother of John, the first of the twelve apostles to die as a martyr, executed by Herod Agrippa I by the sword. (Acts 12:1, 2) And if it had not been for Jehovah’s intervention, Peter too would have been killed by Herod. (Acts 12:11) Efforts were also made on many occasions to have the apostle Paul put to death. (Acts 22:22) Toward the close of the first century the aged apostle John wrote of another Christian who died in faithfulness: “Antipas, my witness, the faithful one.”—Rev. 2:13.
6. (a) What did Jesus say about his opposers? (b) Why were they without excuse in their opposition?
6 Why was there so much opposition to the early disciples of Jesus? Why did the leaders of the people go to such lengths that they induced men to give false testimony leading to Stephen’s death? Jesus had told some of his religious opposers bluntly: “You are from your father the Devil, and you wish to do the desires of your father. That one was a manslayer when he began, and he did not stand fast in the truth.” (John 8:44) So it was not that they did not know the truth about Jesus’ teaching or the accuracy of Stephen’s witness. They surely knew of Peter’s testimony about the outpouring of God’s spirit at Pentecost and had either witnessed or heard of the gift of tongues that marked these Christians as the people of God. There had been “about three thousand souls” baptized at that time, and later even “a great crowd of priests” accepted the message. Yet religious hatred against those following “The Way” burned like a fire. (Acts 2:41; 6:7; 9:2) No doubt the chief priests well remembered Jesus’ words condemning them. (Matthew chapter 23) So their opposition against these early Christians marked them as being against the operation of God’s spirit.
SAUL BECOMES A DISCIPLE
7. What kind of background did Paul have before becoming a Christian?
7 But not all reacted in that way. Saul (who became known by his Roman name Paul) was one who made great changes in his life. (Acts 13:9) Although brought up under the Law covenant and with the viewpoint of the Pharisees, he changed from his respected position in the Jewish faith to share the persecution heaped on the early Christians. (Phil. 3:5, 6) He well knew the consequences of this change, yet he did not hesitate when he was convinced of what was right. It was a time of great persecution against the Christian congregation. Saul himself had been dealing “outrageously” against the early Christians, invading one house after another, dragging out both men and women to be put into prison. (Acts 8:1-3) In fact, it was when he was on his way to Damascus with letters from the high priest authorizing him to bring as prisoners to Jerusalem any he found who professed Christianity, either men or women, that an event took place that profoundly changed his life.—Acts 9:1, 2.
8. What experience did Paul (or Saul) have in learning the truth, and how did he react?
8 Suddenly he was startled by a heavenly light. “He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him: ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He said: ‘Who are you, Lord?’ He said: ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’” Still blinded by the light, Saul was led to Damascus. After three days a disciple named Ananias was directed to come to his aid. After being assured that this was the Lord’s will, Ananias told him: “Saul, brother, the Lord, the Jesus that appeared to you on the road over which you were coming, has sent me forth, in order that you may recover sight and be filled with holy spirit.” How would you have responded to such an event? Would you find it difficult to make a change, knowing it would probably mean persecution and hardship for you, possibly being rejected by your own family? There was no doubt in Saul’s mind as to what he should do, for we read: “Immediately in the synagogues he began to preach Jesus, that this One is the Son of God.”—Acts 9:3-5, 17, 20.
AN EXAMPLE OF FAITH
9. (a) How are Saul’s experiences an encouragement to modern Christians? (b) What narrow escape did he have in Damascus when he began preaching about Christ?
9 As we consider his example of faith, Saul’s endurance under trial, and the guidance and protection that Jehovah granted him, we find encouragement to overcome the trials facing true Christians in this generation. Even knowing that opposition would face him as it did the other Christians in those days, Saul was not one to turn back despite the fact that the Lord had told Ananias: “I shall show him plainly how many things he must suffer for my name.” After spending a few days with the disciples in Damascus, Saul zealously began preaching. As a result, it was not long before the Jews plotted to kill him and started watching the city gates day and night in order to do away with him. But Jehovah was not going to let this “chosen vessel” be so easily set aside. (Acts 9:15, 16) The plot became known to Saul, and his disciples helped him to escape from the trap, letting him down by a basket through an opening in the wall. This was only the beginning of an exciting life in the preaching work for this former persecutor of Christians.
10. How did Saul’s experience with Elymas indicate demonic opposition?
10 Saul and Barnabas were especially selected by holy spirit to accomplish the work of announcing the word of God to Jews as well as to non-Jews. On their first missionary tour they met a man described as a false prophet and a sorcerer who was with the proconsul Sergius Paulus. When Elymas the sorcerer began opposing Saul and Barnabas, trying to turn the proconsul away from listening to their message, Saul (now called Paul) filled with holy spirit, asked him: “Will you not quit distorting the right ways of Jehovah?” Immediately the sorcerer became temporarily blind. As a result, the astounded proconsul put faith in the things he had seen and heard.—Acts 13:6-12.
11. (a) Why, and on what Scriptural basis did Paul and Barnabas preach to the Gentiles in Antioch and Iconium? (b) What did they do after being driven out of these cities?
11 Paul and Barnabas continued on to Antioch in Pisidia, where they gave a bold witness to the people of the city. When the Jews became enraged at their preaching concerning Jesus’ resurrection, the two men turned their attention to the people of the nations, referring to the prophetic words of Isaiah: “I have appointed you as a light of nations, for you to be a salvation to the extremity of the earth.” (Acts 13:47) And while Gentiles who were righteously disposed began to rejoice at this, the Jewish populace drove Paul and Barnabas out of the city. Yet they continued on their way filled with joy and holy spirit. At their next stop, in Iconium, they had a similar experience. As a result of their preaching, a great multitude of Jews and Greeks became believers, but those who did not accept the message stirred up the people, with both Jews and Gentiles becoming intent on doing them violence, so that it was necessary for them to flee elsewhere in order to continue preaching the good news.
12, 13. (a) What happened to Paul in Lystra? (b) How did Paul show his trust in Jehovah?
12 In Lystra, after Paul brought about the healing of a man lame from birth, the people thought the two men were gods. They called Barnabas Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, since he was the one taking the lead in speaking. However, Paul and Barnabas restrained them, saying: “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are humans having the same infirmities as you do, and are declaring the good news to you.” (Acts 14:15) About then the Jews from Antioch and Iconium who were still on Paul’s trail arrived and, finding Paul, they stoned him and dragged him outside the city, imagining he was dead. But by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness Paul survived this ordeal, and the next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe, where he continued with his preaching and made quite a few disciples.
13 Perhaps you are thinking, ‘After all of that I would have given up before I got killed.’ But not so with Paul. In fact, the account at Acts 14:21 relates that Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, where they had had so much opposition, as they wanted to strengthen and encourage the disciples. They reminded them, “We must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations.” So they continued in their work of building up the congregations and strengthening those who had become believers in Jehovah.—Acts 14:22.
FELLOW BELIEVERS CAUSE DISPUTES
14. What argument did some advance, and how was it resolved?
14 Unfortunately, it was not just opposers who brought problems at times, but even fellow believers caused disputes, claiming, for example, that unless the Gentiles got circumcised according to the custom of Moses, they could not be saved. (Acts 15:1, 2) After considerable disagreement on the point, it was determined that Paul and Barnabas and others would submit the matter to the apostles and older men of the central congregation in Jerusalem. After hearing their testimony and that of Peter and others, what was the decision? Not to trouble those of the nations who were turning to God except with the necessary things, that they abstain from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from blood.—Acts 15:12-20.
15. Because of what situation did Paul correct Peter?
15 Paul stood firm for the truth. In discussing his visit to Jerusalem, he says that when “false brothers . . . sneaked in,” “to these we did not yield by way of submission, no, not for an hour, in order that the truth of the good news might continue with you.” In Antioch, when even Peter put on a pretense by not eating with or associating with his Gentile brothers in order not to offend some visiting Jewish Christians, Paul “resisted him face to face, because he stood condemned.” He explained to the Galatians: “I do not shove aside the undeserved kindness of God; for if righteousness is through law, Christ actually died for nothing.” (Gal. 2:4, 5, 11, 21) This helped the Galatians to understand that Christians are declared righteous by faith in Christ, not by conforming to the works of the Mosaic law. The Law covenant had been taken out of the way, and now the new covenant was in operation. Though some were slow to grasp this, Paul did not become discouraged by their display of human reasoning.
PAUL NOT DISCOURAGED BY OPPOSITION
16. How did the trials of Paul and Silas in Philippi turn into a blessing?
16 At Philippi, on his second missionary tour, Paul had the pleasure of bringing the truth to a business woman named Lydia, who opened her heart wide to the things spoken by Paul and showed great hospitality to these brothers. Here in Philippi too, Paul encountered problems, this time from the owners of a servant girl with the power of divination. Day after day she kept calling out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who are publishing to you the way of salvation.” (Acts 16:17) Finally Paul got tired of it and, in Jesus’ name, ordered the demon to leave the girl. When her owners who had profited by her predictions saw that she had lost this supernatural ability, they took Paul and Silas before the magistrates to have them beaten and imprisoned. Again this would have been enough to discourage many, first being beaten and then being thrown into jail, but not so with Paul and Silas. The account tells us that in the middle of the night, as they were praying and praising God with song, suddenly a great earthquake occurred, breaking open the jail doors and loosing the prisoners. Rather than trying to escape, Paul stayed to reassure the jailer, who was about to kill himself, and took the opportunity to share the word of Jehovah with him and his family. As a result, they were baptized that very night.
17. How did Paul view his trials, and what attitude did he maintain?
17 Despite everything, Paul was not discouraged. He maintained the right attitude. As he wrote the Corinthian brothers: “When being reviled, we bless; when being persecuted, we bear up; when being defamed, we entreat.” (1 Cor. 4:12, 13) He could see the truth of Jesus’ words: “A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20) Paul considered it a privilege to go through trials on account of the good news.—Phil. 1:27-30.
18. How did a silversmith oppose Paul’s preaching, but what finally happened?
18 On Paul’s third missionary tour he ran into opposition again, this time from craftsmen who made religious shrines. Demetrius, a silversmith who profited by making shrines of the goddess Artemis, warned the people that Paul was teaching that gods made by hands are not gods and that soon the shrine makers’ occupation would come into disrepute. The city got into an uproar over this, and it was only with great effort that the city recorder calmed the people down and got the crowd to disperse. (Acts 19:23-41) Yes, Paul’s life was threatened and his faith tested time after time.—2 Cor. 4:7-12; 6:3-10; 11:23-27.
19. What warning did Paul receive, but why did he not shrink at the prospect of death?
19 Finally, while Paul was at Caesarea, the prophet Agabus warned him that he would be bound in Jerusalem and delivered into the hands of people of the nations. What would Paul do? Would he flee elsewhere? No, for he said: “I am ready not only to be bound but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:10-13) He felt that, no matter what happened to him, he had been faithful in his assignment of service and that he was “clean from the blood of all men.”—Acts 20:26.
20. To whom was Paul privileged to give a witness, and how did he use the time during his imprisonment?
20 As foretold, in Jerusalem Paul was falsely accused at the temple and dragged outside. Only the quick intervention of the Roman military commander prevented his death. Paul was thereafter privileged to give his defense before the Jewish supreme court called the Sanhedrin. But here, too, dissension arose over the message he spoke. That night an angel stood by him and told him to be of good courage. Just as he had given a thorough witness in Jerusalem so he would bear witness in Rome. (Acts 23:11) Thereafter Paul’s case was heard by Governor Felix, then by his successor, Porcius Festus, and finally by King Agrippa II, before he was sent to Rome. Two years he remained in custody, preaching to all who came to visit him. Apparently he was pronounced innocent and released by Caesar Nero.—2 Tim. 4:16, 17.
21, 22. (a) What evidence do we have that Paul expected to die as a result of his second imprisonment? (b) Why did Paul have such strong faith?
21 However, Paul was imprisoned again at Rome about 65 C.E. It was during this imprisonment that he wrote his second letter to Timothy and implied that his death was near. (2 Tim. 4:6-8) Likely he suffered martyrdom at the hands of Nero in 66 C.E.
22 There was no doubt about the tested quality of Paul’s faith. He had good reason to have faith. Not only had he been called in a miraculous way, but time after time he had seen the operation of God’s spirit in the things he was privileged to perform and in angelic intervention on his behalf. But despite the intense hatred he encountered from both demonic and human sources, he did not let his faith waver nor was he turned aside from the work to which he had been called. He put his confidence in the Lord and in the resurrection hope.—1 Cor. 15:14, 21, 22.
23. How do we know that Paul was not ashamed of his course of life?
23 Paul was not ashamed of his course of life. As he told King Agrippa: “I could wish to God that . . . not only you but also all those who hear me today would become men such as I also am, with the exception of these bonds.” (Acts 26:28, 29; Rom. 1:16) Despite the trials he endured, he encouraged others to follow the same course. To the brothers at Corinth, he wrote: “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1) He was not the type of person who went looking for trouble nor one who reveled in hardship or martyrdom as though it brought glory to the individual. Yet he stood firm for the truth. When he wrote the Thessalonians, he rejoiced that the good news did not result in speech alone, “but also with power and with holy spirit and strong conviction . . . and you became imitators of us and of the Lord, seeing that you accepted the word under much tribulation with joy of holy spirit.”—1 Thess. 1:5, 6.
24. What blessings come from our demonstrating faith like Paul’s?
24 Few of us will ever face all the trials Paul did. Yet we can all demonstrate faith like his. We can remember his encouraging words to the Hebrews: “Now we are not the sort that shrink back to destruction, but the sort that have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.” (Heb. 10:38, 39) Knowing that the tested quality of our faith works out endurance, we should be imitators of Paul as he was of Christ Jesus. By our faithful endurance despite the trials that come upon us, we know that in our case also the tested, enduring quality of our faith will be “a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”—1 Pet. 1:5-7, 9; Jas. 1:2, 3.
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Saul of Tarsus “did not become disobedient to the heavenly sight,” but became a disciple of Jesus and an example of faith and endurance.—Acts 26:19