Walk in the Fear of Jehovah
“As [the congregation] walked in the fear of Jehovah and in the comfort of the holy spirit it kept on multiplying.”—ACTS 9:31.
1, 2. (a) What happened when the Christian congregation entered into a period of peace? (b) Though Jehovah permits persecution, what else does he do?
A DISCIPLE faced a supreme test. Would he maintain integrity to God? Yes, indeed! He had walked in the fear of God, with awe for his Maker, and would die as a faithful witness of Jehovah.
2 That God-fearing integrity keeper was Stephen, “a man full of faith and holy spirit.” (Acts 6:5) His murder prompted a wave of persecution, but thereafter the congregation throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria entered into a period of peace and was upbuilt spiritually. Moreover, “as it walked in the fear of Jehovah and in the comfort of the holy spirit it kept on multiplying.” (Acts 9:31) As Jehovah’s Witnesses today, we can be sure that God will bless us whether we experience peace or persecution, as shown in Acts chapters 6 through 12. So let us walk in reverential fear of God when persecuted or use any respite from persecution for spiritual edification and more active service to him.—Deuteronomy 32:11, 12; 33:27.
Faithful to the End
3. What problem was overcome in Jerusalem, and how?
3 Even if problems arise in times of peace, good organization may help solve them. (6:1-7) Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem complained that their widows were being overlooked in the daily food distribution in favor of Jewish believers who spoke Hebrew. This problem was solved when the apostles appointed seven men to care for “this necessary business.” One of them was Stephen.
4. How did Stephen react to false charges?
4 However, God-fearing Stephen soon faced a test. (6:8-15) Certain men rose up who disputed with Stephen. Some were of the “Synagogue of the Freedmen,” perhaps Jews captured by the Romans and later emancipated or Jewish proselytes who once had been slaves. Unable to hold their own against the wisdom and spirit with which Stephen spoke, his foes took him to the Sanhedrin. There false witnesses said: ‘We heard this man say that Jesus will destroy the temple and change customs Moses handed down.’ Yet, even his opposers could see that Stephen was not a wrongdoer but had the serene countenance of an angel, a messenger of God sure of his backing. How different from their faces, malignant with evil because they lent themselves to Satan!
5. What points did Stephen make while witnessing?
5 Questioned by High Priest Caiaphas, Stephen gave a fearless witness. (7:1-53) His review of Israelite history showed that God purposed to set aside the Law and temple service when the Messiah came. Stephen noted that Moses, the deliverer every Jew claimed to honor, was rejected by the Israelites, even as now they did not accept the One bringing greater deliverance. By saying that God does not dwell in handmade houses, Stephen showed that the temple and its system of worship would pass away. But since his judges did not fear God or want to know His will, Stephen said: ‘Obstinate men, you are always resisting the holy spirit. Which prophet did your forefathers not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have become.’
6. (a) Before his death, what faith-strengthening experience did Stephen have? (b) Why could Stephen rightly say: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”?
6 Stephen’s fearless statement led to his murder. (7:54-60) The judges were enraged at this exposure of their guilt in Jesus’ death. But how Stephen’s faith was strengthened when he ‘gazed into heaven and caught sight of God’s glory and of Jesus standing at His right hand’! Stephen could now face his foes with confidence that he had done God’s will. Though Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have visions, we can have similar God-given serenity when persecuted. After throwing Stephen outside Jerusalem, his enemies began to stone him, and he made the appeal: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” This was proper because God had authorized Jesus to raise others to life. (John 5:26; 6:40; 11:25, 26) On bended knee, Stephen cried out: “Jehovah, do not charge this sin against them.” Then he fell asleep in death as a martyr, as so many followers of Jesus have done since then, even in modern times.
Persecution Spreads the Good News
7. What resulted from persecution?
7 The death of Stephen actually resulted in the spreading of the good news. (8:1-4) Persecution scattered all the disciples except the apostles throughout Judea and Samaria. Saul, who approved of Stephen’s murder, ravaged the congregation like a beast, invading one house after another to drag Jesus’ followers out for imprisonment. As scattered disciples kept on preaching, Satan’s plan to stop God-fearing Kingdom proclaimers by persecuting them was foiled. Today, too, persecution has often spread the good news or called attention to the Kingdom-preaching work.
8. (a) What happened as a result of the preaching done in Samaria? (b) How did Peter use the second key that Jesus had entrusted to him?
8 The evangelizer Philip went to Samaria “to preach the Christ.” (8:5-25) Great joy prevailed in that city as the good news was proclaimed, unclean spirits were expelled, and people were cured. The apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria, and when they prayed and laid their hands upon those baptized, the new disciples received holy spirit. The newly baptized former magician Simon tried to buy this authority, but Peter said: ‘May your silver perish with you. Your heart is not straight in God’s sight.’ Told to repent and supplicate Jehovah for forgiveness, he asked the apostles to pray in his behalf. This should move all fearers of Jehovah today to pray for divine help in safeguarding the heart. (Proverbs 4:23) (From this event came the word “simony,” “the buying or selling of a church office or ecclesiastical preferment.”) Peter and John proclaimed the good news in many Samaritan villages. Thus, Peter used the second key Jesus gave him to open the door of knowledge and opportunity to enter the heavenly Kingdom.—Matthew 16:19.
9. Who was the Ethiopian to whom Philip witnessed, and why could the man get baptized?
9 God’s angel then gave Philip a new assignment. (8:26-40) In a chariot on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza rode a “eunuch,” an officer over the treasure of Ethiopia’s queen Candace. He was not a physical eunuch, barred from the Jewish congregation, but he had gone to Jerusalem to worship as a circumcised proselyte. (Deuteronomy 23:1) Philip found the eunuch reading from the book of Isaiah. Invited aboard the chariot, Philip discussed Isaiah’s prophecy and “declared to him the good news about Jesus.” (Isaiah 53:7, 8) Soon the Ethiopian exclaimed: “Look! A body of water; what prevents me from getting baptized?” Nothing did, since he knew about God and now had faith in Christ. So Philip baptized the Ethiopian, who then went his way rejoicing. Does anything prevent you from getting baptized?
A Persecutor Converted
10, 11. What happened to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus and shortly thereafter?
10 Meanwhile, Saul sought to make Jesus’ followers renounce their faith under threat of imprisonment or death. (9:1-18a) The high priest (likely Caiaphas) gave him letters to synagogues in Damascus authorizing him to bring bound to Jerusalem men and women belonging to “The Way,” or manner of life based on Christ’s example. About midday near Damascus, a light flashed from heaven and a voice asked: “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Those with Saul heard “the sound of a voice” but did not understand what was said. (Compare Acts 22:6, 9.) That partial revelation of the glorified Jesus was enough to blind Saul. God used the disciple Ananias to restore his sight.
11 After his baptism, the former persecutor became the object of persecution. (9:18b-25) The Jews in Damascus wanted to do away with Saul. By night, however, the disciples lowered him through an opening in the wall, likely in a large plaited basket made of rope or entwined twigs. (2 Corinthians 11:32, 33) The opening may have been a window of a disciple’s home built into the wall. It was not an act of cowardice to elude foes and keep on preaching.
12. (a) What happened to Saul in Jerusalem? (b) How did the congregation fare?
12 In Jerusalem, Barnabas helped the disciples to accept Saul as a fellow believer. (9:26-31) There Saul fearlessly disputed with Greek-speaking Jews, who also tried to do away with him. Detecting this, the brothers took him to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus, his hometown in Cilicia. The congregation throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria then “entered into a period of peace, being built up” spiritually. As it ‘walked in the fear of Jehovah and the comfort of the holy spirit, it kept on multiplying.’ What a fine example this is for all congregations today if they are to receive Jehovah’s blessing!
Gentiles Become Believers!
13. What miracles did God enable Peter to perform at Lydda and Joppa?
13 Peter too was keeping busy. (9:32-43) At Lydda (now Lod) in the Plain of Sharon, he healed paralyzed Aeneas. This cure caused many to turn to the Lord. In Joppa, the beloved disciple Tabitha (Dorcas) fell sick and died. When Peter arrived, weeping widows showed him garments Dorcas had made and that they may have been wearing. He brought Dorcas back to life, and when news of this spread, many became believers. Peter stayed in Joppa with Simon the tanner, whose house was by the sea. Tanners soaked animal skins in the sea and treated them with lime before scraping off the hair. The hides were converted into leather by tanning them with liquid from certain plants.
14. (a) Who was Cornelius? (b) What was true of the prayers of Cornelius?
14 At that time (36 C.E.), there was a notable development elsewhere. (10:1-8) In Caesarea lived the devout Gentile Cornelius, a Roman centurion commanding about a hundred men. He headed “the Italian band,” apparently made up of recruits from among Roman citizens and freedmen in Italy. Though Cornelius feared God, he was not a Jewish proselyte. In a vision, an angel told him that his prayers had “ascended as a remembrance before God.” Even though Cornelius was not then dedicated to Jehovah, he did receive an answer to his prayer. But as the angel directed, he sent for Peter.
15. What happened while Peter was praying on the rooftop of Simon’s house?
15 Meanwhile, Peter had a vision while praying on the roof of Simon’s house. (10:9-23) In a trance, he saw descending from heaven a sheetlike vessel full of unclean four-footed creatures, creeping things, and birds. Instructed to slaughter and eat, Peter said he had never eaten anything defiled. “Stop calling defiled the things God has cleansed,” he was told. The vision perplexed Peter, but he followed the spirit’s direction. Thus, he and six Jewish brothers accompanied the emissaries of Cornelius.—Acts 11:12.
16, 17. (a) What did Peter tell Cornelius and those assembled at his house? (b) What happened while Peter was still speaking?
16 Now the first Gentiles were about to hear the good news. (10:24-43) When Peter and his associates arrived in Caesarea, Cornelius, his relatives, and his intimate friends were waiting. Cornelius fell at Peter’s feet, but the apostle humbly refused such obeisance. He spoke of how Jehovah anointed Jesus with holy spirit and power as the Messiah and explained that everyone putting faith in him gets forgiveness of sins.
17 Jehovah now acted. (10:44-48) While Peter was yet speaking, God bestowed holy spirit upon those believing Gentiles. Then and there, they were begotten by God’s spirit and were inspired to speak foreign languages and magnify him. Hence, they were appropriately baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. So it was that Peter used the third key to open to God-fearing Gentiles the door of knowledge and of opportunity to enter the heavenly Kingdom.—Matthew 16:19.
18. How did the Jewish brothers react when Peter explained that Gentiles were “baptized in holy spirit”?
18 Later, in Jerusalem, supporters of circumcision contended with Peter. (11:1-18) When he explained how the Gentiles were “baptized in holy spirit,” his Jewish brothers acquiesced and glorified God, saying: “Well, then, God has granted repentance for the purpose of life to people of the nations also.” We too should be receptive when the divine will is made clear to us.
Gentile Congregation Established
19. How did the disciples come to be called Christians?
19 The first Gentile congregation was now formed. (11:19-26) When the disciples were scattered by the tribulation arising over Stephen, some went to Antioch, Syria, noted for unclean worship and moral corruption. As they spoke the good news to Greek-speaking people there, “the hand of Jehovah was with them,” and many became believers. Barnabas and Saul taught there for a year, and “it was first in Antioch that the disciples were by divine providence called Christians.” Jehovah no doubt directed that they be called such, since the Greek word khre·ma·tiʹzo means “to be called by divine providence” and is always used Scripturally in connection with what is from God.
20. What did Agabus foretell, and how did the Antioch congregation react?
20 God-fearing prophets also came to Antioch from Jerusalem. (11:27-30) One was Agabus, who indicated “through the spirit that a great famine was about to come upon the entire inhabited earth.” That prophecy was fulfilled during the reign of Roman emperor Claudius (41-54 C.E.), and the historian Josephus refers to this “great famine.” (Jewish Antiquities, XX, 51 [ii, 5]; XX, 101 [v, 2]) Moved by love, the Antioch congregation sent a contribution to needy brothers in Judea.—John 13:35.
21. What action did Herod Agrippa I take against Peter, but with what result?
21 The period of peace ended when Herod Agrippa I began to persecute fearers of Jehovah in Jerusalem. (12:1-11) Herod did away with James by the sword, perhaps beheading him as the first apostle martyred. Seeing that this pleased the Jews, Herod imprisoned Peter. The apostle apparently was chained to a soldier on each side, while two others guarded his cell. Herod planned to execute him after the Passover and days of unfermented cakes (Nisan 14-21), but the congregation’s prayers in his behalf were answered just in time, even as ours often are. This occurred when God’s angel miraculously freed the apostle.
22. What took place when Peter went to the house of Mark’s mother, Mary?
22 Peter was soon at the house of Mary (the mother of John Mark), apparently a Christian meeting place. (12:12-19) In the darkness, the servant girl Rhoda recognized Peter’s voice but left him at the locked gateway. At first the disciples may have thought that God had sent an angelic messenger representing Peter and speaking with a voice like his. When they admitted Peter, however, he told them to report his deliverance to James and the brothers (perhaps elders). He then left and went underground without revealing his destination so as to avoid imperiling them or himself in case of interrogation. Herod’s search for Peter was fruitless, and the guards were punished, probably even executed.
23. How did the rule of Herod Agrippa I end, and what can we learn from this?
23 In 44 C.E. the rule of Herod Agrippa I ended abruptly in Caesarea when he was 54 years of age. (12:20-25) He was in a fighting mood against the Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon, who bribed his servant Blastus to arrange a hearing at which they could sue for peace. On the “set day” (also a festival honoring Claudius Caesar), Herod clothed himself in royal raiment, sat down on the judgment seat, and began giving a public address. In response the audience shouted: “A god’s voice, and not a man’s!” Instantly, Jehovah’s angel struck him “because he did not give the glory to God.” Herod was “eaten up with worms and expired.” May this warning example move us to continue walking in the fear of Jehovah, shunning pride and giving him the glory for what we do as his people.
24. What will a future article show regarding expansion?
24 Despite persecution by Herod, “the word of Jehovah went on growing and spreading.” In fact, as a future article will show, the disciples could expect further expansion. Why? Because they “walked in the fear of Jehovah.”
How Would You Respond?
□ How did Stephen show that he feared Jehovah, as many of God’s servants have since then?
□ What effect did Stephen’s death have on Kingdom-preaching activity, and does this have a modern-day parallel?
□ How did the persecutor Saul of Tarsus become a fearer of Jehovah?
□ Who were the first Gentile believers?
□ How does Acts chapter 12 show that persecution does not stop fearers of Jehovah?
[Picture on page 16, 17]
A light flashed from heaven and a voice asked: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”