A Practical Book for Modern Living
Books offering advice are very popular in today’s world. But they tend to become outdated and are soon revised or replaced. What about the Bible? It was completed nearly 2,000 years ago. Yet, its original message has never been improved upon or updated. Could such a book possibly contain practical guidance for our day?
SOME say no. “Nobody would advocate the use of a 1924 edition chemistry text[book] for use in a modern chemistry class,” wrote Dr. Eli S. Chesen, explaining why he felt that the Bible is outdated.1 Seemingly, this argument makes sense. After all, man has learned much about mental health and human behavior since the Bible was written. So how could such an ancient book possibly be relevant for modern living?
While it is true that times have changed, basic human needs have remained the same. People throughout history have had a need for love and affection. They have wanted to be happy and to lead meaningful lives. They have needed advice on how to cope with economic pressures, how to make a success of marriage, and how to instill good moral and ethical values in their children. The Bible contains advice that addresses those basic needs.—Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13; Romans 12:10; Colossians 3:18-21; 1 Timothy 6:6-10.
The Bible’s counsel reflects a keen awareness of human nature. Consider some examples of its specific, timeless principles that are practical for modern living.
Practical Guidance for Marriage
The family, says the UN Chronicle, “is the oldest and most basic unit of human organization; the most crucial link between generations.” This “crucial link,” however, is coming apart at an alarming rate. “In today’s world,” notes the Chronicle, “many families face daunting challenges that threaten their ability to function and, indeed, to survive.”2 What advice does the Bible offer to help the family unit survive?
To begin with, the Bible has much to say about how husbands and wives should treat each other. Concerning husbands, for example, it says: “Husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, for no man ever hated his own flesh; but he feeds and cherishes it.” (Ephesians 5:28, 29) A wife was advised to “have deep respect for her husband.”—Ephesians 5:33.
Consider the implications of applying such Bible counsel. A husband who loves his wife ‘as his own body’ is not hateful or brutal toward her. He does not strike her physically, nor does he abuse her verbally or emotionally. Instead, he accords her the same esteem and consideration he shows himself. (1 Peter 3:7) His wife thus feels loved and secure in her marriage. He thereby provides his children with a good example of how women should be treated. On the other hand, a wife who has “deep respect” for her husband does not strip him of his dignity by constantly criticizing him or belittling him. Because she respects him, he feels trusted, accepted, and appreciated.
Is such advice practical in this modern world? It is interesting that those who make a career of studying families today have come to similar conclusions. An administrator of a family counseling program noted: “The healthiest families I know are ones in which the mother and father have a strong, loving relationship between themselves. . . . This strong primary relationship seems to breed security in the children.”3
Over the years, the Bible’s counsel on marriage has proved far more reliable than the advice of countless well-intentioned family counselors. After all, it was not too long ago that many experts were advocating divorce as a quick and easy solution to an unpleasant marriage. Today, many of them urge people to make their marriage last if at all possible. But this change has come only after much damage was done.
In contrast, the Bible gives reliable, balanced counsel on the subject of marriage. It acknowledges that some extreme circumstances make divorce permissible. (Matthew 19:9) At the same time, it condemns frivolous divorce. (Malachi 2:14-16) It also condemns marital infidelity. (Hebrews 13:4) Marriage, it says, involves commitment: “That is why a man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.”a—Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5, 6.
The Bible’s advice on marriage is as relevant today as it was when the Bible was written. When husband and wife treat each other with love and respect and view marriage as an exclusive relationship, the marriage is more likely to survive—and with it the family.
Practical Guidance for Parents
Several decades ago many parents—spurred on by “innovative ideas” on child training—thought it was “forbidden to forbid.”8 Setting limits for children, they feared, would cause trauma and frustration. Well-meaning counselors on child rearing were insisting that parents refrain from anything more than the mildest correction of their children. But many such experts are now reconsidering the role of discipline, and concerned parents are searching for some clarity on the subject.
All along, however, the Bible has offered clear, reasonable counsel on child rearing. Nearly 2,000 years ago, it said: “Fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) The Greek noun translated “discipline” means “upbringing, training, instruction.”9 The Bible says that such discipline, or instruction, is evidence of parental love. (Proverbs 13:24) Children thrive with clear-cut moral guidelines and a developed sense of right and wrong. Discipline tells them that their parents care about them and about the kind of person they are becoming.
But parental authority—“the rod of discipline”—should never be abusive.b (Proverbs 22:15; 29:15) The Bible cautions parents: “Don’t over-correct your children, or you will take all the heart out of them.” (Colossians 3:21, Phillips) It also acknowledges that physical punishment is usually not the most effective teaching method. Proverbs 17:10 says: “A rebuke works deeper in one having understanding than striking a stupid one a hundred times.” Besides, the Bible recommends preventive discipline. At Deuteronomy 11:19 parents are urged to take advantage of casual moments to instill moral values in their children.—See also Deuteronomy 6:6, 7.
The Bible’s timeless advice to parents is clear. Children need consistent and loving discipline. Practical experience shows that such counsel really works.c
Overcoming the Barriers That Divide People
People today are divided by racial, national, and ethnic barriers. Such artificial walls have contributed to the slaughter of innocent humans in wars the world over. If history is any indication, the prospect of men and women of different races and nations viewing and treating one another as equals is indeed bleak. “The solution,” says an African statesman, “is in our hearts.”11 But changing human hearts is not easy. Consider, though, how the Bible’s message appeals to the heart and fosters attitudes of equality.
The Bible’s teaching that God “made out of one man every nation of men” precludes any idea of racial superiority. (Acts 17:26) It shows that there is really only one race—the human race. The Bible further encourages us to “become imitators of God,” of whom it says: “[He] is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Ephesians 5:1; Acts 10:34, 35) To those who take the Bible seriously and who truly seek to live by its teachings, this knowledge has a unifying effect. It works on the deepest level, in the human heart, dissolving the man-made barriers that divide people. Consider an example.
When Hitler waged war throughout Europe, there was one group of Christians—Jehovah’s Witnesses—who steadfastly refused to join in the slaughter of innocent humans. They would “not lift up sword” against their fellowman. They took this stand because of their desire to please God. (Isaiah 2:3, 4; Micah 4:3, 5) They truly believed what the Bible teaches—that no nation or race is better than another. (Galatians 3:28) Because of their peace-loving stand, Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the first inmates in the concentration camps.—Romans 12:18.
But not all who claimed to follow the Bible took such a stand. Shortly after World War II, Martin Niemöller, a German Protestant clergyman, wrote: “Whoever wants to blame God for [wars] does not know, or does not want to know, God’s Word. . . . Christian churches have, throughout the ages, repeatedly given themselves to blessing wars, troops, and weapons and . . . prayed in a very unchristian way for the destruction of their enemies at war. All this is our fault and the fault of our fathers, but by no means is God to blame. And we Christians of today stand ashamed before a so-called sect like the Earnest Bible Students [Jehovah’s Witnesses], who by the hundreds and thousands went into concentration camps and [even] died because they declined service in war and refused to fire on humans.”12
To this day, Jehovah’s Witnesses are well-known for their brotherhood, which unites Arabs and Jews, Croatians and Serbs, Hutu and Tutsi. However, the Witnesses readily acknowledge that such unity is possible, not because they are better than others, but because they are motivated by the power of the Bible’s message.—1 Thessalonians 2:13.
Practical Guidance That Promotes Good Mental Health
A person’s physical health is often affected by the state of his mental and emotional health. For instance, scientific studies have established the harmful effects of anger. “Most of the available evidence suggests that hostile people are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease (as well as other illnesses) for a variety of reasons, including reduced social support, increased biologic reactivity when angered, and increased indulgence in risky health behaviors,” say Dr. Redford Williams, Director of Behavioral Research at Duke University Medical Center, and his wife, Virginia Williams, in their book Anger Kills.13
Thousands of years before such scientific studies, the Bible, in simple but clear terms, made a connection between our emotional state and our physical health: “A calm heart is the life of the fleshly organism, but jealousy is rottenness to the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30; 17:22) Wisely, the Bible counseled: “Let anger alone and leave rage,” and “Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended [or “angry,” King James Version].”—Psalm 37:8; Ecclesiastes 7:9.
The Bible also contains sensible advice for managing anger. For example, Proverbs 19:11 says: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger, and it is beauty on his part to pass over transgression.” The Hebrew word for “insight” is derived from a verb that draws attention to a “knowledge of the reason” for something.14 The wise advice is: “Think before you act.” Endeavoring to grasp the underlying reasons why others talk or act in a certain way can help a person to be more tolerant—and less prone to anger.—Proverbs 14:29.
Another piece of practical advice is found at Colossians 3:13, which says: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely.” Minor irritations are a part of life. The expression “continue putting up with” suggests tolerating the things we dislike in others. “Forgive” means to let go of resentment. At times it is wise to let go of bitter feelings instead of nursing them; harboring the anger will only add to our burden.—See box “Practical Guidance for Human Relationships.”
Today, there are many sources of counsel and guidance. But the Bible is truly unique. Its counsel is not mere theory, nor does its advice ever work to our harm. Instead, its wisdom has proved “very trustworthy.” (Psalm 93:5) Furthermore, the Bible’s counsel is timeless. Although it was completed nearly 2,000 years ago, its words are still applicable. And they apply with equal effect regardless of the color of our skin or the country in which we live. The Bible’s words also have power—the power to change people for the better. (Hebrews 4:12) Reading that book and applying its principles can thus enhance the quality of your life.
a The Hebrew word da·vaqʹ, here translated “stick,” “carries the sense of clinging to someone in affection and loyalty.”4 In Greek, the word rendered “will stick” at Matthew 19:5 is related to the word meaning “to glue,” “to cement,” “to join together tightly.”5
b In Bible times, the word “rod” (Hebrew, sheʹvet) meant a “stick” or a “staff,” such as that used by a shepherd.10 In this context the rod of authority suggests loving guidance, not harsh brutality.—Compare Psalm 23:4.
c See the chapters “Train Your Child From Infancy,” “Help Your Teenager to Thrive,” “Is There a Rebel in the House?”, and “Protect Your Family From Destructive Influences” in the book The Secret of Family Happiness, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Blurb on page 24]
The Bible offers clear, reasonable counsel on family life
[Box on page 23]
Characteristics of Healthy Families
Several years ago an educator and family specialist conducted an extensive survey in which more than 500 professionals who work with families were asked to comment on the traits they observed in “healthy” families. Interestingly, among the most common traits listed were things long ago recommended by the Bible.
Good communication practices topped the list, including effective methods of reconciling differences. A common policy found in healthy families is that “nobody goes to bed angry at another,” noted the author of the survey.6 Yet, over 1,900 years ago, the Bible advised: “Be wrathful, and yet do not sin; let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.” (Ephesians 4:26) In Bible times the days were reckoned from sundown to sundown. So, long before modern experts studied families, the Bible wisely advised: Settle divisive matters quickly—before the day ends and another begins.
Healthy families “don’t bring up potentially explosive subjects right before they go out or before bedtime,” the author found. “Over and over I heard the phrase ‘the right time.’”7 Such families unwittingly echoed the Bible proverb recorded over 2,700 years ago: “As apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time for it.” (Proverbs 15:23; 25:11) This simile may allude to golden ornaments in the shape of apples placed on engraved silver trays—prized and beautiful possessions in Bible times. It conveys the beauty and value of words uttered at the appropriate time. In stressful circumstances, the right words said at the right time are priceless.—Proverbs 10:19.
[Box on page 26]
Practical Guidance for Human Relationships
“Be agitated, but do not sin. Have your say in your heart, upon your bed, and keep silent.” (Psalm 4:4) In most cases involving minor offenses, it may be wise to restrain your words, thus avoiding an emotional confrontation.
“There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword, but the tongue of the wise ones is a healing.” (Proverbs 12:18) Think before you speak. Thoughtless words can wound others and kill friendships.
“An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.” (Proverbs 15:1) It takes self-control to respond with mildness, but such a course often smooths out problems and promotes peaceful relations.
“The beginning of contention is as one letting out waters; so before the quarrel has burst forth, take your leave.” (Proverbs 17:14) It is wise to remove yourself from a volatile situation before you lose your temper.
“Do not be quick to show resentment; for resentment is nursed by fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9, The New English Bible) Emotions often precede actions. The person who is quick to take offense is foolish, for his course may lead to rash words or actions.
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Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the first concentration camp inmates