Courage to Conquer Religious Opposition
1. On what is Christian courage based, and how has such courage been demonstrated by servants of God?
MOSES stood before Pharaoh with courage. Joshua was courageous when going into the Promised Land. David, though a shepherd lad, stood courageously before the giant warrior Goliath. Jesus faced his adversary with courage. All these men received their courage through faith in Jehovah God. They believed! After God’s spirit was poured out at Pentecost the early Christians did the will of God whole-souled and were full of faith. (Eph. 6:6) The message concerning the kingdom of the heavens had to be given out to mankind. Jesus Christ must be preached as the way of salvation. The apostles, filled with holy spirit, had a message concerning Jesus to declare: “Let all the house of Israel know for a certainty that God made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you impaled.” (Acts 2:36) The fear that scattered the disciples just for knowing or being with Jesus on the night that he was taken prisoner was all gone. Courage had now taken its place through faith.
2. How did those who came to the apostles to listen and to be healed show they had faith and courage?
2 Multitudes came from cities round about Jerusalem to hear the apostles speak, and they brought the sick persons “upon little beds and cots, in order that, as Peter would go by, at least his shadow might fall upon some one of them.” What faith! All of them with such faith would be cured. It took courage to come and be cured. (Acts 5:14-16) The preaching of the good news then knew no bounds—neither should it today. With courage Jesus had overcome the world; now the disciples of Christ Jesus must do so. Did they have enough courage through faith? Let us see.
3, 4. (a) What test that came upon the apostles called for courage on their part? (b) Why did the Jewish religious opposers become greatly disturbed?
3 A test of courage came when “the high priest and all those with him, the then existing sect of the Sadducees, rose and became filled with jealousy, and they laid hands upon the apostles and put them in the public place of custody. But during the night Jehovah’s angel opened the doors of the prison, brought them out and said: ‘Be on your way, and, having taken a stand in the temple, keep on speaking to the people all the sayings about this life.’” (Acts 5:17-20) Under such a command by Jehovah’s angel the apostles were not hesitant; they were not fearful. True, they had been thrown into jail the day before, but they were trained to preach and preaching was their work as ministers. They were commanded to speak about “this life” and tell the people how to get it. At daybreak they went into the temple and taught the people.
4 When the high priest arrived, he called together the Sanʹhedrin and assembled the older men of the sons of Israel, and they sent officers to the jail to bring the prisoners forth. In amazement they said: “The jail we found locked with all security and the guards standing at the doors, but on opening up we found no one inside.” Such a situation was enough to disturb anyone. And these Jews were especially disturbed because they wanted to stop this preaching of the good news. Just about this time a certain man arrived and reported: “Look! The men you put in the prison are in the temple, standing and teaching the people.”
5. (a) When again ordered by religious authorities to quit preaching, how did the apostles reply? (b) Why was it that this persecution was coming on the apostles?
5 “Then the captain went off with his officers and proceeded to bring them, but without violence, as they were afraid of being stoned by the people. So they brought them and stood them in the Sanʹhedrin hall. And the high priest questioned them and said: ‘We positively ordered you not to keep teaching upon the basis of this name, and yet, look! you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you are determined to bring the blood of this man upon us.’ In answer Peter and the other apostles said: ‘We must obey God as ruler rather than men. The God of our forefathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew, hanging him upon a stake. God exalted this one as Chief Agent and Savior to his right hand, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these matters, and so is the holy spirit, which God has given to those obeying him as ruler.’” (Acts 5:22-32) Surely the apostles recalled Jesus’ words then: “A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also; if they have observed my word, they will observe yours also. But they will do all these things against you on account of my name, because they do not know him that sent me.” (John 15:20, 21) How true Jesus’ words were now for the apostles!
6. What did the experience in that religious court show as to the heart condition of those early Christians?
6 The words of those apostles in that religious court show that fear of man was gone. Even the fear of the religious high priest and those associated with him was gone. The hearts of those early Christians were unified in the fear of Almighty God.—Ps. 86:11.
CHRISTIAN COURAGE IN SPAIN IN 1961
7. (a) As we read of the experiences of those first-century Christians, what questions must we ask ourselves? (b) Where are Jehovah’s witnesses today faced with a similar situation?
7 When you read thrilling experiences like this of the early Christian congregation, how does it make you feel? What would you as a Christian under such circumstances do about further declaring of the good news of God’s kingdom? Just what position would you take if you were in a country where the government and the religious leaders declared that you may not under any circumstances express yourself? What would you do if you were in a Catholic country or any other country and were told by the authorities, ‘We positively order you not to keep teaching upon the basis of this name’ and not to speak publicly about your God and his written Word? That is the situation that many Christian witnesses of Jehovah find themselves in in the country of Spain right now.
8. (a) What is the cause of the persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses in Spain? (b) How have many freedom-loving persons made known their protest, but what reply have some received?
8 Because of the persecution that has been brought upon Jehovah’s witnesses for preaching the good news of God’s kingdom in Spain, many individuals throughout the world have written letters of protest to the Spanish government and their official representatives in different countries. The persecution is being brought upon Jehovah’s witnesses by the Spanish government and the Catholic clergy who incite the government. In reply to protests of this kind the Spanish Embassy in Washington, D. C., writes:
“There is complete freedom of worship in my country as article VI of the Bill of Rights (Fuero de los Españoles) states: ‘Nobody shall be molested for his religious beliefs nor in the private exercise of his worship.’
“No one can claim that there is no freedom of worship in Spain where for 15,000 non-Catholic Spaniards there are about 260 Protestant churches and a few mosques and synagogues. It must be understood that religious proselytism or propaganda is not permitted by a duly approved law which intends to prevent any possible disorder or reaction. The overwhelming majority of the country is, as you surely know, Catholic. On the other hand Catholics believe that Protestant doctrines are in error. Therefore, the Spanish Government cannot admit error be spread among its citizens. This attitude is a logical consequence of its beliefs.”
9. (a) So what is the viewpoint of the Spanish government on matters of worship? (b) What is it that Jehovah’s witnesses are doing in Spain?
9 From this we see the Spanish government says you can believe what you want to, but do not tell anyone. It must be “a private exercise of his worship.” The position taken by the Embassy is that the Catholics believe that Protestant doctrines are in error, and, of course, they class Jehovah’s witnesses as being Protestant because they are the only ones in Spain that are protesting the false teachings of the Catholic Church. What are Jehovah’s witnesses doing in Spain? They are not causing a disturbance. They are merely trying to teach the Bible to the people, which the Catholic Church does not want the people to have. True, Jehovah’s witnesses are talking to Catholics, because there are not many other people in that country to talk to. So if they are going to preach in Spain they must speak to Catholics about God’s Word.
10. How did there come to be a similar situation involving religious intolerance on the part of Jews toward the early Christians?
10 In the days of the first Christians shortly after Pentecost, when there were only a few thousand who professed to be Christians, in what country were these Christians situated? In a solid-Jewish community. The Jews, through their rulers, had already put the Christians’ leader, Jesus Christ, on the torture stake and killed him so as to stamp out this “new religion.” But these followers of Christ still had Christ’s message in their hearts and minds. As the years went on many others received the good news through the apostles, and the truth of God’s Word spread. The apostles could not close their own mouths nor could any of the converted Jews. (Acts 5:41, 42) But the Jewish religious leaders did not want anyone in their community to hear this new teaching. What did these religious priests do but arrest these followers of Christ and throw them into prison. On letting them go after a flogging, thinking that they had scared them, the priests through their chief said: ‘We positively order you not to keep teaching upon the basis of Jesus’ name.’ (Acts 5:28-40) These religionists could easily make laws; they were in power. But what about the command of Christ Jesus to his followers to preach the truth? Whom would you have obeyed?
11. So today in Spain what two commands are seen to be in conflict?
11 The same situation exists in Spain 1900 years later. The Spanish Catholic law says you cannot talk to others about the Bible. They say Jehovah’s witnesses may carry on the private exercise of their worship but they may not do what Christ commanded: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations.” (Matt. 28:19) No, not in Spain!
12. (a) In view of the current religious situation in Spain, would the apostle Paul be welcomed there? (b) Are there some persons in Spain who appreciate the preaching done by Jehovah’s witnesses, and why so?
12 The early Christians would not think of stopping the proclamation of the good news and they did not stop, regardless of all the persecution and trials that were brought upon them. We today thank God that they had the courage to press on, because many more thousands of people in many lands learned the way of eternal life. At one time Paul hoped to go to Spain, but Paul in his aggressive ministry would not be welcome in Spain today. The truths that he taught would not coincide with the false doctrines, the ceremonies and the dictatorial attitude of the Catholic Church in Spain now. However, thousands of Spanish people are grateful that Jehovah’s witnesses have persisted in preaching from house to house and that they come to their homes and study the Bible with them and that they are obeying God as ruler rather than the Catholic bishops of Spain. Why so? Because many individuals in Spain have learned the truth, have withdrawn from the Catholic Church and now have the joy of proclaiming the message as other faithful witnesses of Jehovah have been doing for years.
13. What report shows that this religious opposition in Spain is not new?
13 In the 1952 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, page 75, this report is published about Spain:
“The police, ever on the alert, watch the publishers very closely, resulting in the following experience: Two of the servants of the Barcelona units found apparent interest in a certain house and arranged for a Bible study. When they made the return call they found two members of the secret police waiting for them. They were arrested. Their homes were searched, literature was seized and they were put in prison. Later the literature was carefully examined and they were questioned. However, little was said until the police found an article in ¡Despertad! (Awake!) about Franco and conditions in Spain. That roused the anger of the police and the two brothers had to stand the fire of abuse and threat. However, after filing a complete police record of them and warning them of the consequences if they continued in their work of preaching the good news, the authorities let the brothers go.”
14. In the past ten years what has resulted from obedience to God’s law on the part of Witnesses in Spain?
14 In those days, ten years ago, there were, in Spain, only 121 of Jehovah’s witnesses preaching the good news of the Kingdom. But these courageous witnesses of Jehovah God would not keep quiet. They kept preaching the good news. And many of those they talked to during the years learned the truth and dedicated their lives to Jehovah God, and these too have preached, until now, ten years later, there are 2,141 ministers, Jehovah’s witnesses, preaching the truth in Spain. So during all these ten years of persecution, which is now getting worse, Jehovah’s witnesses in Spain have done the same thing that Jehovah’s witnesses did in Palestine. They have obeyed “God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
COURAGE FOR RELIGIOUS PURIFICATION
15. In the days of King Asa how was courage in the promoting of true worship manifested?
15 It takes courage to stand up against a whole people or a nation and promote true worship as King Asa did in the land of Judah 978 years before Christ: “And Asa proceeded to do what was good and right in the eyes of Jehovah his God. So he removed the foreign altars and the high places and broke up the sacred pillars and cut down the sacred poles.” The prophet Oded encouraged King Asa. “And as soon as Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Oded the prophet, he took courage and proceeded to cause the disgusting things to vanish from all the land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities that he had captured from the mountainous region of Ephraim, and to renew Jehovah’s altar that was before the porch of Jehovah.” (2 Chron. 14:2, 3; 15:8) King Asa had to hope in Jehovah and be strong and courageous to do this. But he had the backing of God, and he told the people “to search for Jehovah the God of their forefathers.”—2 Chron. 14:4.
16. How have Jehovah’s witnesses done an iconoclastic work?
16 Jehovah’s Christian witnesses have shown this same kind of courage in all the nations of the world. They have done an iconoclastic work even in Christendom, where millions of Catholics worship images instead of the true God. Because of Jehovah’s witnesses’ teaching the people what the Bible says about image worship many have destroyed their images. Around the earth there is much image veneration of all kinds of gods, large and small. Hundreds of thousands of open-minded people, however, have listened to Jehovah’s witnesses and learned what God’s Word says about image worship; and these have taken courage and broken away from their religious systems and their idol worship, as Asa directed the people to do long ago.
17. In Ephesus how did Paul’s preaching affect the image makers, and with what outcome?
17 Paul had the very same situation to face in his day. It was not Paul’s purpose to put someone out of business. Rather he said: “Woe is me if I did not declare the good news!” (1 Cor. 9:16) He was obligated to tell the truth, and the result was that many people stopped buying images. Demetrius was in the business of making silver shrines of Artemis, and shrinemaking was a good business then. It still is today, especially in the Catholic religion. But this business of making and selling images was slowing down to a noticeable extent as a result of what Paul was telling the people. It took courage to go right on preaching with big business fighting him. Really all he was doing was preaching the truth from God’s Word and directing them to the true worship of Jehovah God. However, this Demetrius did not like losing business. So he said to his fellow craftsmen: “Also, you behold and hear how not only in Ephesus but in nearly all the district of Asia this Paul has persuaded a considerable crowd and turned them to another opinion, saying that the ones that are made by hands are not gods.” (Acts 19:26) This speech caused quite a disturbance in the city of Ephesus. A mob was formed. This caused a great uproar, ‘and people shouted for about two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”’ “Now after the uproar had subsided, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had encouraged them [his brothers] and bidden them farewell, he went forth to journey into Macedonia. After going through those parts and encouraging the ones there with many a word, he came into Greece.”—Acts 19:34; 20:1, 2.
18. Why is it necessary to expose the falsity of image worship?
18 As it was in Asa’s day and Paul’s day, we find it to be true right down to our day. Image worship, which is false worship, must be brought to the attention of superstitious people who are seeking truth and righteousness, so that they can turn away from their false religion.
19. What enables one to have the courage to face and win out over religious opposition?
19 While Christian overseers like Paul see it is their privilege to talk to strangers about the good news, at the same time overseers must encourage the faithful Christians themselves with many a word to press on in the right way. Paul’s faithfulness under persecution stimulated those Christians truly dedicated to God to continue on in their work even though Paul would be leaving them. To see people turning away from idol worship and associating with the true worshipers of Jehovah is very encouraging, but one must also face the wrath of the religious organization these people are leaving. Faith in what one believes enables one to face the trials, but one can face them more courageously by regularly meeting with the congregation of God’s people, who have the same mind and spirit.
20. Do overseers need encouragement too? What do the Scriptures show?
20 Did you ever stop to think too that the overseer who helps bring the congregation on to Christian maturity also needs encouragement? His being encouraged and strengthened in his own faith can very often flow from the most humble, meek and backward person in the congregation. The very presence of that person at the meetings and the interchange of expressions with him help the overseer and others within the congregation of God to help one another. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul said he took courage because of the congregation. He tells us how he learned that Titus’ spirit had “been refreshed by all of you” in the congregation. Titus had an important position as overseer with the early church, and he was built up and encouraged by the very ones he went to serve. Titus loved this congregation because he saw the obedience of all of them. What effect did this successful visit of Titus have upon Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, the one who felt “the anxiety for all the congregations” daily? Paul tells us what it did to him: “I rejoice that in every way I may have good courage by reason of you.” (2 Cor. 7:13, 16) Yes, Paul was made strong and courageous through the congregation’s faith.
21. How did Paul’s prison experiences impart courage to his Christian brothers?
21 On the other hand, Paul’s unwavering faithfulness even in prison in Rome gave courage to his brothers. Paul’s prison bonds became “public knowledge in association with Christ among all the praetorian guard and all the rest; and most of the brothers in the Lord, feeling confidence by reason of my prison bonds, are showing all the more courage to speak the word of God fearlessly.” (Phil. 1:13, 14) Paul’s right example of going to prison for righteousness was a boon to the Christian congregations. Paul’s writing letters to congregations throughout the world and doing this while in prison stimulated all the followers of Christ and made them press on fearlessly. It made Paul happy and he rejoiced to see the courage of his brothers in speaking the word of God regardless of what happened to them in the various districts of the Roman Empire. The same is true today.
22, 23. (a) How do true Christians today react when their brothers are persecuted? (b) As to facing persecution, what counsel did Peter give?
22 When a Christian is taken to prison for speaking the good news, or when he is put into a concentration camp because he refuses to say that salvation comes from a man like Hitler and his government, or when he is persecuted or harassed because he preaches the Bible to his neighbor but the law of the land says you may not talk about God’s kingdom to anyone, then God’s people will show their faith with courage to all the world. Let the whole of the Devil’s organization try to throttle down the preaching of the good news of God’s kingdom in these last days and it will boomerang on them. The light of God’s Word will shine through no matter how great are the persecution and tribulation that are brought to bear against the faithful servants of God. That is just as true among Christians today as it was among those who made up the early Christian band. Peter gave Jehovah’s Christian witnesses and all others who want to get out of this scared-to-death world this advice:
23 “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are happy. However, the object of their fear do not you fear, neither become agitated. But sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.”—1 Pet. 3:14, 15.
24, 25. (a) Why do not the fears of the world dominate the lives of those dedicated to the doing of Jehovah’s will, but what enables them to be world conquerors? (b) How did the brothers from Rome give courage to Paul and, by doing so, show their love for Jesus?
24 Today we are living in a time of the world’s fear, fear of annihilating itself. Yet why is there such fear among the nations? Because there is no love. Jesus said: “Love one another just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) This kind of love you will find in people dedicated to the doing of Jehovah’s will, and they will suffer for the sake of righteousness and do it together with a mild temper. But where is there any love among the nations today or even among all the peoples of the various nations? If you want to find such love you will have to separate yourself from the nations as Jesus and the early Christians did. Jesus said: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:16) To take such a position in this world full of fear takes courage. But it can be done, as Jesus said: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33) So can you if you are a dedicated Christian. Many have conquered, and your brothers will help you even though the situation at times looks dark. When Paul was on his way to prison in Rome the congregation went out to meet him, and the record in Acts 28:14, 15 says: “From there the brothers, when they heard the news about us, came to meet us as far as the Market Place of Appius and Three Taverns and, upon catching sight of them, Paul thanked God and took courage.”
25 These brothers from Rome came out to meet a stranger to them, but he was a brother in bonds. They had never seen Paul before; but they remembered Jesus’ words: “I was a stranger and you received me hospitably; naked, and you clothed me. I fell sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matt. 25:35, 36) The dedicated Christians in Rome never had the opportunity to wait on Christ Jesus as the apostles and Mary and Martha and many others had waited on Jesus and taken care of his needs in Palestine. But Jesus said: “Truly I say to you, To the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” What was being done for Paul was like doing it to Jesus. Their just meeting Paul showed the love and faith the congregation had for a faithful brother, and this act on the part of the congregation gave Paul courage.—Matt. 25:40.
26. How can we today, even in the face of religious opposition, maintain courage and keep our hearts strong?
26 Do you need courage? Then let us meet together, “not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:25) Today thousands of people conscious of their spiritual need are pulling away from this wicked world and seeking the truth with Jehovah’s witnesses. They are coming from all kinds of religious groups, as well as from those persons who say they have no religious affiliation. Why? Because they love life, and Jehovah’s witnesses study the Bible. This will help them to build up their faith in God the Giver of life. As these thousands study the Word of God together with the congregation of God’s dedicated people their faith will be built up and that will make them courageous and strong—a necessary thing in these days. Then the world’s fear is no longer their fear, because Jehovah’s active witnesses are actually waiting for the destruction of this system of things in the battle of Armageddon. While they are waiting they proclaim Jehovah’s kingdom as the only hope for mankind. Even though the nations and most of the peoples of the world disagree with their comforting message, and many witnesses of Jehovah are persecuted, imprisoned, even killed for preaching from God’s Word, they call to mind the strengthening words of the psalmist David: “Be courageous, and may your heart be strong, all you who are waiting for Jehovah.”—Ps. 31:24.