Why Fear the Truth?
How is fear for truth shown? What benefits come from knowing the truth?
IT WAS not love for Caesar that prompted religious leaders in the first century to cry for the death of Jesus. It was fear of the truth. The truth Jesus preached stripped away their covering of religious respectability and exposed them before the people for what they were—hypocrites. To their face he frankly said: “You also, outwardly indeed, appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matt. 23:28) Their subsequent actions confirmed the accuracy of his judgment of them.
The truth that Jesus preached liberated his hearers from enslavement to human traditions and from unscriptural beliefs. On one occasion he said: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The religious leaders were not happy that the common people were being set free. They did not want to lose their position of authority and the hold they had on the people. Being more concerned about advancing their own interests than about advancing God’s interests, they opposed Jesus and tried to close the ears of the people to the truth. Because of this Jesus said to them: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men; for you yourselves do not go in, neither do you permit those on their way in to go in.” (Matt. 23:13) Their violent attempt to silence Jesus did not silence the truth.
In the years following Jesus’ death his followers spread out to carry the word of truth beyond the boundaries of Palestine. In many places religious men manifested fear of the truths they spoke and fanatically tried to silence them. Those Scriptural truths vaporized their cherished religious illusions, but they preferred to hold to those illusions. Like the people in the days of the prophet Isaiah, they wanted to hear smooth things that pleased their ears and that did not conflict with their religious views. Jesus’ disciples did not compromise the truth to please the ears of such men. Like Jesus, they spoke the truth boldly, although men who feared the truth raged against them. Such men Paul encountered in Pisidian Antioch.—Isa. 30:10.
Many people in Antioch manifested interest in the truth that Paul preached, but those who feared it stirred up a mob that threw Paul and Barnabas outside the city. In the neighboring town of Iconium they encountered similar resistance and were compelled to leave. They went to Lystra, where their educational work was disrupted by agitators from Antioch and Iconium who came there to stir up the people against them. Although these opposers of the truth fought against it, they could not stamp it out. In time, thriving Christian congregations sprang up in these towns.—Acts, chaps. 13, 14.
FOR BUSINESS REASONS
Sometimes the truth was feared because of the effect it had on profitable commercial activities. In the city of Ephesus, for example, there was located the magnificent temple of Artemis or Diana. Because of its presence, there was a flourishing business in portable shrines of this pagan goddess. They were small enough for travelers to carry with them. The Christian truth preached by Paul to the Ephesians endangered this profitable business, because those who listened to him and became Christians ceased the idolatrous worship of Artemis. This was most distressing to the businessmen who profited from the sale of religious articles. For their personal profit they wanted the people to continue as slaves to the folly of idolatry rather than be liberated by the truth. Their reasoning is recorded in the nineteenth chapter of Acts:
“At that particular time there arose no little disturbance concerning The Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, by making silver shrines of Artemis furnished the craftsmen no little gain; and he gathered them and those who worked at such things and said: ‘Men, you well know that from this business we have our prosperity. 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 19:23-26) These men feared the truth because they profited commercially from falsehood. They stirred up the whole city, putting it in such an uproar that Paul felt compelled to move on to Macedonia, leaving the preaching work in Ephesus for other Christians to carry on.
It was in Macedonia, at an earlier time, that Paul was imprisoned because of the truth he preached. Dragged before the civil magistrates of Philippi, he was accused of “disturbing our city very much” and of “publishing customs that it is not lawful for us to take up or practice.” This persecution of Paul did not stop the truth from taking root there. In time Philippi came to have a thriving congregation of Christians.—Acts 16:20, 21.
ATTITUDE TOWARD TRUTH TODAY
Surprising as it may seem, the experiences that Paul had are not uncommon today. In nations professing to be Christian, persons who proclaim the very same Christian truths that Paul did have been imprisoned as well as attacked by mobs and often forced out of towns. At this very moment in Spain these Christians are being harassed by the police and are being imprisoned for doing as Paul did—telling others about the truths of God’s Word.
The principal ones who seek to silence Jehovah’s witnesses in Spain and elsewhere are the religious leaders, the same class that persecuted Jesus. As then, so today, many religious leaders manifest their fear of the truth by instigating the persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses. By pressuring civil authorities to trouble them and by stirring up their parishioners into outright violence against them, they have tried to prevent the Witnesses from speaking with the common people. But, as in the first century, the truth continues to reach receptive hearts despite the efforts of those who fear it.
When Jehovah’s witnesses call on the homes of people in the course of their Christian educational work some persons refuse to speak with them, even rudely closing the door in their face, and others decline to read any of their publications because, as they state, their ministers forbid them to read it. Are not these people manifesting the same fear of the truth as those who refused to listen to Paul?
Because some hold to religious views for which they have no Scriptural support, they are afraid that Jehovah’s witnesses might dissuade them from believing these things that they want to believe. Like the devotees of Artemis in Ephesus who continued to adore her silver shrines, they want to believe an illusion rather than know the truth. With that mental attitude, how can they ever expect to experience the freedom that Jesus said the truth brings?
Religious truth is not a matter of personal opinion but is what God himself has established in his written Word. Jesus indicated this when he said in prayer: “Sanctify them by means of the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17) God’s Word is the standard by which to measure religious truth. Persons who determinedly hold to religious beliefs that do not measure up to that standard will, understandably, fear the truth. They do not want to face up to the fact that their cherished beliefs are only figments of human imagination that have been passed down from generation to generation. Such was the case with the ardent worshipers of Artemis who believed that the carved image of her that they venerated in her beautiful temple had fallen from heaven. Looking back from our day, we can easily see that they believed in a vain imagination but that the apostle Paul told them the truth. Other vain imaginations are prevalent in these days.
BENEFITS OF THE TRUTH
Why should people fear the truth? It does not chain them to fearful superstitions and burdensome religious rituals. It does not put a heavy yoke upon them. It does not have them wasting their devotion and money on dumb images. The truth is liberating. The people who listened to Paul and embraced the truths he preached experienced a freedom that is comparable to the release of a prisoner from captivity. The prophet Isaiah made this comparison when he said: “The spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me, for the reason that Jehovah has anointed me to tell good news to the meek ones. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to those taken captive and the wide opening of the eyes even to the prisoners.” (Isa. 61:1) Jesus quoted this statement and applied it to himself and the Christian missionary work he began.
The truth elevates a person’s view of life, giving him something more to live for than the selfish objectives of the world. It gives him something solid to which he can hold in this turbulent time. It gives him high moral standards as well as a warm, peaceful, and trusting fellowship with persons of like faith throughout the earth. This is what Jehovah’s witnesses experience in the New World society. Before those who follow the guidance of Christian truth a way of life opens up that stretches into the indefinite future. “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.”—John 17:3.
The diligent preaching work of Jehovah’s witnesses is for the purpose of doing what Paul did, and that is to bring to other persons the liberating truths of God’s Word. When they call at your door, think of the apostle Paul in his effort to speak the truth to the people of Ephesus, Antioch, Lystra and other cities. Do not fearfully refuse to listen. Be like the good people of Beroea. When Paul spoke to them, they “received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.”—Acts 17:11.