Courageous Perseverance in the Service of God
1, 2. How can we benefit from the record of the lives of men of faith found in the Bible?
IN ADDITION to imparting courage to us by informing us of the greatness of God and by acquainting us with his will, there is yet another way in which the Bible gives us courage to do the divine will. How is that? By the record of the lives of men of faith. Thus, not only do the Scriptures outline for us the things that God requires of those who are his servants, but they provide real-life examples of the way in which God-fearing individuals have won his good pleasure. We can see what they did when confronted with situations similar to ours, and how Jehovah blessed them. In this way we will be emboldened to act courageously, not holding back from the service of God.
2 The apostle Paul pointed to this source of encouragement when he wrote: “Because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also put off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus.” (Heb. 12:1, 2) So as we read in the Bible about the lives of this great cloud of witnesses of pre-Christian times as well as Jesus Christ and the early Christians, let us personally benefit from their example and be stimulated to press on courageously in the race that is before us.
3. Who are the ones that Jehovah uses as his servants?
3 Many are the persons, however, who, instead of getting into the race, when they see the responsibility of service to God opening up before them, hold back. Perhaps they feel unworthy; they may feel they do not qualify; they may fear that they will fail to live up to what God requires. If that is your situation, look around at those whose record God has preserved in the Bible for your instruction. Whom did God choose to serve him? “You behold his calling of you, brothers, that not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth; but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put the strong things to shame; and God chose the ignoble things of the world and the things looked down upon, the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are, in order that no flesh might boast in the sight of God.” (1 Cor. 1:26-29) God is not using those who are wise in their own eyes, but those who look to him for guidance. He is not favoring those who have confidence in themselves, but those who have faith in him. It is not the one who does better than anyone else that pleases him, but the one who keeps an eye in personal interest on the advancement of his Christian brothers. Those who serve Jehovah are the ones who love him enough to want to do his will.—Ps. 25:4, 5, 9, 12; Phil. 2:4.
4. Cite examples that show what type of persons have served Jehovah and had his approval.
4 Moses was such a man. Though he suffered from a speech impediment and was eighty years old when called for service, he responded. (Ex. 4:10-12; 7:7) Gideon, though the ‘smallest in his father’s house,’ was willing to serve, and Jehovah backed him up. (Judg. 6:15, 16) Amos was but a herdsman and a nipper of figs of sycamore trees, but he became a prophet of God. (Amos 7:14, 15) Then there were Peter and Andrew, James and John, fishermen from Galilee. They were “unlettered and ordinary” men, but Jesus chose them to be among his apostles. (Matt. 4:18-22; Acts 4:13) Some few, such as Paul, had considerable education. But others had an unsavory past, having engaged in crime and loose living. Yet when they dedicated themselves to God to serve him, whether they had been worldly-wise or wicked, they left behind those things and took up a new life in the service of God.—Phil. 3:4-8; 1 Cor. 6:9-11.
5. What thoughts should help one to get the right viewpoint toward participation in Jehovah’s service?
5 The thing that is of importance is not what you were before you came to a knowledge of the divine will, but what you are now. Do you have firm faith in Jehovah God and his Word? Do you love him with all your heart? Do you long for life in his righteous new world? (Heb. 11:6; Mark 12:29, 30; 2 Pet. 3:13, 14) Then there is no reason to hold back. Do not refrain from serving God because, from a human standpoint, you feel you might fail. Rather, consider why it is that Jehovah uses us humans with all our weaknesses. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” writes the apostle Paul, “that the power beyond what is normal may be God’s and not that out of ourselves.” (2 Cor. 4:7) Courageously, then, with confidence in God, copy the example of the Perfecter of our faith, Jesus, by getting baptized in symbol of your dedication to Jehovah God, and share in the preaching work that God has given his servants to do.
PREACHERS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
6. For what activity did Jesus train all those who became his followers?
6 This is an obligation that rests on the shoulders of everyone who accepts the undeserved kindness of God. How forcefully it is impressed on us as we study the Gospel accounts of the life of Christ! “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men,” Jesus invited. “Be my follower,” he said. “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and become my disciples.” And what would those followers of his do? They would share in the work that Jesus himself was doing, “preaching and saying: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’” (Matt. 4:19; 9:9; 11:28, 29; 4:17) As his disciples they learned from him and soon became sufficiently experienced in the ministry to be sent out on their own. First, he sent out the twelve with the instructions: “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’” (Matt. 10:5, 7) Later he designated seventy others and sent them out with a like commission.—Luke 10:1-11.
7. (a) In the life of Jesus how important was preaching? (b) So how did his disciples come to view this work?
7 Jesus was so wrapped up in this work of preaching that he later said to Governor Pilate that the very reason he had been born, the purpose for which he had come into the world, was to “bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37) Understandably, those who were his disciples had a like feeling of urgency about it, so much so that, when ordered by the officials to quit preaching, they replied: “Whether it is righteous in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves. But as for us, we cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19, 20) They knew well that, shortly before leaving them, Jesus had said: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations.” And his very last words to them before ascending to heaven were: “You will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8) It was unmistakably clear to them that being a follower of Jesus meant being a preacher.
8. When writing to the Corinthians, what did the apostle Paul say regarding the Christian’s responsibility as a preacher?
8 So strongly did the apostle Paul feel the obligation resting on all who follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, that he wrote to his fellow Christians in Corinth: “If, now, I am declaring the good news, it is no reason for me to boast, for necessity is laid upon me. Really, woe is me if I did not declare the good news! If I perform this willingly, I have a reward; but if I do it against my will, all the same I have a stewardship entrusted to me.” (1 Cor. 9:16, 17) Every one of us ought to feel that same weight of responsibility. In this we should do as Paul encouraged those Corinthian Christians: “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1) If we keep our eyes focused intently on Jesus, and on those who were his faithful imitators, we will feel the same urgency about preaching the good news as they did.
COURAGEOUS ENDURANCE IN THE WORK
9. Of what importance is endurance in the ministry?
9 Jesus stayed with his work until he could report to his Father: “I have glorified you on the earth, having finished the work you have given me to do.” (John 17:4) And that should be the determination of all who are his followers. Endurance is required. It is not enough merely to have had faith, or to have shared in the preaching work. “You have need of endurance, in order that, after you have done the will of God, you may receive the fulfillment of the promise.” (Heb. 10:36) How foolish it would be to lose sight of the truth and slip back into the ways of the old world, like a sow going back to its wallowing in the mire! “So let us not give up in doing what is fine, for in due season we shall reap if we do not tire out.”—Gal. 6:9.
10. How should a Christian minister feel when the people in his territory do not want to listen to the good news?
10 It is true that not everyone will respond to your preaching of the good news. In many localities a preacher of the good news may go from house to house for hours without being able to give more than the briefest presentation of the message. People may not accept the Bible literature he offers them, and he may be inclined to feel discouraged. But if he has conscientiously prepared his presentation and is making an earnest effort to stimulate the interest of those persons in the Word of God, is there any reason for him to conclude that his ministry is fruitless? No. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master.” (Matt. 10:24) Not everyone listened to Jesus. The people in his hometown did not believe him. When he journeyed into the country of the Gadarenes, he was not welcomed by the populace, but “they earnestly urged him to move out from their districts.” In Jerusalem he was charged with being demonized. (Matt. 8:34; Luke 4:16, 28, 29; John 8:52) Others of God’s servants encountered a similar response.
11. When Samuel and Noah preached, how was the message received?
11 Samuel was God’s prophet in Israel, and the people to whom he ministered were those that had been set apart by God as His special possession, but even they did not always listen. Samuel was not indifferent to the situation. When the people ignored his good counsel and demanded a king, he apparently felt a sense of personal failure, but Jehovah corrected him, saying: “It is not you whom they have rejected, but it is I whom they have rejected from being king over them.” (1 Sam. 8:7) Noah’s preaching assignment was even more difficult. So far had man digressed from what is right that the Scriptures say that “every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time. And Jehovah felt regrets that he had made men in the earth, and he felt hurt at his heart.” (Gen. 6:5, 6) They were not disposed to heed Noah’s warning. After his preaching for forty to fifty years, no one but his own household had responded. Only he and his wife, his three sons and their wives, got into the ark. The rest “took no note.” (Matt. 24:39) Had he failed as a preacher? Not at all! In fact, he is recommended to us as a “preacher of righteousness” whom God preserved when he destroyed that wicked world. He showed endurance.—2 Pet. 2:5.
12. Under what circumstances did Moses preach, and why did he continue to do so?
12 Keep in mind, too, Moses and the territory in which he was assigned to preach. Time and again Jehovah sent Moses to Pharaoh to declare His judgments. These repeated calls at the royal court were certainly not because Pharaoh displayed goodwill; they were not prompted by any indication that Pharaoh might join in the worship of Jehovah. Rather, they were made in the face of opposition, but in obedience to Jehovah, to make known His judgments and to declare His name. “The Egyptians will certainly know that I am Jehovah when I stretch out my hand against Egypt, and I shall indeed bring the sons of Israel out from their midst,” declared Jehovah. (Ex. 7:5) It took courage to preach under circumstances such as those.
13. What were Jeremiah’s experiences in the ministry, and how can we profit by them?
13 Jeremiah, too, faced hardship in the ministry. God did not tell him, ‘Jeremiah, I have some good territory for you to work.’ No, he said: ‘When you preach to these people in Jerusalem they are going to fight against you.’ And that is just what happened. When Jeremiah warned them that Jehovah was going to bring destruction on the nation for its apostasy, they laughed and mocked and jeered. Why, once when he was preaching near the temple, one of the men in charge there got heated up about what he said and slapped him and then had him locked up in the stocks. Several times the rulers had him thrown into jail. At one point Jeremiah got so despondent about it that he said: ‘I am not even going to talk about God anymore.’ But he got over it. (Jer. 1:19; 20:1, 2, 9) Yet after twenty-three years he reported that the people in the territory still were not very responsive. “These twenty-three years . . . I kept speaking to you people, rising up early and speaking, but you did not listen.” (Jer. 25:3) In spite of it all, Jeremiah was still on the job, preaching courageously after forty years. He stayed with it right down to the time when Jehovah brought about the things of which he had sent Jeremiah to preach. It is courageous examples such as those that stimulate us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
COURAGE IN THE FACE OF DISAPPOINTMENT
14. What disappointing experience is often had when we call back on persons who were at first willing to listen to the good news, and why?
14 Among those to whom you talk about God and his kingdom you are going to encounter some who listen, but even many of them will be disappointing, and it is good to know it. You are going to meet persons who listen when you first meet them but who show no interest at all when you return. Jesus likened this situation to seed that fell by the roadside and was snatched up by the birds before it could take root. In these cases the Devil has used those who manifest a spirit like his to misrepresent the Word of God and so to destroy whatever interest was there. Do not become disheartened.—Matt. 13:3, 4, 19.
15. Why is it that others who for a time manifest considerable joy over what they are learning later stop studying with Jehovah’s witnesses?
15 Others will do more than just listen when you call on them; they will receive the word with joy, and it will make you feel good to have talked to them. They may even welcome you when you return a number of times. Yet some of them are like plants that sprout rapidly in shallow soil; their roots do not go deep. When ridicule is hurled at them by their relatives and other associates, it is more than they care to face. They may know that the things they have heard from the Bible are the truth, and they are rather apologetic when they tell you that they feel it would be better to discontinue studying the Bible with you. But, dominated by fear of man and lacking enough love of God to be moved to obey his commandments, they fall away.—Mark 4:5, 6, 16, 17.
16. What else chokes the word out of the lives of people?
16 Another group, like seed that falls among the thorns, may allow the word to begin to grow, but they are so weighed down with other matters, problems that are a cause of anxiety to them and that they feel demand their first attention—long hours of secular work, entertaining guests and seeking recreation—that they just do not have time. They may be pleasant; they may say that they wish they could sit down and listen, but they just do not feel that they can take the time.—Luke 8:7, 14.
17. How should we react in the face of these experiences?
17 Are you going to allow yourself to become downhearted and discouraged about these experiences? Equipped with foreknowledge, avoid that. Rather, by holding on to the truth and ‘bearing fruit with endurance,’ prove that in your case the Word of God has been received into a fine and good heart. By your zealous continuance in the ministry, show that you are not one who withers up in the face of persecution or one who abandons the prospect of God’s new world for the material gains of the old world. Prove that you have the courage to keep on doing the will of God.—Luke 8:8, 15; 2 Tim. 4:10, 11.
18. What should be done when others in whom one had confidence let him down?
18 One who has a balanced view of these matters is going to be strengthened to face other problems as well. He is not going to let personal problems cause him to lose heart. It is true that at times one’s associates, even those within the Christian congregation, do things that may disappoint one. They try to do what is right, but they are not perfect; none of us are. What should we do when others let us down? Consider the pattern set for us by Christ Jesus, the Chief Agent of our faith.
19, 20. In this connection, what experience did Jesus undergo, and what example did he set from which we can profit?
19 It was on the last night of his life as a human that he went to the garden of Gethsemane with his disciples to pray. Before long a mob with swords and clubs moved in and put him under arrest. The disciples stayed long enough to see what was happening, but, then, as the record tells us, “all the disciples abandoned him and fled.” (Matt. 26:56) Later that night, in the courtyard of the high priest, a servant girl on seeing Peter said that he must be one of Jesus’ followers. But Peter retorted: “I do not know him, woman.” Three times it happened, and all in the courtyard where Jesus saw him after the cock crowed. (Luke 22:55-61) But Jesus did not falter. He did not allow the shortcomings of his associates to cause him to waver in his faithfulness to God. He looked to his Father in heaven and trusted in him.
20 Then on the third day, when he was raised from the dead, Jesus had the opportunity to settle accounts with those who had let him down if he wanted to, but what did he do? He did not scold them for what they had done. He did not say: ‘After what you did the other night, don’t you ever speak to me again. We’re finished!’ Nor did he give them the cold shoulder and refuse to talk to them. To the contrary, he studied with them and prayed with them and helped them to grow strong so they would not falter again, but would prove to be courageous servants of God. He was more concerned with their faithfulness than with his feelings. What a wonderful example for us to follow!—Luke 24:44-50.
“FIGHTING SIDE BY SIDE FOR THE FAITH”
21. What should be our attitude toward association with the congregation of Jehovah’s people?
21 No one who wants to prove faithful in the service of God can afford to let hurt feelings, or materialistic pursuits or persecution separate him from the congregation of Jehovah’s people. Every true Christian needs that upbuilding spiritual association. It is at the regular meetings of the congregation that one becomes equipped to serve God. It is there that one’s faith is strengthened so that he can courageously persevere in doing the divine will. Servants of God today should feel about these meetings as the early Christians did, who were willing, not only to inconvenience themselves, but to face danger in order to congregate with their fellow believers. Even when persecution was intense against them, King Herod having killed James and holding Peter in prison, the others did not slack off in their attendance at meetings out of fear. While exercising due caution, meeting behind closed doors, they nevertheless gathered together to pray and to strengthen one another. They knew that they needed those meetings in order to stay spiritually alive and to have the courage to continue bearing witness, as Jesus had instructed them. (Acts 12:1-5, 12-17) The need is just as great today. Every true Christian should prize that privilege of assembling together for instruction from God’s Word as did the brothers in Troas, who, when Paul made a brief visit to them, stayed to listen to what was said even though Paul talked right through the night and the meeting did not end until daybreak. (Acts 20:7-11) When you have the opportunity to meet with the congregation of Jehovah’s people, take full advantage of it. In this be stimulated by the example of David, one of that great cloud of pre-Christian witnesses of Jehovah, who said: “I rejoiced when they were saying to me: ‘To the house of Jehovah let us go.’”—Ps. 122:1.
22. By what means does Jehovah help us to be courageous, and what should be our determination?
22 What wonderful encouragement there is for all who love God to do his will! By means of the Scriptural accounts of the lives of his faithful servants Jehovah has provided a marvelous stimulus for all who love righteousness to take hold of the opportunity to be preachers of the kingdom of God, pointing others to the ‘new heavens and new earth in which righteousness is to dwell.’ (2 Pet. 3:13) Through provisions for them to meet together and preach together with fellow witnesses, he helps them to grow strong and to remain firm in the faith. Through his Word he urges them to persevere in the ministry, to exert themselves vigorously in his service, ‘buying out the opportune time because the days are wicked.’ (Eph. 5:15-17) He extends to them the privilege of approaching him in prayer, and with his spirit he backs them up. If you regularly avail yourself of these divine provisions, you have every reason to be courageous; you will be able to stand “firm in one spirit, with one soul fighting side by side for the faith of the good news, and in no respect being frightened by your opponents. This very thing is a proof of destruction for them, but of salvation for you; and this indication is from God.”—Phil. 1:27, 28.
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Time and again Jehovah sent Moses to Pharaoh