Fortify Yourselves for Future Activity
“Having this advance knowledge, be on your guard that you may not be led away.”—2 Pet. 3:17.
1. What differing views are there as to meeting together for worship?
MOST persons who will read these words live in a country where meeting together for worship is the accepted thing. So much so that it is often taken for granted and treated lightly as a Christian responsibility. Most persons, though, will readily agree that whatever spirituality they have is due to their association with others of their own faith. But suppose you were suddenly cut off from any congregational association. Suppose that it was forbidden by law for more than two or three persons to meet together without a special police permit and that all assemblies to worship God were proscribed. Suppose you were denied the right to talk about God or to express to someone else your faith in God and his promises to mankind. Then what would you do?
2. What conditions might cause one to weaken in faith, and what questions should we consider seriously?
2 Suppose, under such conditions, that it was possible for true Christians to meet together only in secret, by two’s and three’s and that they knew one another only by number, so that if one was arrested by the secret police he could not be trapped or tortured into betraying his brothers. Suppose that from time to time some of those meeting this way were arrested and thrown into prison or concentration camps. Suppose, too, that rumors began to circulate that one of those brothers who had been prominent in the faith had “sold out” to the secret police and was being used as an informer. Suppose, then, that one day you saw this brother walking down the street in company with the secret police, not handcuffed but with the police treating him like one of themselves. What would you do? Would you continue to hold fast to your faith? How long would you continue to speak to others about your hope as opportunities presented themselves? How long would you go out of your way to make opportunities to exalt God’s name and to help your neighbors shake off the spiritual shackles imposed on them by a godless government? What would you do under these different circumstances?
3. To what have Jehovah’s witnesses been subjected in an effort to break down their faith, and what protection can we receive through God’s spirit?
3 The conditions named here are not just supposition or imagination. These things have happened and are happening to Jehovah’s witnesses in many lands today. Many faithful servants of God have been subjected to Nazi and Fascist torture in an effort to break their integrity. Now, in addition, many of these same Christians are suffering a vicious Communist attack on their minds and faith. Only the spirit of the Devil himself could prompt such deceitful tactics as described above, the circulating of rumors that someone well known in the organization has recanted and turned traitor and the forcing of that one to walk down the street with members of the secret police as though he were really in league with them, thus endeavoring to make some believe that the rumors were true. But even if such were not a ruse of the secret police, even if a former brother became a Judas, why should your faith be shaken? If you were separated from the congregation because of persecution, why should you feel all alone? God’s spirit will never forsake you if you have given it a firm and abiding place in your heart. Neither will Jehovah leave you unattended, since thousands of angels are at his command to watch over his people and uphold and protect them. But your relationship with God must be firmly established for it to continue while you are separated from the congregation. You know that God’s spirit is there when you attend, and you attend in order to be helped to keep God’s spirit. You want to make sure that you are properly fortified even away from the meeting for whatever the future may hold in the way of trials, or service activity.
DANGERS OF FOLLOWING MEN
4. What results from creature worship?
4 Many times failure to receive God’s spirit is caused by relying on men rather than God. Even in the days of the apostles there were some who were inclined to look more to the individual than to God or Christ. This is a form of creature worship and contrary to the principle stated at 2 Corinthians 5:7: “For we are walking by faith, not by sight.” Looking so closely at an individual obscures the vision of the eyes of faith and one sees only the shadow cast by the imperfect man. The pattern of Christ is lost to faith’s eyes, and works of faith independent of other men become impossible. The creature worshiper is unable to exercise the mind of Christ because his mind is not free and he must lean entirely upon the imperfect object of his worship for all decisions as to his course of action. He is unable to “carry his own load” of responsibility.—Gal. 6:5.
5. How does following men pose a threat to the unity of the organization, and what does it indicate on the part of the disciple?
5 Another danger in following men is its threat to the unity of the organization. Paul recognized this danger in the immaturity of the Corinthian congregation and found it necessary to write them: “And so, brothers, I was not able to speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to fleshly men, as to babes in Christ. I fed you milk, not something to eat, for you were not yet strong enough. In fact, neither are you strong enough now, for you are yet fleshly. For whereas there are jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly and are you not walking as men do? For when one says: ‘I belong to Paul,’ but another says: ‘I to Apollos,’ are you not simply men? What, then, is Apollos? Yes, what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, even as the Lord granted each one.”—1 Cor. 3:1-5.
6. How did Paul show that he had no desire to build up a following of his own?
6 Paul had no desire to build up a following of his own. He knew that for him to do so would only give rise to factions in the organization and would be a sure cause for stumbling. He said that neither he nor Apollos were the ones to follow. They were only ministers of that One. Paul’s one desire was to present the Christian congregation “in marriage to one husband . . . as a chaste virgin to the Christ.” As he wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians: “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I personally promised” this relationship through the good news preached in Corinth. Paul could not therefore draw away followers to himself, nor could he allow anyone else to do so. “But,” he wrote, “I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent seduced Eve by its cunning, your minds might be corrupted away from the sincerity and the chastity that are due the Christ. For, as it is, if someone comes and preaches a Jesus other than the one we preached, or you receive a spirit other than what you received, or good news other than what you accepted, you easily put up with him.”—2 Cor. 11:2-4.
7. (a) What danger did Jesus foretell in this regard, and how might some easily be inclined to fall into it? (b) Why did Paul call such ones immature, and what counsel did John give as a protection?
7 This possibility of falling away that Paul recognized is a third danger of following men rather than Christ. Because if you follow a man, how can you be a disciple of Christ? Jesus himself foretold this danger when he warned his disciples: “It is unavoidable that causes for stumbling should come.” But he added: “Nevertheless, woe to the one through whom they come!” (Luke 17:1) You may be inclined to look to a man for your spiritual guidance, perhaps the one who helped you to come to a knowledge of God’s purposes. But do you recognize the danger of what might result if you continue to rely on that person for all your spiritual strength, to depend upon that one to make all your decisions in regard to your relationship with God? You may feel that this individual is certainly the one to be trusted when important matters weigh upon your mind. Perhaps he is. But have you ever considered the disastrous results to you if he were not? True, his responsibility may be greater, but Jesus said a blind leader and his followers end up in the same pit. (Matt. 15:14) That is why Paul spoke of the Corinthians as being immature. They were unable to distinguish right from wrong because they looked to men rather than weighing the words of the man against the true Word of God. As the apostle John put it many years later: “Beloved ones, do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God, because many false prophets have gone forth into the world.”—1 John 4:1.
PROTECTION AGAINST WRONGDOERS
8. Is it wrong to seek counsel from someone taking the lead in spiritual matters, and how can we know when it is not safe?
8 This does not mean that none who take the lead in spiritual matters can be trusted or sought out for assistance. On the contrary. (1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:2-4) But it was foretold that some would fail to maintain their own spiritual insight and, in turning aside, would take others with them. Peter warned the early congregation, and us too: “There also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you. These very ones will quietly bring in destructive sects and will disown even the owner that bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct.” (2 Pet. 2:1, 2) What is your protection then? If you have had good cause to rely on the instruction in God’s Word that you have received through some individual, how can you know when it is no longer safe to heed counsel from that one? If you have studied properly, with a right end in view, you will be equipped, in some measure at least, to “test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God.” Thus you will be fortified for your future activity.
9. (a) What protection against wrongdoers has God given through his organization? (b) Who stand out as examples in the early Christian congregation, and of what was each guilty?
9 But Jehovah God has given you a further protection in the organization he has built up for his name. Through this organization of faithful servants he has determined to maintain a standard for all those who will represent him. Anyone who fails to maintain this standard or who begins to draw away disciples to himself must be exposed for the benefit of all those who may be inclined to follow him. This precedent was established in God’s congregation of Israel at his own direction. (Deut. 17:7) Among such ones in the Christian congregation whose names are specifically recorded in the Permanent Record are Hymenaeus, Alexander, Hermogenes, Demas and Diotrephes. (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17, 18; 4:10; 3 John 9, 10) These, like those guilty of immoral conduct, were expelled or disfellowshiped from the congregation, Paul even admonishing the congregation to “quit mixing in company” with such ones, “not even eating with such a man.”—1 Cor. 5:5, 11, 13.
10. (a) Why do teachers have a heavier responsibility? (b) Why and how should those being trained learn to depend upon themselves? (c) What did Peter say is our advantage in being forewarned?
10 If this warning is of value to learners, how much more vital is it to those who would be teachers? (Jas. 3:1) Are you busy in the work of teaching God’s Word to others? Then you have not only a joyful privilege but a serious responsibility. Remember constantly that you are dealing with the lives of people. What they learn may determine between life and death. If they become God’s “sheep” they will be on the way to everlasting life. Are you directing them in this way? You will be if you warn them against leaning upon men. Consciously and untiringly work to prevent them from following you. Patiently and kindly teach them, in making their decisions, to rely more and more upon themselves because of their study in God’s Word. This you can do by training them to think on the scriptures read. Their applying a text to the paragraph in the publication you are studying with them can well be a first step toward their applying these scriptures to the problems they encounter in their lives. This should be a part of the lesson they learn, because God’s Word was not given to us simply to acquaint us with God’s purpose or to give us a knowledge of what God requires. The Bible should become the moving force in our lives as God’s spirit enters our hearts and minds and directs us to a wise use of God’s Word. You, as a teacher of the Bible, can be an instrument of God’s spirit, cultivating in the learner the desire to know and to be moved himself by God’s spirit, led according to the example of Christ and not men. In this way those whom you teach will know what is required and expected in high moral principles and they will be stirred to follow Christ. They will be fortified for any activity that may be ahead of them to which the spirit of God will lead them. Being forewarned, they can be forearmed as Peter pointed out: “You, therefore, beloved ones, having this advance knowledge, be on your guard that you may not be led away with them by the error of the law-defying people and fall from your own steadfastness. No, but go on growing in the undeserved kindness and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”—2 Pet. 3:17, 18.
IMITATORS OF PAUL
11. What did Paul mean when he wrote the Philippians: “Become imitators of me,” and what other writings of his clarify the point?
11 Perhaps you are wondering, in view of this, why Paul told the Christians at Philippi: “Unitedly become imitators of me, brothers.” (Phil. 3:17) Certainly the apostle was not inviting Christians to be his followers. This we have already seen. In fact, in all his fourteen letters you read nothing of any “disciples” of Paul. In his letter to the Corinthians he left no doubt on this point when he wrote: “Does the Christ exist divided? Paul was not impaled for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:13) How, then, can we become “imitators” of Paul? And what are we to “imitate”? Certainly not the man. God wishes every Christian to “be an imitator, not of what is bad, but of what is good.” (3 John 11) Paul himself told the Ephesians: “Therefore, become imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Eph. 5:1) Furthermore, he admonished the Jewish Christians: “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) In this same letter he enlarged on the point when he said: “Be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” “Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.” (Heb. 6:12; 13:7) Imitate what? Their faith, their patience, their conduct, just so long as it is in accord with the principles of God’s Word and the perfect example Jesus set. (Ps. 119:105) That is what Paul invites us to do. But if a Christian loses his faith, fails to endure and misbehaves, what is there left about him to imitate? Nothing.
12. Why is it foolish to follow a disfellowshiped person into a course of rebellion?
12 This is the faithful course being taken by Christians in God’s organization. They can not and will not condone wrongdoing; otherwise they would become a party to it. (1 Cor. 5:6, 7) If, then, someone to whom you have looked in times past does lose his faith and is disfellowshiped, why follow him into a course of rebellion? You may feel that the action taken is unjust, too severe. But is that cause to forsake God’s congregation? Even if you think this particular action is wrong, what about all the good that you have accepted from members of the congregation? Would you leave all the good done to you for what you may feel is a little bad? What do you expect to find back in the old system of things again? Is there anything there that God will preserve alive? Certainly we will not imitate those who turn aside to destruction.
FORTIFYING YOUR CHILDREN
13. How can parents observe the extent of faith of their children, and how can they set them a right example?
13 You who are parents, are you fortifying your children for their future activity? How much faith do they have? Do you know? How do they really view the study of God’s Word? Are they eager, taking the lead, urging you to share these good things you know with them? Or must they constantly be urged to go with you when you associate with others at the Kingdom Hall? When your children are attending meetings, do they really listen? Can they relate to you afterward at least one thing they have learned from each meeting? Have you seriously encouraged them to pay attention and make use of knowledge gained by careful observation? Do you set them an active example by your expressions in the meetings, one that they can see and hear as a work of faith, and imitate? Do your children imitate your faith? Or do they imitate their playmates? Do they repeat the things you tell them from God’s Word or are they always chattering about other activities, the latest movie or television program they have seen or the latest song hit or dance craze? Whom do your children really follow? Are they imitators of Christ, as you are, or do they follow someone who is not on the road to life?
14. How can parents counteract the influences to which their children are necessarily exposed during the hours that they are in company with worldly associates, and why is this so vital?
14 The lives of your children are in your hands. You are with them constantly, or are you? True, your children must develop their own life pattern, they must go to school and be thrown into association with others of their own age who have a strong pull on them. But these hours they are required to spend away from you are less than the number of hours they have available to spend with you. Use those other hours wisely. Remember God’s admonition to his people Israel: “And these words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut. 6:6, 7) It is not enough, then, to demand that your children stay home with you all the time. If you do not fill that time with rewarding activity they will not respond. They may even begin to resent your demands on them. But if they begin to receive the joy and blessings that come with faithful service to God, God’s spirit will fill their little minds and hearts and your faith will become theirs by their own right. If you want your children to be truly fortified so that they will “not be led away . . . by the error of the law-defying people and fall” from the steadfastness you have inculcated in them, then they too must be seriously taught “this advance knowledge” so that they may be on guard.—2 Pet. 3:17, 18.
15. What advantage is there to a child to know that he will be different as a Christian, and what admonition of Paul to the Romans should he keep in mind?
15 Christians are different. If your child is a Christian and is to maintain his position, he must know that he will be different from those with whom he must associate. But he must know why he is different and be given a full appreciation of the benefits he has in being different. He must know that if he is like the world he will be treated like the world. (Gen. 34:1, 2) He will suffer their evils, their heartaches, their disappointments, their loss of eternal life. On the other hand, as a Christian he can have a mind free of uncertainty as to his future, his vocation, his eventual success in life. He will already be a success and an example to his associates. Children can have a strong influence for good or bad on one another. If your child is studying with you now, have him read this scripture himself: “Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.” (Rom. 12:21) Do you children know what that means? You can “put up a hard fight for the faith,” not as “the sort that shrink back to destruction, but the sort that have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.” And not your soul alone, but the life, too, of those who follow your example and imitate your faith.—Jude 3; Heb. 10:39; 1 Tim. 4:16.
16. What twofold responsibility do all true Christians have?
16 Children and adults alike, as Christians we have a twofold responsibility. To be fortified for whatever trials or service privileges that lie ahead not only must we strengthen our own faith but we must also be able to build a strong faith in others. We must neither follow men nor seek men to follow us. Our works must be works of faith, worthy of imitation and not a cause for stumbling. We must become good examples “in speaking, in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness.” (1 Tim. 4:12) With Jesus Christ as our guide and pattern we can respond wholeheartedly to Paul’s counsel to the Colossians: “Whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men . . . Slave for the Master, Christ.”—Col. 3:23, 24.