Maintaining Unity in Difficult Times
“That you are standing 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.”—Phil. 1:27, 28.
1. In what way is there a contrast between Jehovah’s witnesses and the world?
THERE is no doubt of it, we are living in difficult times! They have been foretold and they are upon us. (2 Tim. 3:1) In this turbulent “time of the end” with its stormy waves of unrest in human society, there stand out in sharp contrast the tranquillity and unity of Jehovah’s witnesses. But this harmonious condition is not something that came about by itself, automatically, without any effort, merely because there are congregations of such people everywhere. The foregoing article has shown some of the spiritual foundations upon which this unity rests. Although this unity is not to be credited to men, each one belonging to this great family of God is called upon to do his best in maintaining and perfecting this unity.
2, 3. (a) What are some pitfalls to unity? (b) How can they be avoided?
2 Just as there are many factors that contribute to this unity, there are many factors working toward disunity and troubles. The watchful servant of God will know and see these dangers and avoid them. These dangers to unity are coming from God’s enemy, Satan, who long ago was successful in breaking up the unity of God’s family. These dangers come also from his world, and last, but not least, they are to be found in fallen man himself.—1 John 5:19; Gal. 5:19-21.
3 In his time the apostle Paul had good reasons to admonish the Christians in Corinth to be at unity. He had got to know that there were some dissensions among them. “For the disclosure was made to me about you, my brothers, . . . that dissensions exist among you.” (1 Cor. 1:11) This also may happen once in a while here and there among God’s people today. Oftentimes these difficulties are more of a personal nature, but sometimes they also have their effects upon a congregation as a whole. Whatever may be the situation, these difficulties should be avoided and each one concerned do his very best to remove the trouble as quickly as possible. “Let the sun not set with you in a provoked state, neither allow place for the Devil.”—Eph. 4:26, 27.
GUARDING THE TONGUE, READINESS TO FORGIVE
4. Why must we guard our speech?
4 One factor that very quickly can lead to tension is the wrong use of our tongue. The Bible shows us that this small member of our body can cause great damage. A match—how insignificant and small it is—and yet it can set a forest afire, causing millions of dollars of damage. “So, too, the tongue is a little member and yet makes great brags. Look! How little a fire it takes to set so great a woodland on fire!” (Jas. 3:5) If untruths and slander are spoken about a person, this does not create a friendly feeling, but, rather, a reserved feeling, and it carries with it the germ of division and disunity. Of course, because of such personal division or difficulty a Christian congregation does not fall apart, but nonetheless it may have its effects one day, namely, when sympathy and antipathy stream in and begin to divide the congregation members somehow. The congregation still meets together and still carries out its mission of preaching the gospel, but there may be a shadow over it and a quenching of joy.
5. How does humility help maintain unity?
5 The tongue must therefore be bridled. (Jas. 3:10-18) If hard, uncontrolled, offensive or untrue words have caused a tension between you and your brother, you should not hesitate to apologize. Yes, this may require humility, but it is this humility that in so many ways makes for peace and unity. Humility means lowliness of mind. It is not weakness; to the contrary, it is a state of mind pleasing to Jehovah. “But all of you gird yourselves with lowliness of mind toward one another, because God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.” (1 Pet. 5:5) Humility will make it easy for us to admit a mistake and to present our apology, regardless of what position of responsibility we have in God’s organization. Humility will make it easy for us to adapt ourselves to the order existing in God’s family. Humility will also help us to keep jealousy out of our hearts if other brothers get service positions we do not have ourselves. It will help us always to see ourselves as puny men in proper relationship and proportion to our heavenly Father, to our fellow brothers and to the theocratic organization. Humility guards us from considering ourselves too important or taking ourselves too seriously.
6. Why should we be willing to forgive?
6 Have you ever met people who did not forgive one another? Their personal relations are broken or reduced to a very minimum. But where would we be if our heavenly Father would not forgive us? The readiness to forgive is therefore a very important factor in maintaining Christian unity. How often should we be ready to forgive? That question was answered for Peter. “Jesus said to him: ‘I say to you, not, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy-seven times.’” (Matt. 18:22) A person who is not prepared to forgive works against his own interest. Why? Not only because animosity and grudges are detrimental to our peace of mind and physical health, but because such a person runs the risk that one day God will not forgive his sins anymore. That is what the Scriptures say: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”—Matt. 6:14, 15.
7. What attitude should we have toward personal offenses? Why?
7 How often offenses are only of a small nature, and are solely due to thoughtlessness, a lack of tact or upbringing or a momentary excitement, and are without evil intent! Therefore, we should not be small-minded when it comes to forgiving one another, but, rather, be broad-minded and forget the offense. Thus the oncoming dark clouds in our personal relations will be quickly dispersed and the sun will shine again. No one of us is perfect. We all have our imperfections and we are all thankful if others forgive us. But it is a fact that we usually see the imperfections in the other fellow much quicker than in ourselves.
AVOIDING DISUNITY IN DOCTRINAL MATTERS
8. (a) Why do Jehovah’s witnesses enjoy doctrinal unity? (b) What suggestions are given to help understand difficult points and to maintain unity?
8 Disunity may also come about over doctrinal matters. How can that be avoided? It is good in such moments to recall the text in John 6:45, where it says: “They will all be taught by Jehovah.” Jehovah’s witnesses in all the world receive their teaching based upon the Bible. The Bible explanations are given out by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, representing the “faithful and discreet slave” as mentioned in Matthew 24:45. This centralized and uniform teaching has very much contributed toward the unity among Jehovah’s witnesses throughout the earth. If, now, a member of a congregation meets difficulties in understanding or accepting a certain point, he has the possibility to discuss the matter with brothers who have a mature knowledge. If the point still cannot be understood, then it may be best to let the matter rest. Perhaps the Society will publish more about the matter at a later date, and then the understanding will be broadened. In prayer we can ask Jehovah for a better understanding of the matter. “So, if any one of you is lacking in wisdom, let him keep on asking God, for he gives generously to all and without reproaching; and it will be given him.” (Jas. 1:5) It would be wrong, however, to try to put your own divergent opinion concerning a certain doctrinal matter across to as many in the congregation as possible. This does not work for the preservation of unity, but, rather, may sow discord and distrust. Usually these points of dispute are of a minor nature. But they can be made so big that they overshadow the big truth of God’s kingdom, and one may even stop preaching that good news.
9. What viewpoint should we hold when something is not clearly understood as yet?
9 The truth about Jehovah’s revealed purpose can be likened to a wonderful painting. This painting conveys to us the hope and prospect of living forever in a new order. But we may say that this painting has not yet received its last touch. We do not yet understand everything. And as time goes by we may understand some things better. Because we do not see all the details as yet, should this become a reason for us to lose our joy and try to find fault with the whole Word of God and his organization? No. Look at how much truth you have received through the Watch Tower Society, which Jehovah is using. Then you will be thankful. Look at how safely Jehovah has led his people by means of his organization. Then you will be confident. While we did not always have the same degree of understanding, we have not been starving or thirsting spiritually, nor have we been lacking His love. Thankfully we can therefore say, as David did: “Jehovah is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing. In grassy pastures he makes me lie down; by well-watered resting places he conducts me. My soul he refreshes.”—Ps. 23:1-3.
UNITY UNDER PERSECUTION
10, 11. What Scriptural course do Jehovah’s people follow under persecution?
10 In fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew chapter 24, much persecution has befallen Jehovah’s witnesses in this “time of the end,” so much so that it has not gone unnoticed by the world. Today it is particularly difficult for Jehovah’s witnesses to do their Christian work in totalitarian states, which bring pressure and persecution upon them. By God’s strength, they endure it. They do not rebel against the political authority, they do not retaliate, because they are faithful Christians and not revolutionaries or counter-revolutionaries. They do not expect salvation from any political system, whatever it may be, including democracy, but exclusively from God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom alone will make all things new.—Rev. 21:5.
11 If it is important for Jehovah’s witnesses to do their best at all times in maintaining their unity in general, it is even more so in times of special stress and persecution, when the work has to be done underground. Why is this so?
12. What may happen when the work comes under ban?
12 If the work is banned in a country, such as in Romania, Hungary or Russia, this has an immediate effect on the correspondence with the head office in Brooklyn. It may be that no letters can be exchanged for months. In the dictator country itself practically all correspondence between the congregations and the responsible brothers ceases too. No postman comes to the door to bring the Society’s magazines or its letters of instruction and information. The spiritual food, which under normal circumstances reaches the congregations and individuals so abundantly, all of a sudden becomes scarce. Much of it probably was confiscated by the police. The Kingdom Halls are closed and very likely there is no extensive library of Watch Tower publications anywhere that can easily be consulted.
13, 14. What effort may be made to stop the ministry, and therefore what is essential?
13 But this is not all. It may well be that the overseer of the congregation and the responsible brothers from the branch office are deprived of their liberty and sit somewhere in prison. Other brothers have to take their places who may perhaps not be known to all the brothers personally. There are no more meetings on a large scale, but only in small underground groups. It goes without saying that all this exposes the unity of God’s people to great stress, and the necessity of doing everything possible to maintain unity cannot be overemphasized.
14 A Latin saying goes divide et impera and it means “divide and rule.” This principle oftentimes is followed in totalitarian states, where the government has tried to smash the organization of Jehovah’s witnesses. Because they were not able to destroy the organization by a frontal attack, they tried to break it up from within by employing all kinds of cunning so as to split up the unity into parts.
15. How have some Witnesses resisted temptation?
15 For example, some persons in such totalitarian lands have tried to win different brothers with flattery, by telling them how great an advantage it would be for them to cooperate with the government and forget their Christian principles, instead of being so “extreme,” dogmatic and stubborn and therefore suffering punishment by the government. Brothers have been offered a responsible position by the government in the organization of Jehovah’s witnesses, and, if accepted, all would be in perfect order, so the government said. But the brothers refused to accept such an untheocratic offer. One answered: “I am not for sale.” They knew that an appointment to service in the theocratic organization could not come from any worldly government, but only through the organization itself. They withstood flattery.—Ps. 12:2.
16. What schemes have been tried to cause confusion among the Witnesses?
16 In a Communist country, the state secret police mimeographed circular letters that were sent to different brothers, in which heavy attacks were launched against different responsible persons in the organization of Jehovah’s witnesses. These responsible persons were accused of being drunkards, adulterers and traitors. The purpose of these machinations is very clear: these letters were written to create confusion and to undermine their trust in the brothers in charge. Of course, these letters did not say that the secret police wrote and sent them. The envelopes showed, rather, addresses of faithful brothers as the senders, to give the impression that the letters were written by brothers. In another country the secret police even produced falsified copies of a Watchtower magazine, with the same purpose of confusing the brothers. In drawing up this counterfeit issue of The Watchtower, articles from the genuine Watchtower magazine were taken and then twisted so as to serve the enemy’s purpose. But the brothers got to see the difference, and this scheme failed.
17. For what are we responsible? Illustrate.
17 Another means to “divide and rule” in countries where the work is banned consists in playing off one person against the other. An examining judge may collect facts about the underground work, present these to brothers whom he questions and say: “Your Brother N. has told me all this. You see, he is prepared to cooperate. Why don’t you come now and be cooperative?” By this the judge gives the impression that they have become victims of treason. Brothers coming into such situations have demanded that they be confronted with the person or persons who were supposed to have told such things to the police. Usually this is not granted and so the brothers know the statements are not true. Under no circumstances should one be impressed by such maneuvers and lying. But what if it becomes a certainty that a brother has capitulated and turned against his brothers? That is no reason for anyone else to follow his example. You are not responsible for what he did. You are responsible for your own actions and for protecting your faithful brothers. Remember that our examples to follow are the faithful ones and we have many such, in present and olden times, as recorded in Hebrews chapter 11.
18. Why do the Scriptures counsel against appointing a newly converted man to a position of responsibility?
18 The Scriptures do not recommend the appointing of newly converted men to offices in the Christian congregation. “Not a newly converted man, for fear that he might get puffed up with pride and fall into the judgment passed upon the Devil.” (1 Tim. 3:6) Especially in times of persecution this principle may not be ignored. Newly converted men may be zealous in the service for the Kingdom, but they may lack maturity. Under normal conditions such persons can better be watched and helped. In the underground work of preaching God’s kingdom this is more difficult. A newly converted man can cause dissensions if he starts to act independently. He may not yet have learned to trust in the lead of the trustworthy “faithful and discreet slave.” He trusts too much in himself. He has his own ideas instead of God’s. He does not see that his action may bring about undesirable consequences for himself and others. He may be ready to compromise or have extreme views and be inclined to be fanatical. If he were an overseer in a congregation, he could be a cause of disunity. Therefore in the underground work careful attention has to be paid that well-proved and reliable persons are appointed to service positions. “Also, let these be tested as to fitness first, then let them serve as ministers, as they are free from accusation.” (1 Tim. 3:10) This is true in all cases of overseers, especially of circuit and district servants, who maintain the connections with the congregations in a land.
19. How might disunity be settled according to Scriptural precedent?
19 If it should ever happen that disunity crops up, the brothers involved should not hesitate to accept the directives of those brothers responsible for the work in the country, because their advice would be based on God’s Word. It may even be that the head office of the Society would write a letter if the circumstances demand it, which letter would contain admonition or decisions. In the early church we have an example where a difference of opinion was settled through a letter of the governing body. The issue at that time was the question of circumcision. Some persons spread the idea that circumcision was a necessity for salvation. This view was wrong. (Acts 15:1) It caused no little dissension. After the responsible brothers in Jerusalem had clarified the issue, the proper answer, that circumcision was no more necessary, was communicated to the congregations by letter. We can read the interesting contents of this letter even today, in Acts 15:23-29. The letter by the governing body was an encouragement and real help to the brothers: “After reading it, they rejoiced over the encouragement.”—Acts 15:31.
20. What problem to Christian neutrality is encountered, and how might it be overcome?
20 To mature Christians, the question of what attitude should be taken in the matter of political elections presents no issue. In totalitarian countries oftentimes people are forced by law to go to the election polls and sometimes persons are even picked up at home and brought to the polls. Even in certain democracies the law makes it compulsory for the citizens to go to the election places. In no country do Jehovah’s witnesses take part in politics. They are not of this world. (John 17:14) Therefore they do not take part in voting at elections. They do not compromise their neutral standing in matters of politics, however, if they go to the polls and make the ballot void in some manner, either by crossing it out or by putting down, for example, the words “For God’s Kingdom.” That is telling what he is for. By doing this their ballot will become void; it will not count in the election of a man. They have complied with the law and gone to the polls and likely avoided punishment. Remember Jesus’ counsel: “Look! I am sending you forth as sheep amidst wolves; therefore prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves.” (Matt. 10:16) No one should be condemned for acting so. “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you also look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.”—Rom. 14:10.
21. How can we be wisely guided if in doubt?
21 But what about situations coming up that one has never met before, perhaps never discussed before, situations that demand decisions? Perhaps there is no one around whom you could ask. If we know the principles of God’s Word in the Bible it will not be so difficult for a dedicated person to make right decisions. We know what we owe to men, but, primarily, we know what we owe to Jehovah. We must love him and obey him above everything else. (Matt. 22:36-40) We are in the world, but no part of it. Therefore we are neutral regarding politics and wars. We know the proper relation toward persons of the opposite sex. We are informed about the improper use of blood. We know the Scriptural order in the family and in the Christian congregation, the proper attitude toward our employer and the government. If our conscience is enlightened by the light of Bible principles, then we shall be able to make right decisions. If we are in doubt as to what is the right decision in a matter, then we act wisely if we decide in a way that leaves our conscience unbothered. If we meet situations that demand decisions from us, we do well to ask Jehovah’s guidance in the matter through prayer. “For the sake of your name you will lead me and conduct me.”—Ps. 31:3.
22. How is the human body a fine illustration of organizational unity?
22 The thought of unity and the closest cooperation is very fittingly illustrated in the Bible. Read First Corinthians chapter 12. The human body is here used as an illustration. Really, the human body is a unity and at unity, something complete. It functions harmoniously and to the well-being of the whole organism. If an organ does not function properly anymore, then disturbances and diseases are usually the result. The New World Society of Jehovah’s witnesses, although scattered in all the world, may be likened to such a human body. Fittingly, the organization in any one country can be likened to a human body. Not all its members perform the same function. “If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now they are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand: ‘I have no need of you’; or, again, the head cannot say to the feet: ‘I have no need of you.’”—1 Cor. 12:19-21.
23. How can unity be maintained under outside pressure, and what mistake must be avoided?
23 In the underground work this principle cannot be ignored. Also, under such circumstances the work is directed from only one central and responsible place in a country, which may be likened to the head of the body. It not only receives the spiritual food so that it may be distributed throughout the whole country, but it receives the necessary instructions and counsel. Remember, God’s Word is always our true guide. If we are living a Christian life as Jesus set the example and, in addition, preach the good news of God’s kingdom, we will be doing the right thing. By following this course, unity will be maintained even under pressure and persecution. We will want to keep in touch with the responsible agency in our country too, if at all possible. We should know our faithful brothers. If we do, we shall not make the mistake some of the Corinthian brothers made: “What I mean is this, that each one of you says: ‘I belong to Paul,’ ‘But I to Apollos,’ ‘But I to Cephas,’ ‘But I to Christ.’ Does the Christ exist divided?” (1 Cor. 1:12, 13) The answer, of course, is No! So no matter where Jehovah’s witnesses are, stay close with all your faithful brothers.
24. How strong is the bond of love, and what can it do for us?
24 Jehovah has called his people out of the confusion of this world. (1 Pet. 2:9) He has called all his people to unity, to unity with himself and to unity with their brothers. The new system of things, which is coming closer day by day, will know only this unity. For all of us living in these troublesome days it is the order of the day to live in unity now, every day and under all circumstances, whether in freedom or under persecution, to work for unity and to keep united in Jehovah’s organization. The perfect bond for it has been given us: Love! “But, besides all these things, clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union.” (Col. 3:14) The love for Jehovah and our neighbor can be extremely strong, yes, an untearable bond. It binds us all together, whether we live in the North or South, East or West. It unites us, whether we can preach the gospel freely and meet freely or we have to do it underground, secretly. Love will prevent us from wrongly using our tongue and hurting our brother. Love will make it easy for us to recognize the theocratic order in God’s family at all times. Love will guard us from acting presumptuously and independently. It will guard us from becoming selfish, pleasing ourselves in extreme views or going in the way of least resistance. It will also prevent us from maneuvering ourselves into positions of responsibility to which we were not appointed. It will teach us to wait on Jehovah.
25. What fine counsel did Paul give to help us maintain unity in difficult times?
25 Let us therefore cultivate this wonderful attribute, love, all the more as we approach the downfall of this old system of things and the test this will bring upon Jehovah’s chosen people. In heart-stirring words the apostle Paul admonishes us to unity, when he says: “Only behave in a manner worthy of the good news about the Christ, in order that, whether I come and see you or be absent, I may hear about the things which concern you, that you are standing 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.