Youths, Keep Your Integrity While at School
ALL Christians, whether young or old, have the responsibility to keep their integrity to Jehovah God. Sometimes, however, young persons feel that their load of responsibility for keeping integrity is lighter than for older Christians. But if you young persons profess to be true witnesses of Jehovah God, then you do well to keep in mind that you, too, must maintain integrity at all times. Do not think that youthfulness excuses you from the consequences of violating Bible principles. If you want to prove worthy of everlasting life in God’s new order of things, be diligent to apply Bible principles, thereby keeping your integrity during school years.
What are some of those Bible principles that will help you to keep your integrity to God?
“FLEE FROM IDOLATRY”
One of them is found at 1 Corinthians 10:14: “Flee from idolatry.” This command to Christians embraces the thought of the second of the Ten Commandments, which says: “You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them, because I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion.”—Ex. 20:4, 5.
To give exclusive devotion, true Christians throughout the centuries have fled from idolatry. Showing how the early Christians kept their integrity by fleeing from any form of idolatry, the book A History of Civilization, by Brinton, Christopher and Wolff, says: “To hold this motley collection of peoples [in the Roman Empire] in a common allegiance, to give them something like a national flag as a symbol of this unity, the emperor was deified. . . . [But] the true Christian . . . could not bring himself to make what to an outsider was merely a decent gesture, like raising one’s hat today when the flag goes by in a parade.”
Even under persecution the early Christians did not cave in to the demands of men to perform a religious act toward national images or idolized humans, for to do so would be to render to them sacred service that belongs to God. (Rom. 1:25) We today do well to follow the example of the early Christians in fleeing from every form of idolatry.
“NO PART OF THE WORLD”
Another Bible principle young dedicated Christians should apply is that of separateness from the world of ungodly mankind. This is what Jesus Christ taught his followers, and he said of them: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:16) Jesus Christ demonstrated for us what staying separate from the world means. Not only did he reject the low moral standards of the world around him, but he stayed clear of its political affairs. When the Devil offered Jesus rulership of all the political kingdoms of mankind, Jesus rejected the offer. (Matt 4:8-10) Jesus Christ would not accept any part, small or large, in the political structure that the world of unbelieving mankind had set up. Hence Jesus also turned down a popular draft for local kingship, ‘withdrawing again into the mountain all alone.’—John 6:15.
Not only did Jesus himself stay separate from politics, but about 96 C.E. the resurrected Son of God gave his apostle John a vision of a wild beast ascending out of the sea, with seven heads and ten horns. Since Revelation was presented in signs, the wild beast was symbolic. Harmonizing with the Bible’s own explanation of the wild beasts of Daniel, chapters seven and eight, the wild beast John saw in vision symbolizes the Devil’s visible political organization under seven successive headships through the centuries. Who gave this symbolic political beast its power? The Bible says: “The dragon gave the beast its power and its throne and great authority.” (Rev. 13:2) Since the Dragon, the Devil, gives the symbolic political beast its power, Christians wisely heed Jesus’ counsel and example and refuse to get involved in the political affairs of the world of unbelieving mankind.
“GENTLE TOWARD ALL”
The Bible also shows that all true Christians must cultivate the fruitage of God’s holy spirit in their lives. This fruitage includes love, peace, kindness, mildness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22, 23) Hence Christians, whether young or old, are told: “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil.” (2 Tim. 2:24) Following this counsel, we must be gentle both in our speech and in our conduct toward others. We should not go around with a chip on our shoulder, looking for fights or even expecting trouble. We should learn to restrain ourselves, even when provoked.
Having noted certain Bible principles that must be heeded if a Christian is to keep integrity to God, consider what this means to you as a student in school. You go to school to get an education—learning to read and write, becoming acquainted with history, perhaps getting training in a trade. But while you are there in school, as a Christian you do not want to adopt the “spirit of the world,” because Jesus said that his true followers are “no part of the world.” And his inspired apostle Paul wrote: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (1 Cor. 2:12; John 15:19; Rom. 12:2) So a Christian cannot share with the world in all its activities. He must guide his course of conduct by the “perfect will of God” as set out in the Bible. Of course, the Bible does not give direct commands on every situation that may arise, but it does set out principles that should guide us.
For example, flag-salute ceremonies are frequent in schools all over the world. Now, what Bible principles govern what a Christian should do while the class is engaged in this activity?
Well, what is a flag? It is an image made by man; it is a representation of the State. Flags often contain representations of things in the heavens, such as stars, as well as things on earth. So to dedicated Christians, kneeling before or saluting a flag would be a violation of the Second Commandment and of the Christian command to “flee from idolatry.”
In some lands children are expected to kneel and kiss the flag. Elsewhere flags are saluted with outstretched arm or with the hand held to the forehead or over the heart. All these ways of rendering homage to the flag have the same basic significance. Any kind of salute to an image with the hand or body is an idolatrous act, hence it is something Jehovah’s witnesses, who are dedicated Christians, cannot conscientiously do. Nevertheless, they do not interfere with what others do in this matter.
But what if you are not asked to salute the flag but merely to hold it, either in a parade or in a classroom, so that others can salute? Well, would that be ‘fleeing from idolatry’? No, rather than fleeing, it would place you at the very center of the idolatrous ceremony.
The same is true of marching in patriotic parades, which is expected of students in many lands. Of course, those who do it are participating in the ceremony and showing their support of the thing honored by the parade. This Jehovah’s witnesses conscientiously decline to do.
In view of the Bible principle involved, could a dedicated Christian stand quietly during a flag-salute ceremony? Well, would the act of standing make you an idolater? No, merely standing quietly while others salute shows that you are only a respectful observer; the act of idolatry to the witness of Jehovah would be the saluting, not the mere standing in a normal manner.
But suppose one were required to assume some rigid bodily posture at the time of flag saluting? Doing so would make one a participant in the idolatrous ceremony.
Obviously there are many circumstances that arise in regard to salutes. How, then, should a young Christian be governed? By a set of Talmudlike rules to cover every conceivable circumstance? No, but by principle. You know the principle involved: “Flee from idolatry.” Then always apply the principle, and you should be able to decide what a dedicated Christian must do to keep integrity.
Let us take another example. Suppose one student in a school is chosen to represent the whole school and that student salutes the flag outside at a flagpole; inside, the other students merely stand while their representative salutes the flag. Now, would the act of standing in this case be something a dedicated Christian could do? Well, what does the standing in this case signify? It signifies that you agree to having the student on the outside salute the flag for you. He takes your place, acting as your representative. In view of this, you realize that in this case standing in any manner would be joining in the idolatrous ceremony. So one who wants to “flee from idolatry” would remain quietly seated.
As another example, suppose one is at a sports event, and the flag is paraded by, at which time people take off their hats for the flag. There the very gesture is in the nature of a salute, even though the removed hat may not be placed over one’s heart as is often done. So if a witness of Jehovah were required to be at such a place where a flag might be paraded by, then he would have to take his stand for Bible principle. However, if attendance at the event is optional, then the Christian would wisely be elsewhere at the time. If one finds it desirable to attend a public event, he need not be present at the time of an idolatrous ceremony, which usually takes place at the opening of such an event, but he could come later, after the ceremony is over. Or, if it regularly comes at the end of the event, he would leave quietly before the event closes.
STANDING FOR WORLDLY SONGS
The Christian youth who desires to keep integrity to God is often faced today with the matter of standing for songs, such as national anthems. Now what Bible principles are involved? You know that true followers of Jesus Christ must keep separate from the world, and, following the example of Jesus, they do not pray for the world. How, then, could Christians join in the sentiments of a song that is, often at least in part, in effect a prayer to God on behalf of a nation of the world? While it is true that Christians are law-abiding and respectful toward public officials, how could they join in a song that extols a nation that is a part of “this system of things” of which, as the Bible shows, Satan is the god?—John 17:9; 2 Cor. 4:4.
So when it comes to standing for these songs, the witness of Jehovah must ask himself what the standing signifies. If arising from a seated position and standing while the music is played is all that is expected of anyone present to show that he is in accord with the sentiments of the song, the Christian would refrain from doing so, as those sentiments are out of harmony with Bible principles.
What, now, is the difference between standing for the flag-salute ceremony and standing for an anthem? When a Christian stands up when others arise to salute the flag, his just quietly standing does not constitute the salute, does it? In most instances you would have to do more in order to salute. However, the way national anthems are handled is that usually all that a person has to do in order to indicate to all present that he shares the sentiments of the song is to stand up.
But suppose students in a classroom are already standing during a music session and among the songs that come up is a national anthem. Would the Christian youth have to take the special action of sitting down? No, he could just remain standing; it is not as though he had specifically stood up for the anthem.
Do school songs come into the same category as national anthems? Yes, they are viewed the same way by those in the school as national anthems are by the nations. They are often sung with religious fervor and with cheers, and the students are expected to arise. It is a matter of paying homage to an institution of the world, which Jehovah’s witnesses cannot do. Why not? Because they reserve such worshipful honors for Jehovah God.
It is for the same reason that they refrain from joining in ceremonies (such as standing for a minute of silence) in honor of national heroes following their death or on anniversaries connected with them.
ELECTIVE OFFICES AND POSITIONS
In many schools the student body elects other students to certain offices or positions, such as president or spokesman for the class, cheerleader, homecoming queen, and so on. One might be nominated and voted into a position without his even accepting the nomination. Some high schools even allow for small-scale political campaigning, and students may wear campaign buttons and put up “vote for” posters.
Now, how do Christians view these elective offices and positions? Would they accept a position if voted in by their classmates? Would they participate in the voting, either by a show of hands or by balloting?
Well, what is the purpose of this voting in school? In most cases it is to familiarize young persons with the machinery of worldly politics. So what Bible principle applies? Why, separateness from the world and its politics. Since Jehovah’s witnesses as adults do not mix in politics, it is only reasonable that children of Jehovah’s witnesses do not mix in politics on a school level, either by accepting an elective office or participating in conferring such an office upon others. What, then, would a Christian youth do if he were nominated to an office? He could tactfully decline the nomination or, if elected without his assent, he could tactfully decline the office; so following the example of Jesus, who withdrew when the people wanted to make him king.
Though one of Jehovah’s witnesses would decline a position given him through small-scale political machinery, he considers an appointment by the teacher as something different. If a Christian youth were appointed by the teacher to help in traffic direction or some other unobjectionable duty during school hours, he would cooperate. If no violation of Bible principles would result from carrying out an appointment, then he would be helpful to the school and other students to every reasonable extent.
Of course, some positions at school involve violation of Bible principles, even if that position comes by appointment and not through political machinery. For instance, what if one were appointed cheerleader? Encouraging others in itself is not wrong, as when one is playing on a team and he shouts words of encouragement. But it is something else to lead a crowd into frenzied cheering for and exaltation of an institution of this world, to lead people in standing for the school song or to lead others into the snare of hero worship. That would violate Bible principles. A Christian who is separate from this world and who gives exclusive devotion to Jehovah God would decline a cheerleader appointment.
Some schools may vote a girl as “Homecoming Queen” or as beauty queen. Even if a Christian girl were appointed and not elected to such queenship, how could she accept it? Bible principles show that it is not proper for the creature to be given undue importance. (Rom. 1:25) Moreover, to set up womanhood upon a pedestal would violate Bible principles. (1 Tim. 2:12, 13) Christians do not engage in the glorification of humans, and they would not want anyone to give them such idolatrous treatment. Also, those who serve as “kings” or “queens” are expected to take the lead in political, patriotic and worldly religious activities, which true Christians cannot do.
Of course, it is well for you young Christians to keep in mind that not all voting is political. Sometimes students are called on by the teacher to express opinions. There would be no violation of Bible principle in expression of one’s preference of certain activities or the appraisal of a talk or composition. It is not electing one politically to an office when one expresses an opinion by a show of hands as to the quality of something.
What if part of the classroom instruction you receive requires expression concerning what you understand to be contrary to Bible principles? Suppose in music class you are required to sing a national anthem? Though a witness of Jehovah could not conscientiously sing the words, some sing the notes to show they know the tune. If you are required to recite something such as a pledge that a Christian could not conscientiously make, then what? Even though it is simply a test of knowledge or memory, you would rather be excused from it if possible. But, if necessary, you could show that you have the mental ability to recite it, and, to avoid a wrong impression, you would explain beforehand or afterward that you do not share the sentiments of that pledge.
Some classroom instruction may involve philosophies such as evolution that are contrary to the Bible. What if you are assigned to speak on subjects that you know are false or pagan? Why, take advantage of the assignment to give a witness regarding what you know to be the truth. Class talks are a fine way to give a witness. If one were assigned a talk on evolution, he could state what the textbook says and then he could state what he believes according to the Bible. Likewise with written examinations, if a question requires a textbook answer on evolution, you could give that answer, adding, if necessary, that you personally accept the Bible’s answer as the correct one rather than the textbook’s. View class talks as opportunities to help others. Even if it is necessary to learn details about false theories such as evolution, do not consider it a total waste of time. With that knowledge you will understand the viewpoint of others better and can use it to good advantage when you help them to break free of the empty philosophies of men.—Col. 2:8.
In some schools physical education may involve various gymnastic activities. There is no violation of Bible principles in such activities as running. But suppose the school wants to teach you wrestling, boxing and jujitsu or other ways to injure persons? Well, what Bible principle would apply? You know that “a slave of the Lord does not need to fight.” So a Christian would not train himself for the purpose of fighting or hurting others. Moreover, since he does not go around looking for or even anticipating trouble, he would not train in forms of physical violence. A Christian “needs to be gentle toward all,” and to keep himself “restrained under evil.” (2 Tim. 2:24) He avoids training for activities that are not in accord with what the Bible says at Isaiah 2:4. Hence a witness of Jehovah could not accept training in the technique of injuring others, though he would cooperate with other school-hour physical education activities.
Living by Bible principles in the midst of a world that is alienated from God obviously is not easy. Some of you youths may be threatened with expulsion from school or be denied a diploma at the time of graduation because you refrain from activities that are not in harmony with the Bible. If the law makes provision for freedom of conscience in these matters, the problems will be fewer. But if there is no allowance made for those who do not conform, it is often wise to talk to your teacher ahead of time and kindly explain your position from the Bible. Perhaps your parents will want to go with you when this is done. When your teachers appreciate that you are not refraining from participation because of any spirit of rebelliousness, but that you appreciate their efforts to teach you and that you have proper respect for the “superior authorities,” they may be willing to show consideration for your beliefs. But it will call for patient and faithful conduct on your part.—Rom. 13:1.
Regardless of the reaction of others, if you are to prove yourself to be a true Christian, it is vital to guide your course by the Word of God. With the help of your parents or your congregation overseer, discern the Bible principles that apply and then make your decisions in harmony with them. Then you will not need to ask someone else what you should do in every situation, but you will know what is pleasing to God. Your guarding your integrity while at school will bear good fruits, because you are proving to God that you are the kind of person who he says will live in his everlasting new system of things.