The Seriousness of It
“LITTLE things mean a lot.” Those words, the title of a popular American song, are true in so many situations. Little things often betray the condition of the heart, not to say anything of their frequently leading to big things.
The truth inherent in that song title might be said to be included in the more weighty principle stated by Jesus Christ, the Son of God: “The person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and the person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much.”—Luke 16:10.
Jesus spoke those words to Jews who were under the law of Moses. That law concerned itself not only with the big things of life, such as the Ten Commandments, which forbade idolatry and murder, but also with seemingly little things. For example, the Israelites were not permitted to eat certain sea creatures, certain mammals and certain winged creatures.—Lev. 11:4-20.
It might have been argued, what difference does it make whether a fish has fins and scales so long as it has been procured honestly and tastes good? Or what difference does it make whether a mammal chews its cud and has its hoof split? These were apparently little things, but they had to be taken seriously by the Israelites. No doubt the Creator and Lawgiver of Israel, Jehovah God, had more than one good reason for giving these laws back there, not least of which was to keep his people from unduly fraternizing with their pagan neighbors.
That Jesus Christ appreciated the importance of taking apparently little things seriously can be seen from his remarks to the religious leaders of his day. He reproached them for paying the tithes of spices, very little things, and yet disregarding the far more weighty things, such as “justice and mercy and faithfulness.” But did he mean by that reproof that if one did the more important things he could ignore the apparently little things? By no means! For Jesus went on to say: “These things”—justice, mercy and faithfulness—“it was binding to do, yet not to disregard the other things,” the little things, the paying of the tenth of the spices such as the mint and the dill.—Matt. 23:23.
The same principle applies today. There are the weightier matters for God’s people to do: Study His Word and the literature that helps one to understand it; attend Christian gatherings, in particular the meetings of the local congregation; preach and teach the good news of God’s kingdom at every opportunity, in favorable season and in unfavorable season, and bring forth the fruits of God’s holy spirit, such as love, joy, peace, long-suffering and self-control. Without a doubt these are the “weightier matters” and should receive a Christian’s prime concern. But while caring for these things Jehovah’s people may not ignore the seemingly little things. These also must be taken seriously.—Gal. 5:22, 23; 2 Tim. 4:2; Heb. 10:23-25.
What might these be? Included in them is keeping free from all customs that are either directly or indirectly condemned in the Scriptures as being rooted in false religion or that are part of Satan’s system of things, such as the celebration of holidays, political and religious. While not celebrating these may, to some persons, seem to be a little thing, that does not make it less important in the sight of God, and mature Christians appreciate that fact. No faithful Israelite in ancient times could have been forced to violate God’s law by eating pork even on pain of death. And just as Jehovah God had good reasons for forbidding his people back there to eat certain things, such as blood, so there are good reasons why Jehovah’s people should refrain from celebrating worldly holidays today.—John 18:36; 1 Cor. 2:12.
Do we want to keep in step and in tune with the faithful men of God or with the pagans? According to Hastings’ Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, birthday celebrations go back to ancient times and in particular were those of prominent and important pagans highly regarded and observed. Was there any more prominent and important person ever to walk this earth than Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Yet God did not see fit to have the exact date of Jesus’ birth recorded, nor does the Bible report that Jesus’ apostles celebrated his birthday. The Lord Jesus himself commanded that his death be commemorated, not his birth.—1 Cor. 11:20, 23-26.
The only birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible are of two pagan rulers and each of these events was marred by an execution. Pharaoh’s was marred by the execution of his chief baker, and King Herod’s by the execution of John the Baptist. (Gen. 40:20-22; Mark 6:21-29) Taking their cue from these facts, the early Christians refused to celebrate birthdays. Thus Augustus Neander, noted historian, says in The History of the Christian Religion and Church During the Three First Centuries: “The notion of a birthday festival was far from the ideas of the Christians of this period in general.” And the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911 Edition) quotes Origen as saying: “Of all the holy people in the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners who make great rejoicings over the day they were born into this world.”
From these facts we can ascertain God’s will in the matter, so what should we personally do? We should show that we are concerned about conforming to God’s will by refusing to share in any way in birthday celebrations, whether our own, or those of our friends or relatives or of some prominent persons. If we are to be pleasing to God, we must learn to be faithful in all things. To illustrate the principle in another way, faithfulness in the marital tie obligates each not only in big things but also in seemingly little things.
Testifying to the truth of the principle stated by Jesus about faithfulness in little things leading to faithfulness in big things is the experience of the three Hebrew companions of Daniel in ancient Babylon. When faced with the problem of eating foods forbidden by the law of Moses, they could have tried to excuse themselves on the basis that they were captives in a foreign land and so had no choice in the matter. But what a blessing they received for taking seriously even what might have seemed to be little things! They, together with Daniel, proved to be both healthier and wiser than all the other captives who kept on eating the king’s dainties, some of which most likely had been offered to the gods of Babylon. Faithfulness in these “little things” without a question strengthened them so that when faced with the greater test of bowing down to the image the king had erected on the plain of Dura, they were able to stand, courageous, firm and bold.—Dan 1:3-21; 3:1-30.
More than that, their taking a firm stand resulted in a great witness to Jehovah God; and this has also been proved true in modern times. Thus the 1968 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses tells the following experience in its report on Brazil: “A mother told of sending her small son to kindergarten, but first explained in detail some of the things that might come up that are not approved in God’s Word. She also visited the teacher and explained the Scriptural view of these things. One day when she went to get her little boy, the teacher called to her and told her she admired the child very much, for he stood up for his beliefs. One of the children brought a cake to school to celebrate his birthday, and the teacher had been given the Bible reasons why Jehovah’s witnesses do not celebrate birthdays, so she wondered what the child would do. When the other children sang the birthday song, the little boy sat silent. When the cake was cut and he was offered a piece he politely refused and ate the lunch he had with him. The mother was especially proud of her son’s understanding, for she said: ‘He likes cake very much.’” Such faithfulness in what may, to some persons, seem to be little things, taking them seriously, can aid one in being faithful to God when confronted with even more difficult tests of faith.
There are other customs that are common among the nations too. Some of them are fundamentally religious. What is the attitude of faithful Christians toward them? Of the religious customs of the nations surrounding them, Jehovah God commanded his people in ancient times: “Do not learn the way of the nations at all.”—Jer. 10:2.
Today it is generally recognized that Christmas has pagan antecedents. The Christmas tree, the yule log, the mistletoe and even the date December 25 are all admittedly of pagan origin. And the same must be said about Easter eggs and the Easter rabbit.a The celebration of Christmas and Easter therefore are forbidden by the words of the apostle Paul: “You cannot be drinking the cup of Jehovah and the cup of demons; you cannot be partaking of ‘the table of Jehovah’ and the table of demons.” “‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing’; ‘and I will take you in.’”—1 Cor. 10:21; 2 Cor. 6:17.
Wise Christian parents will not let sentimentality cause them to compromise in the matter of Easter and Christmas holidays. Early in life Christian parents should warn their children against the snare of conformity with the world, wanting to be like everyone else, fearing to stand out as different because of Bible principles. Christians are admonished not to be conformed to this system of things but to be transformed by making their minds over. (Rom. 12:2) Children that are properly reared will be glad at the fact that they are different, that the world is puzzled at them. (1 Pet. 4:3, 4) They should be taught to see these celebrations for what they are: of pagan origin, God-dishonoring, marked by sham and commercial exploitation. Then they will tend to pity those who practice such things rather than envy them! At the same time the parents themselves need to be on guard that they do not compromise, do not send out greeting cards or have Christmas decorations in their homes just to be considered ‘reasonable’ or ‘good fellows.’
In particular must any Christian who is in business for himself be on guard lest he let the fear of financial loss cause him to decorate his place of business with pagan holiday trimmings and stock pagan holiday goods, all of which are directly related to false religion. For anyone who is a dedicated witness of Jehovah to let profit or any other motive cause him to compromise in these matters would make him guilty of apostasy. And, as the Bible makes clear, such persons who turn back to ‘eating at the table of demons’ cannot continue to eat at “the table of Jehovah.”
There may also be a temptation to share in holiday festivities because they are designed to appeal to the fallen flesh. Christmas music and decorations and those associated with Easter may appeal to one’s emotions. And parties, with their abundance of food, drink and dancing, are appealing to the flesh regardless of the occasion. But let no Christian forget that to choose to follow the leading of sin’s law means death, for those “in harmony with the flesh cannot please God.”—Rom. 8:8.
In the same way St. Valentine’s parties and celebrations must be viewed. Because of its associations the St. Valentine’s holiday is something to be avoided. It is named after one or more Roman Catholic “saints,” “saints” made such by men and not by God, and the practices associated with it are of pagan origin. Thus we are told regarding its origin: “A practice in ancient Rome at the festival of Lupercalia, during the month of February, when, among other ceremonies, the names of young women were placed in a box, from which they were taken by young men as chance directed. The pastors of the early church, finding it impossible to extirpate this pagan ceremony, changed its form.”b The actual purpose of the feast was to ensure fertility of people, flocks and fields.
There certainly is no objection to having wholesome good times together as a family, giving gifts and sending greetings to one’s friends to let them know that they are loved. But it should be evident that it shows no real love for others if these things are done in a way that encourages them to practice customs that you yourself know to be pagan. Nor does such a course please God, and true Christians do want to please him!
Of course, religious celebrations are not the only ones. Some are held in honor of nations and their heroes. How do Jehovah’s witnesses view these? They do not interfere with what other people may want to do, but they are keenly aware that Jesus Christ said that his true followers would be “no part of the world.” (John 17:16) They know too that the Bible says that, when a person becomes spotted up with participation in the affairs of the world, his worship is not clean and acceptable to God. (Jas. 1:27) Why is this?
Because, as Jesus showed, “the ruler of the world” is not Jehovah God, but Satan the Devil, the enemy of God. (John 14:30) The Devil is the one who offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for his worship, and right down to this day he continues to exercise a powerful control over the nations. (Matt. 4:8-10) Conditions on earth today bear out that Scriptural fact. Jehovah’s witnesses believe what the Bible says, and for that reason they avoid participation in the holidays that tend to glorify any part of the old system of things. They know that God’s kingdom will soon crush out of existence all the kingdoms of this world, and it itself will endure forever. (Dan. 2:44) They, too, want to endure forever, and so they put their full confidence in God’s provision for the blessing of obedient mankind.
We cannot escape it. If we want to be pleasing to Jehovah God, if we are resolved to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, we cannot view the festivities of this system of things as harmless. We must realize the seriousness of avoiding them. Faithful early Christians refused to yield in the slightest to perform acts savoring of idolatry, not even to save their lives. Those who would be pleasing to Jehovah today must follow their example. In all such matters let Christians keep in mind the principle: “The person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and the person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much.”—Luke 16:10.
a Alexander Hislop in The Two Babylons produces an abundance of proof showing the pagan origin of both Christmas and Easter.
b The American Cyclopædia, Vol. 16, p. 244 (1883).