Maintaining Balance in Human Relationships
“The one who loves God should be loving his brother also.”—1 John 4:21.
1. What besides love of God is essential to Christian balance, and how does the apostle John indicate this?
ALTHOUGH rendering exclusive worship to our heavenly Father, Jehovah God, is essential to Christian balance, inseparably linked with such devotion to God is love for our fellow humans, and especially those related to us in the Christian faith. (Gal. 6:10) This means that a proper relationship with our Christian brothers is also necessary to maintain Christian balance. The apostle John pointedly indicated this when he wrote: “If anyone makes the statement: ‘I love God,’ and yet is hating his brother, he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that the one who loves God should be loving his brother also.”—1 John 4:20, 21.
2. What is often the worldly view toward human relationships, but what should be the Christian’s attitude toward his fellows?
2 What, though, is involved in loving fellow Christians? What is a proper relationship with them? How should we view our association with one another in the Christian congregation? The worldly view often is to seek friends or associates on the basis of what they can do to enhance one’s prestige and image. It is common for worldly persons to consider themselves superior or more important than others. Many times their attitude is to use others, to cheat or tread on them before others can do the same to them. But how different is the balanced Christian view! Note the inspired admonition of God’s Word: Do “nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you, keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others. Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he was existing in God’s form, . . . emptied himself and took a slave’s form.”—Phil. 2:2-7.
3. What would life be like if everyone exercised the attitude Christ did?
3 Consider how pleasant life would be if everyone lived in harmony with this Scriptural counsel and imitated the example of Jesus Christ! There would be no selfishly coveting the possessions or abilities of others; there would be no trying to outshine others, to prove that you are better than they are. Nor would there be efforts to show others up, to embarrass them. It is the selfish worldly attitude of thinking too much of oneself, seeking prominence and preeminence, that unbalances and creates unpleasant relations. How vital, therefore, for Christians to heed the apostolic counsel:
4, 5. What Bible counsel is it vital that we follow, but is it always easy to do so?
4 “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over . . . I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think . . . In brotherly love have tender affection for one another. In showing honor to one another take the lead. Be minded the same way toward others as to yourselves; do not be minding lofty things, but be led along with the lowly things. Do not become discreet in your own eyes.”—Rom. 12:2, 3, 10, 16.
5 However, it is admittedly much easier to talk about loving our brothers, about being lowly in mind, about doing nothing out of contentiousness or egotism, about considering that others are superior than it is to conduct ourselves in harmony with these inspired instructions. Even the apostles of Jesus Christ were for a while badly unbalanced by an improper view. It was again manifested during the last Passover meal, which they celebrated with Jesus in an upper room in Jerusalem on the night of Nisan 14, 33 C.E.
DISPUTE OVER WHO IS THE GREATEST
6. (a) What disturbing dispute developed among Jesus’ apostles on the Passover night of 33 C.E., and what prompted a similar controversy some days before? (b) What did Jesus say regarding his followers’ proper relationship to one another?
6 After the Lord’s supper was over, a disturbing controversy developed among the apostles over the question of position or rank, “over which one of them seemed to be greatest.” (Luke 22:24) Just a few days before, as they were about to come to Jerusalem for the eventful final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry, this same matter had come up. On that occasion the mother of the apostles James and John came to Jesus and requested a preeminent position for her sons in his kingdom. “When the ten others heard of this,” the Bible record says, “they became indignant at the two brothers.” However, Jesus stepped in to calm down their irate feelings by pointing out that the arrangement within God’s organization was altogether different from that with which they were acquainted in the world. The persons in positions of responsibility among them, Jesus said, should be servants of their fellows. Yes, “whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. Just as the Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.”—Matt. 20:17, 20-28.
7. What made it difficult for the apostles to comprehend the import of Jesus’ counsel?
7 Apparently, however, the apostles could not comprehend what Jesus meant by this. What he said was evidently so new and different from what they were used to seeing practiced that it did not eradicate the worldly idea from their mind. They maintained an unbalanced view of their relationship with one another. They thought back perhaps to when Israelite kings of the Davidic line ruled, and assumed that the Messianic king Jesus Christ, too, would have an earthly government with men of high position and rank. They may have had personal ambitions to serve in such high official capacities. So, after the institution of the Lord’s supper, the disciple Luke records, “there also arose a heated dispute among them over which one of them seemed to be greatest.”—Luke 22:24.
8. (a) How must this dispute have affected Jesus? (b) What does it illustrate?
8 Notice that this was not merely a minor controversy; rather, it was a “heated dispute.” The matter was evidently something the apostles had been thinking about, and now it erupted into a full-scale argument. How this must have grieved Jesus! After all the months that he had been with them and set them an example of lowliness and humility! And now, at such a time as this, to be having such contentions! Here it was the last night of Jesus’ earthly life when he intended to give the apostles parting words of instruction and encouragement. Jesus’ references to God’s kingdom that night doubtless laid the basis for this argument among the apostles. It simply illustrates how deep-seated within imperfect men can be the desire for distinction, to have prominent positions and prestige.
JESUS’ LOVING COUNSEL AND EXAMPLE
9. How did Jesus handle this dispute?
9 How did Jesus handle this dispute? Did he harshly correct his disciples? Did he humiliate them with severe criticism? No, but in a loving way, and no doubt with an appealing tone to his voice, he again patiently pointed out to them that the Christian arrangement was altogether different from that of the world. He said: “The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those having authority over them are called Benefactors. You, though, are not to be that way. But let him that is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the one acting as chief as the one ministering.” Then Jesus asked them: “For which one is greater, the one reclining at the table or the one ministering?” Obviously it is the one that reclines at the table and who is ministered to that is considered the greatest. However, Jesus pointed out: “But I am in your midst as the one ministering.”—Luke 22:25-27.
10. What questions are raised as to the apostles’ comprehension of Jesus’ words?
10 Would they comprehend what Jesus was teaching them this time? Would they be able to appreciate fully that all Christians are brothers, and that the one given heavier responsibilities in the Christian organization should be as the “youngest,” being lowly of mind and considering that the others are superior to him? (Matt. 23:8-12) Would they appreciate that within the Christian organization there was to be a complete reversal of procedure from what is generally followed in the world? The disciples accepted the fact that Jesus was their teacher and leader, really the greatest among them; there was no dispute about that. But earlier on that night Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples. (John 13:1-12) Jesus was there actually ministering to them!
11. In what way did Jesus minister to his followers?
11 When Jesus pointed out, “I am in your midst as the one ministering,” he apparently was not referring simply to the fact that he ministered to them in a spiritual way, as their teacher. No, but Jesus actually waited upon and served them in a physical way also, sharing in activity ordinarily reserved for persons of lesser importance. But on that final day with them in the flesh, Jesus sent Peter and John ahead to Jerusalem, “and they got things ready for the passover.”—Matt. 26:17-19; Luke 22:7-16; Mark 14:12-18.
12. Before this dispute and his words of counsel, in what significant way did Jesus minister to the twelve apostles?
12 The apostle John, who was an eyewitness to events of the night, describes what there occurred: Jesus “got up from the evening meal and laid aside his outer garments. And, taking a towel, he girded himself. After that he put water into a basin and started to wash the feet of the disciples and to dry them off with the towel with which he was girded.” (John 13:2-5) Can you imagine that? Jesus actually went around to each of his apostles, knelt before them, washed their feet and dried them off! Even those of Judas Iscariot!
SIGNIFICANCE OF HIS ACT
13. What Bible examples illustrate the ancient custom of washing another’s feet, and to whom was this task usually assigned?
13 To wash the feet of another in those times was not an unusual thing in itself. In Eastern lands roads were frequently dusty, and since people generally wore sandals or went barefooted, their feet became dirty. So when entering a house, it was an act of hospitality on the part of the host to have the feet of his visitor washed. Both Abraham and Lot extended this hospitality to strangers, who turned out to be materialized angels. (Gen. 18:3; 19:2; Heb. 13:2) But a Pharisee that entertained Jesus neglected this gesture. (Luke 7:44) The task was considered one of the most menial, and was generally assigned to the lowest servant of the household. Thus, the young woman Abigail showed true humility when she addressed the servants of David: “Here is your slave girl as a maidservant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.”—1 Sam. 25:41; 1 Tim. 5:10.
14. Why, at this time, did Jesus wash his apostles’ feet? But how did Peter at first react?
14 To impress the point of his instruction Jesus chose to perform this most menial and yet needful service. He began washing the feet of his apostles. The apostle Peter did not understand why Jesus was doing this, and so objected to his Master’s acting as such a lowly slave in ministering to him. But Jesus told Peter: “What I am doing you do not understand at present, but you will understand after these things.” Then, when he had finished with the washing and had put his outer garments back on and laid himself down at the table, he explained to them:
15. How did Jesus explain the reason for washing his followers’ feet?
15 “Do you know what I have done to you? You address me, ‘Teacher,’ and, ‘Lord,’ and you speak rightly, for I am such. Therefore, if I, although Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another. For I set the pattern for you, that, just as I did to you, you should do also. Most truly I say to you, A slave is not greater than his master, nor is one that is sent forth greater than the one that sent him. If you know these things, happy you are if you do them.”—John 13:6-17.
16. What lesson was Jesus teaching by this act?
16 In what a remarkable way Jesus inculcated within his apostles the need to be lowly in mind! How effectively he showed them that they should not aspire to positions of honor and prestige but should be willing to perform the humblest of services for one another! Jesus was not here instituting a ritual of foot washing, which has been practiced with much hypocrisy in certain religions of Christendom. No, but he was teaching them an attitude of mind—one of humility, one of concern for the interests of others and of willingness to perform the lowliest of tasks in behalf of their brothers. This is the balanced attitude that Christians should maintain toward one another.
17. What evidence is there that the apostles got the point of Jesus’ instruction?
17 Peter and the other apostles got the point. (1 Pet. 3:8) It was a lesson that the faithful ones learned well, for the Bible record reveals that they maintained this balanced view and worked together in unity to build up the Christian congregation. None of them ambitiously sought prominence or prestige. In fact, some years later when the controversial question of circumcision was raised, “the apostles and the older men gathered together” in Jerusalem and discussed it in an orderly manner. And apparently it was not one of the apostles who presided, but the disciple James, half-brother of Jesus.—Acts 15:6-29; 12:1, 2.
A NEW COMMANDMENT
18. How did Jesus later again draw attention to the example he had set for his followers?
18 Later, after washing his apostles’ feet and dismissing Judas Iscariot, Jesus again drew attention to the example that he had set, saying to the eleven remaining ones: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35) As circumcised Jews under the Law covenant, the apostles were already under the command to love their neighbors as themselves. (Matt. 22:39; Lev. 19:18) But now Jesus said that his true followers would be recognized by their demonstrating a more extensive, superior love—in imitation of his example.
19. What unique example of demonstrating love did Jesus set?
19 Jesus did indeed set a unique example in showing love. Tirelessly he expended himself in ministering to others, considering their interests before his own. Due to his complete absorption in helping people in the way to life he often sacrificed the normal comforts to which humans are accustomed. (Luke 9:58) This was demonstrating love to a greater extent than the neighbor love that was required by the Law covenant. You will recall that, on the occasion that the two apostles persuaded their mother to ask in their behalf for chief positions in the Kingdom, Jesus said: “For even the Son of man came, not to be ministered to [to be served], but to minister [to be a servant of others] and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” (Mark 10:35-45; Matt. 20:20-28) Jesus never sought self-glorification, but humbly ministered to his followers, until finally he humbled himself to the point of giving his life in their behalf. What superior, exemplary love!—Phil. 2:8; John 15:12, 13.
20. How will imitating Jesus’ example of showing love affect our relationship with our Christian brothers?
20 As Christians, we are under obligation to copy this example of Jesus. We must, not only love Jehovah God as he did, but also imitate the unselfish love he showed for his followers. (1 John 4:20, 21) Do you have the kind of love that he demonstrated? Would you surrender your life for your Christian companions? True, we may not be called upon literally to sacrifice our life in their behalf, but our love must be of such quality that we would willingly do so if the need arose. “We are under obligation to surrender our souls for our brothers,” the apostle John explained. (1 John 3:16; Rom. 16:3, 4) Think now: If we have that degree of love, should we not be willing to serve humbly the interests of our brothers? Should we not be tender, kind and considerate toward those for whom we would willingly surrender our souls? Was this not a lesson that Jesus endeavored to inculcate within his followers?
MAKING OVER THE MIND
21. Why must Christians be transformed by making their minds over?
21 How clear it is that to maintain a proper relationship with your Christian brothers you must “quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over”! (Rom. 12:2) The Christian attitude of mind is so different from that of worldly people. How common it is for persons with special education, such as the clergy, medical doctors, scientists or lawyers, to have a superior attitude, thinking that they are better than others! The same is true of persons with special talents, such as sport or movie personalities, or those possessing attributes of striking physical beauty or exceptional intelligence. The admiration that these receive often causes them to have a superior frame of mind. But remember that the balanced Christian attitude is one of “lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you.”—Phil. 2:3
22. What does it mean to be lowly of mind and to consider that others are superior to you?
22 What, though, does it mean to be lowly of mind and to consider that others are superior to you? It does not mean, for example, that an expert violin player should think that a companion who has never touched that instrument can play it better than he. This obviously is not the case. Many people have training or talents that cause them to excel above others who have not had similar training or possess comparable talents. But this does not make them superior persons. Nor should it cause them to be high-minded, considering that others are inferior to them. The Bible is here referring to one’s attitude of mind, and the sincere mental attitude of a Christian should be that others are superior to him. He should never think that somehow he is a superior person, and therefore should be waited upon and served by others. Undoubtedly there was not one activity to which Jesus’ apostles set their hand or mind that Jesus could not have done many times better. Yet, Jesus humbly ministered to them, even getting down and washing their feet!
23. In what way are Christians who have a balanced view different from many people of the world?
23 How refreshing and pleasant are ones who truly demonstrate this humble attitude of mind! What a fine, balanced view these have toward their relationship with their Christian brothers! They are altogether different from persons of this system of things. Just because some may have more money or material possessions this does not cause them to think that they should receive special consideration over persons of lesser means. They appreciate that money does not make them superior persons, and they act accordingly. (1 Tim. 6:17) Similarly, persons belonging to a particular race or nationality realize that this does not in any way make them superior to others. Therefore, they remain lowly in mind, sincerely considering that even persons of a less popular race or nationality are superior to them.—Rom. 10:12.
24, 25. Who especially should take the lead in exercising love and demonstrating lowliness of mind?
24 This same humble frame of mind should especially be exercised by the appointed overseers, ministerial servants and others who enjoy special privileges of service within the Christian organization. True, others in the congregation are urged to cooperate with and imitate the faith of such ones, but none of these taking the lead should ever think that they are superior because they preside at meetings, perhaps have greater speaking or organizational abilities, or are able to devote more time to Jehovah’s service. (Heb. 13:7, 17) Note that after urging the younger men to be in subjection to the older men who are responsible for shepherding God’s flock, the apostle Peter instructed: “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) None are omitted. Everyone, including the one taking the lead, is to gird himself with lowliness of mind. “Be in subjection to one another in fear of Christ,” the Bible commands.—Eph. 5:21.
25 The overseer should, in fact, be the one setting the example in being humble and lowly of mind. This is what the Right Shepherd Jesus Christ did. He went to great lengths to impress by example the need for his followers to have love and humility. So, then, should the overseer. He is not a boss, but a servant of his brothers. (Matt. 20:25-27) This is something vital for him to remember. Yes, it is a matter that every Christian should learn well, for in order to maintain balance in our relationship with one another, we must be loving our brothers and never think that we are superior to them.—1 John 4:21; Phil. 2:2-4.
26. What is a real incentive to maintaining Christian balance now?
26 Think ahead to the time when everyone who lives on earth will have this same refreshing attitude of mind! What a pleasant place this will be to live! Then everyone alive will be perfectly clothed with the “tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness,” and especially love. (Col. 3:12-14) Yes, all will love Jehovah God with their whole heart, mind, soul and strength; and they will have a Christlike love for their brothers. What a grand incentive to maintain balance now, so as to live then!
[Picture on page 594]
Jesus taught his apostles humility