Keep Making Straight Paths for Your Feet
1. What has the period of time since 1914 been called?
IN THE year 1914 the most radical change in man’s history began. Even when viewed apart from Bible prophecy, which marks it as the beginning of the end of this present system of things, the era of events that began in that year is unprecedented. It has properly been called “the age of violence.”
2. What difference can be seen in successive generations since 1914 as compared with former times?
2 In ancient times, customs changed little from generation to generation, so that for hundreds, even thousands of years, the sons lived much like the fathers. But beginning about the time of the so-called Reformation, each successive generation wanted to build, to go beyond what had already been done, so that real progress resulted from that time forward until 1914. But from 1914 everything started to go into reverse, so much so that one news editor was forced to admit: “The last completely ‘normal’ year in history was 1913, the year before World War I began.” Not that great strides have not been made scientifically. But the progress in development of social relations on individual as well as international levels exploded in 1914 into the worst war the world had yet known and has degenerated since then to what is commonly viewed as near anarchy at the present time.
3. (a) What conditions did Paul foretell for this present time, and what admonition did he add? (b) What different reactions are there to these conditions?
3 One outstanding prophecy foretelling this “age of violence” and its widespread moral decay is that found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy: “But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power”; and then Paul adds: “and from these turn away.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5) In this age of violence there are many who desire to “turn away” from such associations and who do find security and peace. But there are others who find it difficult to realize that standards have sunk so low. Having had no other association, they have accepted these conditions as ‘normal,’ proper, because everyone lives that way. On the other hand, some recoil from the full impact of the insecurity and futility of the modern way of life but look for refuge in the many youth cults that have sprung up around the world, or seek escape through various forms of drugs and dope. Even adults express their dissatisfaction with present conditions by movements of “civil disobedience,” which often end in riots, looting and murderous sniping at civilians and law-enforcement officers.
RECOGNIZING THE SOURCE
4. (a) Why do these conditions prove hard to deal with? (b) How can one be overcome by following such customs as modern dancing?
4 Paul calls these times “critical” and “hard to deal with.” But why should they present such a problem to those who know we are living in the “last days”? One reason is that these conditions, rapidly as they have developed, have been subtly introduced by the “god of this system of things” to make them appear as a natural sequence of events that have no more significance in themselves than troublesome times in the past. As a result, the radical changes in customs and disintegrating moral standards are viewed by the unwary as of no real significance and as nothing against which to be on guard. For example, when dances like the “twist” and all its later developments are introduced, the young accept them eagerly and without question, while their parents raise their eyebrows or smile indulgently for a while and then take them up with almost equal fervor, ostensibly in order to project the youthful image themselves. What they fail to realize is that such dances have their origin in pagan fertility dances that were performed in times past as a part of immoral religious rites. And just as they were designed to arouse the sexual emotions of the participants in the religious orgies, so their modern-day counterparts contribute to the loosening of moral inhibitions. Those who subscribe to the modern morality that allows for premarital sex relations have no objection to this. But what of those who have no such end in view, who may be indulging themselves simply because it is the custom? Such ones should not deceive themselves. They are still affected emotionally in the same way. Stimulation of this sort inevitably leads to improper inclinations, and those who entertain wrong desires can be just as completely overtaken as the twenty-four thousand were in succumbing to the Baal of Peor in the days of Israel.—Num. 25:1-9.
5. How do some try to justify a wrong course of action, but how is their course a mockery of the law of Christ? What inherent dangers are present?
5 The growing acceptance of the standard allowing free premarital sex relations, and even adultery under certain circumstances, has weakened the moral perception of some who make a pretext of holding onto Bible principles. Such ones assume that as long as they refrain from the act of fornication itself, anything else is permissible. On the basis of such fallacious reasoning they indulge themselves in the most extreme forms of petting. This is making a mockery of the law of Christ requiring cleanness and sanctity on the part of anyone professing to be a Christian. Paul said: “Therefore, since we have these promises, beloved ones, let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.” (2 Cor. 7:1) How can those tantalizing themselves with such wrong desires harmonize their course with Jesus’ words in his Sermon on the Mount: “You heard that it was said, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart”? (Matt. 5:27, 28) Not only is this kind of conduct a violation of righteous principles but it opens the door wide for transgression that can lead to death. Not only is the inclination to wrongdoing present in the strong desire, but the opportunity is also present. It is a proved reality: anyone putting himself in a compromising position often enough or long enough will eventually succumb. The proverb says: “Can a man rake together fire into his bosom and yet his very garments not be burned?”—Prov. 6:27.
6. Adopting the customs and practices of modern society can be just as damaging as what other forms of contamination? Why?
6 Those “desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus” therefore should view the customs and practices of modern society with close scrutiny, evaluating them, not according to personal desire or preference, but in the light of God’s revealed Word for us. (2 Tim. 3:12) They can be just as damaging, just as detrimental to developing the “new personality” as the more obvious contamination with the world empire of false religion, Babylon the Great, from which we have been admonished to flee. We are clearly shown that association with any form of false worship means to be guilty of the same sins that will soon cause the downfall of this great empire. (Rev. 18:4) But what we may not realize is that we can become just as fatally a part of this doomed system of things by adopting its customs and practices and thereby diverting our thinking and eventually our interests into its way of life. Religious traditions and even the demands of Caesar are age-old, but the way of life, the customs, the mode of dress, the manners, these all belong to the generation. In times past, these centered around and were influenced in large measure by the religious life of the people. Today, the world is rapidly tuning into a godless civilization, but its customs and way of life are no less influenced by its thinking. To become a part of the way of life of this system, then, is to become a part of its thinking. Sharing its sins means to share in its end.
PERSONAL PREFERENCE VERSUS DISCRETION
7. (a) What freedoms, yet what restrictions, should be recognized in the matter of style of dress? (b) What can be the result for failing to recognize this proper balance?
7 Today, style of dress is largely a matter of personal taste, and tastes and customs vary throughout the world. But for the dedicated Christian, personal preference should not be the only determining factor. Consideration must also be given to how that choice will affect one’s ministry, others inside and outside the congregation and one’s own thinking and viewpoints. The “miniskirt” is nothing new to the Scotsman, yet its popularity among women today is causing much concern and now its advent in England among young men is an innovation, one to stare at. In medieval times boys and even men wore shoulder-length hair. But the youth who appears in public today with unshorn locks is definitely typed as different. Those who observe him do not pass it off as just a personal preference of his. To them he is marked as a young man who subscribes to a certain point of view, a viewpoint that is at odds with the rest of the world. Now, a Christian youth may like long hair on boys, just as a young Christian girl may view the miniskirt as attractive. But if they were to indulge their personal tastes without considering the effect on their ministry, they would undoubtedly lose many privileges of service. One congregation finally had to remove a youthful minister from its list of available speakers because each time he was assigned to conduct a public meeting in a neighboring congregation, a complaint came back about his unusually long hair. Repeated admonition had failed to correct the young man’s viewpoint.
8. (a) Why are certain restrictions in the matter of dress not an unwarranted encroachment on personal liberty? (b) What is Jehovah’s view of dress?
8 Some, especially youngsters, may feel this is an unwarranted encroachment on their personal liberties. But Paul said, even “if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat flesh at all, that I may not make my brother stumble.” (1 Cor. 8:13) What was his reasoning for this conclusion? He said: “But food will not commend us to God; if we do not eat, we do not fall short, and, if we eat, we have no credit to ourselves. But keep watching that this authority of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone should see you, the one having knowledge, reclining at a meal in an idol temple, will not the conscience of that one who is weak be built up to the point of eating foods offered to idols?” (1 Co 8 Vss. 8-10) As it is with food, so it is with fashions in dress. Long or short hair, long or short dresses, are certainly in themselves of no concern to Jehovah in the way of salvation because both have been acceptable to him in different time periods. But any custom or practice that causes someone to stumble and fall out of the way of life is definitely of concern to him. As Paul put it: “Really, by your knowledge, the man that is weak is being ruined, your brother for whose sake Christ died. But when you people thus sin against your brothers and wound their conscience that is weak, you are sinning against Christ.” (1 Co 8 Vss. 11, 12) Will Jehovah allow such a sin to go by unnoticed and unpunished?
9. (a) Why might someone be stumbled because of the manner of dress of someone who claims to be a minister? (b) When might it be better to yield to others’ opinions in the matter of style and fashion?
9 But why should the matter of styles in dress be a cause for stumbling? And how far must one be influenced by the opinions of others in personal choice of style and fashion? Has Jehovah given us as Christians specific laws on this matter? Yes, but since they are spiritually discerned, they are not so easily identified. Paul’s admonition against stumbling a brother holds out a Christian requirement, and it is binding upon us in more than the eating of food because Paul is arguing for a principle, and his application of it in this specific instance simply serves to illustrate our obligation to Jehovah in any matter that is a cause for stumbling. This would certainly include some styles and fashions of dress today because of the close association of these styles with individuals who subscribe to a specific way of life, individuals whose viewpoints are not according to Bible principles. As one woman writer on the subject of modern women’s fashions said in a radio interview recently: “Clothes should be a mirror of your way of life.” And certainly in modern times, in most countries, no one associates long hair on a man or a miniskirt on a woman with the Christian minister. In fact, this same young woman writer said, in answer to a direct question, “If a woman wearing such clothes is accosted on the street, she has every reason to expect it.”* A fashion designer who was dubbed “mother of the miniskirt” was quoted in Newsweek (November 13, 1967) as saying: “Any law-abiding female, it used to be thought, waits until dark” to have extramarital sex relations. Then she adds: “Well, there are lots of girls who don’t want to wait. Mini-clothes are symbolic of them.”
10. (a) Who might decide as to what is right and proper in dress, and where can a reliable standard be found? (b) Why is the opinion of fashion designers not necessarily a safe guide?
10 It is true, of course, that what one person may call extreme may appear conservative to another. This is true even among those who set the styles, some differing widely from others as to what is in good taste and what is bad. But there have always been those who incline toward the sensational, and particularly in this age of violence are they influenced in designs that keep pace with the downward trend in thinking and moral standards. What, then, should be the standard? Who can decide? James said: “But the wisdom from above is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey.” (Jas. 3:17) Jehovah has set the proper standard for Christians in his Word. Are we willing and ready to follow it? No one can lay down rules as to what is right and proper in dress, except parents with minor children. But even children can be wholehearted in doing Jehovah’s will and can learn to determine what is right when questionable instances arise. If there is a question, why lean in the direction of the standards set by this system? For example, you who are dedicated Christian women, if a choice must be made between something that is known to be acceptable from the standpoint of your ministry and something that the latest fashion magazines hold out as the ultimate in feminine beauty, why accept the opinion of those whose whole purpose is to mold viewpoints and make them conform to the way of life of this dying system of things? It is biased thinking. It is designed specifically to expose susceptible minds to a false standard, the product of a time and a people. If you were born during this system’s time of the end, never forget that the only standard you have ever seen held out by this world is one of a degenerating people. It may be beautiful to you because it is the only one you have known. But in by far the majority of cases, it is not the picture of vibrant health and life that is portrayed in Jehovah’s Book of Life. Include in your instruction for life an accurate picture of the beauty that is pleasing to God.
PUTTING APPEARANCE IN PROPER PERSPECTIVE
11. What picture of the Christian woman did Peter paint, and how can it serve as a pattern?
11 The apostle Peter painted a particularly pleasing portrait of the Christian woman, the wife of an unbelieving mate. At the same time he pictured the quality of beauty that sets her apart, that makes it unnecessary for her to enter into competition with the women of this system for the attention of her husband, the quality that can cause him to be “won without a word.” He wrote: “And do not let your adornment be that of the external braiding of the hair and of the putting on of gold ornaments or the wearing of outer garments, but let it be the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God.” (1 Pet. 3:1-4) Customs have changed completely since Peter penned those words, but the principles upon which his portrait rests are timeless. If you are ever in doubt as to what pattern in dress you should follow, take another look at Peter’s picture of the Christian woman and ask yourself, Which will survive Armageddon, a style of hair braiding or the quiet and mild spirit?
12. What motives should be considered in the matter of choice of style, and how can we deceive ourselves?
12 Peter’s words, too, lay the emphasis on the motive for being overly concerned with personal appearance. Those who are inclined to want to wear the latest fashion, to be “in,” whether male or female, young or old, should examine their motives very carefully. Are they depending upon personal appearance to make them acceptable? Do they want to be noticed, to have a reputation for being particularly style conscious? Is their manner of dress one that easily classifies them with a type? Is this what they want? How will those who observe us react to what they see? If our clothes and appearance are a mirror of our way of life, what will they expect of us? Are we giving others the impression that we really want to give? One very sincere young Christian woman who thought that fashion models were the ideal image for young womanhood, and yet who really wanted to be a minister, was approached by a man who wanted her to pose for pornographic photographs. What a shock this was! But would he have approached her if she had mirrored the image of a young minister? Even with such experiences as this, it required a real struggle and much soul searching for her to change over her thinking and her perspective, but now this young Christian is faithfully serving as a missionary in a foreign assignment and is happily cultivating a “quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God.” Why should we deceive ourselves? Those who observe us are going to view us according to what our appearance and our course of conduct truly reflect. We should always keep in mind the words of Paul: “All things are lawful; but not all things are advantageous. All things are lawful; but not all things build up. Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.”—1 Cor. 10:23, 24.
13. How should a newly associated person view the matter of dress?
13 Our only concern, however, is not with others and their viewpoint. A major concern should be with our own way of thinking and what prompts it. Perhaps you are newly associated with Jehovah’s witnesses. If so, and you are accustomed to conforming to the current style trends, perhaps to the very limit, you certainly need not feel unwelcome in the Kingdom Hall. No one who really is sincere will be turned aside in his effort to serve God. But as you grow in knowledge of God and his purpose, you will recognize a change in your thinking. You will begin to realize that we cannot go on imitating the customs and manners of this system without remaining in some measure a part of it.
14. Why should personal viewpoint in this matter be of real concern?
14 On the other hand, if you have been associated for some time and still are strongly attracted by the image this system has erected, seriously consider the real reasons. What motivates your desire to copy this image? Why is your thinking inclined in that direction? Are you fully aware of the dangers of becoming infected with the thinking of this system, or those you would like to copy, if you dress, act and look like them? Remember the counsel of James. (Jas. 1:14, 15) Consistently entertaining wrong desire is one of the surest ways to fall into transgression.
15. What is the sensible and reasonable view to take in the matter of personal appearance?
15 Because we are allowed such wide latitude of freewill choice, should we follow our own strong inclinations, even though they may in large measure set us apart from the pattern of the New World society? Because we may not be strictly required to conform to certain standards, should we feel free to ignore the Scripturally trained consciences of those who are mature in Jehovah’s service? If you are inclined to be limping along because of having one foot still planted in this system of things, then consider seriously Paul’s admonition to “keep making straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather that it may be healed.” (Heb. 12:13) How do we know to what extremes the customs and fashions of this system of things will go before the end? How far can we go along with them without compromising principles of Christian decency and good taste? We must start setting our own pattern of thinking right so that we will not go beyond the standards set in the Scriptures. It is like a man at an auction. If he does not set a ceiling on his bidding, he will go bankrupt. We must start setting a ceiling on our view of the customs and practices of this system of things. Without a proper guard, spiritual bankruptcy is almost a certainty. If your style of dress is so different from that of those who are mature in the New World society that it is a constant cause for comment, think seriously of what it is doing to your ministry and those outside the organization who are observing you. Why persist in marking yourself? Is what you think you are gaining really worth it?
16. Why must we not become complacent in our attitude, and why should parents particularly be resolute in making straight paths for their feet?
16 Anyone who is inclined toward the thinking of this world may keep telling himself, “Nothing will happen to me.” But we cannot afford to become complacent. We must not think we are immune. It has happened so many times that it would be the exception if that one did not get involved in some way. Those of you who are parents, look at yourselves and look at your children. Are you setting a proper example in dress and conduct? If you are, do you insist that these youngsters who are your responsibility follow it? Jesus did not pray to Jehovah to take us out of this world. He prayed that we might not become a part of it. Get a clear understanding of Bible principles and how they apply. Teach them to your children. Insist on their making straight paths for their feet as long as they are in your care. Jehovah himself set us the right example when he said through his prophet Ezekiel: “‘Turn back, yes, cause a turning back from all your transgressions, and let nothing prove to be for you people a stumbling block causing error. Throw off from yourselves all your transgressions in which you have transgressed and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit, for why should you die, O house of Israel? For I do not take any delight in the death of someone dying,’ is the utterance of the Lord Jehovah. ‘So cause a turning back and keep living, O you people.’”—Ezek. 18:30-32; Amos 5:14.
Radio Station WNEW in New York city, June 8, 1967. “Jim Lowe’s New York.”
[Picture on page 118]
At an auction one must set a ceiling on bidding or go bankrupt; likewise, we must set a ceiling on our view of this world’s practices or we will go spiritually bankrupt