Fight Indifference with Endurance!
“In every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers, by the endurance of much.”—2 Cor. 6:4.
1. What was the warning that Jeremiah preached, and how did the people react to it?
IN THE thirteenth year of the God-fearing king of Judah, Josiah (647 B.C.E.), Jeremiah was commissioned by Jehovah to warn his subjects that the kingdom of Judah was going to fall and that frightful desolation was coming upon their capital city of Jerusalem and upon the entire land. It was reasonable to expect these people to give heed to that warning in view of the record of accuracy Jehovah’s prophets had established during the more than eight hundred years that had passed since the people had come into covenant relationship with him. But this generation living during the forty years of Jeremiah’s preaching were indifferent to his warnings. They refused to listen to him.
2, 3. (a) What is the meaning of indifference, and to what can it be due? (b) How did the people of Judah show indifference?
2 Indifference means that a person lacks interest or concern about something, that it is of no significance or importance to him. The unconcern of the people of Judah could have been due to selfishness that prevented them from feeling moved by Jeremiah’s warnings, or it could have been due to insensitivity to what is bad. In any event, they were indifferent to their failure to give God exclusive devotion and to their violating of his righteous laws. They selfishly wanted to do only what was pleasing in their own eyes and cared nothing about what was pleasing in Jehovah’s eyes.
3 To them Jeremiah said: “I kept speaking to you people, rising up early and speaking, but you did not listen. And Jehovah sent to you all his servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, but you did not listen, neither did you incline your ear to listen, they saying, ‘Turn back, please, every one from his bad way and from the badness of your dealings, and continue dwelling upon the ground that Jehovah gave to you and to your forefathers from long ago and to a long time to come. And do not walk after other gods in order to serve them and to bow down to them, that you may not offend me with the work of your hands, and that I may not cause calamity to you. But you did not listen to me,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.” (Jer. 25:3-7) He then foretold that the land would be desolated for this reason.
4. How was Jeremiah affected by the indifference of the people?
4 It is not difficult to imagine how discouraging it was to Jeremiah to preach to these people for forty years with no good result. He had the same human feelings we have and must have felt disheartened at times by the unfruitfulness of his efforts. On one occasion he expressed his discouragement by saying: “I became an object of laughter all day long; everyone is holding me in derision. For as often as I speak, I cry out. Violence and despoiling are what I call out. For the word of Jehovah became for me a cause for reproach and for jeering all day long. And I said: ‘I am not going to make mention of him, and I shall speak no more in his name.’ And in my heart it proved to be like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I got tired of holding in, and I was unable to endure it.”—Jer. 20:7-9.
5. Why is Jeremiah an example to God’s servants today?
5 These are the very feelings that God’s servants can have today when trying to warn the people of this present age of the coming “war of the great day of God the Almighty.” (Rev. 16:14) The people’s lack of interest and their unconcern can make these modern-day servants of God feel, at times, as if they are wasting their breath and should no longer speak about his purposes. Possibly you have felt this way if you are a Christian who is conscious of his responsibility to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom and to warn of God’s coming war of Armageddon. Like Jeremiah you need to endure the indifference of the people and to persist in fulfilling the commission to preach that Jesus gave his followers.—Matt. 28:19, 20.
6, 7. Make a comparison of the ministry of God’s servants today with the preaching done by Jeremiah.
6 Looking back to Jeremiah’s time, we can easily see the folly of the Judeans in refusing to listen to him. From the vantage point given us by time, we know that his warning was a valid one. Jerusalem was eventually destroyed in 607 B.C.E., and the entire territory of the Judean kingdom was desolated for seventy years just as Jeremiah had prophesied. (Jer. 25:11) Although he probably appeared ridiculous in the eyes of those people during the forty years that he preached to them, he was vindicated when the disaster of which he warned came. The foolishness of the people’s indifference was then clearly evident.
7 Since 1877 C.E., Jehovah’s witnesses have been warning the people of the world that the time when God will execute his adverse judgment upon this present system of things and replace it with a new and better arrangement is near. Generally, they have been confronted with the same lack of interest that Jeremiah was. Though many years have passed since they began proclaiming this warning, this does not mean that God’s declared purpose will not be carried out, no more so than the forty years of preaching by Jeremiah meant that for the kingdom of Judah. Just as surely as the foretold destruction of that kingdom was fulfilled, so the foretold destruction of the present system of things will come to pass. (Isa. 55:11) When it is over it will be possible for survivors to look back to our day and clearly see that Jehovah’s witnesses were doing the right thing by proclaiming God’s kingdom and the battle of Armageddon, just as that can now be seen of Jeremiah’s preaching. It will then be clear to all that their enduring of the people’s indifference was the course of wisdom.
8. What is the best way to fight indifference within a Christian household, and how can the trials it brings be regarded?
8 What makes things very trying for some of Jehovah’s witnesses is the fact that they live in divided households where unbelieving members of the households are often a constant source of discouragement to them because of indifference or because of outright opposition. This should not seem strange. Jesus foretold that this would be so. (Matt. 10:35, 36) Enduring this discouragement without compromising your integrity to God is the best way to combat it. In time the situation can change. There are many examples of Christian women who have seen the attitude of their opposing husbands change for the better after enduring indifference or opposition from them for many years. Their trials at home were regarded by them as part of the many trials foretold to come upon Christians. Such trials can be likened to a torture stake that can test a Christian’s faith, integrity and love for God. Jesus said: “Whoever does not accept his torture stake and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Matt. 10:38) By our endurance of such trials within a household we can prove worthy of him.
9. How can indifference try a person within the Christian congregation?
9 Even within a Christian congregation we can be tried by the indifference of others. Sometimes persons there have allowed their original love for the truth to cool off to the point where their Christian activity is no longer stimulatingly hot or refreshingly cold, but is lukewarm. They have become like the congregation at Laodicea, which was unconcerned about its commission from God and the life-giving truths he was supplying them. Regarding that congregation the resurrected Jesus Christ said: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or else hot. So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15, 16) This is very likely what will happen to indifferent persons who profess to be Christians today unless they change their attitude before Jehovah’s day of vengeance arrives. Until they do, their lukewarm presence in a congregation can be a trial upon Jehovah’s witnesses because of their being unmoved by the urgency of the ministry and unconcerned about their own spiritual need. Jehovah’s witnesses must not permit their discouraging attitude to slow them down or to influence their own outlook. This takes endurance.
WHY INDIFFERENCE MUST BE FOUGHT
10. How can indifference in others affect us, and can we fulfill Satan’s wishes unintentionally?
10 The poor attitude of others toward the Christian ministry can have a bad effect on Jehovah’s witnesses if they permit it. Their lack of interest in God’s Word and purposes can dampen their zeal for his service and cause Christians to hold back from the ministry. Christians might feel that it is useless to preach in a territory where the people are indifferent to their message of truth. That is precisely what Satan wants us to conclude. He wants us to quit! He wants us to be silent about what Jehovah is going to do. He does not want us to bring liberating truths to the people who are in chains of religious darkness and superstitions or who are imprisoned by the divisive spirit of nationalism. We would fulfill his wishes if we brought our ministerial activities to a standstill because people in a territory will not listen. But we do not want to serve his interests! In time circumstances may change, causing some to be receptive to the good news of God’s kingdom, making continued preaching worth while. They are entitled to every opportunity to hear as long as this system of things lasts. In times past God’s servants felt discouraged on many occasions, but they did not allow it to conquer them, as we have seen in the case of Jeremiah. Neither should we!
11. How are Moses and Elijah examples for us as successful fighters of indifference?
11 Moses experienced discouragement and felt as if it were not worth while for him to speak to Pharaoh because of the indifference shown him by the Israelites, his own people. He said: “Look! The sons of Israel have not listened to me; and how will Pharaoh ever listen to me, as I am uncircumcised in lips?” (Ex. 6:12) But it was not Jehovah’s will for him to remain silent. Notwithstanding the attitude of the people, Jehovah God commanded him to proclaim the message he was given. “You—you will speak all that I shall command you.” (Ex. 7:2) So he did, giving a powerful testimony to the truth in behalf of the true God. The prophet Elijah also felt discouraged by the apparent unfruitfulness of his preaching. The people of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel were indifferent to his efforts to bring them back to true worship. He felt like quitting and going off to die somewhere. (1 Ki. 19:4) But that would not have accomplished Jehovah’s purposes, so Jehovah sent Elijah back to finish his work. (1 Ki. 19:15-18) These men of God did not allow the indifference of others to inactivate them.
12. What does a Christian need to recognize regarding indifference?
12 We need to recognize the demoralizing effect of indifference, and that it can cause a person to drift away from Jehovah, from his organization and from the way to eternal life. This can happen when a dedicated Christian allows indifference to become overly discouraging or to take root in himself and to grow. In due time it can paralyze his spiritual activity and bring on spiritual death. So it is vitally necessary for us to put up a vigorous fight against it.
13, 14. (a) How can indifference be successfully fought, and how can this be seen in the conquering of persecution by the early Christians? (b) Why can a person maintain his faith under persecution but lose it in the face of indifference?
13 The deteriorating influence of indifference can be fought successfully by endurance, by not permitting it to cause us to slacken our hand in God’s service. As with persecution, it is something that has to be endured with firm determination. It was by means of endurance that the early Christians conquered persecution during a period of about 280 years when the Roman Empire persecuted them off and on. By our enduring persecution today as well as indifference to our preaching, we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers, just as it is written: “In every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers, by the endurance of much.”—2 Cor. 6:4.
14 It is possible for a person to have held up under severe persecution but afterward to succumb to the deteriorating influence of indifference, because it acts in such a subtle way. Over a period of time it can succeed in doing what physical persecution has failed to do. It is like a termite that eats away on the inside of a building. In time the building collapses because its supports have been weakened. This can happen to the supports of our faith if we permit the influence of indifference to get a hold on us.
15. What must we expect about the quality of our faith?
15 The quality of our faith must stand up under all kinds of tests, as Peter pointed out when he wrote: “In this fact you are greatly rejoicing, though for a little while at present, if it must be, you have been grieved by various trials, in order that the tested quality of your faith, of much greater value than gold that perishes despite its being proved by fire, may be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:6, 7) It is at the coming “war of the great day of God the Almighty,” the battle of Armageddon, that the revelation of Jesus Christ will take place, as that is the time when he comes to bring “vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news.” (Rev. 16:14; 2 Thess. 1:8) How can the tested quality of our faith stand if it fails to survive the trial of indifference now?
16. What can maintaining apprecation do for us, and why is it important to be conscious of our spiritual need?
16 A fine way to build a faith of good quality that can endure indifference is to keep strong our appreciation for Jehovah God and his life-giving truths. This requires not only regular feeding on the spiritual food he provides but also meditation on his marvelous promises due to be fulfilled in the future and on what he already has done. Constant awareness of our spiritual need is a contributing factor in maintaining appreciation. If we get to the point where we become unconcerned about this need, we are in the dangerous position of losing our footing on the narrow way that leads to eternal life. Jehovah’s Word and organization exist for the purpose of filling that spiritual need. Those drawn to his organization recognize this, and because they are conscious of their spiritual need they responded to its invitation: “Let anyone thirsting come; let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.” (Rev. 22:17) But if a person who has thus responded later permits indifference to dull his consciousness of his spiritual need the inevitable result for him is loss of appreciation and faith, with an eventual return to his previous situation of separation from God’s organization. (2 Pet. 2:22) So we need to maintain appreciation for God’s Word and organization.
17, 18. Explain a way that appreciation for God’s Word and organization can be increased in ourselves as well as in others?
17 When we encounter personal problems or troubles and succeed in solving or overcoming them by applying the counsel from God’s Word or organization, we can ask ourselves what we would have done without that counsel. This helps to build appreciation. So also does a review of what we were doing before making a dedication to serve God. What would be our situation today if we had not permitted the transforming power of the truth to change our way of life? (1 Pet. 4:3) We can think of the undeserved kindness he has shown us by providing his Son as a ransom sacrifice, which has made eternal life possible for us. We can also meditate on what the realization of God’s promises of a new system of things will mean for us. This can build up our appreciation, which can help us to counteract the discouragement that comes from the indifference of others.
18 Stimulating appreciation in a person who is studying the truth of God’s Word in a home Bible study is an effective way to overcome a tendency toward indifference on his part. This was done by one of Jehovah’s witnesses in Malaysia. A young girl with whom she was studying was indifferent to the truth, although she was willing to study because of having spare time. The Witness sought to overcome this indifference by building up appreciation for God’s Word and his organization. She did this by asking the girl a question when a Bible principle was under discussion along with a problem it could overcome. “When we are faced with this problem,” she asked, “wouldn’t we be lost if the Bible did not provide us the way out?” On another occasion she would ask, when the solution to a common problem was brought out in the study: “If Jehovah’s organization did not explain the solution to us, we wouldn’t know how to solve the problem, would we?” Questions like these helped the girl. Gradually, as her appreciation increased, her indifference disappeared, and she eventually chose to associate actively with Jehovah’s organization. In this manner appreciation can be built up in ourselves and in others, aiding us to endure the testing of the quality of our faith.
JESUS SET US A FINE EXAMPLE
19, 20. (a) How did Jesus set an example for us in fighting indifference? (b) How did this personally benefit him?
19 During the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry he was confronted continually with indifference from people in his own nation, notwithstanding the fact that Hebrew prophets had foretold his coming many centuries in advance. Even around his headquarters in Galilee where he found many people who received him gladly there were practically whole towns that were unresponsive to his preaching. Such was the case with Capernaum, Chorazin, Bethsaida and even his hometown of Nazareth. (Luke 10:13-15; Mark 6:1-6) Neither did Jerusalem receive him except for the persons who hailed his entrance into the city. On the whole, Jerusalem was indifferent to him just as it had been to Jeremiah more than six hundred years previous. Addressing the city, he said: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her—how often I wanted to gather your children together in the manner that a hen gathers her brood of chicks under her wings, but you people did not want it!” (Luke 13:34) He set a fine example by continuing to fulfill his divine commission despite their unresponsiveness. He fought their indifference by enduring it, and so recommended himself as God’s minister.
20 Because Jesus Christ was obedient to God and proved the quality of his faith by his endurance, he received the approval of Jehovah God and a great many other blessings. (Phil. 2:9-11) Pointing to him as an example for us, the Scriptures state: “Indeed, consider closely the one who has endured such contrary talk by sinners against their own interests, that you may not get tired and give out in your souls.” (Heb. 12:3) If we follow his example of endurance we too can confidently expect to receive God’s approval and to be among the survivors of the great war of God that is near at hand.
21. What are some of the benefits from fighting indifference?
21 By enduring faithfully to the end, we will have reason to be happy, not only because of our preservation through the end of this system of things but also because we will have shown our love for Jehovah God and because we will have maintained integrity to him. But survival through the battle of Armageddon is only one of many benefits that can be expected for fighting indifference and persecution with endurance. What is said of Christ’s anointed followers at James 1:12 can also be said, in a sense, to those expecting to be earthly subjects of God’s kingdom. “Happy is the man that keeps on enduring trial, because on becoming approved he will receive the crown of life, which Jehovah promised to those who continue loving him.” Thus eternal life is one of the many benefits coming to those who endure. Jesus indicated this when he said: “By endurance on your part you will acquire your souls.”—Luke 21:19.
22. What feelings can a Christian expect when the foretold end of this system comes? Why?
22 When the time inevitably arrives for the complete end of this system of things, the Christian that has endured will be able to feel satisfaction and happiness for having completed the work God gave him and for having proved the quality of his faith. Paul had these feelings at the end of his career. He said: “I have fought the fine fight, I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7) No doubt Jeremiah must have had similar feelings when he finished his divinely assigned work, having done what God commanded him. But the end of this system of things is still ahead of us, and we must continue to fight indifference, not permitting it to discourage us to the point of quitting.—Gal. 6:9.
23. What is one way we can recommend ourselves as God’s ministers?
23 Since servants of Jehovah God in ancient times successfully fought indifference, we can too. But we have to be willing to make a determined effort to fight it. We need to be aware of the bad effect it can have on us and how it can eat away at a person until his faith collapses. We need to maintain appreciation for Jehovah’s promises, for the dependability of his Word, for our need for his organization and how these have changed our lives for the better. We also need to recall how God’s Word and organization have aided us in solving personal problems and in making important decisions. We need to think of the fine examples of endurance that can be found in the Bible so they can be a source of encouragement to us. By successfully fighting indifference with endurance, as the prophet Jeremiah did, and continuing faithful in the Christian ministry, we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers.