Jehovah’s Servants Are Different
“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.”—Rom. 12:2.
1, 2. (a) Against what fallen tendency of the human heart must Christians be on guard, and why? (b) What difference was there between Jehovah’s thoughts and ways and those of Israel in Isaiahˈs day, and why?
AMONG the tendencies of the imperfect heart against which Christians must guard themselves is that of wanting to be popular, of wanting to be liked by others regardless of who they may be. Because of this tendency the great majority of humankind have come into bondage to the snare of conformity, the snare of complying with or acquiescing to the opinions and behavior of those about them. All who would please Jehovah God and gain everlasting life in his righteous new heavens and new earth must be on guard against yielding or giving in to this pressure to conform. Why so? Because, as Jehovah said to a backsliding people in the days of his prophet Isaiah: “‘The thoughts of you people are not my thoughts, nor are my ways your ways,’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”—Isa. 55:8, 9.
2 “As the heavens are higher than the earth”—what a vast difference that represents! In fact, it might be said to represent the greatest difference imaginable. What accounted for this great difference between Jehovah and his people? Their ceasing to do justly, to love kindness and to be modest in walking with their God. (Mic. 6:8) Instead, they went in the opposite direction, letting themselves be conformed to the nations round about them, both as to their worship and as to their moral conduct.
3. How did the tendency to want to conform to those about them manifest itself early in Israel’s history?
3 Early in the history of the nation of Israel the tendency to follow the godless course of the people round about them manifested itself. While Moses was in the mount of God for forty days the Israelites adopted pagan worship and practiced pagan licentiousness. (1 Cor. 10:7) And no sooner had Joshua and the older men who survived him, and “who had seen all of Jehovah’s great work that he did for Israel,” died than the sons of Israel “abandoned Jehovah and took up serving Baal and the Ashtoreth images.” (Judg. 2:7-13) And in the days of Judge Samuel the Israelites insisted on conforming to the nations round about them in having a visible king: “We must become, we also, like all the nations, and our king must judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” While Jehovah granted their request, he did so with displeasure.—1 Sam. 8:7, 20; Hos. 13:11.
4, 5. (a) Why can Jehovah’s servants not please him and yet conform to the world about them? (b) What counsel does Paul therefore most fittingly give Christians?
4 How could Jehovah’s servants be like the people all about them and still be pleasing to Jehovah? Has it not been true, with but the exception of a few years after the Noachian flood, that from the time that Adam and Eve transgressed and were cast out of Eden down to the present time the whole world has been lying in the power of the wicked one, Satan the Devil, “the god of this system of things”? No question about it! What a snare, then, for any servant of Jehovah God to conform to the world!—2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19.
5 Most fittingly, therefore, we are counseled at Romans 12:2: “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.” Or Paul’s words as rendered by less literal or more free translations: “Adapt yourselves no longer to the pattern of this present world.” (The New English Bible) “Stop living in accordance with the customs of this world.” (The New Testament, C. B. Williams) “You must not adopt the customs of this world.” (An American Translation) “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.”—The New Testament in Modern English.
JEHOVAH’S PRE-FLOOD WITNESSES DIFFERENT
6, 7. Why should Jehovah’s servants not shrink back from being different, and who gives us the first example in this regard?
6 Since the course of the world of mankind from the time of the expulsion of our first parents from Eden until our day has been one of godlessness, it follows that all of Jehovah’s servants from the first must have stood out as different, as conspicuously, strikingly different from all those about them. Let servants of Jehovah today who may timidly shrink from standing out as different from those about them in their style of dress, in their course of conduct or in their form of worship note the record made by the faithful servants of Jehovah in this regard from the very beginning, even as recorded in God’s Word.
7 To begin with, there was Abel, the first faithful witness of Jehovah. We do not know how many others were upon the earth at the time he took his bold stand for Jehovah’s pure worship, but we do know that Adam, Eve and Cain, the only others mentioned by name in the divine Record, were under the influence and control of the wicked one, Satan the Devil. Abel’s course certainly was the opposite of that of those three. He had the courage to stand out as different and so proved to be the first faithful witness, the first martyr.—Gen. 4:3-11; Heb. 11:4; 1 John 3:12.
8. What facts show that Enoch stood out as different from those about him?
8 And then there was Enoch. No question about his not conforming himself to the pre-Flood system of things. How can we be so certain about that? Because by his day there was much false worship in the earth, even as can be gathered from the fact that already in the days of Enosh, the grandson of Adam, there evidently was a false, hypocritical calling upon the name of Jehovah. (Gen. 4:26) It is also indicated in Enoch’s being singled out as one who “went on walking with the true God.” (Gen. 5:22) In fact, that Enoch stood out as conspicuously different is clearly indicated by the warning prophecy that Jehovah God caused him to proclaim, even as recorded by the Christian disciple Jude: “Look! Jehovah came with his holy myriads, to execute judgment against all, and to convict all the ungodly concerning all their ungodly deeds that they did in an ungodly way, and concerning all the shocking things that ungodly sinners spoke against him.” Surely the tenor of such a message indicates that Enoch was surrounded by ungodly men and therefore must have stood out courageously as different.—Jude 14, 15.
9. How did Noah and his family prove themselves to be different from their contemporaries?
9 The inspired history also tells of Noah, together with his family. While we cannot be dogmatic as to whether Abel and Enoch were the only true worshipers of Jehovah in their day—for example, Abel may have been married and his wife may have shared his faith—the Scriptures leave no doubt that in the days of Noah, he and his family were alone in worshiping the one true God Jehovah. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of Jehovah. . . . Noah was a righteous man. He proved himself faultless among his contemporaries. Noah walked with the true God.” For him to have that testimony borne to him at a time when “Jehovah saw that the badness of man was abundant in the earth and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time” clearly stamps Noah as standing out as different from the world of mankind of his day. What ridicule he and his family must have undergone as he proceeded in building on land that huge barnlike structure for the housing of himself, his family and the representative kinds of brute creation living during the foretold deluge! What courage it took to proceed some forty to fifty years with this project! Different from the world of his day? No question about it!—Gen. 6:8, 9, 5.
THE PATRIARCHS WERE DIFFERENT
10, 11. How did the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob show that they were aliens and temporary residents?
10 Then there were the patriarchs or immediate family heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. To begin with, there was Abraham. How conspicuously he stood out as different with his faith in the one true God Jehovah, in the midst of a people saturated with all manner of pagan religious practices, especially the worship of the moon-god Sin, the city god of Ur. In fact, Ur, his native city was a veritable Mecca or Rome as a chief city of Babylonian worship and religion. When Jehovah commanded Abraham: “Go your way out of your country and from your relatives and from the house of your father to the country that I shall show you,” Abraham stood out still more as conspicuously different.—Gen. 12:1-3.
11 What ridicule Abraham must have endured as his neighbors and his acquaintances saw him pulling out of Ur on what surely must have seemed to them to be a “wild-goose chase”! And the same was true to a large extent of Isaac and Jacob. They all “publicly declared that they were strangers and temporary residents in the land.” They could have returned to their own land and settled down but they knew that that was not Jehovah’s will for them. It will help Jehovah’s servants today to be courageously different from the world about them if they appreciate that they also are aliens and temporary residents as far as this system of things and its people are concerned.—Heb. 11:8-15.
12. In what ways was Joseph a fine example in being different, and how was he rewarded?
12 And there was Joseph, the favorite son of the patriarch Jacob. How his life shines in the Sacred Scriptures! After having been sold into slavery and so isolated from all true worshipers of Jehovah, how easy it would have been for him to have conformed in conduct and worship to the pagan worshipers all about him and let himself be fashioned after that system of things! He held on to his pure worship and godly principles and so became an outstanding example of one who kept his integrity in spite of the strongest temptations. More than that, when his keeping integrity to Jehovah resulted in his being thrown into prison, he continued firm. Being all alone he might have concluded, like so many have before and since his time, “What’s the use?” and followed the example of those about him as to worship and conduct, but no. He refused to let himself be fashioned after that system of things, but continued faithful to Jehovah. And how Jehovah blessed him for it! Joseph became prime minister of Egypt and the savior of it as well as of his father’s family.—Gen. 37:1-36; 39:1–45:28.
THE EXAMPLES OF THE PROPHETS
13, 14. How did Moses demonstrate that Jehovah’s servants are to be different?
13 Among the many other faithful servants of Jehovah God who had the courage to be different, who did not let themselves be fashioned after the faithless example of those about them, were the Hebrew prophets, from the time of Moses to the time of Daniel and beyond. Moses, upon reaching manhood in the court of Pharaoh, could easily have conformed himself to those all about him, forgot about his Hebrew upbringing and religion and continued to enjoy the pleasures, fame and power that were coming to him as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. What advantages lay before him in view of his having been “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” and being known as one “powerful in his words and deeds”!—Acts 7:22.
14 But no, he did not shrink from being different! How his former court acquaintances must have shaken their heads, baffled at how the heir apparent chose “to be ill-treated with the people of God rather than to have the temporary enjoyment of sin, because he esteemed the reproach of the Christ as riches greater than the treasures of Egypt.” (Heb. 11:25, 26) By taking this course he not only assured himself a good name with Jehovah God but was used more mightily by God than any other imperfect human has ever been used. And in particular were the faithful prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel called upon to have the courage to be different from the backsliding Israelites all about them.—Isa. 20:3; Jer. 16:2; 7:16; Ezekiel, chapters 4 and 5.
15, 16. In what ways did Daniel and his three companions show that they were different from those about them?
15 There was also the striking example of Daniel and his three companions. How easy it would have been for them to have conformed themselves to the royal Babylonian system of things in the matter of the kind of food they would eat! But no, they did not let themselves be conformed to those all about them but had the courage to stand out as different, as the true worshipers of Jehovah God. And so the record tells us: “But Daniel [and his three companions] determined in his heart that he would not pollute himself with the delicacies of the king and with his drinking wine. And he kept requesting”—yes, he did not bring up the matter simply once and then salve his conscience that he had tried, but repeatedly kept requesting “of the principal court-official that he might not pollute himself.” Finally the court official “listened to them as regards this matter and to put them to the test for ten days.” And how Jehovah God blessed Daniel and his three companions for their courageous stand! For braving the ridicule and disrespect of those all about them because of refusing to eat the fine royal fare and preferring to eat simple vegetable dishes (which were without fat, blood, etc.) they were found, at the end of their three years’ period of training, to be both healthier and wiser than all other trainees!—Daniel, chapter 1.
16 And did not the refusal of Daniel’s three companions to bow down to the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up on the plain of Dura again make them conspicuous, or different? How many thousands of eyes of people high and low must have been fastened upon them as King Nebuchadnezzar summoned them before him because of their refusal to bow down to his image! Similarly when the rivals of Daniel succeeded in having a law passed by which they hoped to get Daniel out of the way, Daniel did not need to keep on praying three times a day before an open window in the direction of Jerusalem and thus let all men see how different he was from everybody else, did he? He could have prayed to God in secret. But he did not want to give anyone the impression that he was, even superficially, complying with the king’s anti-God decree. And how Jehovah rewarded him and his three companions for their courage to stand out as different, by miraculous deliverances and advancement!—Daniel, chapters 3 and 6.
THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS CHRIST
17-19. What facts about Jesus’ life show that he did not hesitate to stand out as different?
17 The need for Jehovah’s servants courageously to stand out as different did not cease with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He came to Jehovah’s own people, who were in covenant relationship with God, and who had his Word and his laws, his priesthood and also the benefit of the preparatory work of John the Baptist. Yet what a contrast Jesus presented to their religious leaders and what a contrast his course of action was to their religious customs and practices! Far from compromising or minimizing the difference between the ‘new wine’ of his worship and the ‘old wineskins’ of traditional Judaism he boldly highlighted the difference for all to see.—Matt. 9:14-17.
18 On the one hand, Jesus stood out as different both by his manner of teaching, which was with authority, and by his freely intermingling with the common people of the earth. (Matt. 7:29; 9:11) And on the other hand, he was conspicuously different by reason of what he taught. How obvious it was from his words that he was not a man pleaser; that he did not court the popularity of the rulers or the ruled, even though his miracles made him the most popular person in the nation, so that his enemies complained, “See! The world has gone after him.” (John 12:19) Boldly he said, “You heard that it was said . . . But I say to you.” (Matt. 5:27-48) “Break down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves.” “Most truly I say to you, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.” It was as though he wanted to shock and jolt his listeners. No ear-tickling preacher was he!—John 2:19; 6:53; 8:58.
19 Even his own disciples at times wondered at his outspokenness, saying on one occasion: “Do you know that the Pharisees stumbled at hearing what you said?” And if those Pharisees were stumbled by Jesus’ telling them that they had made the Word of God of no effect by their traditions, what must have been their reaction when he severely castigated them as hypocrites, serpents, offspring of vipers and sons of the very Devil, Satan himself! Jesus never hesitated for a moment to stand out as different by reason of what he said. Nor by what he did, as can be seen by his chasing the greedy traffickers out of his Father’s temple on two occasions.—Matt. 15:12; 23:13-39; Mark 11:15-18; John 2:13-17; 8:44.
JESUS’ DISCIPLES LIKEWISE DIFFERENT
20, 21. How did Jesus’ apostles and early disciples prove to be different from those about them?
20 It could but follow that since Jesus’ disciples imitated him, worshiping the same God in the same way, they were equally different from their fellow Jews as was Jesus. Both their unusual message, that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-looked-for Messiah and that Jehovah God had raised him from the dead, and their manner of preaching made them stand out as different. When their opponents noticed the fearlessness of Peter and his companions in testifying to Jesus Christ “and perceived that they were men unlettered and ordinary, they got to wondering,” yes, wondering what made them so different from ordinary unlettered fishermen. “And they began to recognize about them that they used to be with Jesus.”—Acts 4:13.
21 Of Jesus’ early disciples and apostles we know more about the apostle Paul than about any of the others: “circumcised the eighth day, out of the family stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born from Hebrews,” and “as respects law, a [strict, fanatical] Pharisee.” Upon his becoming a Christian how different Paul had to be from all his former associates! So different was he now that the Jews at Thessalonica charged that Paul and his colaborers had “overturned the inhabited earth.” No wonder that, when Paul was making his defense before King Agrippa II, Festus exclaimed: “You are going mad, Paul! Great learning is driving you into madness!” Paul not only taught other Christians not to be conformed to this system of things, but he certainly lived what he taught.—Phil. 3:5, 6; Acts 17:6; 26:24; Rom. 12:2.
CHRISTIANS DIFFERENT IN POSTAPOSTOLIC TIMES
22-25. (a) How did the Christians of postapostolic times stand out as different in regard to their religion? (b) In regard to their relationship to Caesar? (c) In regard to their morals? (d) In regard to their love for one another?
22 Although shortly after the apostles fell asleep in death, “while men were sleeping,” an enemy, Satan the Devil, came and sowed weeds in the wheat field, the wheat field did not immediately become a field of weeds. (Matt. 13:25) And so early church historians tell us that in those early centuries Christians still stood out as different from those about them. This difference was apparent in at least four distinct respects. For one thing, they stood out as different from all the rest in the matter of religion. Not only were their beliefs and form of worship distinctive but they uniquely claimed that they alone were the true religion and all the others were false. It took courage to make that claim. As one church historian expressed it: “To the Christian, his God could never be placed in the same category as Isis or Mithras or Augustus.” Roman emperors were tolerant of different religions but not of one that taught “that the gods of Rome and of all other religions were alike false, and which strove to win over all mankind to that belief.”
23 Those early Christians also stood out as different in their relationship with other parts of that system of things. On the one hand they refused to hold office in the government and to serve in the armies of Caesar, and, on the other hand, they ceased being materialists. Material riches were no longer the goal of their endeavors but merely a means used in furthering their preaching activity.
24 Similarly the early Christians stood out as different in regard to morals. All manner of immorality was rampant in the Roman and Greek civilizations of that time, sexual immorality even being a part of their worship, and sexual perversions, such as homosexuality, were rife. Historians record how different the early Christians were from those about them also in this respect: “We have the testimony to their blameless lives, to their irreproachable morals, to their good citizenship, and to their Christian graces.”
25 And finally, these early Christians stood out as different in their great unselfish love for one another, even as Jesus said would be the case: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”—John 13:34, 35.
26. What facts stand out in regard to Jehovah’s servants from Abel to postapostolic times, and what about our time?
26 No question about it. The record, both inspired and otherwise, testifies to the fact that Jehovah’s servants were different from those about them, from the time of Abel to the early postapostolic centuries. But what about our day? Is this still the case? It is, even as the next article will show.
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Daniel and his three companions had the courage to stand out as different