Maintain Integrity When Confronted by Trials of Faith
“Consider it all joy . . . when you meet with various trials, knowing as you do that this tested quality of your faith works out endurance.”—Jas. 1:2, 3.
1. Since Satan cannot overthrow God’s power, what is his chief endeavor?
SATAN’S aim has always been to overreach men to the point of turning them against God. This was his scheme in the beginning when he caused the first faithful man to be killed by his brother Cain. This effort has continued to our very day. In the past, God’s favored people Israel were particular targets.
2. (a) What commission did Jehovah give Jeremiah? How was his message received? (b) what happened to Jeremiah, and who came to his rescue?
2 At the direction of Almighty God, Jeremiah’s commission over a long period of years was to declare the destruction of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of the people who succumbed to Satan’s efforts. This declaration was not popularly received by the Israelite priests and people of his day. Jeremiah was commanded to discontinue his preaching. However, he did not yield to this pressure. More drastic means were taken against him. Even when he was under custody, he admonished the people to surrender to the Chaldeans in order to save their lives. At this point, and unquestionably at Satan’s direction, “they proceeded to take Jeremiah and throw him into the cistern of Malchijah the son of the king, which was in the Courtyard of the Guard. So they let Jeremiah down by means of ropes. Now in the cistern there was no water, but mire; and Jeremiah began to sink down into the mire.” At this point Jeremiah’s plight appeared hopeless, but still there was no loss of faith on his part. An Ethiopian eunuch servant named Ebed-melech, in the king’s house, came to his rescue and appeared before King Zedekiah on behalf of Jeremiah, explaining what had happened. With the king’s approval, Ebed-melech, with extreme care so as not to injure Jeremiah, rescued him from the cistern. (Jer. 38:6-16) This can show how Jehovah provides assistance for his servants who maintain integrity even under severe trial and under the threat of death. In the ultimate, Jerusalem itself was taken captive and destroyed just as Jeremiah prophesied. Faithful Jeremiah and his companion and friend were spared.
THE HAND OF NATIONALISM DURING PRE-CHRISTIAN DAYS
3. What do governments frequently demand of Christians, and what often results?
3 Governments, whether authoritarian or of other types, frequently override the individual rights of persons to have freedom of worship in accordance with conscience, with arbitrary decrees demanding loyalty to the nation. These requirements have caused severe persecution, imprisonments and even death. While such tactics have been used during this century, they had many precedents.
4. (a) What authoritarian decree did Nebuchadnezzar put into effect? (b) What course did the faithful Hebrews take? (c) Who acted in behalf of the three Hebrews, and in what manner?
4 Such circumstances were brought into the account illustratively in the days of King Nebuchadnezzar. It is recalled how he erected the tall gold image, approximately ninety feet high, on the plain of Dura. This was to be an object of devotion and worship, and the decree was issued that upon the sound of music all were to fall down and worship this image. Such was in direct opposition to God’s command that they were not to “bow down” to any image or likeness of ‘anything in the heavens, on the earth, or in the waters under the earth.’ If they did, it would meet with punishment from Jehovah for themselves and their offspring to the third and fourth generation. (Ex. 20:4-6) When the music sounded, all present prostrated themselves, with the exception of the three conspicuous faithful Jews, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. When this was drawn to the attention of the king, his fury was aroused, and then they were given another opportunity to bow or compromise. The music was to be played again and all were to be commanded to bow down. This attempt was just as futile as the first one because these men, even with the threat of being cast into the fiery furnace, would not break their integrity in rendering true worship to Jehovah and him alone. (Dan. 3:1, 5, 6, 16-19) Even recognizing the danger to their lives if they were cast into the fiery furnace, they spoke undauntedly to Nebuchadnezzar that they would not bow down to the golden image. They made known that their God could deliver them, but even if he did not, they would not render obeisance to this image. The account shows that even the men that cast these three into the fiery furnace were burned to death, while not even the smell of fire was upon the integrity-keeping Hebrew men.—Dan. 3:27.
5. What test of loyalty was placed upon Daniel? What was the final outcome?
5 The prophet Daniel was likewise put to a test because his custom was to pray in the window toward Jerusalem three times every day. Some of the officials and satraps under Darius mischievously had a decree issued that no one was to worship or pray to any God other than the king for a thirty-day period. This edict was sealed by the king’s ring. Of course, the finger of accusation was immediately directed to Daniel because of his continuing practice to pray to the true God, Jehovah. The penalty for violating the decree was that anyone that was found so praying was to be thrown into the den of lions. Daniel remained loyal, and we see how faithfully Jehovah came to his rescue by closing the mouths of the lions. Of course, retribution occurred in this instance too, in that the men that accused Daniel to the extent of his having been cast to the lions were themselves destroyed by lions.—Dan. 6:4-11, 20-28.
6. What other opportunities to compromise were placed before Daniel and his three companions, and how did they react?
6 This had not been these faithful servants’ first test, because previously they were invited to live luxuriously, drinking wine and eating special foods that were enjoyed by those in the palace where they were stationed. Their stand was adamant as recorded at Daniel 1:8: “Daniel determined in his heart that he would not pollute himself with the delicacies of the king [that were not permissible by Israelite law] and with his drinking wine. And he kept requesting of the principal court official that he might not pollute himself.” He made the request, “Give us some vegetables that we may eat and water that we may drink.”—Dan. 1:12.
7. What treatment befell many of the pre-Christian faithful servants for maintaining integrity?
7 Many other pre-Christian servants of Almighty God were similarly tested, some having been put to death and others severely mistreated, and many faithful men of old “were tortured because they would not accept release by some ransom . . . others received their trial by mockings and scourgings, indeed, more than that, by bonds and prisons. They were stoned . . . tried . . . sawn asunder, they died by slaughter with the sword . . . in tribulation, under ill-treatment; and the world was not worthy of them.”—Heb. 11:35-38.
THE FAITH OF EARLY CHRISTIANS TRIED
8. What was the prime test placed upon Christ Jesus? Who came to his rescue?
8 How exemplary in the matter of keeping integrity is the case of Jehovah’s Son, Christ Jesus! He was falsely accused by the Jewish religious leaders of his day who, through false charges, had him put to death for sins of which he was not guilty. When one is accused of doing something of which one is not guilty, it can bring the severest of tests, and we see that Jesus was subjected to this, resulting in his death upon the stake. He was not abandoned by Jehovah, however, because on the third day he was resurrected to a high, royal position in the heavens.—Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4.
9. What did Jesus tell his faithful followers would happen to them, and what evidences confirm his predictions?
9 We are told that the disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. (Matt. 10:24) Also Jesus told his disciples: “If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also; if they have observed my word, they will observe yours also. . . . In fact, the hour is coming when everyone that kills you will imagine he has rendered a sacred service to God.” (John 15:20; 16:2) From this and other wise counsel given them by Jesus they knew that their faith would be similarly tested as they continued to preach the message concerning God’s kingdom. Such ill-treatment was meted out to them not only by their own nation of Jews, but also by the non-Jewish rulers. James was the first of the apostles that was put to death, and this by the non-Jewish king Herod. “He [Herod] did away with James the brother of John by the sword.” He mistreated others too. “Herod the king applied his hands to mistreating some of those of the congregation.” This pleased the Jews, however, as related: “As he saw it was pleasing to the Jews, he went on to arrest Peter also . . . he put him in prison.”—Acts 12:1-4.
10. Who was persecuted besides the apostles?
10 Not only were the apostles persecuted, but many of the disciples were persecuted also. Stephen was one of these. He was very outspoken in relating truthfully the facts concerning the false worship the Israelites had practiced and were practicing at that time. He told those present: “Your forefathers . . . killed those who made announcement in advance concerning the coming of the righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become . . . at hearing these things they felt cut to their hearts and began to gnash their teeth at him. At this they cried out at the top of the voice and put their hands over their ears and rushed upon him with one accord. And . . . they began casting stones at him. . . . [and] he fell asleep in death.”—Acts 7:52, 54, 57-60.
11. When Paul was imprisoned, did this stop his preaching?
11 The apostle Paul was in prison for holding fast his integrity to God, but it did not stop him from preaching. During his first imprisonment in Rome, “he would kindly receive all those who came in to him, preaching the kingdom of God to them and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with the greatest freeness of speech, without hindrance.” (Acts 28:30, 31) In his last letter during his second imprisonment in Rome when he was about to be executed, he gave admonition to be faithful.
12, 13. (a) What did Jesus foretell was to happen in the twentieth century? (b) What happened to integrity-keeping Christians?
12 Jesus foretold the preaching during the twentieth century of the good news concerning the conclusion of the “system of things.” His admonition to his followers in these “last days” advised them of what they may expect: “You will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.” “But he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matt. 24:9, 13, 14.
13 While there are those who maintain integrity and refuse to compromise their loyalty to Jehovah, those of this system of things who are subjecting themselves to nationalistic requirements are becoming furious while endeavoring to cause Christians to violate their covenant with Almighty God. Christendom has joined the nations in these efforts. During the first world war, many of Jehovah’s witnesses (Bible Students) were in prison for not going into the armed forces of the nations. During the last fifty years and more, Jehovah’s witnesses have been persecuted almost continuously in one part of the earth or another. During the second world war, the persecution was extremely severe. Many thousands of young men, because they were ministers and, in obedience to God’s law, adamantly refused to kill others, were incarcerated.
14. (a) What declaration did Hitler make regarding Jehovah’s witnesses? (b) Describe what happened to a Christian minister who would not yield to cruel treatment at the hands of the Nazis.
14 Under the Nazi regime Jehovah’s witnesses were persecuted atrociously by Hitler and his storm troopers. In fact, Hitler declared that Jehovah’s witnesses must be exterminated. As a result, persecution was extremely cruel and required unwavering faith on the part of Christian ministers. One of these, namely, Robert A. Winkler had been arrested and transported to the concentration camp. He had been released a short time as a marked man, as the Gestapo all had his picture. He was later picked up and given an opportunity to cooperate with them by advising them where his wife and leaders of the congregation were located. The answer was NO. Then he was beaten unmercifully until he became unconscious. This was repeated several times. Since they could not break his integrity, even though teeth were knocked out and he was beaten beyond recognition, he was placed in a dark cell. One of the plainclothesmen that brought him to the Gestapo came by and asked, “Are you Mr. Winkler?” He answered “Yes.” This Gestapo agent was shocked at the brutality used. At this point a guard with a little consideration asked if he could do something for him. “Could you please get me a Bible?” was the request. A little later a Bible was thrown into his cell and the door again immediately locked. He had what he needed, the Word of God. Prayer to Jehovah gave him strength so that he could remain steadfast for Jehovah regardless of what befell him. Today this man is still serving Jehovah faithfully, loyally, and is happy that he could remain resolute under the severest testing of his faith.
15. What stimulating words did a condemned Christian minister give others when he was leaving the courtroom?
15 In another instance one of Jehovah’s witnesses had been condemned to die because of his faithfulness to God. As guards were leading him out of the courtroom he was telling other Witnesses to be of good courage. What a stimulus that was to the others present!
16. Describe what happened to a Christian minister in Quebec because he continued his preaching work.
16 Severe persecution befell the Witnesses in Quebec, Canada. One minister was arrested 103 times and served several jail sentences in addition to physical beatings, and this was only because he refused to discontinue his door-to-door ministry. Many others suffered similarly. However, through constant maintenance of integrity, in time a Supreme Court victory was gained in Canada. Now, where there were only a handful of Witnesses twenty-five to thirty years ago, there are thousands.
17. What suffering of cruelty have integrity-keeping Witnesses suffered behind the Iron Curtain?
17 Just as previously when the Witnesses were persecuted under the Nazi regime, Jehovah’s witnesses are suffering similarly on the other side of the Iron Curtain, where the Communists have employed severe persecution to break their integrity. In many instances those endeavoring to maintain faithfulness are brought before fellow-worker courts and threatened with loss of job, allotment, home, pension, and so forth, if they do not publicly renounce their religion. They have defended their stand and some have been sent to forced-labor camps. Many of these camps hold groups of Witnesses where they are harshly treated, even worse than animals. Some of these so incarcerated had already served long terms in Hitler’s concentration camps and now suffer confinement for many more years by the Communists. But their faith is strong and they will not compromise their integrity to God.
18. What has happened to Christian ministers in Africa?
18 Nationalism brought a great deal of persecution upon Jehovah’s witnesses a few years ago in Africa, and many were severely beaten. More recently in some African countries Jehovah’s witnesses were banned. Not only have they been banned because they would not join the political party and carry the party identification card; mobs have beaten them, raped many women and subjected them to immoral abuse. But again, the leaders were unable to break the integrity of these true Christians.
OTHER ATTEMPTS TO BREAK INTEGRITY
19. How have others been confronted with trials of faith?
19 Many times, some of the most serious trials are in one’s own household by reason of abuse by other members who use ridicule and taunts to cause one to quit being one of Jehovah’s witnesses.
20. What happened in Germany after some of the persecuted Christians were released from prison camps?
20 It has been known that, while many of Jehovah’s witnesses went through trials of severest persecution under Nazism in concentration camps, when released to return to perhaps their hometown or other places for a pursuit of work, they have been overreached and ensnared by the lures of materialism. By this we can see that, while the Devil may not be able to enslave Christians by persecution, he may be successful with subtle means of breaking integrity. Some may have been able to withstand trials of abuse and yet may have fallen victim to their own passions and committed fornication and adultery, which necessitated their removal from Jehovah’s organization.
21. What occurred in the early church? Why should this not shake our faith when similar situations arise now?
21 Actually, many have fallen by the wayside for various reasons, and this occurred in the days of the early church as well. Paul draws this to our attention in his second letter to Timothy, as we read: “For Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things.” Paul warned about another one that did injury: “Alexander the coppersmith did me many injuries—Jehovah will repay him according to his deeds—and you too be on guard against him, for he resisted our words to an excessive degree.” (2 Tim. 4:10, 14, 15) Hence, some Christians discontinued their faithful course nineteen hundred years ago, and we can expect some to do similarly now because it has been so prophesied. Should we, then, allow our faith to be shaken? No, because we know that Jehovah will remove those who offend.
22. (a) What have we seen occur quickly, which should alert us to the fact that we may not escape some severe trials? (b) In what way was Paul an example, and how should his course be helpful to us?
22 By the same token, we should not feel that we may go through the trials ahead unscathed. Many may be called upon to endure injustices and difficulties as some have in the past. Nationalism, we notice, has flared up in many instances, resulting in severe persecution almost overnight without warning. By putting on the breastplate of spiritual armor we can withstand the missiles of the adversary. We can expect reproaches of every sort, as we are told by Christ Jesus. “‘The reproaches of those who were reproaching you have fallen upon me’ . . . through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who supplies endurance and comfort grant you to have among yourselves the same mental attitude that Christ Jesus had.” (Rom. 15:3-5) It can be recalled, too, that Paul gave specific counsel about endurance as he wrote his second letter to the Corinthians: “In every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers, by the endurance of much, by tribulations, by cases of need, by difficulties, by beatings, by prisons, by disorders, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times without food.” (2 Cor. 6:4, 5) It takes a great deal of encouragement to build up strength in our minds to endure.
23. How should we feel about our vow of dedication that we have made to Jehovah?
23 Some have failed to live up to their vows of dedication to Jehovah. After making a decision to dedicate our lives to the doing of Jehovah’s will, there is no turning back. Jehovah justly expects us to ‘pay our vows.’ (Eccl. 5:4-6) Those who willfully and deliberately play false to commitments to Jehovah are deserving of death.
24, 25. (a) From what source may we expect attacks? Why? (b) Even if we were confronted with the supreme test where out life was involved, what should be our reaction?
24 We must remember that Satan is the great enemy of true Christians, and he has a mighty organization bent on destroying all faith in Jehovah. We should also be cognizant of the fact that the whole world lies under the power of the Devil, and he is the god of this system of things and has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.—2 Cor. 4:4.
25 Since he has the entire world under him, he is directing all of his venom and strength in using his earthly forces. He does this as a roaring lion stalking its prey, as Peter wrote: “Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” That someone could be you, a sincere Christian devoted to Jehovah. Peter further cautions: “Take your stand against him, solid in the faith, knowing that the same things in the way of sufferings are being accomplished in the entire association of your brothers in the world.” (1 Pet. 5:8, 9) Do not let this frighten you or cause you to quit. That would be cowardly, even suicidal, and such action will not qualify one to live in God’s kingdom. (Rev. 21:8) In contrast, be of the frame of mind that Jesus suggested at Revelation 2:10: “Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. Look! The Devil will keep on throwing some of you into prison that you may be fully put to the test . . . Prove yourself faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.”