“Recommending Ourselves to Every Human Conscience in the Sight of God”
1. Why is the faculty of conscience not a sure guide in itself?
ONE’S having the faculty of conscience is not enough. Of itself it is not a sure guide in life. This is because it is part of us, closely tied in with our hearts and is affected by the interaction of both heart and mind. So according to what we ourselves are, what we have in our heart and mind, the voice of this “witness-bearer” will be either muffled or clear, its testimony will either be sound, reliable and true or be defective, misleading, even downright false.
2. What examples illustrate how the conscience can bear wrong testimony?
2 Christ Jesus, for example, warned his disciples that “the hour is coming when everyone that kills you will imagine he has rendered a sacred service to God.” (John 16:2) Saul of Tarsus was one of these. In his zeal for what he conscientiously believed to be right, Saul ‘committed many acts of opposition against the name of Jesus,’ persecuting the disciples, and ‘when they were to be executed, he cast his vote against them.’ (Acts 26:9, 10; compare Galatians 1:13, 14.) Yet later, when experiencing persecution himself as the Christian apostle Paul, he could say in court: “I have behaved before God with a perfectly clear conscience down to this day.” (Acts 23:1) Though his conscience had been “clear” at the time of his fighting against Christianity, its testimony had been defective, woefully false and had led him into fighting against God. What was wrong?
NEED FOR KNOWLEDGE AND GOD’S SPIRIT
3. Why is Bible knowledge essential for the conscience to bear good witness?
3 “I was ignorant and acted with a lack of faith,” Paul answers. (1 Tim. 1:13) If our conscience is to aid us on the way to life everlasting, we need to study diligently God’s Word, the Sacred Scriptures. Why? Because through knowledge of the Bible and by application of it in our lives we can come to know Jehovah God, know his personality, ways and purposes. Without a clear vision of Him we cannot possibly reflect his qualities and standards, and the voice of our conscience will be blurred, indistinct and confused.
4. (a) What other help is needed? (b) Illustrate this. (c) What do we learn from the scriptures cited at the end of this paragraph?
4 We also need to seek continually Jehovah God’s spirit, praying unceasingly for it. The apostle spoke of his conscience as ‘bearing witness with him in holy spirit,’ and it is by the spirit of God operating on our enlightened and Scripture-trained minds and hearts that we can be assured of correct testimony from the witness-bearer within us. (Rom. 9:1) We can illustrate this by a child who has been brought up by a loving father, one who carefully instilled in his son certain principles and standards, not only by word, but also by example. Now suppose, on an occasion when the child is away from his father, someone endeavors to get the child to engage in an act contrary to his father’s principles. Perhaps the precise act suggested was never mentioned by the child’s father. The person tempting the child to perform the act may even say, “Did your father ever specifically say you couldn’t do this?” The answer may be, “No, he did not.” And yet the child may reject the proposal, saying, “Even though my father never mentioned it, I just know he wouldn’t want me to do it—I know he wouldn’t like it!” Even without a specific command, the boy knows what to do. Why? Because he has the spirit of his father, he knows his father’s attitude on the matter. In similar ways we can come to know Jehovah’s attitude with the help of his Word and that of his Son and by the holy spirit.—Compare 1 Corinthians 2:16; also the example of Paul’s “spirit” as guiding the congregation at Corinth, as recorded at 1 Corinthians 5:3-5.
5, 6. (a) Why are Christians led by God’s spirit “not under law”? (b) What, then, is included in the ‘law written on Christian hearts’?
5 Of the person led by God’s spirit, the apostle says: “If you are being led by spirit, you are not under law . . . the fruitage of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:18, 22, 23) How is it that they are “not under law”?
6 Christ Jesus showed that the entire Law code given to Israel rested on two basic commands: Love of God with all one’s heart, mind, soul and strength, and love of one’s neighbor as of oneself. (Matt. 22:36-40) The apostle Paul also says that the laws against adultery, murder, stealing, covetousness, “and whatever other commandment there is, is summed up in this word, namely ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor; therefore love is the law’s fulfillment.” (Rom. 13:9, 10) Are we governed by that love of God and neighbor and do we have accurate knowledge of God’s Word and strong faith? Then even without an extensive code of regulations, rules and restrictions, we can stay on the pathway of righteousness, because we have God’s law ‘written on our hearts.’ (Heb. 10:16) “Law” means, basically, a ‘rule of conduct.’ All that we learn about God, both by study and by his dealings with us, becomes our rule of conduct or “law.” When this is so, then our conscience bears good, reliable testimony to guide us.
WEAK CONSCIENCES AND STRONG ONES
7, 8. In what way was the conscience of certain Corinthian Christians ‘weak,’ and what was a basic cause?
7 But even with baptized Christians, this is not always the case. Some have ‘strong’ consciences, others have ‘weak’ ones, as is seen in Paul’s first letter to the congregation at Corinth. In that city, meat that had been offered to an idol by the pagan Corinthians was commonly sold in the city’s meat markets. The conscience of some Christians would not let them eat such meat without feeling guilt. Was this testimony of their conscience correct? If not, why not?
8 Those Christians lacked accurate knowledge and discernment of righteous principles. Paul explained that the pagan idols were really “nothing” since there is “no God but one,” the Creator. Therefore the meat could not really come to belong to the idol since it had no genuine living existence and hence no power to receive or possess such meat. The meat remained under the ownership of the One who rightfully ‘owns the earth and all that is in it,’ Jehovah God.—1 Cor. 8:1-6; compare 10:25, 26.
9. (a) What other factors can produce a weak conscience? (b) Why would eating meat offered to idols ‘defile’ the consciences of such ones?
9 But something else was causing their consciences to give incorrect testimony. After saying, “Nevertheless, there is not this knowledge in all persons,” Paul adds, “but some, being accustomed until now to the idol, eat food as something sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” (1 Cor. 8:7) This shows that our background, environment, the customs, beliefs and attitudes of the people among whom we grew up—all these can also affect the testimony of our conscience. Many Corinthians had practiced idol worship before becoming Christians. Evidently from force of habit they still felt a consciousness of worship associated with meat that had been offered in idolatrous sacrifice. So, for them to eat would, as Paul said, ‘defile their conscience.’ In time, knowledge could have a healthful, enlightening effect on their conscience, ‘readjusting’ their outlook, aiding them to overcome their past prejudices, fears, wrong beliefs and viewpoints.—2 Cor. 13:11.
‘WE OUGHT NOT TO BE PLEASING OURSELVES’
10. How could those with strong consciences ‘build up’ the consciences of the others in a wrong way?
10 But meanwhile what should those Christians do whose consciences were not weak, who had knowledge of right principles and the correct viewpoint of the matter? Should they belittle the doubts of those with a weak conscience? Should they go ahead and do whatever their consciences allowed with no concern for the weak consciences of others, assuming that their own boldness in the matter would serve to strengthen the others’ weak consciences? Paul says that love should dictate to us, for “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” the ones showing it. (1 Cor. 8:1) They should guard lest exercising their “authority” or right (to eat such meat as no longer having a worshipful connection) should “somehow become a stumbling block to those who are weak.” Yes, if they ate meat known to have been sacrificed it could have the effect of ‘building up’ the conscience of weak ones, building them up, not in a healthful way, but so that their conscience swung to the opposite extreme. What? That of actually eating meat in religious ceremony connected with idolatry, or at least eating it in spite of a consciousness of worship. This the governing body of the Christian congregation had condemned, by guidance of the holy spirit.—1 Cor. 8:9, 10; Acts 15:28, 29.
11. Why is the person “already condemned” who does not act according to faith?
11 Even if the conscience of a person is overly restrictive, no one should presume to override that conscience or try to argue the person into going against it. As the apostle’s corresponding discussion in his letter to the Romans shows, if a person were to eat meat while having doubts as to the rightness of the act, “he is already condemned . . . because he does not eat out of faith.” The Christian who acts according to faith has a clean conscience; but if he acts without faith that what he is doing is proper, then his conscience is not clean, for, though feeling that the act is contrary to God’s will, he does it anyway.—Rom. 14:5, 14, 23.
12. Why, then, is faith so essential for us to have a conscience that will give proper guidance?
12 A strong faith makes for a good conscience, one that speaks up boldly, correctly, not failing to bear needed witness at critical times. Faith not only gives confidence; it produces loyalty to truth and righteousness. The Christian who has built up strong faith by knowledge and sincere application of it, by genuine appreciation and trust, will be loyal. While his conscience may permit him to do things that those with weak faith scruple against doing, at the same time he will not be excusing himself in wrongdoing.—Gal. 5:13.
13. Why is it so vitally important for us to show love in considering the consciences of others and governing our conduct thereby?
13 But love must always control. This governing principle is stressed by Paul when he says: “We, though, who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those not strong, and not to be pleasing ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor in what is good for his upbuilding.” (Rom. 15:1, 2) Showing how serious a matter it is for the one with strong faith to fail to show consideration for those who are weak in matters of conscience, Paul warns: “If because of food your brother is being grieved, you are no longer walking in accord with love. Do not by your food ruin that one for whom Christ died.” “When you people thus sin against your brothers and wound their conscience that is weak, you are sinning against Christ.” (Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:11, 12) What is said regarding eating and drinking can be said regarding matters of dress, entertainment, employment and all other facets of human living.—Rom. 14:21.
14. How must there be a balance in the attitude of both those whose consciences are very restrictive and those whose consciences are not so restrictive? What principles should both classes always keep in mind?
14 Just as it is wrong for the one with strong faith to belittle those who are overscrupulous or try to superimpose his conscience on theirs, so it is also wrong for the scrupulous one to judge or censure those exercising Christian freedom. “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God,” says Paul, and then “each of us will render an account for himself to God.” “Why should it be that my freedom is judged by another person’s conscience?” (Rom. 14:3-12; 1 Cor. 10:29, 30) Yet, though convinced of certain ‘rights’ or “authority” on the basis of God’s Word, the Christian guided by love will not ‘look for his own interests,’ insisting on his rights and pleasing himself to the hurt of others, but will imitate Christ, who “did not please himself” in a selfish, inconsiderate way.—1 Cor. 8:9; 13:4, 5; Rom. 15:3.
15, 16. What is the difference between a weak conscience and one that is defiled? Illustrate this from the Scriptures.
15 It is one thing to have a conscience that is weak due to lack of knowledge. It is quite another thing to have a defiled conscience because of rejecting truth or following a course that goes contrary to one’s conscience.
16 Paul called for loving considerateness toward overscrupulous Christians in Rome and Corinth, those manifesting ‘weakness of faith.’ But he instructed Titus to ‘reprove with severity’ men in Crete who were not “healthy in the faith.” Why? Because they were not just being overscrupulous due to lack of knowledge. These men were setting themselves up as teachers of their views, contradicting the spirit-directed decision of the governing body on circumcision. Both their minds and their consciences were defiled. Their works manifested this.—Rom. 14:1; Titus 1:9-15.
17. (a) What grave consequences can result from failing to keep a clean conscience toward God? (b) How does Ephesians 4:20 present another aid to our reflecting Jehovah’s ‘image and likeness’?
17 To follow a deliberate course of wrong can lead to one’s conscience becoming marked or seared “as with a branding iron.” (1 Tim. 4:2) Some of such in Paul’s day had “thrust aside” faith and a good conscience and experienced “shipwreck” of their faith, becoming blasphemers of God’s faithful servants and His truth. (1 Tim. 1:19, 20) A Christian could go back to being like the people of the world, who are “in darkness mentally, and alienated from the life that belongs to God.” Due to their ignorance and the insensibility of their hearts they “come to be past all moral sense,” their conscience excuses them in all sorts of loose conduct, uncleanness and greediness. But, as Paul adds, “you did not learn the Christ to be so.” (Eph. 4:17-20) God’s Son provided us a Model and Example by which our consciences can be trained to bear proper witness.
APPEALING TO THE CONSCIENCES OF OTHERS
18-20. (a) Describe some of the ways in which Paul appealed to the consciences of those he served. (b) According to what he wrote the Thessalonians and Corinthians, was he satisfied simply to believe that ‘God knows my heart is right in the things I do’?
18 Certainly we should want to avoid defiling our consciences, to the injury of ourselves and others. Like the apostle Paul we should be able to say: “Our conscience bears witness, that with holiness and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but with God’s undeserved kindness, we have conducted ourselves in the world, but more especially toward you.”—2 Cor. 1:12.
19 Review some of the ways Paul appealed to the consciences of those he served. He sought neither prominence, praise nor power over them. None of the apostles worked harder than he, yet he was far from assigning himself special privileges or seeking the best in material comforts as being ‘what was due him.’ He even refrained from making use of his due rights in many ways.—1 Cor. 9:3-18; 15:10.
20 His attitude was not, ‘I am the apostle to the Gentiles appointed by God’s own Son so I am not concerned about what anyone thinks. What I do is between me and God. I know I’m right; so let others accept it and not question it.’ Having authority, he was not authoritarian. Rather than showing off a powerful personality to persuade, he appealed to people’s consciences in love. He reminds those in Thessalonica that he and his companions were ‘gentle as a nursing mother,’ in tender affection imparting “not only the good news of God, but also our own souls, because you became beloved to us.” He and his associates willingly labored in secular work night and day so as not to put an expensive burden on others. The Thessalonians, he says, thereby became “witnesses, God is also, how loyal and righteous and unblamable we proved to be.” (1 Thess. 2:5-10) While confident that his heart was manifest to God, Paul told those in Corinth, “I hope that we have been made manifest also to your consciences.”—2 Cor. 5:10-12.
21, 22. (a) Is it enough to recommend ourselves to God and the consciences of our brothers? (b) Why is it vital to appeal to the consciences of those to whom we bear the good news of the Kingdom?
21 In this same letter to the Corinthians, Paul states that he and his companions had “renounced the underhanded things of which to be ashamed, not walking with cunning, neither adulterating the word of God, but by making the truth manifest recommending ourselves to every human conscience in the sight of God.” Along with a clean conscience toward God and our brothers, as Christians we should also seek to have a clean conscience toward “every human conscience,” including those in the world of mankind. (2 Cor. 4:2) Are we doing this?
22 We should never doubt that the progress and success of the preaching of the good news of God’s kingdom depend greatly on our “recommending ourselves to every human conscience” by maintaining a good conscience ourselves, both congregationally and individually. It is not enough to preach and teach Bible truths to others. Along with this—in fact, as part of our preaching and teaching—we must appeal to their consciences. They cannot see our hearts as God can, but we can endeavor to make manifest what is in our hearts—our sincerity, our honesty, our purity of motive, our unselfish love. However, can we do this if we ourselves fail to practice what we preach?
23. What should move us to seek never to be a cause for stumbling toward those to whom we preach and teach?
23 How concerned are we for the everlasting welfare of those around us, not only our families and our spiritual brothers, but also our neighbors, our fellow townspeople and countrymen? Paul wrote: “I am telling the truth in Christ; I am not lying, since my conscience bears witness with me in holy spirit, that I have great grief and unceasing pain in my heart . . . in behalf of my brothers, my relatives according to the flesh, who, as such, are Israelites.” (Rom. 9:1-4) He showed his concern by striving to maintain conduct that would appeal to their conscience, by seeking never to be needlessly repugnant to the Jewish conscience. (Compare Romans 10:1; 1 Corinthians 9:20.) How deep is our desire to aid those of our nation to gain life? How far are we willing to go to avoid being ‘causes for stumbling to others’?—1 Cor. 10:32, 33.
24. (a) What have many of God’s servants in modern times done in order to recommend themselves to every human conscience in the sight of God? (b) What questions arise for our future consideration?
24 Concern for maintaining a good conscience before God and all men has caused many of God’s servants in modern times to make major changes in their lives—in their daily conduct and speech, their attitudes and treatment of others, their employment and business practices. They are ‘exercising themselves continually to have consciousness of committing no offense against God and men.’ (Acts 24:16) Are you doing this? What are some of the things that raise questions of conscience for God’s servants today? Where an appeal to the consciences of others calls for certain changes, do they need some specific law or command or regulation to cause them to make such change? These are questions we leave for the next issue of The Watchtower to answer.