Your Conscience and Your Employment
1. Why is a Christian’s employment a vital area for his conscience to be exercised?
MOST of our waking hours are spent in work. Certainly a Christian should want to have a clean conscience as to the work he performs, ‘doing all things for God’s glory.’ (1 Cor. 10:31) Does your work allow you to do that?
2, 3. (a) What employment is obviously wrong, and can the Christian taking up such employment escape responsibility? (b) How is it that certain kinds of work that in themselves are not wrong can, nevertheless, raise questions of conscience?
2 Obviously, any work that directly and principally requires one to perform acts that are either specifically condemned by God’s Word or are out of harmony with its principles is wrong. A Christian cannot simply place the responsibility on his employer for the wrong. But what if the labor in itself is not incompatible with God’s Word but is part of an operation that is pursuing ends incompatible with God’s Word? What then?
3 As a simple illustration, serving as a chauffeur and driving an automobile is in itself proper employment. But how could a person professing to be a Christian serve as chauffeur for a gang of bank robbers? Or how could a Christian let himself be identified with a house of prostitution by serving as its doorman or maid? But, on the other hand, suppose you had a milk route or a newspaper route; would your delivering bottles of milk or the newspaper to such house of ill repute make you a part of an immoral operation?
4. (a) Where a person or business engages in wrongdoing, does all service rendered to such person or business necessarily make the one rendering the service an accomplice in such wrongdoing? (b) What example does God himself give us as to providing certain services to wrongdoers without becoming party to their deeds?
4 Clearly there is a difference between being an accomplice to wrong deeds and simply being one who renders certain services such as are commonly rendered to all persons, without discrimination for or against anyone. We have an example in God himself as to providing service to personal needs without taking into account people’s righteousness or lack of righteousness. As Jesus pointed out to his disciples, Jehovah God “makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45) Paul, too, says that God the Creator “gives to all persons [without discrimination] life and breath and all things.” (Acts 17:25) Since God permits rain to fall even upon the fields of wicked men, does this make him share in the guilt of their wrongdoing? When, for example, God clothed the sinners Adam and Eve, did he thereby lay himself open to the charge of condoning or supporting them in their wrongdoing? Rather, his act was simply one of undeserved kindness.—Gen. 3:21.
5, 6. (a) In what way could Christians evidently perform services in the household of Caesar and still maintain a good conscience? (b) How can similar circumstances prevail in modern times?
5 In his letter to Christians at Philippi, Paul sends greetings from their Christian brothers “of the household of Caesar.” (Phil. 4:22) Evidently these were domestic servants in the imperial quarters, whether slaves or freedmen the record does not indicate. They perhaps rendered human services there, such as cooking, cleaning and similar work, on behalf of the imperial family and staff. As we have seen, human governments do perform some legitimate functions in the eyes of God, though also being guilty of other condemnable practices. (Rom. 13:1-5) Whatever the particular work these Christians of Caesar’s household performed, they apparently could do it without feeling that they were participants in the politics, religion or military ventures and schemes of Nero.
6 So in modern times. There are many acts we may perform for others that are rendered to them simply as fellow humans, without concerning ourselves with their righteousness or unrighteousness. As in our simple illustration, the selling of milk to a prostitute would not logically cause one to be viewed as condoning her immorality, would it? Nor would one’s being employed by a politician to teach him music reasonably mark one as a supporter of the political activities of this employer.
7, 8. How does God’s Word manifest a reasonable and realistic viewpoint, and how should this guide us in our application of Bible principles in matters of conscience?
7 Though unshakably firm for righteousness, Jehovah God is also reasonable. (Jas. 3:17) He is completely realistic in his appraisal of matters and in his requirements of those who would please him. This is seen in the apostle Paul’s inspired words at 1 Corinthians 5:9, 10. After recalling his earlier instructions to Christians in Corinth to “quit mixing in company with fornicators,” Paul then said, “not meaning entirely with the fornicators of this world or the greedy persons and extortioners or idolaters. Otherwise, you would actually have to get out of the world.” While Christians seek to avoid ‘bad associations that spoil useful habits,’ they cannot become hermits, isolating themselves in caves, deserts or on islands. Why not? Their very commission to serve as the “light of the world” requires that they be ‘in the world though no part of the world.’ (1 Cor. 15:33; Matt. 5:14-16; John 15:19; 17:15-18) To require them to fulfill their commission and at the same time to maintain separateness to an absolute degree would be to require contradictory things of them. God does not do this. Neither should we be unreasonable in our application of the principles of God’s Word, trying to push every principle to its absolute limit and force applications to an extreme degree and then insist that all our brothers do so.—Phil. 4:5.
8 With these points in mind, let us consider certain types of activity to see whether these are ruled out as definitely unchristian by the Bible or are within areas where individual conscience must determine what the Christian will do, or to what extent conscience may enter into the matter.
GAMES OF CHANCE
9, 10. Does the Bible provide a specific command as regards gambling, and why may objections be raised against calling it a form of “extortion”?
9 Gambling is not mentioned specifically in the Bible. What, then, should be the Christian’s attitude toward it?
10 Some might link it to extortion, mentioned at 1 Corinthians 6:10. However, the objection may be raised that “to extort” (a word having the same source as the word “torture”) carries the basic idea of using force, threats or other pressure (as by the abuse of official authority) to obtain something from an unwilling person. While individuals who lose money in gambling are not pleased to lose it, they generally gamble willingly and with full recognition that they run the risk of losing money. So, then, if gambling is not extortion, on what basis would the Christian refuse to approve it?
11, 12. (a) What Scriptural principles provide the basis for the voice of conscience to speak up regarding gambling? (b) What does the effect gambling historically has had on people show?
11 There is more than one Scriptural reason for doing so. Gambling certainly merits being classified as a form of “greediness,” and greediness and covetousness are classed along with idolatry in God’s Word. (1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Col. 3:5) It clashes with the basic Scriptural precept that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, and that man should do honest, productive labor to obtain gain. What productivity results from gambling? Its history shows that it is almost inevitably contributory toward crime in one fashion or another. And why? Because it is unloving. It incites selfishness and fosters lack of concern for others. The gambler wants the money of others without giving them any genuine service in return. Though some may class gambling with entertainment, the evidence shows that as often as not it creates tension, anxiety, resentment and even murderous anger.
12 One woman who worked in a casino is quoted as saying: “Gambling hardens all who come in contact with it. After a year or so of work in the casino, the dealer is no longer moved by the spectacle of men and women, many of them mentally ill, gambling away the money that should be used to support themselves and their families. One of the world’s greatest and oldest tragedies—the wrecking of countless human lives because of man’s greed for easy money and his infatuation for the false goddess, Lady Luck—no longer affects [the dealer].”
13. What shows that the Scriptures’ linking covetousness and greediness with idolatry also holds true with regard to gambling?
13 Yes gambling also foments superstition, gamblers as a class being among the most superstitious people. Money becomes an idol and Lady Luck a goddess. At Isaiah 65:11 God’s Word speaks of those leaving Him and “setting in order a table for the god of Good Luck and those filling up mixed wine for the god of Destiny.”
14. In contrast with the covetous course of the gambler, what exhortation is made to Christians?
14 Certainly all this stands in direct contrast to the apostle’s exhortation to Christians at Thessalonica to “make it your aim to live quietly . . . and work with your hands,” so that they might be “walking decently as regards people outside and not be needing anything.” (1 Thess. 4:11, 12) Yes, there are still standards of decency in the world of mankind as to doing honest, productive labor, and the Christian will want to ‘recommend himself to every human conscience’ in this matter as in all others.—2 Cor. 4:2.
THE USE AND PRODUCTION OF HARMFUL ADDICTIVES
15-17. (a) What practice involving the use of betel nut exists in certain areas of the earth? (b) What effect does this have on the user, and how have authorities in some countries viewed the practice?
15 Another matter causing concern in many parts of the earth is the use and production of materials that result in harmful addiction. In India, the Philippines and the Malaysian areas, for example, an ancient and popular practice is the chewing of betel nut, also known as areca nut, the seed of a palm tree. Pieces of betel nut are rolled in a leaf smeared with quicklime and chewed. The betel nut colors the person’s saliva a blood-red color and blackens the teeth, generally causing their deterioration. Many habitual betel-nut chewers become toothless at as early an age as twenty-five. According to the Encyclopedia Americana (1956, Vol. 20, p. 573), betel-nut chewing produces “an effect similar to the chewing of tobacco.” In India, in fact, tobacco is sometimes included in the betel-nut “chew,” the admixture being known as pan.
16 The Bombay Evening News of April 4, 1972, tells us that Extra Pharmacopia, a publication of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, classifies betel nut as a “drug.” An Indian court therefore ruled that betel nut could not be classified as “food.”
17 Notably, many persons who have used both tobacco and betel nut say that, of the two, they found the betel-nut habit the more difficult to break. During the Japanese rule of Taiwan, an unsuccessful effort was made to stamp out the habit. Many Taiwanese doctors believe there is a link between the practice and the high incidence of mouth and face cancer in Taiwan.
18. What similar practice exists in Latin America, and what is its effect?
18 In some Latin-American countries a somewhat similar practice prevails, that of chewing coca plant leaves with lime. Since the leaves contain cocaine, this practice is addictive. While it keeps the users from feeling the pangs of hunger or the ache of tiredness, like other such narcotics it eventually has very damaging effects on their health as well as their mental powers.
19. What does modern-day evidence show regarding the use of tobacco in smoking and chewing?
19 The use of betel nut and coca leaves is somewhat regional. The use of tobacco, on the other hand, is virtually world wide. It, too, is addictive. Evidence of the power of its addiction may be seen from the fact that its production still runs around three and a half billion tons a year—despite medical warnings of the damage it brings to human health. In the United States, for example, some 576 billion cigarettes and 7 million cigars are manufactured annually. Yet a committee appointed by the Surgeon General of the United States found that the risk of lung cancer was ten times greater in moderate smokers, and twenty times greater in heavy smokers, than in nonsmokers. Dr. Charles Cameron of the American Cancer Society said: “Cancer of the lung is showing the most rapid increase ever ascribed to any noninfectious disease in medical history.” Smoking was also reported as being contributory to heart disease, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. As a result, various governments have passed laws restricting the public advertising of cigarettes.
APPLYING BIBLE PRINCIPLES TO THE PROBLEM
20. Since none of these practices are mentioned in the Bible, does this remove them from becoming questions of Christian conscience?
20 Again, the Bible does not mention the chewing of betel nuts, coca leaves or the chewing, snuffing or smoking of tobacco. Some persons have said: “Until you show me something in the Bible about the use of tobacco [or similar products], I will keep using it.” But might not one just as well say that, since the Bible does not specifically forbid throwing garbage into your neighbor’s backyard, there is nothing wrong in doing so?
21, 22. What Bible principles are clearly involved, and what questions must the Christian conscientiously ask himself as to engaging in such practices?
21 The Bible certainly does provide us with principles to guide us in this matter. The inspired apostle wrote at 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Since we have these promises [of being accepted by God as his approved children and servants], beloved ones, let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.”
22 “Holiness” means the quality of being clean, bright, untarnished and devoted to sacred uses. Can the use of betel nut and its befouling effect on the user’s mouth and teeth, or the defiling effect that coca leaves and tobacco are recognized as inflicting on the user’s body, be harmonized with this Scriptural injunction? The greatest commandment is to ‘love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.’ Can one say one is serving God with one’s ‘whole strength’ while using products denounced even by national governments as seriously damaging to one’s health? Or, if one becomes addicted to coca leaves, can one say one is serving Jehovah with one’s ‘whole mind’? Really, is not the using of such things an acting ‘contrary to nature,’ subjecting the body to abuse it was never designed to take?—Mark 12:29, 30; Rom. 1:26.
LET YOUR CONSCIENCE SPEAK
23, 24. (a) Is it only the personal use of harmful addictives that raises questions of Christian conscience? (b) Does the fact that these plant products result from God’s creation remove all objections regarding their commercial production and distribution today? Illustrate.
23 What, then, of the person who farms, prepares or sells such things as his means of livelihood? Certainly the matter of conscience is involved here. What principles should guide us?
24 Some may argue that these things are all part of God’s creation placed here on earth, and that hence there is no reason to object to anyone’s growing them. True, they are God’s creation, but things that are correct in themselves may be put to bad uses. Mushrooms are part of God’s plant creation but only some are edible. If we make a mistake and eat one of the poisonous types this could cause our death. Jehovah provided minerals and metals, too, but when men convert iron into destructive weapons for political warfare, is this a good use of God’s provisions?
25, 26. (a) Is it only the seller of harmful addictives who bears responsibility for the damage they cause to humans? (b) What questions will the Christian conscientiously consider in this regard?
25 Consider the matter of hard drugs, such as opium and heroin. People addicted to these do not simply pick them up from the earth. There are many steps involved. Poppies must be grown, the juice extracted and refined into opium powder. To obtain morphine or heroin, further distilling must be done. Then there is the marketing and sale of these addictive drugs. Where along the line does responsibility for the immense harm and crime involved in drug addiction begin or stop?
26 Though tobacco, betel nut and coca leaves may be slower in their destructive effects than these hard drugs, the same question may be asked as to their production and sale. These plant products may have legitimate uses—tobacco nicotine, for example, is used as the base for an insecticide—yet the fact remains that the legitimate usage forms a very minimal portion of the total usage. We can never forget that the second-greatest commandment is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. If we willingly and knowingly contribute toward serious damage to his health for the sake of gain, are we doing this?—Matt. 22:39.
27, 28. Can the use of certain popular beverages reasonably be classed with the harmful addictives described, thereby forming the basis for the same objections to their production and sale? If not, what difference exists?
27 Some may object that even such things as tea, coffee and, more particularly, alcoholic drinks, are also accused of being harmful to health. Yet, with regard to alcoholic beverages the Bible clearly and specifically allows for their use in moderation. (Deut. 14:26; John 2:1-10; Prov. 23:29-31; 1 Tim. 3:3, 8; 5:23) But no such approval can be found in favor of tobacco, betel nut, coca leaves, or, for that matter, marijuana, opium and similar products.
28 As to such beverages as tea and coffee, it might be asked: After all the centuries of their use, what clear evidence of their being consistently dangerous has been produced, or where have governments been moved to issue health warnings against them? True, to the person with health problems, such as ulcers, any of these beverages could be dangerous and, in such case, he should avoid them. To the diabetic sugar is dangerous; but it is not to other people. For an overweight person even bread and potatoes or rice can be dangerous. (Compare Proverbs 25:27.) We should be reasonable, then, in our consideration of matters. Are we seeking to suppress the voice of conscience by trying to rationalize away the facts about substances that have been demonstrated to be fundamentally harmful and dangerous?
‘BE WALKING DECENTLY AS REGARDS THOSE OUTSIDE’
29. In harmony with Galatians 6:7 what serious questions should one ask about employment that, in its end results, primarily brings detriment to mankind?
29 These are just a few areas in which questions of conscience may arise as to one’s employment. In all such matters, however, the Christian does well to recognize that ‘what one sows one reaps’—in more ways than one. (Gal. 6:7) What if one’s work is such that, rather than benefit, it produces detriment or harm to others? Though not specifically condemned in the Bible, will such work not have an adverse, perhaps even degrading, effect on the heart and mind of the worker? And may it not also have a weakening effect on his conscience, perhaps allowing him to excuse himself for engaging in practices that are specifically condemned in God’s Word?—1 Thess. 4:12.
30. How must the consciences of those outside the Christian congregation also be considered as regards such employment?
30 Then, too, there is the matter of recommending ourselves to others’ consciences as regards sincerity. Not long ago a number of prominent religious organizations in the United States came in for criticism because, while claiming to be for peace, they were investing heavily in war industries. If a Christian takes a stand against a certain practice as incompatible with Bible principles, yet makes his living from work that is primarily and basically directed toward furthering and fomenting that practice, will he be recommending himself to others’ consciences? Will they believe him to be sincere in his advocating of other principles of God’s Word and its promise of a new order of righteousness?
31, 32. (a) What questions might arise concerning the Christian man so employed as to fitness for positions of congregational responsibility? (b) Does being “free from accusation” mean that the overseer or ministerial servant has to please every single person’s scruples or beliefs?
31 What of the Christian who is ‘reaching out for the office of overseer’ or is desirous of serving as a ministerial servant in a congregation? If employed in work that produces things detrimental to humankind, could such a man be considered as “free from accusation” or as having “a fine testimony from people on the outside”?—1 Tim. 3:1, 7-10; Titus 1:6.
32 These requirements for Christian overseers and ministerial servants do not deal with unfounded or unjust accusations. In lands dominated by the Catholic Church, as an example, divorce may be portrayed as always wrong, even where the Scriptural grounds of adultery exist. To be criticized for being Scripturally divorced would not disqualify one from serving as an overseer or ministerial servant, for such criticism is unfounded.
33, 34. Does the commonness of certain work in a particular area or its general acceptance by people in that area necessarily remove objections of conscience to it?
33 One might say, ‘True, the work I do is not really for the good of my neighbor. But where I live the majority of the people engage in this type of employment. This business or production is the main source of money for the area.’ Would this change matters as far as one’s conscience is involved?
34 If gambling, for example, is the major business in a certain city or state, perhaps people there would be little concerned over a person’s being employed in a gambling establishment, even though the person claimed to be a sincere follower of Jesus Christ. But does that make it right in the sight of God? Furthermore, what of the effect on the individual’s own conscience and heart? Would his conscience let him approach his Father with “freeness of speech” as being clean of anything meriting God’s disapproval? 1 John 3:19-22 says: “By this we shall know that we originate with the truth, and we shall assure our hearts before him as regards whatever our hearts may condemn us in, because God is greater than our hearts and knows all things. Beloved ones, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have freeness of speech toward God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we are observing his commandments and are doing the things that are pleasing in his eyes.” Surely this “freeness of speech” is something to be highly prized and treasured, yes, conserved at all cost.
NEED FOR FAITH
35. How may a test of faith result because of our being conscientious about our employment?
35 True, to strive for a clean conscience before God and to recommend ourselves to the consciences of others may require some major changes in our lives. Employment that does not conflict with our consciences may be difficult to obtain. This places a test on our faith in God’s power to come to our aid in response to our conscientious efforts to please him. With good reason the Bible closely ties in faith with the matter of conscience. (1 Tim. 1:5, 18, 19; 3:8, 9; Heb. 10:22) Do we really believe that Jehovah God not only exists but also “becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him”?—Heb. 11:6.
36, 37. If obtaining other employment that does not clash with Christian conscience seems nearly impossible to obtain, from what modern and ancient examples can we draw comfort and assurance?
36 Throughout the earth there are men and women by the thousands who can testify to God’s power, ability and willingness to come to the aid of those striving to maintain a good conscience before him. A person may feel that giving up his present occupation for reasons of conscience would leave him in a virtually hopeless position. But think of what others have done. Think of the women who were living in concubinage to married men and had borne children to them before they learned the truth of God’s Word. Refusal to continue living in such concubinage meant losing all visible means of support, even the home they lived in. Yet hundreds of women took that step in faith, and Jehovah God cared for them.
37 Think too of the many slaves in the Roman Empire who accepted Christianity. They were the property of the men who owned them, dependent on them for all life’s provisions. Yet they had to exercise their Christian consciences and if their masters should command them to perform acts in violation of Christian principles they would have to refuse, recognizing God and his Son as their superior masters. This, too, would take great faith indeed.—1 Pet. 2:18-20; Eph. 6:5-8; Col. 3:22-25.
38. Though not discontinuing their present kind or type of work, how have many Christian men also had to make major changes to keep a clean conscience?
38 Then, too, there are thousands of men who, while not changing their type of employment, have had to alter their business methods radically or have had to resign because the establishments they worked for insisted on their using dishonest practices in an otherwise legitimate business. Many types of personal services, such as repair work on radios, autos, watches, and similar services, are frequently involved in dishonesty, overcharging customers or charging them for parts that were never installed or work that was never done. This is a form of theft. Other men in selling work, before becoming true Christians, falsified matters to obtain customers. This is lying and fraud. Christians have “renounced the underhanded things of which to be ashamed” and do not walk “with cunning” either in the congregation or outside thereof. (2 Cor. 4:2) They heed the exhortation: “Now that you have put away falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, . . . Let the stealer steal no more, but rather let him do hard work, doing with his hands what is good work, that he may have something to distribute to someone in need.” Their consciences move them to abandon their wrong ways so as ‘not to be grieving God’s holy spirit.’—Eph. 4:25-30.
MAINTAINING REASONABLENESS AND BALANCE
39-41. (a) As in all other matters, whose viewpoint do we want to maintain when exercising our conscience regarding employment? (b) Where an individual’s employment raises questions of conscience, what decision may the elders in the congregation make? By whose conscience are they governed?
39 Again, let it be noted that Jehovah God is realistic in all his requirements. He provides us principles that give good, clear guidance; yet he does not push matters to an impossible extreme, to the point that we would have to “get out of the world” in order to have a clean conscience.—1 Cor. 5:10.
40 Consider, as an example, an individual who may work on a farm devoted almost exclusively to the growing of a product fundamentally harmful to human use. His work may be directly connected with the production or distribution of this material. His own conscience may or may not move him to quit such work. Even though his conscience does not move him to quit, if he belongs to a Christian congregation the consciences of the elders of that congregation may not allow them to recommend him as qualifying to be an elder or ministerial servant in the congregation.
41 On the other hand, the individual may work on such a farm but may do work that is not materially related to the development of such product, perhaps rendering services of a personal nature to the family of the farm owner, doing housecleaning or similar domestic work. He may feel that his work does not link him with the operation that produces the harmful product. Whether elders of the congregation where such an individual associated recommended him as an elder or ministerial servant or not would depend on their consciences. They would also take into consideration the effect such recommendation would have on the congregation as a whole and on the community in which it is found.
42. (a) While striving to maintain a clean conscience, what futile activity will we avoid, and what will we make our aim? (b) In ‘borderline’ matters, what balance will we maintain?
42 So, then, like the apostle, we all want to be ‘exercising ourselves continually to have a consciousness of committing no offense against God and men.’ (Acts 24:16) At the same time we should realize the futility of debating all the minor ramifications or possible applications of any one Scriptural principle or trying to draw fine lines of demarcation and thereby set up a Talmudic code as to precisely what is allowable and what is not. In instructing Timothy as to his ministry in Ephesus, Paul wrote: “Really the objective of this mandate is love out of a clean heart and out of a good conscience and out of faith without hypocrisy. By deviating from these things certain ones have been turned aside into idle talk, wanting to be teachers of law, but not perceiving either the things they are saying or the things about which they are making strong assertions.” (1 Tim. 1:3-7; compare 6:3-5.) Where the decision must rest with individual conscience, we will not try to superimpose our conscience on others, neither belittling others as overscrupulous nor criticizing and judging those whose consciences are not as restrictive as ours in such ‘borderline’ cases.—Rom. 14:3, 10.
43. While striving to act always in good conscience, if we, nevertheless, make mistakes, what can we do to become free of a bad conscience?
43 We will make mistakes, do things we subsequently regret—for we are imperfect. But we will not suffer from a guilty conscience if we are quick to confess our error to God and turn from it, seeking Jehovah’s forgiveness through his Son. Read King David’s personal experience in this matter as recorded at Psalm 32:1-6. Rejoice in knowing that the ransom sacrifice of God’s Son can make propitiation for our sins and cleanse our consciences, giving us the comforting assurance that God does not hold such errors against us. Thereby we can continue serving him with a good conscience and with all the joy, contentment, peace of mind and the hope of everlasting life that this brings.
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Gambling—rooted in greed, contributing to crime and fomenting superstition. Could a Christian be associated with such a practice?
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Is it consistent to talk of neighbor love and yet to produce tobacco that may ruin your neighbor’s health?