Rights or Duties—Which?
“My son, my law do not forget, and my commandments may your heart observe, because length of days and years of life and peace will be added to you.”—Prov. 3:1, 2.
1-3. (a) What is the attitude of people of the world today regarding rights? (b) About whom is the apostle Paul talking at 2 Timothy 3:1-5, and what will happen to all who have the spirit spoken of at Ephesians 2:2?
A BIG ISSUE on the minds of people of the world today is the establishment of their rights. Many feel that it is their right to do what they please regardless of others. As a result, the world, particularly the so-called “Christian” part, has come to the situation that was foretold in the Bible, that men would be ‘self-assuming, haughty, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, headstrong.’—2 Tim. 3:1-4.
2 This is the spirit of the world. It is “the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience.” (Eph. 2:2) We know that it is all around us and is putting pressure on everybody. We should not think that the apostle Paul, in describing the bad conditions mentioned above, had reference to the world of persons who do not believe in God. No, he said that these disobedient ones would be “having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power.” (2 Tim. 3:5) It is in Christendom that the Bible said these conditions would come about, and it has proved true. All persons having this bad spirit will eventually die.—Rev. 21:8.
3 So, if anyone follows this bad pattern he is under God’s disfavor, whether he belongs to a church or not, or even if he has withdrawn from the religious systems of Christendom and has become one of Jehovah’s witnesses. All who have the independent, self-assuming, headstrong spirit or are even infected with that spirit to a minor extent are in great danger.
4, 5. What has this spirit resulted in on the part of both youths and adults?
4 This spirit is reflected in the news we read, particularly concerning youths today. The riots in schools and colleges are an example. Students go so far as to take rifles and other deadly weapons into the schools. They destroy the property of the school to which they go to get an education. We read of youth riots carried out for no reason at all. They go into a town, tear up the stores and overturn cars of innocent individuals who are driving through—all for nothing.
5 These destructive actions stem from an attitude of self-determination, of independence from all laws and standards. To justify their actions they claim they are exercising their “rights.” Such persons want to show they are not answerable to anyone. Even among mature adults the spirit of rebellious independence has taken hold. Thousands claim the right to a guaranteed income, but they do not want to work. They want the enjoyable things of life, but they do not want to produce anything. Among those serving the public, originally, gratuities or “tips” were given for services beyond that which was required. But now tips are demanded, regardless of the quality of service rendered.
6-8. Describe the difference in family life and in other activities that attention to duties instead of rights would bring.
6 So in the fever about rights, duties are not considered. But just think how different things would be if each one felt the same way about duties as he does about rights. Today’s situation would be reversed. Then a person would not have to worry at all about his rights. This would be because he and others were taking care of their duties.
7 In fact, to fight over rights actually divides. Attention to duties works for happiness and peace. It is not hard to envision how united a family would be where each one thought of his duties, the children toward the parents, the parents toward the children. There would be trust and consideration rather than suspicion and strife.
8 In the business world, if workmen realized that their employer had the right to expect them to give a full day’s work and if the employer had consideration for the welfare of the workmen, recognizing his duty to pay an adequate wage, they would both be better off. And the customers would be happy, because they would be getting service. Business would be better and jobs more secure. But the world does not recognize this because of selfishness, emphasis on what each one can get, with no thought of others. This selfishness is so general and so ingrained that the world cannot be reformed.
THE CHRISTIAN’S VIEW
9. How do Christians stand as to fighting for their rights?
9 But how do Christians stand on matter of rights and duties? They have a God-given right as well as a duty to worship God and carry out his commands, applying the principles of the Bible in their lives. (Matt. 4:10) They should stand firm for this right. (Matt. 22:21) It is not a personal or a man-created right, but a right from God that they have a duty to perform before him. (Matt. 28:18, 19) When they persist in exercising this right, God backs them up. But the Bible does not stress personal rights. It does say a lot about duties.—Eccl. 12:13; Luke 17:10.
10-12. (a) What is the Christian’s position before God as to rights and duties? (b) What should be the attitude of the Christian as to the practice of certain “modern” things?
10 What is the position of true Christians who have turned around from following this world’s course and who exercise faith in the ransom sacrifice of Christ? The Bible says to them: “You do not belong to yourselves, for you were bought with a price. By all means, glorify God in the body of you people.” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20) Hence, there is very little ground for these people to talk about rights to God, because he owns them by the blood of his Son. They have a duty. That duty is: “By all means, glorify God.” We can glorify God by being peaceable, by being content, by being patient even if our rights are stepped on by someone else. We are glorifying God when we carry out our duties, not demanding what we conceive to be our personal rights, and not causing grief or upset to others in asserting such “rights.”—Prov. 11:2.
11 Christians, therefore, should not think, just because a certain practice is common in the world, that they may insist on such as being their right in the face of the Christian congregation and its mature thinking. Why should a Christian try to bring the world’s spirit, or the things that represent it, such as extreme styles of dress, extreme music and so-called modern practices, into his life when he is part of the congregation? In fact, why should he try to bring these things into the congregation of God?
12 A person might say: ‘That’s being modern. We want to do what’s modern and keep up with the world.’ But think about it—the spirit of this world is deteriorating fast, is decaying; and we can expect things to get worse as time goes along. Each generation in the past thought that it was “modern” and ahead of the rest, but what happened to these generations and their ways? The Bible says: “There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes but that has not been washed from its own excrement.”—Prov. 30:12.
13. Rather than be independent-minded, what should we do now, and why?
13 Should we cause a stir in the congregation, or become independent-minded and withdraw even a little from full cooperation with the congregation now? Rather, as we see the storm clouds of the “great tribulation” getting darker, and the “climate” of this world more chilling, we should draw closer to the Christian organization, closer and closer together in the warmth of love. (Prov. 18:1) We should be extra careful of our attitude and our standing with God. The apostle Peter expresses this need very strongly when he says: “If the righteous man is being saved with difficulty, where will the ungodly man and the sinner make a showing?”—1 Pet. 4:18.
14. Why is it futile to get excited about some style or pattern followed by this world?
14 Moreover, what we may think is so important right now may be absolutely nothing in God’s new order. Yes, even a year from now, the thing we may fight for as a right (some style, some practice, some type of music) may be completely out of date. Then we ourselves would not want it. So why would we want to bring it now into the congregation? Styles and patterns of the world pass out quickly and are forgotten. But God’s congregation lasts forever. The Bible says: “The scene of this world is changing.” (1 Cor. 7:31) It is changing now from bad to worse, but it will be completely replaced. (1 John 2:17) It is going completely out of style. Where will mod styles then be? the shaggy hair? the unkempt clothing? Where will the things be that we now might insist on as our right to do?
ANALYZING OUR MOTIVES
15. Why is it profitable for us to give attention to counsel that responsible ones in the congregation may give?
15 Jehovah loves all those who approach him in faith. He desires service and obedience from the heart. (Rom. 6:17) Accordingly it is the objective of the Christian congregation to make clear what Jehovah’s will is, and to help all the congregation’s members to understand why—to aid all to know Jehovah more fully. Therefore, it is very profitable for us to pay attention to the counsel that responsible ones in the congregation give on problems that arise.—Compare Exodus 18:15, 16.
16-18. How may a person analyze his own attitude and motives in connection with doing something that may appear to be a right?
16 If you are troubled over some question involving your rights, it is good to analyze just what your thinking and motives are and how they line up with God’s way of thinking. To illustrate by example, we will select the matter of a man or a boy wearing long, poorly groomed hair. Perhaps you like that style and wear your hair that way, and one of the brothers has suggested that it would be appropriate to have your hair cut and wear it more neatly.
17 You could ask, ‘Do I wear the style because I think it makes my appearance better, or is it because of the people with whom I associate? Are these people associates in the congregation, or in the outside world? If others in the congregation wear the style, is it the mature ones, the elders or ministerial servants, those zealous in their ministry who do so?’ In thinking about this, keep in mind the apostle’s admonition to “remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.”—Heb. 13:7.
18 Then ask, ‘With whom does my style classify me in the eyes of people in general? Would someone on whom I call identify me as a minister of Jehovah’s witnesses?’ Why would you feel strange among outside associates if you did not wear long hair? Do you fear what they might say? Do you feel that they expect you, as one of Jehovah’s witnesses, to dress as they do? Or do you think they would respect you more if, as a minister, you dressed as they do?
19, 20. What example is it wise to follow if brothers in the congregation recommend that we make some change in a style or practice we are following?
19 If the responsible brothers in the congregation recommend that you change your style, or if others feel it is not befitting a minister, would you be willing to change? Perhaps you might think that they are mistaken, or perhaps out-of-date, and that there is no need to change just because others in the congregation are disturbed. Then, would you accept the pattern that Christ himself set?
20 Of Jesus, the apostle Paul said: “For even the Christ did not please himself; but just as it is written: ‘The reproaches of those who were reproaching you have fallen upon me.’” (Rom. 15:3) Christ did not demand his rights. It would have been much more convenient for him to take a different course. But, then, what help would he have been to us?—Matt. 26:53, 54; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15.
21. How does the apostle Paul show that it is unchristian for a member of the congregation to insist on some practice that stumbles others?
21 What if someone were to ask you to stop eating meat because some in the congregation were stumbled because of it? What? Give up a right so fundamental as this? Yet the apostle Paul followed Christ’s example when he wrote: “So, then, let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another. Stop tearing down the work of God just for the sake of food. . . . It is well not to eat flesh or to drink wine or do anything over which your brother stumbles.” Then Paul says to one whose conscience was not bothered by the eating of meat but who would abstain for the sake of the welfare of the congregation: “The faith that you have, have it in accord with yourself in the sight of God.”—Rom. 14:19-22; compare 1 Corinthians 8:12, 13.
22. Give other reasons why we should change a practice or style that our brothers feel is casting a false reflection on the good news of the Kingdom.
22 So it is better to give in and have the satisfaction of knowing within yourself that you are pleasing God even though you may not fully agree with others’ opinions, even though you feel what you are now doing is all right. After all, if you wear some style that pleases you, who see it most? Who know what it really looks like on you and can compare your appearance with that of others? You do not see yourself, do you? No, it is others who see you from all angles. If your brothers feel your appearance gives the wrong impression to people, or misrepresents or casts a bad reflection on the message you bear, why not change, and be happy?
NOT STYLE, BUT SEPARATENESS FROM WORLDLY PRACTICES
23. What was the situation in Israel for a man who preferred to be clean shaven instead of growing a beard?
23 We can view the matter of style, or of dress, from another standpoint. Suppose that you, as a man, lived in Israelite times, under the Law, and did not like a beard. Perhaps you liked the way Egyptians looked, clean shaven. What would you do? Would you exercise your personal right to shave? No, for you would not have such a right. You would have to wear a beard, because the Law commanded all males: “You must not cut your sidelocks short around, and you must not destroy the extremity of your beard.”—Lev. 19:27; 21:5.
24. What was the reason for the law requiring Israelites to wear a beard?
24 Was this Law given because of style? No. It was to keep the Israelites from imitating the practice of some of the pagan nations around them. Israelites were to keep their beards trimmed, neat, well groomed, however. An untended beard or a shaved-off one betokened grief and mourning because of some calamity. (2 Sam. 19:24-28; Isa. 7:20) The hair was also periodically cut, unless one was under a Nazirite vow. In Ezekiel’s prophecy the priests are commanded to clip their hair and not wear it loose.—Ezek. 44:15, 20.
25, 26. How does God’s Word give us his view as to propriety in clothing styles?
25 Also, God recognized that a style of clothing can classify one wrongly when he commanded that “no garb of an able-bodied man should be put upon a woman, neither should an able-bodied man wear the mantle of a woman; for anybody doing these things is something detestable to Jehovah your God.” (Deut. 22:5) Why? Because it would be an inducement to immorality.
26 So while there are some styles of clothing that have similarity, such as women’s slacks and men’s trousers, yet there is usually a definite distinction in style or material. But when one wears clothing so that he or she is virtually indistinguishable from the opposite sex, this is bad in Jehovah’s eyes. The same is true with clothing that is so tight or scanty that it is conducive to immorality and classifies the individual with those who have a reputation for detestable practices. If, then, you feel like insisting on a certain style of hair or dress, or some practice, ask yourself, ‘Am I doing it to imitate worldly persons?’
“NATURE ITSELF” TEACHES US
27, 28. (a) How does the apostle Paul give us a good guideline as to what is proper for a Christian, as to style? (b) What do certain Bible scholars say in regard to the word “nature”?
27 There are no specific rules set out in the Bible, as, for instance, how long one’s hair should be, or the length of a skirt. But the inspired apostle does set forth good guidelines that enable the sincere, dedicated Christian, and the congregation, to know when a style or custom is appropriate, proper. He says: “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him; but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? Because her hair is given her instead of a headdress.”—1 Cor. 11:14, 15.
28 Concerning these words of the apostle, Bible scholar Albert Barnes observed:
“The word nature . . . denotes evidently that sense of propriety which all men have, and which is expressed in any prevailing or universal custom. . . . It is such as is demanded by the natural sense of fitness among men . . . The word in this place, therefore, does not mean the constitution of the sexes, . . . nor simple use and custom, . . . but it refers to a deep internal sense of what is proper and right.”
And Greek scholar Dr. A. T. Robertson says:
“Here it means native sense of propriety (cf. Rom. 2:14) in addition to mere custom, but one that rests on the objective difference in the constitution of things.”
29. (a) Why does a Christian not need rules as to what to do and what not to do? (b) If, in some instance, a person does not know, what should he do?
29 It is therefore not a matter of having to be told exactly what to do and what not to do, as by rules. If we are Christians and our hearts love that which is right, we know by nature, particularly by our trained conscience, whether a thing adds to or detracts from the glory of the good news we preach. We know whether we are building up or tearing down the reputation or the image of the congregation in the eyes of others. But, if anyone does not know, then he should let himself be directed by the good conscience of the Christian congregation. Let him accept the good counsel and rely on the good judgment of the responsible brothers.—Prov. 12:15.
30. (a) Under what obligation are all those with positions of responsibility in the congregation? (b) What is a guiding principle that will keep us safe? (c) Why should we be concerned with duties more than with rights?
30 True Christians love one another, and those in responsible positions are under obligation to do only what is best for their brothers, whether it be in the example they set, or the counsel they give. And the actions of all of us should always be guided by the principle: Am I ‘adorning the teaching of our Savior, God, in all things’? If we take care of our duties, working whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men, Jehovah will reward us with blessings far greater than any “rights” that we may establish for ourselves, along with years of life and peace.—Titus 2:10; Col. 3:23, 24; Prov. 3:1, 2.