A Free People—but Obedient
“Be as free people, and yet holding your freedom, not as a blind for badness, but as slaves of God. Honor men of all sorts, have love for the whole association of brothers, be in fear of God.”—1 Pet. 2:16, 17.
1. What freedom did the apostle Paul show that he and his fellow disciples had?
“CHRIST set us free. Therefore stand fast, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery.” Thus wrote the apostle Paul after describing the freedom of the sons of God, who were also sons of His free heavenly organization, “the Jerusalem above,” their “mother.” This “mother” organization, having the freedom of perfect relationship with God, was, nevertheless, represented as the ‘wife’ of Jehovah God. So, as such, her freedom was relative. She was subject to the headship of her great heavenly Husband. And as sons, Paul and his fellow followers of Christ had also a relative freedom, for they were subject to their heavenly “Father” and “mother.” As children, they were bound to be obedient to ‘the discipline of their father and the law of their mother.’—Gal. 5:1; 4:26; Prov. 1:8.
2. Why are God’s people free, and yet why is their freedom not absolute?
2 God’s people are free today because they ‘know the truth, and the truth has set them free.’ (John 8:32) The freedom they have, however, is for good, not bad. They can practice to the full the fruits of the spirit, for “against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:23) These fruits are all that is necessary for complete happiness; doing badness only brings bondage again to sin and death. In order to keep practicing that which is good and beneficial, they have to render obedience to the One who set them free, Jesus Christ.
A SUBJECTION THAT BRINGS GOOD
3. What subjection, requiring obedience, has God established in the Christian congregation?
3 Also, God has provided an arrangement on earth to which he has made his people subject. This is the congregational organization. In it he has set certain ones to shepherd and guide his congregational “flock.” Men are placed in positions to help the congregation to carry out the work entrusted to it, namely, the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom. Also, these men look out for the individual welfare of the congregation members, helping them to apply the principles of the Bible in their lives. To these men the Christian is also to be obedient, the apostle commanding: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.”—Heb. 13:17.
4. Under what other laws of obedience has God placed the Christian, and are these a hindrance to the Christian ministry?
4 Furthermore, Christians are commanded to “be in subjection to the superior authorities,” governmental rulers in this world. They are to be obedient to the laws that do not conflict with God’s laws. (Rom. 13:1; compare Acts 4:19; 5:29.) Christian slaves are to be subject to their masters, this principle applying today to employees, who should exhibit “good fidelity to the full.” (Titus 2:9, 10) Children are to obey their parents. (Eph. 6:1-3) All these commands do not restrict Christians from doing good and carrying out their Christian ministry, but, rather, through obedience to these laws they glorify God and advance the Kingdom interests.
5. In what way are Christians in subjection to all their brothers?
5 Now, in addition to these various authorities to which the Christian must be subject, which subjection works to his good and his greater freedom and happiness, the apostle goes even farther, exhorting: “In showing honor to one another take the lead.” (Rom. 12:10) In a way, then, all Christians are in subjection to all their brothers, for they must serve their brothers’ interests ahead of their own.—Mark 10:44; 1 Pet. 5:5.
OBEDIENCE A DISTINGUISHING MARK
6. What outstandingly marks the difference between the true Christian and the worldly person today?
6 In what position does this put the Christian as compared with those who have the attitude of the world in general? His is the course of obedience, while theirs is one of disobedience. This is the key point that marks the difference. So, with what seriousness we should take the matter of obedience!
7. How might we be tempted to take up some worldly “cause,” but what should we keep in mind?
7 However, we may be tempted sometimes to do otherwise. We see all around us disobedience to every form of authority. We hear that kind of talk. We see injustices, and we may begin to feel that these disobedient persons are justified. We may begin to take up their “cause” and may even begin to think we see reasons to take up the fight in the Christian congregation. It may be that youths and others in the world feel they have reasons for rebelling against conditions in the world. True, there are injustices. Let worldly persons do what they like. But neither the youths among us nor any of God’s people should be fighting the world’s battles. And they certainly have no reason to rebel or be in the least disobedient to God’s arrangement.
8. What would you say as to disobedience to Moses’ words, in view of the scene at Mount Sinai?
8 Consider the position of God’s people now, as described in the Scriptures. Paul compares the situation of Israel under Moses with that of the Christian congregation, saying: “For you have not approached that which can be felt and which has been set aflame with fire, and a dark cloud and thick darkness and a tempest, and the blare of a trumpet and the voice of words; on hearing which voice the people implored that no word should be added to them. For the command was not bearable to them: ‘And if a beast touches the mountain, it must be stoned.’ Also, the display was so fearsome that Moses said: ‘I am fearful and trembling.’” (Heb. 12:18-21) Even so, some thought that they had justification to show disobedience to Moses. Would you have joined such men and women if you had been present at that fearsome display at Mount Sinai?
9, 10. Why is it much more serious for the Christian to be disobedient?
9 Paul goes on to describe a more awe-inspiring scene: “But you have approached a Mount Zion and a city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem, and myriads of angels, in general assembly, and the congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens, and God the Judge of all, and the spiritual lives of righteous ones who have been made perfect, and Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling, which speaks in a better way than Abel’s blood.”—Heb. 12:22-24.
10 Then Paul admonishes: “See that you do not beg off from him who is speaking. For if they did not escape who begged off from him who was giving divine warning upon earth, much more shall we not if we turn away from him who speaks from the heavens.” “Let us continue to have undeserved kindness, through which we may acceptably render God sacred service with godly fear and awe.”—Heb. 12:25, 28.
HOW DO YOU ACCEPT COUNSEL?
11, 12. In what ways might we show disregard or disrespect for counsel given to us by a responsible brother, but why would we be thereby working against our best interests?
11 Do we believe that this is actually true, that Christians stand in such a fear-inspiring position? Then with what attitude should we listen to the spiritual admonition we constantly get? And how should we react if a situation should arise in which someone in authority, a brother, offers counsel? Should we take it as an insult or an affront, feeling, ‘What right has he to talk like this to me?’ or, ‘I have a right to do (or not do) it; he has no authority to make me’?
12 Why would such attitude be wrong? And why would it be equally wrong to appear to listen merely because we know we ought to respect the one talking to us, and even agree verbally, but actually letting the counsel go ‘in one ear and out the other’? Because, although there are some things the congregation cannot command, they are things for the welfare of the entire congregation, including you, for your welfare is tied up with the congregation, if you want years of life and peace added to you.
13. What is one saying, in effect, who disregards counsel given, and what Bible instruction should he seriously consider?
13 Actually, what would a person be doing if he displayed the above-described attitude? He would be saying, in effect, that God is not directing his congregation, that He is not teaching us the right way through his organization. It is showing lack of faith. Do any of us really want to say that? He should seriously consider the apostle’s words at Hebrews 3:16-19; 4:11-13; 12:1.
NOT ALL FREEDOMS ARE RIGHTS
14. (a) What principle will enable us to know what things we may be physically free to do, yet lack the right to do? (b) If we override counsel from the congregation regarding associations, what are we going to run up against?
14 Let us consider a situation in which the congregation cannot command us to do or not do something. There are things we have freedom to do, in the sense that no one is likely to stop us. We have physical freedom, for example, to associate with anyone we wish, but we have no right as Christians to carry on association with the world. Bad associations are not advantageous to oneself or one’s brothers in the congregation, neither do they build up. Of course, the congregation cannot enforce on an individual the consequences of violating the principle that “bad associations spoil useful habits,” but he will, nevertheless, reap the harmful results, for God can and will enforce all his laws. “God is not one to be mocked.”—1 Cor. 15:33; Gal. 6:7.
15. If we follow the “way-out” styles, with whom are we associating?
15 If we want to follow or imitate the world’s fads, with “way-out” styles and its ways of doing things, we can do it, but does it build up? With whom are we associating? Mainly the entertainment world. It may seem to us that they are in the majority and that their voice represents the majority because they are the ones we see on TV and in movies. But who is among the foremost in propagating corruption? Again, the entertainment world. On stage and screen they present nudity, sexual intercourse, perversion, and try to make films more and more shocking, gruesome and revolting. One movie advertised that each patron would be supplied with a “distress bag” in case he had to vomit during the picture.
16. If a person begins to go along in imitating the worldly crowd, what question might be asked about him?
16 Now, if an individual begins to go along in imitation of the entertainment crowd, or those who love the things they portray, how far is he going to go? Will he take off his clothes when they do? Will he do as patrons in a New York theater were invited to do, namely, come up on stage and join the action? Few will want to do that. But if a person goes partway following the pattern these people set, where will he stop? And the Christian who brings the least trace of their attitude into his life contaminates it. Therefore he has no right to bring such things into the congregation, but, rather, he has a DUTY to keep them out.
17. How can one tell whether a certain practice is good or not?
17 The apostle tells us the thing that determines whether we should follow a certain practice or not. He says: “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.” Each can analyze his actions. If these truly help others spiritually, he is doing well.—1 Cor. 10:24.
ASSISTING THE CONGREGATION IN ITS FIGHT
18. What is a very serious question at this time, and how are we connected with that question?
18 In this time, when every feature and institution of this world’s system of things is contaminated, corrupt and decaying away, the issue is, Will the congregation of God also be infiltrated and corrupted? Will it stand clean as the only organization in the world to glorify God’s name and his righteous principles? This is a very serious question. It is directly connected with the great issue of God’s sovereignty. Do not think for a minute that the Devil is not putting up the bitterest possible war against the congregation. And do not think you are not in the fight, for he is fighting to contaminate YOU, the individual Christian.—Rev. 12:17.
19. What means has Jehovah provided to keep the congregation clean, and what does this call for on our part?
19 God’s congregation will stand, as the Bible foretold. (2 Tim. 2:19) God has put men in positions of responsibility to see that it is kept clean, and that the individual members of the congregation are protected by the help of these spiritual men. Therefore, when these men give counsel, act to reprove a sinning member, or even expel a rebellious one from the congregation, all of us should cooperate. We should rejoice that God has set up such a protective arrangement.
20. How can the counsel at Colossians 3:2 aid us to cooperate fully with the congregation?
20 We can cooperate with the congregation by ‘keeping our minds fixed on the things above, not on the things upon the earth.’ “The things upon the earth” are things that often appeal to us. We may at first have a hard time seeing the difference between the freedom we are allowed to have to do these things and the right to do them. But if we study, meditate and concentrate on “the things above,” the things of God, we can see clearly what our attitude ought to be.—Col. 3:2.
21. How can we show loyalty to the congregation when a brother is corrected or reproved by those in responsible positions?
21 Then, we can also show loyalty to the congregation of God by supporting its fight to keep itself clean and to help by counsel or discipline those who err. Rather than cause a brother to feel that correction given to him was wrong, we can speak kindly with him, showing him where his course was unwise, reproving him, helping him to see how he can straighten out his path and be much happier. We can assist the elders in the congregation in their efforts to “readjust” him. (Gal. 6:1) We will avoid making that one feel justified. If we speak against the corrective action, we are thereby working against his interests. As the Scriptures say, we are ‘hating our brother in our heart.’—Lev. 19:17.
DANGER OF BEING BROUGHT UNDER WRONG AUTHORITY
22, 23. Explain the apostle’s words at 1 Corinthians 6:12, 13.
22 There is another way of viewing the question of how far our freedom as a Christian goes and where obedience to God comes in to limit it. Consider the apostle’s words: “All things are lawful for me; but not all things are advantageous. All things are lawful for me; but I will not let myself be brought under authority by anything.” The apostle mentions as an example the eating of food. Nothing could be more clearly established as right. But Paul points out that if the eating of certain foods creates an issue with others in the congregation, the Christian should be willing to give way. In the face of the Kingdom interests and compared to the interests of his brothers, it amounts to nothing. Paul says: “Foods for the belly, and the belly for foods; but God will bring both it and them to nothing.”—1 Cor. 6:12, 13; 10:23.
23 Food is something that is destroyed when eaten. It does not last. Also, the one given over merely to satisfying his fleshly appetite or desire will be destroyed in due time by God. So, really, what is that Christian doing who insists on a certain way despite the congregation’s feelings or in the face of Biblical counsel to the contrary? He is being brought under subjection to wrong authority by his attitude, by his determination or insistence on doing the certain things he selfishly wants to do. He is acting disobediently toward God. To whom, therefore, is he rendering obedience and service? To God’s adversary. He is actually enslaved to a course that is not good, and his attitude will lead him into real trouble in his life if he continues.
24. To whom did Paul’s words about the critical times in the “last days” apply, and how should this give us serious concern?
24 That is why Paul wrote to Timothy, an overseer in Ephesus, warning that “in the last days” men would become “headstrong,” “lovers of themselves,” “self-assuming,” “not open to any agreement.” Such things, Paul warned Timothy, would be manifest on a large scale among professed Christians of Christendom. But these conditions should not be allowed to creep into the true Christian congregation itself. So, if a person in the congregation is headstrong, he is in a worse position than the headstrong ones in the world, for the apostle Peter says that ‘judgment starts with the house of God.’ Such a person is more accountable to God than the one outside the congregation. He is in a very dangerous position.—2 Tim. 3:1-5; 1 Pet. 4:17.
BEWARE OF BEING FOR A “CHANGE”
25. Why should Christians not join with those trying to change the world for the better?
25 There exists a danger to all, especially to younger persons, because there is a ferment everywhere for a “change.” Many seeking changes are doubtless honest persons, seeing corruption and injustice and wanting something better, yet not knowing what it should be. But those who are informed about God’s kingdom and who associate with God’s congregation know about its theocratic structure; they know that it is in line with the principles of God’s Word. These persons should realize that the world is thoroughly permeated by selfishness that is diametrically opposed to righteous principles, and it cannot be changed for the better. There is no reason to attempt it. And they should also know that they should not try to change God’s congregation according to their own private concepts, or according to the concepts of those pushing for changes in the world. To do so would be to bring the spirit of the world into the congregation, which must remain no part of this world.
26. How do the Scriptures warn of the danger to those who want to bring changes into the congregation according to their own ideas or those of the world?
26 What is the result of the dangerous course of demanding a change, thinking that God’s congregation is “archaic,” or at least that it is not conforming itself sufficiently to modern ways and ideas? Perhaps this attitude will manifest itself in an attempt to establish certain personal “rights” in the congregation. Note what the wise man says to his son, in the book of Proverbs: “My son, fear Jehovah and the king. With those who are for a change, do not intermeddle. For their disaster will arise so suddenly, that who is aware of the extinction of those who are for a change?”—Prov. 24:21, 22.
27. What will be the outcome to those who exercise the freedom God gives them, at the same time recognizing the requirement of full obedience?
27 Jehovah loves those who are obedient to him. He loves the person who reads his Word, meditates on it, and applies its good counsel directly to himself, no matter how directly the counsel may hit him. What freedom Jehovah grants to those who are obedient to him! He will change the appearance of this earth by wiping out its polluters. In time all mankind will be delivered into “the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The relationship of a loving father and obedient sons will be restored. Through his unmatched love for his obedient sons Jehovah will be able to pour out inexhaustible spiritual and material riches upon them to all eternity!—Rom. 8:21; Rev. 11:18.