Does Fear of Neighbor Control Your Life?
MOST people, if asked the question, ‘Does fear of neighbor control your life?’ would likely answer, ‘No.’ And in some respects they would be right. Your neighbor does not tell you what to eat, what to wear, what kind of car to drive or, usually, what to believe.
But what about acting on what you believe—living your religion? Ah, there a test presents itself. This is particularly true where the community or neighborhood is dominantly of one religion. If you happen to be timid or fearful of what your neighbors might think or say, it can create a miserable situation for you.
Often in the community it makes no difference if a person changes his religion as long as it is to an “accepted” religion of Christendom, or of the local area. But if it is the religion of Jehovah’s witnesses, then opposition, even a furor, may be aroused.
When a person gets a true knowledge of the Bible’s standards and requirements for life, people see marked changes in his way of life. But do these changes give valid cause for others to oppose? No, for actually the truth causes men to become better husbands, more honest businessmen, more reliable employees. Women become better wives and mothers, better neighbors, happier in their lives. This is because they ‘seek first the Kingdom and God’s righteousness’ and make over their personalities according to the Bible’s high principles.—Matt. 6:33; Rom. 12:2.
There have been thousands of instances where persons straightened up their lives and forsook bad practices such as sexual immorality, drug abuse, stealing and like things, through study of the Bible and association with Jehovah’s witnesses. Yet they have been opposed by their associates and even by their own families. Why? Why, instead, are not such associates glad that the person has made something of himself in the sight of God and men?
WHY SOME OPPOSE
In many cases opposition is due to ignorance on the part of the opposers. They do not themselves study the Bible and therefore do not understand why a person is motivated to change his way of life. They may look on him as forsaking his former friends. Again, some oppose because of misinformation, lies that have been told about Jehovah’s witnesses—that they are fanatics, that all they can talk about is the Bible, that they are subversive, that they hate others, that they do not believe in Christ, and so forth. These misinformed people may be honest in their opposition. The Christian’s firm and steadfast course may help them to see the truth.
The apostle Peter pointed to another reason for opposition from former associates when he said to those who had taken up Christianity: “Because you do not continue running with them in this course to the same low sink of debauchery, they are puzzled and go on speaking abusively of you. But these people will render an account to the one ready to judge those living and those dead.” (1 Pet. 4:4, 5) The truth condemns the wrong course of action of many and they do not like it. But fear of this abusive reaction is certainly no valid reason for a Christian to return to his former degraded level.
Remember, also, that in taking the name of Jehovah upon you, and in telling others about the Kingdom under Jesus Christ, you are supporting a different government for this earth—a heavenly government that will destroy this present wicked system of things. (Acts 17:31; Dan. 2:44) In so doing, you are bound to incur the enmity of this world. Jesus said to his disciples: “You will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name”—not simply the name “Christian,” but Christ’s name as “King of kings,” whose kingdom will rule the earth in righteousness.—Matt. 24:9; Rev. 19:16.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
Perhaps you are now studying the Bible with Jehovah’s witnesses, or you may be a newly baptized person. Does fear of what the community thinks make you wonder if you can continue to serve God? Take confidence. God is just as interested in you as you are in him, yes, more so. He wants you to live, not die. He loves you and values your life highly. (Luke 12:4-7; 21:16-19) “I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you,” he has said. (Heb. 13:5) Therefore, he will help you if you loyally rely on him. He has helped other people who stood firm.—2 Pet. 2:7-9.
Also, think: Do my neighbors have the way to eternal life? What can they give me that is sure and lasting? What hope did I have when I associated with them and followed their way of life? Did I learn about God and his provisions from them? Knowing where the truth is to be found, should I not hold fast to it?—John 6:68.
Remember, too, that the purpose of a Christian’s life on earth is to help others. (Phil. 2:4) You may please your opposers by giving in and going back to the old way, but will you be helping them? It might seem to be a victory for them, but would it be in their best interests? Would you be showing love to them? Jesus had great opposition in his own community and even endured sharp remarks from his own unbelieving fleshly half brothers. But he knew that the only way he could help them was to remain true to the course God had set for him.—Mark 6:1-6; John 7:3-5.
What if Jesus had given up and gone the popular way? The whole world would have lost all opportunity for life. But because of love for his neighbors, yes, even for his enemies, Jesus Christ continued to stick to the truth. His faithfulness resulted in great blessing to all mankind.
Also, think what would have happened to Jehovah’s witnesses in Germany had they forsaken their neutral position as to Hitler’s political and military program. They would have been swallowed up by that regime, and thousands of German people now serving God would not have had an opportunity to hear the truth.
Furthermore, people respect courage, but despise the one who fearfully shrinks back. Those few of Jehovah’s witnesses who denied their faith while in the German concentration camps during World War II were held up to ridicule before the entire camp by the Nazi officers, reviled as hypocrites and cowards. Some of them were asked, “Now that you have denied your God Jehovah, what god will you serve?” Some compromisers were sent to the war front, where they were killed. Others, losing God’s protection by shrinking back, were temporarily spared, but were killed by the Russians when they invaded.
If you love your family, you cannot afford to forsake the service of God and association with his people. You have the truth. Your family, perhaps, and your neighbors do not. You have a responsibility to them, as the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching. Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”—1 Tim. 4:16.
Moreover, do you love Jehovah God and his Son Jesus Christ? Do you appreciate what they have done for you? If so, you will stick by them. Just as a loving father would say to his son with regard to reproach upon the family name, Jehovah says to you: “Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice, that I may make a reply to him that is taunting me.” (Prov. 27:11) One who remains faithful brings honor to God and gets his favor. One who draws back in fear brings great reproach upon Jehovah. The Scriptures say: “‘My righteous one will live by reason of faith,’ and, ‘if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ Now we are not the sort that shrink back to destruction, but the sort that have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.”—Heb. 10:38, 39; Luke 9:62.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO OVERCOME FEAR
What can you do if fear of neighbor tends to hold you back? Jesus’ half-brother James, who lived in Jerusalem where the community was bitterly opposed to the teaching of Christ and the apostles, wrote: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials, knowing as you do that this tested quality of your faith works out endurance. But let endurance have its work complete, that you may be complete and sound in all respects, not lacking in anything. So, if any one of you is lacking in wisdom, let him keep on asking God, for he gives generously to all and without reproaching; and it will be given him.”—Jas. 1:2-5.
James here points out that you may not have the wisdom, in yourself, to face a trial successfully. It may seem that there is no way out. But, if you ask, God is happy to give you the needed wisdom, as well as strength. (Phil. 4:13) And God does not reproach you for being weak or asking for help, but gives generously, wholeheartedly. You should not feel that your personal problem is too little, that he counts you as foolish to present it to him.
One of the most effective ways to overcome fear is to associate with those who are strong, confident. “Two are better than one . . . For if one of them should fall, the other one can raise his partner up.” (Eccl. 4:9, 10) Do not neglect regular, constant association with Jehovah’s witnesses. Even the apostle Paul needed the strength he could gain from fellow Christians.—Col. 4:11; compare Romans 1:11, 12.
If you do these things you can be sure of help. You can be confident you will stand. God will hold you up. He will not leave you “in the lurch.” (2 Cor. 4:8, 9) The ridicule of others does not make God abandon his love and care. The apostle Paul said: “I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor governments nor things now here nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Rom. 8:38, 39.
“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13) The way out is not to forsake God, to be a sad failure, losing out on life for yourself and, perhaps, for your family and neighbors. The way out is a way that God provides to keep you from falling prey to fear and loss of faith. It is a way by which you can gain the victory and be happy. “Trembling at men is what lays a snare, but he that is trusting in Jehovah will be protected.” The snare—fear of men—is the thing to be delivered from, letting love for God, not fear of your neighbor, control your life.—Prov. 29:25.