Watch Out for Spiritual Uncleanness
OF HIS disciples, Jesus Christ said: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:14) Does this mean that true Christians are to be recluses, or to avoid having anything to do with people? No, for if that were the case they would have to get out of the world. (1 Cor. 5:10) They are “no part of the world” in that they do not join the world in its search for power, riches, unrestrained pleasures and wrong practices. (Matt. 6:31, 32; 1 Pet. 4:3) They have, for the most part, the same kind of jobs, wear similar clothing and enjoy many similar ways of relaxation. But they do not participate in the world’s strife and its political and religious schemes to perpetuate the failing system of things with its disappointing hopes.
If Christians should engage in the immoral, deceptive, self-seeking ways of the world, they would be unclean, contaminated in God’s eyes. They would be unusable in pure worship as ‘vessels’ for Jehovah’s use.—2 Cor. 6:17; 2 Tim. 2:21, 22.
Similarly, a Christian cannot “hang around the fringes” of the world’s ways, walking on the border line of Christian living, and remain clean. Such a person is double-minded, not wholly devoted to God. He will become increasingly negligent toward spiritual things and unsteady in devotion.—Jas. 1:6-8.
A BIBLE HISTORICAL EXAMPLE
Even close association with such neglectful persons can adversely affect the spirituality of others. God, through his prophet Haggai, drove this point home to the Israelites who had returned from exile in Babylon. Jehovah had kindly released them and had protected the small remnant of them who had returned in a long, hazardous journey across a desert land. At that time their hearts were set to restore Jehovah’s worship by rebuilding God’s temple. They arrived at Jerusalem, then a desolated place. Jehovah continued to bless their activity as they laid the temple foundation. The land came under cultivation and they built homes for themselves.
Nevertheless, though they had experienced such blessings when faithful, many persons among this small repatriated group forgot the very thing for which God had brought them back. They became indifferent toward completing the temple—toward exalting God’s name in true worship. They were more concerned with decorating their own homes than with Jehovah’s house. But Jehovah brought them back to their senses. He convicted them of their bad spiritual state out of the mouth of their priests, who knew the Law. He asked them: “If a man carries holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and he actually touches with his skirt bread or stew or wine or oil or any sort of food, will it become holy?” The priests answered: “No!”—Hag. 2:10-12.
“Holy flesh” was the flesh of an animal that had been offered to Jehovah in sacrifice. The portion that the priests received was to be eaten in a “holy” or “clean” place. (Lev. 10:14, 17) But even though a man carried holy flesh in his garment, that garment in touching some other food could not, in turn, impart holiness to that food.
Then “Haggai went on to say: ‘If someone unclean by a deceased soul touches any of these things, will it become unclean?’ In turn the priests answered and said: ‘It will become unclean.’” (Hag. 2:13; compare Numbers 19:11-13.) Here the priests acknowledged that anything unclean imparted uncleanness to that which it happened to touch.
Since the Israelites were negligent toward God’s worship because of being so busy carrying out their own selfish desires, they were unclean. And their uncleanness was, in effect, transmitted to everything they touched. God said: “‘That is how this people is, and that is how this nation is before me,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and that is how all the work of their hands is, and whatever they present there [at the temporary altar they had erected]. It is unclean.’” (Hag. 2:14) Their planting of crops, therefore, was not accompanied by God’s blessing on the produce of their fields and on the work of their hands. Instead, it suffered mildew and drought.—Hag. 2:15-19.
Jehovah could not bless them until they ‘returned’ to him by cleansing themselves from their indifference. They still offered sacrifices, yes, but Jehovah counts obedience and wholehearted devotion as more important than mere sacrifices, or than a mere show of worshipful devotion.—1 Sam. 15:22.
Happily, Bible history shows that the Israelites listened to the counsel of Haggai and Zechariah and that they finished the temple building. The Bible also indicates that Israel did enjoy prosperity, as God had promised at Deuteronomy 28:1-14.—Hag. 2:18, 19.
INSTRUCTION FOR CHRISTIANS TODAY
What Jehovah said and did in connection with the nation of Israel back there was not merely for their benefit. It revealed His way of thinking and dealing. By considering these things, we can keep our lives ordered properly. The apostle Paul wrote: “Now these things went on befalling them as examples, and they were written for a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived.”—1 Cor. 10:11.
With Paul’s words in mind, we can consider Haggai’s conversation with the priests regarding cleanness and uncleanness to determine wherein it provides a warning for us. We find there the principle that a person who, as a “vessel” of Jehovah, is bearing something holy cannot pass on holiness to another person automatically or easily, without effort. For example, true Christians have the truth ‘present in them’ and God’s spirit ‘dwelling in them,’ making them clean or holy in God’s sight. (2 Pet. 1:12; Rom. 8:9) But it takes effort on their part to speak the truth and to live the truth, to keep their vessels “in sanctification and honor.” (1 Thess. 4:4) And persons of the unclean world who merely come in contact with Christians do not automatically become holy or clean. Even if they accept the truth of the good news, it takes time and effort to teach them and to show them the proper example, and diligence on their own part to listen, to learn and to clean up their lives.
On the other hand, a Christian may easily be contaminated by association with those who do not have appreciation for the truth or for Bible principles. As the Christian apostle Paul pointed out: “Do you not know that a little leaven ferments the whole lump?” (1 Cor. 5:6) Consequently, Christians must keep a very careful watch on their associations, for therein lies a great peril. Sadly, however, in the face of this truth, some associated with the congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses may feel that there is nothing dangerous about having close social fellowship with those that are not baptized, devoted servants of Jehovah. This can be a trap.
Of course, there are persons with whom you may be studying, and some of these are very fine people, making progress, loving association with you and the members of the congregation. These need your association to the extent necessary to encourage and to help them. But there are those who have no interest in what the Bible has to say, or who do not particularly care to listen to the good news. Some of these persons may be upright, respectable people according to the world’s standards. But close association with them is bad, for the reason that all persons who are not devoted Christians engage in things not pleasing to God and can be a contaminating influence. They can take the Christian’s time, his mind and heart away from true worship. At Ephesians 2:3 the apostle reminds Christians: “Yes, among them we all at one time conducted ourselves in harmony with the desires of our flesh, doing the things willed by the flesh and the thoughts, and we were naturally children of wrath even as the rest.”
Likewise, if a person in the Christian congregation is indifferent toward pure worship and the service of God, such carelessness and negligence could act like spiritual leaven and infect others in the congregation. Therefore, if you are a Christian, watch yourself. You may become unclean by becoming neglectful of true worship. You may develop slackness in regard to association with Jehovah’s people at meetings, field service, gatherings at assemblies. Your love for the brothers may cool off. You may even suffer loss of faith, “the sin that easily entangles us.” (Heb. 12:1) Then you yourself can actually become a contaminating influence to others. By close social association with persons of the world, or even with Christians who are halfhearted, cool, fearful or indifferent toward pure worship, you could lose out on spiritual blessings and even on life itself.
SPIRITUAL PROSPERITY TO CLEAN ONES
Those who keep themselves clean, maintaining strong faith and concern for pure worship and for fellow Christians, do not expect great material prosperity. It is spiritual blessings and prosperity they seek. At the same time they are assured that they will receive the material things that they really need. (Matt. 6:31-34) The evidence is strong that Jehovah has poured out great spiritual prosperity upon his Christian witnesses in this time. They have exerted every effort to get the good news of the Kingdom preached to the widest possible extent. Their preaching has expanded to more than 200 lands, and the remarkable increase of hundreds of thousands of persons joining them each year in pure worship testifies to Jehovah’s blessing. These are facts of historical record, and can be found in the columns of The Watchtower* and in the annual Yearbook of Jehovah’s witnesses.
Jehovah is very loving toward his people and will help those who love him to succeed. And if we keep on the watch we can enjoy the outcome confidently expressed by the Bible writer: “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. 10:39.
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