Do Not Let Your Faith Be Shipwrecked by Discouragement or Personalities
“Go on waging the fine warfare; holding faith and a good conscience, which some have thrust aside and have experienced shipwreck concerning their faith.”—1 Tim. 1:18, 19.
1. How are Christians like ships in the sea?
CHRISTIANS in this unrighteous world of mankind are like ships in the open sea. Both are faced with constant dangers. Storms that stir the sea to violence can break a ship in two. Reefs and icebergs can rip gaping holes, sending the ship quickly to the bottom of the ocean. Poor visibility or loss of power or steering can cause collisions with other ships or a running aground. Likewise, Christians can experience the shipwreck of their faith if they are not always alert to the perils of this world. The millions of people in this world who do not know God are like a restless sea, and Christians are as though afloat in this sea of mankind. (Isa. 57:20, 21) Jesus recognized that his disciples would have to continue on for a while in this world, but they were to be no part of it. (John 17:11, 14-16) Like a ship, they can be in the sea, but, when the sea begins to get into the ship, that is cause for immediate alarm.
2. While Christians can thus be in the sea of mankind, what danger exists regarding the attitudes and practices of this world?
2 Thus Christians must be ever watchful that the practices and attitudes that are common in this system do not seep into the Christian congregation or bring shipwreck to their faith individually. Two common attitudes and practices that loom up as threats involve discouragement and the letting of personalities distract or turn one aside, and we will deal with these matters in this article.
COPING WITH DISCOURAGEMENT
3, 4. (a) How has Satan used discouraging circumstances to keep mankind enslaved to him? (b) What factors often cause discouragement?
3 The effects of discouragement can be seen deeply etched in the sad faces of the masses of mankind. Satan has used discouraging circumstances for centuries to bring people into slavery to himself and his system, and he takes particular delight in seeing Christians, because of discouragement, slow up or turn away from their resolve to serve Jehovah. Thus the need for Christians to be ever alert that they are not swamped by the waves of discouragement.
4 Many factors cause discouragement. A most common cause involves health. When one does not feel well, and especially so over a long period of time, there is a natural tendency to become withdrawn and to manifest self-pity. There is not the strength or incentive to do what one would like to do. Or, one may be battling a particular weakness or be trying to cope with a disturbing imperfection of the flesh. A chronic illness of a family member or a death in the family brings sorrow and grief. Where all in a family are not Christians, one might experience severe opposition from one’s own marriage mate and even ridicule from the children. Poor living conditions exist in most parts of the world, and poverty, crime and fear are great causes of discouragement.
5. What is of first importance in fighting discouragement successfully?
5 To fight against discouragement successfully, it is very necessary that Christians keep their minds fixed on their relationship with Jehovah and have implicit confidence that he will not fail in giving comfort and assistance to his people in every time of need. While he permits the integrity of his servants to be tested under severe trial at times, he will help those devoted to him to bear up, and he will give relief and deliverance in his time. (Jas. 1:5-8) David, who was faced with many trying situations, wrote under inspiration for our encouragement: “Be courageous, and may your heart be strong, all you who are waiting for Jehovah.”—Ps. 31:24.
6. Why can Christians face sickness and death without letting discouragement overwhelm them?
6 The sure hope of the resurrection takes the sting out of sickness and the fear of death. Keeping our minds refreshed with Jehovah’s grand promises, we are buoyed up in spirit and have the joy and comfort that only Jehovah can give. “Therefore we do not give up, but even if the man we are outside is wasting away, certainly the man we are inside is being renewed from day to day. For though the tribulation is momentary and light, it works out for us a glory that is of more and more surpassing weight and is everlasting; while we keep our eyes, not on the things seen, but on the things unseen. For the things seen are temporary, but the things unseen are everlasting.”—2 Cor. 4:16-18.
7. What serves like an anchor in providing stability now and in the stormy times ahead?
7 In discussing the sure promises of God, Paul wrote to Hebrew Christians: “This hope we have as an anchor for the soul, both sure and firm, and it enters in within the curtain [that is, into heaven itself], where a forerunner has entered in our behalf, Jesus.” (Heb. 6:19, 20) Thus, well-founded and anchorlike hope in Jehovah and in the guaranteed blessings of his new system gives stability and comfort to Christians despite their tribulations in the flesh and stormy conditions surrounding them in this world. “God is for us a refuge and strength, a help that is readily to be found during distresses. That is why we shall not fear, though the earth undergo change and though the mountains totter into the heart of the vast sea; though its waters be boisterous, foam over, though the mountains rock at its uproar.”—Ps. 46:1-3.
8. Why should it not be discouraging if one cannot do as much as one would like to do in Jehovah’s service due to poor health?
8 If sickness or other circumstances prevent you from doing all that you would like to do in Jehovah’s service, you can still rejoice over what you are able to do, remembering Paul’s encouraging and comforting words: “For God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name, in that you have ministered to the holy ones and continue ministering.” (Heb. 6:10) And do not forget that a fine example in integrity and endurance is encouraging to others, even if some physical infirmity has slowed you down somewhat.—Compare 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
9. Why are prayer and association with fellow Christians vital in fighting discouragement?
9 To keep their faith strong and to beat back any feelings of despair and anxiety, Christians know the value of charting their course by God’s Word and constantly checking their position to see where adjustments are needed. They need to keep in close communication with their heavenly Father. “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6, 7) Association with fellow Christians is also vital. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome: “For I am longing to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to you in order for you to be made firm; or, rather, that there may be an interchange of encouragement among you, by each one through the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”—Rom. 1:11, 12.
10. If you feel that you lack Christian association, what might be done?
10 If you crave association and yet feel somewhat left out, showing yourself to be more friendly may help you to have more friendly association, to cultivate an enduring relationship with others. While Christians have an obligation to be friendly toward all, and especially to do good “toward those related to us in the faith,” it is more inviting for others to associate with us if we are pleasant, upbuilding and positive. (Gal. 6:10) Words of self-pity may gain sympathy but not always real respect.
11. In what way are there reciprocal benefits when we reach out for opportunities to assist others?
11 Ask yourself, too, what you can do to assist others rather than concentrating attention on yourself. At Acts 20:35 Paul calls attention to a principle set forth by Jesus: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” Happiness is greatly increased as we expend ourselves in behalf of others. “Consequently, my beloved brothers, become steadfast, unmovable, always having plenty to do in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in connection with the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58) Peter counsels: “Above all things, have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. In proportion as each one has received a gift, use it in ministering to one another as fine stewards of God’s undeserved kindness expressed in various ways.” (1 Pet. 4:8-10) Our own happiness is thus increased by using fully our opportunities to be encouraging to others.—Luke 6:38.
12. How can the experiences of our brothers and sisters help us to defeat discouragement?
12 The spiritual prosperity of Jehovah’s organization gives Christians reason to be encouraged. When we read or hear of experiences of our brothers around the world, we see how Jehovah is adding his blessing as he strengthens his people to defeat persecution, hardship and discouragement. “Happy is the nation whose God is Jehovah, the people whom he has chosen as his inheritance.” (Ps. 33:12) In their travels Paul and Barnabas related to others “in detail the conversion of people of the nations.” The result? “They were causing great joy to all the brothers.” (Acts 15:3) Do not fail to share your experiences in Jehovah’s service with others for their encouragement, and, in turn, ask about or seek occasions to read about the experiences of others.—Ps. 122:1-9.
13. What provisions has Jehovah made to keep his people encouraged despite discouraging circumstances around them?
13 Hence, to prevent shipwreck of our faith by discouragement, there is a need both to be encouraged by and to be encouraging to one another. “Therefore keep comforting one another and building one another up, just as you are in fact doing. . . . we exhort you, brothers, admonish the disorderly, speak consolingly to the depressed souls, support the weak, be long-suffering toward all.” (1 Thess. 5:11, 14) While there is turbulence all around us and conditions threaten to shipwreck our faith, we can confidently look to Jehovah to help us to ride out the storm and avoid being victims of discouragement. “And out of the stresses upon them he brings them forth. He causes the windstorm to stand at a calm, so that the waves of the sea keep quiet. And they rejoice because these become still, and he leads them to the haven of their delight. O let people give thanks to Jehovah for his loving-kindness and for his wonderful works to the sons of men.”—Ps. 107:28-31.
PERSONALITIES CAN SHIPWRECK ONE’S FAITH
14. How can personalities cause a shipwreck of one’s faith?
14 Christians also face the danger of colliding with fellow Christians in such a way as to cause a shipwreck of their faith or the faith of others. Moreover, the Scriptures warn that a few in the midst of the Christian congregation would deviate from the faith and would try to influence others to follow after them. On the other hand, Christians trust and respect their proved and faithful brothers and sisters and appreciate the leadership and example of their faithful shepherds, but they must not let what other human creatures do cause them to experience “shipwreck concerning their faith.” In charting their course, therefore, it is very necessary for servants of God to avoid letting personalities unduly affect or influence them.—1 Tim. 1:18, 19.
15. How does Jude describe some who could exist as a threat in the congregation before being expelled?
15 Jude refers to some who slipped into the Christian congregation and sought to turn “the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct,” and he describes them as “rocks hidden below water in your love feasts.” “These men are murmurers, complainers about their lot in life, proceeding according to their own desires, and their mouths speak swelling things, while they are admiring personalities for the sake of their own benefit.” (Jude 3, 4, 12, 16; compare 2 Peter, chapter 2.) Such persons, when discovered, are expelled or disfellowshiped as not deserving to be within the congregation. But if someone rejects the truth of God’s Word, proving to be a chronic complainer while seeking to cover his apostasy and mislead others by admiring personalities, should we follow this one out of the truth and into destruction? How unwise this would be! Be careful that your faith is not shipwrecked by hitting one of these “rocks hidden below water”!
16. (a) When an elder helps us to apply God’s Word, what should be our attitude? (b) What contrasting attitudes were shown by some of Jesus’ disciples?
16 In contrast, when shepherds and teachers in the congregation endeavor to help us to progress in the truth of God’s Word, are we stumbled by personalities? Many who became Jesus’ disciples liked some of his teachings, and were delighted to receive miraculous food and healings, but, when they were told that they must “eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,” this was shocking and the result was that “many of his disciples went off to the things behind and would no longer walk with him.” They did not stay long enough to receive understanding on this vital teaching.—John 6:48-69.
17, 18. (a) How did the apostles show the right attitude in connection with a teaching that might be difficult to accept? (b) Why was the unfaithfulness of Judas Iscariot no reason for the other apostles to waver in faith? What can we learn from this?
17 When Jehovah’s “faithful and discreet slave” organization provides some new understanding based on God’s Word, we may at times have some difficulty in fully grasping what has been published. But what should be done? Should we become critical and perhaps conclude that this is just how a few men at headquarters feel about it? Or, will we reflect the same attitude as the apostles when Jesus asked them on this same occasion when many disciples turned away: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life; and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
18 The apostles were convinced from their comparison of Jesus’ teachings and course of life with the Hebrew Scriptures that he was truly the Messiah, and they were not going to turn away from following him because he introduced some new teaching that was difficult at the moment to accept. Of course, one did later turn away, this being Judas Iscariot. Greed turned his head and his heart. But did the unfaithfulness of one of the chosen apostles ruin the faith of the eleven others? No, even though their faith wavered somewhat with the arrest and death of Jesus on the torture stake. They recovered spiritually, and Jehovah, by his holy spirit, strengthened them from Pentecost 33 C.E. onward.
19. (a) As to leadership within the Christian congregation, what important fact should we be conscious of at all times? (b) What responsibility rests upon elders, and as to personalities what should we not allow to take place?
19 Never forget that we, like the apostles, are following Jesus Christ and not some man or group of men as leaders on earth. Yes, imperfect men are being used to help us, from the governing body to the elders in our congregations, but these have the heavy responsibility to teach strictly in accord with the Word of God. They are to imitate the apostle Paul, who said to the elders at Ephesus: “I did not hold back from telling you any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house.” (Acts 20:20) He solemnly charged Timothy as an elder to “preach the word” of God in building faith and in preparing the congregation for the period when some would ‘not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, would accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled.’ (2 Tim. 4:1-4) What do we want? Someone to tickle our ears and tell us that everything is all right, when it may not be all right, or someone who will speak to us truthfully, and yet kindly, and help us to walk in a way that will please God? (Eph. 4:11-15) Do not let personalities get in between you and your heavenly Father, Jehovah, and the Head of the Christian congregation, Christ Jesus!
GETTING ALONG WITH ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE
20, 21. (a) What factors make it necessary that we exercise patience and tolerance in dealing with one another? (b) What counsel does Paul give, at Colossians 3:13, 14, for preserving peace and the bond of love in the congregation?
20 All of us having been born in sin and imperfection, there is a need, when we learn the truth of God’s Word, to put aside the old personality traits and to work diligently to put on the new personality. (Eph. 4:23, 24) Jehovah will continue to mold us as long as we submit ourselves to do his will. Nevertheless, undesirable personality traits have a way of persisting despite our efforts to overcome them, and we may find ourselves still working on one of these traits long years after symbolizing our dedication to do Jehovah’s will. Thus the need to be tolerant of one another. Moreover, differing personality traits may not necessarily reflect weakness, but merely the variety Jehovah arranged for in human creatures.
21 Love and tolerance will help us to avoid being oversensitive. Due to pressing problems, a brother may pass by without speaking or may speak sharply on occasion. Or a habit or trait of another may tend to annoy. Whatever the situation, the Bible counsels: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also. But, besides all these things, clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union.”—Col. 3:13, 14.
22. (a) What could getting upset over a brother’s imperfections cause one to do? (b) To be forgiven our trespasses by God, what is first necessary?
22 Hence, do not let personality differences cause you to become shipwrecked in faith. Steer your course in such a way as to avoid colliding with your brother. If the Devil can get you so upset over the imperfections of your brother that you skip meetings or hold back from preaching the good news of the Kingdom, he is very pleased. Do you want to please the Adversary because of some irritation or spirit of pride? Does your relationship with Jehovah mean so little that you would quit serving him or slow down because one of the brothers commits a wrong? Remember, if Jehovah required perfection of your brother at this time, he would require it of you too. If you want God to forgive you your shortcomings, you must be willing to forgive those of your brother. Jesus predicated forgiveness of our sins upon our being willing to forgive others.—Matt. 6:12, 14, 15.
AVOID STUMBLING OTHERS
23, 24. (a) How is the tongue fittingly likened to the rudder of a ship? (b) What counsel does the Bible give about speaking the truth and that which is upbuilding?
23 The tongue can do much damage if not properly controlled. James illustrates it in this way: “Look! Even boats, although they are so big and are driven by hard winds, are steered by a very small rudder to where the inclination of the man at the helm wishes. So, too, the tongue is a little member and yet makes great brags.” Why should we let our tongues get out of control as a misguided rudder and cause us to crash into our fellow praiser of Jehovah? “Out of the same mouth come forth blessing and cursing. It is not proper, my brothers, for these things to go on occurring this way. A fountain does not cause the sweet and the bitter to bubble out of the same opening, does it?”—Jas. 3:4, 5, 10, 11.
24 When there is a tendency to express an angry word, or engage in hurtful gossip or slander, remember, it is the captain of the ship that controls the course of the vessel by way of the rudder. If we at heart do not think evil of our brothers, then we will not be motivated to speak harmful words with the tongue. “Now that you have put away falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor.” “Let a rotten saying not proceed out of your mouth, but whatever saying is good for building up as the need may be, that it may impart what is favorable to the hearers.”—Eph. 4:25, 29.
25. What counsel is given as to settling personal differences?
25 Settle differences quickly. Often minor things can be overlooked without making an issue of them. If the problem persists, go to the offending brother and discuss the matter privately in a loving and kind way. And if a brother comes to you to discuss a cause for complaint, exercise self-control and listen first to what is said so that you understand the situation and do not quickly seek to defend yourself or resort to recrimination.—Eph. 4:26, 32.
26. How are we assured from God’s Word that we can successfully complete our voyage through the stormy times ahead and into Jehovah’s new system of things?
26 Knowing that his time is short, God’s adversary, Satan the Devil, causes the seas of mankind to grow more violent from day to day. (Dan. 7:2, 3; Rev. 13:1) This great opposer of God would like to wreck our faith by swamping us with discouragement or by causing a colliding with personalities. But by keeping our faith seaworthy and by watching carefully that we navigate according to the sure Word of God, with Jehovah’s unfailing help and undeserved kindness, we will complete our voyage through these stormy times, right on through the “great tribulation” and into Jehovah’s new system of things, where the “sea is no more.” (Rev. 21:1) How thankful we will be to Jehovah at that time, that we did not let any of the attractions or difficulties encountered cause the shipwreck of our faith and deny us the grand blessings to be enjoyed eternally by those who love God with complete devotion! “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.