Questions From Readers
■ Since Jesus said that Christians are to be “no part of the world,” how should we act with regard to community issues or social concerns, such as environmental conservation?
Christians are not oblivious to community matters that affect people in general, even matters such as pollution or environmental conservation. But the extent to which they get involved in such things should be determined in harmony with the Scriptures and their primary obligation to God.
Jehovah has appropriate concern about public safety and health, as we can see from his laws for ancient Israel. For example, he encouraged restraining dangerous domestic animals, covering open pits and caring for roof parapets to prevent accidental falls and danger to people below. (Exodus 21:28-34; Deuteronomy 22:8) His interest in public health is plain from laws about quarantine and the disposal of excrement, which could contaminate water supplies and spread disease. (Leviticus 13:1-59; Deuteronomy 23:9-14) As to pollution, conservation and the environment, God’s Word tells us that he will “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.”—Revelation 11:18.
It is to be observed, however, that God did not direct his servants—Israelites or Christians—to proselytize on those matters. The Jews were not told to campaign among the surrounding nations for improved sanitation procedures or for better health or building codes. Nor is there any evidence that they (or the Christians later) did so when dwelling in other lands. Furthermore, God said that HE was the one who would act against those ruining the earth; he did not indicate that this was to be a primary concern of ‘his slaves the prophets and the holy ones and those fearing his name, the small and the great.’—Revelation 11:18.
Understandably, Christians today realize that there are things that might presently make life better for them and for people around them. They are not callous to human needs; rather, they appreciate and cultivate “human kindness.” (Compare Acts 28:2, 7-9; Mark 7:24-30.) This may influence their course when certain issues come up involving community improvements. For example, people in a neighborhood may be asked to express their opinion about the need for more street lights or signs, new schools or better water supply and sewage facilities. There would generally be no harm in a Christian’s expressing his opinion about such improvements. He might even feel that he could sign a request, or petition, for such.
But Christians should not overlook the fact that major matters affecting a community often become political issues. Groups begin to resort to political means to effect the changes they sincerely feel are best. Or some politician (or candidate) espouses an issue. Then individuals polarize along political lines or become aligned with “the rulers of this system of things, who are to come to nothing.” (1 Corinthians 2:6, 8; Revelation 19:17, 18) If that occurred with a member of the Christian congregation, he could get to the point of no longer fitting Jesus’ description: “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you.” Christ pointedly said about his faithful disciples: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.”—John 15:19; 17:16.
There are some issues that may not yet be political where we live, or that people in the area work for without using politics. Curbing pollution, conserving water and mineral resources or protecting wilderness areas might be matters of that sort. One might see good in these undertakings and feel that God would too. Yet we must not forget what work Jehovah has commissioned Christians to concentrate on: The spreading of the good news of the Kingdom, which will bring everlasting blessings to millions of people earth wide. (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) Doing that work will protect us against getting caught up in proselytizing efforts that have captivated the emotions of many.
The fact is that those human efforts cannot have as widespread and lasting good results as can the helping of people to develop godly devotion, which “is beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8) Yes, even from a utilitarian standpoint, we can do the most good by helping people to become genuine Christians. That can help them to avoid practices that are harmful to health. We can help them to apply Bible principles so that they are greater assets to their community. Yet, as a greater blessing, our efforts will enable them to “get a firm hold on the real life.” (1 Timothy 6:19) The benefits they receive will be much more reliable than what might be realized from social or community endeavors. And as for Christians, our taking care not to be diverted from the work that God has assigned us will display our obedience to Jehovah, ‘to whom every family owes its name,’ health and prospects for the future.—Ephesians 3:15.
■ What is meant by Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 14:36: “Was it from you that the word of God came forth, or was it only as far as you that it reached?”
Basically, the apostle Paul was trying to help the Corinthians to see that they should not institute new ways to do things in the congregation. Such counsel was appropriate, as we can note from what Paul wrote earlier.
In the early days of Christianity, God provided miraculous gifts of the spirit, such as prophesying and speaking in tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) Some in Corinth had such gifts but used them in a way that created disorder. For example, they spoke in tongues when no one was present who had the miraculous gift of translation. Paul reasoned, “How will the man occupying the seat of the ordinary person say ‘Amen’ . . ., since he does not know what you are saying?” Unbelievers present might even think that those speaking in tongues were crazy.—1 Corinthians 14:13-16, 22, 23.
Confusion was also created by a number speaking at the same time. Paul urged, “If someone speaks in a tongue, let it be limited to two or three at the most, and in turns.” Similarly, those moved by the spirit to prophesy were to do so in a limited way and “one by one.” This agreed with God’s being a God of peace, not disorder.—1 Corinthians 14:27-33.
A problem seems to have existed, too, with women speaking out in meetings. That must have been more than answering a question or relating an experience. Apparently some women were trying to act as teachers and were arguing with the brothers in the meetings. That was out of harmony with the principle of headship.—1 Corinthians 14:34, 35.
So Paul wrote: “What? Was it from you that the word of God came forth, or was it only as far as you that it reached?” (1 Corinthians 14:36) Yes, he urged the Corinthians to remember that theirs was not the first congregation and that the “word of God” had not been declared to them alone. It was, then, wrong for them to handle matters in a manner drastically different from all the other congregations. They had no right to introduce innovations that were foreign to the Christian congregation and contrary to principles regarding peace and headship.