Do Not ‘Turn Back to Weak and Beggarly Things’
“Now that you have come to know God, . . . how is it that you are turning back again to the weak and beggarly elementary things?”—GALATIANS 4:9.
1, 2. (a) A lightning bolt had what effect on a blind man? (b) What more significant change has occurred in your life? (Acts 26:18)
NEWSPAPERS in June 1980 told of an amazing event involving Edwin Robinson, aged 62, who nine years before had been blinded in an automobile accident. The papers explained that during a storm he sought shelter under a tree. A lightning bolt struck the tree, knocking him unconscious. When he revived he could see. Imagine how he felt after so many years of blindness! Surely he did not want to return to the darkness.
2 If you are a true witness of Jehovah, a marvelous change has occurred with you. The apostle Peter wrote that “chosen” Christians have been ‘called out of darkness into his wonderful light.’ (1 Peter 1:1; 2:9) To become a witness of Jehovah you may have abandoned unclean and disapproved practices that are linked with darkness. (Romans 13:12, 13; Job 24:14-16) Why? Because you wanted to live in the light of the truth and have God’s approval.
3. Becoming a witness of Jehovah has brought what alteration as to your purpose in life? (Ephesians 2:12)
3 Before becoming a true Christian, did you have any meaningful purpose in your life? (1 Peter 4:15, 16) If someone asked you what your objectives were, would your answer be about earning a living, having a family, finding some entertainment or preparing for the “winter” of old age? Certainly those things are not wrong. Yet how would such a life differ from that of a squirrel, a sparrow or other animal that is born, grows up, eats, sleeps, mates and finally dies? (Ecclesiastes 3:18-20; James 4:14; Jude 10) However, after you have become a true Christian, your life has meaning; your goals center on serving the Creator.—Ecclesiastes 12:13.
4 The contrast between your being in the light and your once being in the darkness is especially apparent in your knowledge and understanding. Previously you did not know why wickedness exists, why things are getting worse around us, what is the condition of the dead or what the immediate future holds. Now you have a Bible-based understanding of those matters. How true are the apostle Paul’s words: “[Jehovah] has shone on our hearts to illuminate them with the glorious knowledge of God”!—2 Corinthians 4:6.
Not All Remain in the Light
5. What evidence is there that not all remain in the light?
5 Not all who have been true worshipers of Jehovah have remained such. A powerful spirit creature turned away and became Satan. Adam and Eve left the light. In view of such actions by perfect creatures, it is not surprising that some imperfect humans, such as we are, have also turned back. The Israelites came out of Egyptian slavery, yet before they reached the Promised Land they began to grumble longingly, ‘How we remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt, the cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions and garlic!’ (Numbers 11:5) Though enjoying light and freedom, they longed for the Egyptian darkness and garlic.
6. Why should we be concerned about persons who turn from the light?
6 Christians, too, face the danger of turning away from the light. Paul warned that men would arise in the congregation and draw away disciples. (Acts 20:29, 30) This happened even while he was on earth. (Philippians 3:18; 2 Timothy 2:16-18) More to the point, do you know some in our time who, in one way or another, have turned away? Might that happen to us?
7. Paul gave the Galatians what counsel in this regard?
7 Few Christians today would willingly choose darkness over light. So what sort of things might induce a brother or a sister (any one of us) to turn away? Some insight is provided in what Paul wrote at Galatians 4:9: “Now that you have come to know God, or rather now that you have come to be known by God, how is it that you are turning back again to the weak and beggarly elementary things and want to slave for them over again?”
8. Why was that counsel needed, and how did it apply to the Law?
8 Evidently some Jewish Christians were advocating that they should return to keeping the Mosaic Law, or at least parts of it. Paul, though, wrote that true worshipers have been set free from the Law. (Galatians 5:1-6) Since the Law could not produce righteousness, in a sense it was weak, to be replaced with a “better hope” or arrangement. (Hebrews 7:18, 19) Thus it could be said that those who returned to keeping the Law were ‘turning back to a weak’ thing and ‘slaving for it over again.’
9, 10. How could the warning about “beggarly elementary things” apply to (a) Greek teachings? (b) the Mosaic Law?
9 It was fitting also to warn against turning back to “beggarly elementary things.” The Greek expression involved here had the idea of alphabetic letters placed in a row, thus implying the ABC’s of a matter. Certainly the pagan teachings prevailing then were “beggarly elementary things.” Though the Greeks took pride in their philosophies, these were based on human concepts, misconceptions and myths. But even returning to the Mosaic Law would be ‘turning back to the beggarly elementary things.’ How so?
10 Though the Law was of divine origin, much of it dealt with things in the human sphere, such as the tabernacle and related “legal requirements pertaining to the flesh.” However, Christian worship centered on the spiritual things typified by those physical “typical representations.” (Hebrews 9:6-10, 23) So why should Christians turn back to those elementary, rudimentary things? If you had studied mathematics to the point of being an expert in algebra or calculus, would you revert to counting on your fingers and toes?—Compare 2 Peter 2:20-22.
Weak and Beggarly Things Today
11. Galatians 4:9 might be applied to what danger today?
11 Likely, few of us feel in danger of turning back to the “weak and beggarly elementary things” of Greek philosophy or of the Law. Yet that counsel was put in the Bible for our benefit too. There is, for example, the possibility of turning back to what 1 John 2:16 terms “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life.”
12. Illustrate how some Christians might succumb to a danger involving 1 John 2:16.
12 Some think that a “showy display of one’s means of life” implies flaunting designer-name clothing or excessive jewelry, such as wearing four or five rings at the same time. (James 2:2, 3) And it may, for the Bible counsels against concentrating on adornments such as “gold ornaments.” (1 Peter 3:3) But a “showy display of one’s means” can be made in other ways. A Christian might envy the life-style of people without hope who live for material things. In some lands people strive to get and then show off what locally are luxuries, such as a color television or a small automobile. Elsewhere people take pride in or intend to impress others with a new videotape recorder or luxury automobile. Will the Christian, who has “left all things and followed” Christ, develop an interest in showing off such things? We can ask ourselves: Do material possessions absorb more of my time and thoughts than when I ‘heard the word, accepted it with joy’ and put it to work in my life?—Matthew 19:16-27; 13:20-22.
13. (a) How could Paul’s counsel apply even to the matter of housing? (b) What should a Christian be careful about as to moving to a larger home? (Read Luke 12:16-21.)
13 Or a Christian might turn back to the beggarly elementary things over housing. In some areas private homes are very costly. Hence, many worldly people will buy a house for the image it creates, even if it means a crushing financial burden for them. Or materialistic people who do not have a growing family to accommodate might move from an average home to a larger one, and later to a still larger and grander one. (See Luke 17:28.) Thus, if a Christian were thinking of purchasing a home or moving to a larger one he should examine his own motives and possible effects on his spirituality so that he would not be ‘turning back to the elementary things’ through a wrong motive. We certainly should resist any temptation to desire opulence that will impress others with our “means of life.” (1 John 2:16) Without judging others in such matters, let us individually keep putting God’s service first in our lives. How happy we can be to see many mature Christians, whose situation in any way allows for it, reducing their work hours to make room for full-time pioneering, certainly not a weak or beggarly matter!—Matthew 6:31-34; 7:1-3; 9:36-38.
14. How might someone ‘turn back’ in connection with prominence?
14 Prominence in this system is another thing to which a Christian might “turn back.” Admittedly, it is proper to want others to think well of us; Christian elders must “have a fine testimony from people on the outside.” (1 Timothy 3:7) God’s Word does advise, though, ‘not to think more of ourselves than it is necessary to think.’ (Romans 12:3) The world’s emphasis on being somebody may make it difficult for a few to continue seeking Christian modesty and a good standing with God.
15. When could this be a problem for youths or parents?
15 Youths often face this, for teachers and students urge them to be prominent in sports, student government or clubs. They may also face pressure about going to college so as to get a prestigious job. Some parents have added to the pressure because of their own desire for prestige through a child’s accomplishments. You may have heard parents say things such as, ‘I do not want my son to be a common laborer all his life.’—Compare Mark 6:3.
16. Why might prominence be a danger for Christian men? Illustrate.
16 Many men have been tempted to seek prominence on the job. If inner motives were faced, a man might see that he wants to be a foreman primarily because of the prestige involved. Might it be that some Christians, who have financial security and who could reduce their work hours (or retire) and pioneer, have been tempted to continue in jobs where they have prominence or influence in a corporation? What a fine example Paul set! He had position and influence in the Jewish system, along with financial security. But he took the loss of all in order to “gain Christ and be found in union with him.” Realizing this to be the way to gain approval of lasting worth, Paul never turned back to weak, elementary things.—Philippians 3:4-11.
17. What danger about “turning back” is presented by entertainment?
17 Few would deny that much of today’s entertainment is “weak and beggarly.” Selectivity is a must. Yet even with entertainment that does not clearly violate godly principles, care is needed because of the time and resources involved. Many games, electronic and other, can consume staggering amounts of time and money. Individually, or as a family, sit down and calculate realistically how much time and money you use on entertainment in an average week or month. In doing so, include television time. That is increasingly a problem as programmers offer more serials—even of documentaries, historical presentations and sports play-offs—so that the viewer is drawn back repeatedly. Clearly, Christians must work to control how they use their limited time and resources so as not to be drawn back to weak and beggarly things.—Ephesians 2:2, 3.
18. Most Christians have followed what admirable course?
18 This is not to suggest that most of God’s people turn back to such things. There are thousands, hundreds of thousands, yes millions of devoted witnesses of Jehovah who are adhering to true worship, and most have done so for years. You likely know many of them—Christians who could be described with words like Paul’s: “We always thank God when we make mention concerning all of you in our prayers . . . You became imitators of . . . the Lord, seeing that you accepted the word under much tribulation with joy of holy spirit, so that you came to be an example to all the believers.” (1 Thessalonians 1:2, 6, 7) Each of us should be like that and resolve not to ‘turn back again to the weak and beggarly elementary things.’ Nor is there any reason why we should turn back.
Seek Out the Spiritual Riches
19, 20. Genuine Christianity has brought you what powerful and rich things?
19 Genuine Christianity provides us with many powerful and rich things. Crucial to receiving many blessings is having a knowledge of the Scriptures. Even worldly scholars testify that the Bible consists of literature of the highest order. Yet we know that the Bible is much more; it is ‘the Word of God, which is also at work in believers.’ (1 Thessalonians 2:13) Yes, we know that it has the power to change lives, to impart valid hope and to show us what the future holds. By reading it we can receive messages provided by the Creator and can learn just what his Son said and did.—John 21:24, 25.
20 With the help of God’s people, you have learned from the Bible about Jehovah and can agree: “O the depth of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable his judgments are and past tracing out his ways are!” (Romans 11:33) Beyond knowledge, you have “the pattern of healthful words.” (2 Timothy 1:13) Many people have read the Bible for years but still do not get the sense of it. You, though, understand basically what it means. You can speak with understanding and an assurance that eludes even theologians.—Acts 4:13.
21, 22. What other rich things have you received because of being a witness of Jehovah?
21 You also have association of the best kind. Oh, your brothers and sisters may be imperfect and cause occasional irritation. On the whole, though, it is a real blessing to be among people who love God, who strive to apply Bible principles and who try to ‘work what is good toward all, especially toward those related to them in the faith,’ including you. (Galatians 6:10) Recently a pediatrician at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City commented on his personal experience. He told a visiting minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses: ‘Whatever it is that you are doing, keep doing it. You are turning out a marvelous type of people. All of us who have contact with them note how different they are, how calm and pleasant. So, please, whatever you are doing, keep doing it.’ That is the sort of association you have.
22 Another rich, powerful thing that you can delight in having is your Bible-based hope, whether that be immortality in the heavens or everlasting life on a Paradise earth. What sane person would abandon that? Finally, do not overlook the assignment of work you now have from Jehovah and for which he has powerfully equipped you. (2 Corinthians 10:4; Philippians 4:13) Disciple making takes effort, yes, but it also produces deep satisfaction and joy, for it helps others on the way to life. This activity can fill your mind and heart.
23. In regard to Galatians 4:9, what should you resolve to do?
23 It is perfectly clear, then, that genuine Christianity provides us with many powerful and rich things. Let us think on and appreciate what we have and be determined never to ‘turn back to the weak and beggarly elementary things in general, nor to slave for them over again.’
Do You Recall?
□ How were the Galatians in danger of ‘turning back to weak and beggarly elementary things’?
□ How might we ‘turn back’ in connection with
□ How has Christianity provided you with powerful and rich things?
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Many couples, by guarding against ‘a showy display of their mean of life,’ have been helped to increase Christian activities
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How much time and money are you personally spending on entertainment?