Be Faithful to God “Who Looks On in Secret”
“Pray to your Father who is in secret; then your Father who looks on in secret will repay you.”—MATTHEW 6:6.
SOME years ago one of Jehovah’s Witnesses telephoned her brother in Long Island, New York. Since he was of a different faith, she told him about God’s promise to remove wickedness from the earth and to restore paradisaic conditions. As the discussion ended and her brother hung up, she was surprised by a voice saying, “Wait a minute, I want to ask you a question.”
2 It was the telephone operator. She had been listening in, which the telephone equipment back then enabled her to do, though it was unethical and against company policy. The Witness was pleased that her words had sparked such interest, and she made arrangements to follow it up, yet she was startled that her conversation had not been private. Yes, others sometimes see and hear what we think is secret.—Ecclesiastes 10:20.
3. In what sense are the lives of Christian always on display?
3 This should not present major problems for true Christians, who strive to be faithful to God at all times. The apostle Paul said: “We have become a theatrical spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men.” (1 Corinthians 4:9) He was alluding to a practice at the gladiatorial arena. Before the final event the Romans displayed unclad those who would fight and probably die. Christians today are also on display before unbelieving relatives, workmates, neighbors, and schoolmates. The observers may form a good or a bad opinion of Christianity based on what they see in us.—1 Peter 2:12.
4. How might a person be affected by the knowledge that others are observing him?
4 When we know that others are observing, we might tend to rise to the occasion, sharing Paul’s desire: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with.” (2 Corinthians 6:3) Our knowledge that others are observing may fortify our resolve to do what is right. What, though, if we face a test of Christian principles out of public view?
He Looks Beyond Outward Appearances
5. The public and private lives of Jewish leaders presented what contrast?
5 Many Jewish religious leaders in the first century were one sort of person outwardly, another sort of person inwardly. Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount: “Take good care not to practice your righteousness in front of men in order to be observed by them.” (Matthew 6:1, 2) The religious leaders were like cups that are clean outside but ‘inside are full of plunder and immoderateness,’ like “whitewashed graves, which outwardly indeed appear beautiful but inside are full of dead men’s bones and of every sort of uncleanness.”—Matthew 23:25-28; compare Psalm 26:4.
6. What is Jehovah able to observe about us?
6 Those words should help us to appreciate that Jehovah is interested in more than what might be seen by other humans. Jesus counseled: “When you pray, go into your private room and, after shutting your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; then your Father who looks on in secret will repay you.” (Matthew 6:6) Yes, God can hear our prayers offered when we are isolated from other humans. Nothing is beyond God’s notice. He is able to observe the embryonic formation of a person, perhaps reading the genetic material that later will shape the individual’s characteristics. (Psalm 139:15, 16; Genesis 25:23) He even can read the secret leanings of our hearts. (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; Jeremiah 17:10; Acts 1:24) Consider how these facts should affect us.
7. Wherein might a Christian have room for improvement?
7 To become true Christians we had to work at overcoming serious faults and sins, even as did the early Christians. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Acts 26:20; 1 Peter 4:1-4) Yet what about faults that may not be known to other humans? That these failings are not publicly known does not make them any less significant. This is indicated by David’s words: “Anyone slandering his companion in secrecy, him I silence. Anyone of haughty eyes and of arrogant heart, him I cannot endure.” (Psalm 101:5) Even if it was done secretly, to just one listener, slander was wrong. So David would not condone this ‘secret’ sin.
8. How do we know that hidden wrongdoing does not escape Jehovah’s notice?
8 Nor should the wrongdoer fool himself by thinking that the error would escape the notice of God “who looks on in secret.” Actually, God has proved that he is interested in humans’ being faithful even when their actions are not publicly known. Recall the case of Achan. The Israelites were to destroy Jericho and its inhabitants, wicked Canaanites. Only the silver, gold, and copper were excepted, these being for the treasure of God’s sanctuary. (Joshua 6:17-19) Achan, however, gave in to temptation and took a costly garment, some silver and gold. He hid this under his tent, perhaps feeling that no one would know. But did he deceive the One “who looks on in secret”? No. God saw to it that Achan’s sin was publicly exposed, bringing death to him and to his household.—Joshua 7:1, 16-26.
9. What must we do to gain and retain God’s approval?
9 Elihu wisely explained about Jehovah: “For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and all his steps he sees. There is no darkness nor any deep shadow for those practicing what is hurtful to conceal themselves there.” (Job 34:21, 22) If, then, we desire to gain and retain Jehovah God’s approval, we must seek to live according to his principles both when we know that others are observing us and when it appears that our conduct is hidden. At all times “his eyes are upon the ways of man.”
10. (a) Paul set what fine example as to hidden conduct? (b) The possibility of secret faults in what areas deserves our attention?
10 A Christian may undergo some test that is hidden to fellow worshipers. That happened to Paul while he was in prison. The Jews had charged him with “stirring up seditions” and ‘trying to profane the temple.’ (Acts 24:1-6) Paul testified to his innocence before Roman procurator Felix, who historians say was cruel and immoral. Felix detained Paul in prison “hoping for money to be given him by Paul.” (Acts 24:10-21, 26) While the apostle knew the Bible’s counsel about not giving or accepting gifts to affect judgment, he could have reasoned that giving a bribe would be an expedient way to get free. Since the bribe could be hidden from others, Paul would not need to worry about stumbling them. (Exodus 23:8; Psalm 15:1, 5; Proverbs 17:23) Yet Paul did not reason that way. Many of Jehovah’s people in modern times have faced other tests, such as those involving God’s law on blood, self-abuse, and misuse of alcohol. Let us consider how such tests could confront you or your loved ones.
Obedience Tested Over Blood
11. What is the basis for the Christian position on use of blood?
11 God’s law on blood certainly is not new or unclear. Through our common forefather Noah, Jehovah commanded all mankind: “Flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat.” (Genesis 9:4) The sacredness of blood, representing life from God, was stressed in the Mosaic Law. Blood could be used on the altar, but otherwise it was to be ‘poured out on the ground as water.’ (Leviticus 17:11-14; Deuteronomy 12:23-25) Did the prohibition against sustaining life with blood continue after the Mosaic Law ended? Absolutely. At what some might call the first Christian council, the apostles and older men (who comprised the governing body) concluded that Christians must ‘abstain from idolatry, from fornication, from what is strangled [having blood left in] and from blood.’ Misuse of blood was as serious a moral wrong as illicit sex relations.—Acts 15:20, 21, 28, 29.
12. The early Christians took what stand on blood?
12 The early Christians obeyed God’s law about blood. Though some people back then drank the blood of gladiators as a “cure” for epilepsy, true Christians would not. Nor would they eat food containing blood, even when their refusal meant death for them and their children. Since that time, various theologians and others have acknowledged that Christians are under God’s law against sustaining life by taking in blood.
13. (a) Why might you sometime be confronted with a test regarding blood? (b) What major reason for Christians’ not accepting blood should we keep in mind?
13 In recent times blood transfusion has become a popular medical tool. The Christian may thus face a test involving it. Doctors, nurses, and even relatives may strongly urge him to accept blood. Informed persons, of course, know that transfusions themselves pose grave risks. Time magazine (November 5, 1984) said that “some 100,000 Americans contract hepatitis each year from blood transfusions,” mainly from “a mystery virus that can be identified only by a process of elimination.” Time also reported on over 6,500 cases of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), some being “transfusion-linked cases.” The report said: “Nearly half the victims have died, although the ultimate mortality rate may be 90% or higher.” Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not base their refusal on the argument that blood is bad medicine. Even if doctors could give assurance that a transfusion would be totally safe, God’s Word commands us to ‘keep ourselves from blood.’—Acts 21:25.
14. What “secret” test involving blood might you face?
14 Imagine if you were told that you badly needed a transfusion. God’s law on blood would come to your mind, would it not? And your resolve to obey God, no matter what the immediate results of this, likely would be strengthened if fellow Christians were present. (Compare Daniel 3:13-18.) However, what if in private a doctor or a judge pressured you to accept blood, even telling you to let him bear the responsibility before God?
15. Some doctors and officials have what incorrect view as to our stand on blood?
15 Reports from various lands indicate that sometimes doctors, hospital officials, and judges mistakenly think that Jehovah’s Witnesses publicly object to blood transfusion but privately or inwardly feel differently. In one case a judge arbitrarily concluded “that the crux of the problem lay, not in [the patient’s] religious convictions, but in her refusal to sign a prior written authorization for the transfusion of blood. She did not object to receiving the treatment involved—she would not, however, direct its use.” On the contrary, rather than weakly refusing to ‘sign authorization for blood,’ Jehovah’s Witnesses are on record as being strongly desirous of signing legal documents relieving medical personnel of any liability connected with refusing blood.*
16. If someone in private urged you to accept blood, what should you not forget?
16 Doctors and judges may try to persuade you to accept blood because they have seen people of other religions object to some medical step but then accept it ‘behind closed doors.’ Some officials have even claimed to know of a Witness who agreed to a secret transfusion. If that did occur, it might have involved someone who was just acquainted with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Devoted servants of God know well that no such compromise would escape his notice. Recall when David sinned concerning Bath-sheba and Uriah. Jehovah saw it all and sent Nathan with the message: “Whereas you [David] acted in secret, I, for my part, shall do this thing in front of all Israel and in front of the sun.” As God stated, David later felt the sad consequences of his “secret” sin.—2 Samuel 11:27–12:12; 16:21.
17. (a) How could accepting a blood transfusion in secret make trouble for others? (b) Explain how one sister stood firm on the blood issue even in private, and what was the outcome of this?
17 Love for your Christian brothers should also help you to resist pressure to agree secretly to violate God’s law on blood. How so? Well, if a doctor or a judge tried to coerce you into accepting blood, even in secret, you should think of the added trouble that would bring on the next Witness. Note this experience:
Sister Rodriguez was being treated for an infection. Then she got very ill; her doctor diagnosed internal bleeding and advised her to rush to a major hospital. Sister Rodriguez told the emergency-room personnel: “No matter what, I cannot take a blood transfusion.” She held to this later when nurses pressured her by their claiming that some Witnesses had taken blood. For days this sister continued to lose blood and weaken, finally being moved to the Intensive Care Unit. Then the hospital called in a judge of the state Supreme Court.
Some months later in the hospital’s amphitheater, this judge spoke to over 150 doctors on the subject “Whose Life Is It, Anyway?” He, too, said he had encountered persons who at first refused blood but who acquiesced once a judge was involved. What though about Sister Rodriguez? He related that in privacy he had tried to convince her to let him ‘bear the responsibility’ by having the transfusion given under court order. What did she do? The judge told the assembled doctors that with all the strength she could muster, Mrs. Rodriguez told him that she was not going to accept blood and that he should leave her alone and get out of the room. Consequently, the judge explained, he had no basis for ordering blood against her wishes.
18. What determination should we make clear regarding the blood issue, and with what likely results?
18 This underscores the importance of making it absolutely clear that our position on blood is nonnegotiable. The apostles took such a resolute stand, declaring: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) Sister Rodriguez’ case also shows the effect a Witness’ compromise could have on others. While sick and physically weakened, she had to face extra pressure just because someone earlier may secretly have broken God’s law. Of course, such a violation would be no secret to “the Judge of all the earth.” (Genesis 18:25) Happily, Sister Rodriguez was as uncompromising in private as she had been in public. And later, in good health, she explained to the same medical assembly her continued determination to be faithful to God.
19. At all times, we should be conscious of what fact?
19 We, too, must be faithful whether our actions are public or not. Jehovah delights in such faithfulness and will reward it; he will justly respond to the works—public or private—of those unfaithful to his standards. (Psalm 51:6; Job 34:24) Lovingly he provides perfect counsel that will help us to overcome any hidden faults we have, as we will next consider.
Many hospitals use Form P-47 REFUSAL TO PERMIT BLOOD TRANSFUSION as printed in the American Medical Association’s Medicolegal Forms with Legal Analysis.
How Would You Answer?
□ God has what ability that should affect our actions?
□ Achan’s experience should teach us what vital lesson?
□ What harm can result if a Christian secretly breaks God’s law on blood?
□ You should resolve what regarding Jehovah’s view on blood?
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God’s Law on Blood Recognized as Still Valid
JOSEPH PRIESTLEY (1733-1804) is most noted as the scientist who discovered oxygen, but he was also a theologian. He wrote:
“The prohibition to eat blood, given to Noah, seems to be obligatory on all his posterity.” As to the claim that the Christian prohibition on blood was only temporary, Priestley added: “There is no intimation, or hint, of its being temporary, or any mention made of a time when the prohibition was to cease. . . . If we interpret this prohibition of the apostles by the practice of the primitive Christians, who can hardly be supposed not to have rightly understood the nature and extent of it, we cannot but conclude, that it was intended to be absolute and perpetual.”
In 1646 A Bloody Tenet Confuted, or, Blood Forbidden (modern spelling) was published. On page 8 it concluded: “Let us lay aside this cruel custom of eating the lives of beasts, as it is used throughout all England, in unhallowed black [blood] puddings, as we will show our selves therefore to be merciful men, not inhumane; as we will not be found to be disobeyers of God in such express precepts, but obeyers of his will, and doers of those things that are right in his eyes, as we would have the favor of God, . . . and not to be cut off from our people, and have the face of God continually set against us for evil.”
Gaspard Bartholin was a 17th-century professor of anatomy at the University of Copenhagen. Writing on ‘The Misuse of Blood,’ he observed: ‘Those who drag in the use of human blood for internal remedies of diseases appear to misuse it and to sin gravely. Cannibals are condemned. Why do we not abhor those who stain their gullet with human blood? Similar is the receiving of alien blood from a cut vein, either through the mouth or by instruments of transfusion. The authors of this operation are held in terror by the divine law, by which eating of blood is prohibited.’
Revelation Examined with Candour (1745) dealt with God’s commands about blood. It reasoned: “A command given by God himself to Noah, repeated to Moses, and ratified by the apostles of Jesus Christ; given immediately after the flood, when the world, as it were, began anew; and the only one given on that great occasion; repeated with awful solemnity, to that people whom God separated from the rest of mankind, to be holy to himself; repeated with dreadful denunciations of divine vengeance, both against the Jew and the stranger that should dare to transgress it; and ratified by the most solemn and sacred council, that ever was assembled upon earth; acting under the immediate influence of the Spirit of God! transmitted from the sacred assembly to the several churches of the neighbouring nations, by the hands of no meaner messengers, than two bishops, and two apostles . . . Will any man, after this, dare to vilify this command? Will any man in his senses pronounce a precept, so given, so repeated, and so ratified by God himself, unmeaning and unimportant?”
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The conduct of one Witness may make it easier for the next one to be faithful to God