Following Bible Principles—The Superior Way
“KUNGSHI, kungshi fa tsai!” (Congratulations, may you become rich!) This customary Chinese New Year’s greeting puts the emphasis on material success that is so common worldwide. To enhance one’s ability to become rich, education may be esteemed almost to the point of becoming an object of worship. In many Oriental countries, often the chief concern of parents is how to get their children into the best kindergarten so that they may then get into the best primary school and so on through college or university. Similarly, in Western lands many are preoccupied with the pursuit of affluence and its easy way of life.
How does such customary preoccupation with material pursuits compare with Bible principles? “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin,” warns the apostle Paul. He goes on to say: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.” (1 Timothy 6:9, 10) Pointing up a fact so often evident when people make material goals their prime interest in life, Ecclesiastes 5:10 states: “A mere lover of silver will not be satisfied with silver, neither any lover of wealth with income. This too is vanity.”
How often it happens that husband and wife both work hard to obtain all the luxuries of life, only to become so busy that they are never at home to enjoy their possessions! By contrast, before giving the above warning to Timothy, Paul stated: “To be sure, it is a means of great gain, this godly devotion along with self-sufficiency. So, having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.” (1 Timothy 6:6, 8) And Proverbs 28:20 adds this thought: “A man of faithful acts will get many blessings, but he that is hastening to gain riches will not remain innocent.” How tragic it is to see otherwise friendly, hospitable people sacrifice the high principles of honesty, dignity, and ethical behavior in their effort to amass ever greater riches!
Within the Family Circle
It is the custom among some tribes and peoples to expect their children—especially their daughters, who will eventually leave home to marry—to go off to work and send home a monthly remittance to demonstrate their filial piety and repay their parents for having raised them. For example, in one family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the daughter told her parents she would like to go to a city in order to become a pioneer (full-time minister). Imagine her dismay when her parents told her they wanted her to go to work so that she could send home a monthly remittance to help them! No, they were not in material need. So the principle of children caring for aged, sick, or needy parents did not apply in this case. (Matthew 15:4-6; 1 Timothy 5:8) It was simply a matter of custom among their tribe that the children should help lay up riches for the family. While often necessary because of a lack of social provisions, this custom was being followed only to save face in the community or because of being infected with the prevalent desire to “fa tsai.”
When the father discussed this matter with a Christian elder, he was encouraged to consider a number of scriptures and then make his decision. Among the texts pointed out to him was 2 Corinthians 12:14 where Paul states this principle: “For the children ought not to lay up for their parents, but the parents for their children.” After considering this and other Bible principles, the parents made their decision. How delighted the daughter was to receive permission—and even some financial help—to become a regular pioneer!
Another area in which local customs and prevailing attitudes often conflict with Bible principles is in the matter of subjection. In some lands it is the custom to require absolute subjection to parental and other authorities in all areas of life. It is not unusual in such lands for men of 40 or even more years of age to refuse to read any literature of a religion different from that of their parents or to make any major decision without first consulting them, for fear of displeasing the parents. Yet, in such lands it is becoming more common to find young people rebelling outright against their parents. The Bible with its balanced view of matters helps us to avoid both extremes. The principle of relative subjection to human authority is clearly stated in Acts 4:19 and Ac 5:29. Also, note how Paul encourages children to be obedient to parents, and yet he shows that it is not without some limitations when he says: “Children, be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord, for this is righteous: ‘Honor your father and your mother’; which is the first command with a promise.”—Ephesians 6:1-3.
Another Bible principle that will affect the extent of one’s subjection to parents is that of subjection of a wife to her husband. “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife,” wrote the apostle Paul. He then amplified that principle by recalling what Jehovah said after arranging the first human marriage: “For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and he will stick to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”—Ephesians 5:22-31.
However, what about the situation that exists in many lands where the son continues to live in his parents’ home following his marriage? The Bible indicates that, in pre-Christian times at least, worshipers of Jehovah often did this. Under such circumstances the father of the household remained the patriarchal head of the family, but wives were to be subject to their own husbands. In some lands, though, it often works out that the mother-in-law is the head of the daughter-in-law. This makes it more difficult for the son to apply fully the principle of husbandly headship and for his wife to be truly in subjection to her husband. Nevertheless, the son will have to balance respect for his parents with the necessity of being head of his own household if he is to have Jehovah as the third strand in the symbolic ‘threefold cord that is not easily torn in two.’—Ecclesiastes 4:12.
In some lands an even more difficult situation presents itself when a man marries into a family in which there is no male heir. The following case typifies the plight of many such men when later in life they learn and try to apply Bible principles. A young Catholic man married into a Catholic family. Right from the start, he found he was looked down upon by the family and was little more than an unpaid worker who was expected to father children so that the family name would be kept alive. As is the custom in such an arrangement, he had to give up his own name, allowing his children to be considered the heirs to the family property. When he learned the principle of family headship and tried to apply it, his wife’s response was like that of the whole family: ‘You brought nothing into this family, so you don’t have any say in how things are to be done!’
While not all such marriage alliances are as extreme as this particular case, it can readily be seen that where such a custom is common and subjection on the part of the husband is expected, problems will arise in applying the Bible principles regarding headship. It becomes very difficult for a Christian husband to exercise his loving headship over his own family and equally difficult for the wife to be in subjection to her husband with “deep respect,” rather than to her parents under whose roof they most likely continue to live.—Ephesians 5:33.
Another illustration of how Bible principles might conflict with local custom involves the matter of parents’ arranging the marriages of their children. For Christian children with unbelieving parents, this often presents a real problem, as parents feel that they have failed if their children are not married off by a certain age. Thus, great pressure, including beatings, is applied to force the children, and especially girls, to marry. When there is a shortage of suitable Christian mates, the unbelieving parents will do almost anything to arrange a marriage, while the Christian will remember the principle of marrying “only in the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 7:39; Deuteronomy 7:3, 4.
Benefit by Following Bible Principles
The outstanding beauty of Bible principles is that they can improve the life of anyone who wishes to apply them, no matter where he lives. They are consistent and draw families together. They make people more honest, make them better husbands and fathers, better wives and mothers, better children, better employees. They can overcome the problems caused by conflicting local customs and balance the application of those customs that do not directly conflict with God’s will for man but perhaps make conformity to that will more difficult. How can this be done?
First, just as the Christians in Thessalonica did, you must accept the fact that the Bible really is “the word of God.” This means realizing that it truly is wisdom from the highest Source. Second, you must strive to learn what that “word of God” has to say for your benefit. Learn to isolate the principles and laws of God as you read and study the Bible. Then, as a third step, you must allow that word to be “at work in you.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13) This involves close association with the congregations of God’s people now located in over 200 lands and islands of the sea. It is this that has made the worldwide brotherhood of Jehovah’s Witnesses just that—a brotherhood in fact and not in name only.
First and foremost, Jehovah’s people are interested in unity with God by allowing Bible principles to govern their lives. With what results? True and lasting unity with others who are also at unity with God, as well as peace of mind that sustains one through all situations existing in this present system of things. (Philippians 4:6, 7) Such unity and close relationship with God and with one another is a positive aid in improving the quality of life now and holds the promise of everlasting life in God’s righteous new system where all things will finally be brought fully into subjection to God’s will.—1 Timothy 4:8; 1 Corinthians 15:28.
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Accept the Bible as “the word of God”
Strive to learn what God’s Word has to say for your benefit
Allow that Word to be “at work in you”