Breathing This World’s “Air” Is Death-Dealing!
“It is you God made alive though you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you at one time walked . . . according to the ruler of the authority of the air.”—EPHESIANS 2:1, 2.
1. How has air pollution come to be death-dealing to humans?
A BREATH of fresh air! How refreshing after one’s being in a stuffy room! But even in the wide open spaces, pollution is a major problem today. Poisons spewed into the atmosphere are at alarming levels in many countries. Toxic fumes, radioactive dust, disease-causing germs, and certain viruses all travel by air. Life-sustaining air, so generously provided by our loving Creator, is becoming more and more death-dealing due to man’s greed and carelessness.
2. What contaminated “air” is more dangerous than the polluted air we may breathe?
2 As dangerous as air pollution is, however, there is an even more deadly form of polluted “air.” It is not contaminated air from the nuclear accident at Chernobyl (U.S.S.R.) or smog-filled air of Los Angeles, California (U.S.A.). No, we are in danger of breathing much more lethal “air.” The apostle Paul mentioned it when he told fellow Christians: “It is you God made alive though you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you at one time walked according to the system of things of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience.”—Ephesians 2:1, 2.
3, 4. (a) Who is “the ruler of the authority of the air”? (b) Why is the “air” of Ephesians 2:1, 2 not the abode of the demons?
3 What is this “air”? Paul shows that it has “authority,” or power, and there is a “ruler” over it. There is no doubt who this ruler is. He is Satan the Devil, the one Jesus Christ called “the ruler of this world.” (John 12:31) Realizing this, some Bible scholars feel that Paul here borrowed from Jewish or pagan sources and spoke of the air as being the abode of the demons over which the Devil has control. Many Bible translations reflect this view. But this “air” is not the same as “the heavenly places” in which “the wicked spirit forces” dwell.—Ephesians 6:11, 12.
4 When Paul wrote to Christians at Ephesus, Satan and the demons were still in heaven, although being outside God’s favor. They were yet to be cast down to the vicinity of the earth. (Revelation 12:7-10) Moreover, air relates more to humans than to spirit creatures. Accordingly, human society was to feel the effects when the last bowl of God’s anger was poured out upon “the air.”—Revelation 16:17-21.
5. What is the “air” here under discussion, and what effect does it have upon people?
5 Hence, it appears that Paul uses the literal air, or atmosphere, to illustrate the general spirit, or dominant attitude of selfishness and disobedience, reflected by people alienated from God. It is the same as “the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience” and “the spirit of the world.” (Ephesians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 2:12) Just as the literal air is everywhere, ready to be breathed in, so “the spirit of the world” is always present. From infancy to the grave, it permeates, influences, and shapes the way people think and act as they seek to fulfill their desires, hopes, and ambitions.
6. (a) How is the potency of this world’s “air” intensified, and how does it exercise “authority”? (b) How can breathing this “air” induce one to imitate the Devil’s rebellious course?
6 This spirit of sinfulness and rebellion predominates in imperfect human society. As this “air” is breathed in, its lethal potency is intensified by peer pressure and an ever-increasing appetite for sensual pleasure. Thus, it has pronounced “authority” over people. (Compare Romans 6:12-14.) The Devil, of course, is the originator of all that is wicked. (John 8:44) So he influences humans to imitate his own rebellious course and thereby inspires, shapes, and controls this community spirit, or “air.” As the “ruler” over this sinister power, or “authority,” Satan uses it to control the thinking of people. Its elements are formulated to keep people so occupied with satisfying fleshly desires and pursuing worldly interests that they have no time or inclination to get to know God and submit to his holy spirit, “the spirit that is life-giving.” (John 6:63) Spiritually speaking, they are dead.
7. (a) In what way were Christians “children of wrath” at one time? (b) Upon our becoming Christians, what transformation took place?
7 Christians too were under the “authority,” or control, of this polluted “air” before they learned the truth of God’s Word and began to conform to his righteous standards. “Yes, among them [worldly people] we all at one time conducted ourselves in harmony with the desires of our flesh, doing the things willed by the flesh and the thoughts, and we were naturally children of wrath even as the rest.” But upon becoming Christians, we stopped breathing in the death-dealing “air” of this world. We ‘put away the old personality which conformed to our former course of conduct and put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.’—Ephesians 2:3; 4:22-24.
8. How is our situation today similar to that of the nation of Israel in the wilderness?
8 The danger now is that after escaping from this world’s polluted atmosphere we may be enticed to go back into it. Here we are, deep into “the time of the end” and on the very threshold of the new world. (Daniel 12:4) Surely, we do not want to lose out because of falling into the same traps as did the Israelites. After they had been miraculously delivered from Egypt and had arrived at the border of the Promised Land, thousands “were laid low in the wilderness.” Why? Because some became idolaters, others committed fornication, and still others put Jehovah to the test by their murmuring and complaining. Paul makes a powerful point in saying: “Now these things went on befalling them as examples, and they were written for a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived.”—1 Corinthians 10:1-11.
9. (a) How can we be in the world and yet be no part of it? (b) What must we be to keep from being sucked back into the death-dealing atmosphere of the world?
9 Regarding his disciples, Jesus prayed: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world. I request you, not to take them out of the world, but to watch over them because of the wicked one.” (John 17:14, 15) Jehovah will safeguard us, but he does not place “a hedge” around us, nor does he miraculously shield us from this world’s “air.” (Job 1:9, 10) So our challenge is to be in Satan’s world, yet being no part of it, to be surrounded by its contaminated “air,” yet not breathing it in. When we read secular publications, watch television, or go to places of entertainment, we are likely to be exposed to the world’s “air.” While some contact with worldly people is unavoidable—at work, at school, and otherwise—we must be vigilant so as to keep from being sucked back into the death-dealing atmosphere of this world.—1 Corinthians 15:33, 34.
10, 11. (a) How might our being in Jehovah’s spiritual paradise be compared to occupying a “no smoking” area? (b) What steps should be taken if whiffs of this world’s “air” are detected?
10 We might compare our situation to sitting in a restaurant having “smoking” and “no smoking” areas. As Christians in Jehovah’s spiritual paradise, we are properly in the “no smoking” section, away from the spirit of this world. Surely, we would not deliberately sit in the “smoking” section. That would be foolish. But what often happens when we are in the “no smoking” section of a restaurant? Why, the smoke-saturated, filthy air drifts over, and we get whiffs of it! When this happens, do we find the polluted air enticing? Or do we not rather get away from it as quickly as we can?
11 But what do you do when whiffs of this world’s “air” come your way? Do you take immediate action to get away from this foul influence? If you stay there and breathe it in, you can be sure that your thinking will be affected. The longer you breathe in this “air,” the more tolerance you build up for it. Moreover, in time the smell is not so repulsive but is alluring, intoxicating, desirable to the flesh. It may intensify some secret desire you have been fighting to control.
12. What is required to avoid being affected by those aspects of this world’s “air” that are not easily detected?
12 Some death-dealing pollutants of this world’s “air” are not easily detected, even as such contaminants of the literal air as carbon monoxide are odorless and tasteless. The danger, then, is that we may not detect the ‘deadly fumes’ until they have overcome us. Thus, we need to be alert that we may not be led into a death trap by this world’s permissive attitudes or its disobedience to God’s standards of righteousness. Paul encouraged his fellow Christians to “keep on exhorting one another each day . . . for fear any one of you should become hardened by the deceptive power of sin.”—Hebrews 3:13; Romans 12:2.
What Makes Up This World’s “Air”?
13. (a) What is one form of this world’s “air” that we should guard against? (b) How is it apparent that this “air” has affected some of Jehovah’s people?
13 What common attitudes might we begin to adopt, even before we realize it, because of the strong influence of this world’s “air”? One is the inclination to toy with things immoral. This world’s ideas on sex and morality are all around us. Many say: ‘It’s all right to commit fornication, bear children out of wedlock, and practice homosexuality. We’re just doing what’s normal, natural.’ Has this “air,” or worldly spirit, affected Jehovah’s people? Unfortunately, during the 1986 service year, 37,426 had to be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation, the greater number of them for practicing sexual immorality. And this does not include the even higher number reproved for immorality but not disfellowshipped because they were sincerely repentant.—Proverbs 28:13.
14. Why do some Christians go astray morally, rejecting what Scriptural counsel?
14 What happens in the case of those who succumb to sexual immorality? When the facts become known, often it is found that they have resumed breathing in the death-dealing “air” of this world. They have let worldly attitudes cause them to lower their standards. For example, they may start watching movies that they would have walked out on years earlier. Worse still, on home video equipment they may watch movies clearly unfit for a Christian. Such toying with things immoral is in direct opposition to the Scriptural injunction: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people; neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting.”—Ephesians 5:3, 4.
15. How might temptation to toy with sexual immorality begin casually?
15 True, you may quickly reject any outright proposal to commit fornication. But how do you act when someone on the job or at school attempts to flirt with you, tries to get overly familiar in a physical way, or invites you to go out on a date? Whiffs of this world’s “air” have thus drifted your way. Do you allow yourself to enjoy the attention, to encourage it? According to reports received from elders, wrongdoing often starts in such casual ways. A worldly man may say to a Christian woman: “How nice you look today!” That may be pleasant to hear, especially if the woman feels somewhat lonely. More seriously, some have not reacted wisely to attempts at improper touching. They have given the appearance of objecting but in such a halfhearted way that the worldly person was encouraged to continue what he was doing. What if such immoral advances toward a Christian woman persist, like strong puffs of polluted air blown her way? In a firm way, she should tell him that she does not want and will not accept his attentions. If she continues to breathe in this “air,” her resistance will likely break down. She could be led into immorality, if not into an unwise marriage.—Compare Proverbs 5:3-14; 1 Corinthians 7:39.
16. What is required in order to be “a sweet odor of Christ”?
16 Be quick, therefore, to reject the immoral, death-dealing “air” of this world. Instead of submitting to its alluring smell and bringing reproach upon Jehovah’s name and organization, become a pleasant odor to God by your godly attitude and conduct. Paul put it this way: “For to God we are a sweet odor of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the latter ones an odor issuing from death to death, to the former ones an odor issuing from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:15, 16) What does it matter if many turn up their noses at the Christian course? (1 Peter 4:1-5) Let the world go along in its way, reaping its bad fruitage in the form of broken homes, illegitimate births, sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS, and countless other emotional and physical woes. Not only will you be spared many pains but you will also have the favor of God. Moreover, at least some will be impressed by your good conduct and the Kingdom message you preach, thereby being attracted by the “odor issuing from life to life.”
The “Air” of Worldly Styles
17. How may styles of clothing and grooming reveal that one has been influenced by the spirit of this world?
17 Another aspect of this world’s “air” pertains to styles of clothing and grooming. Many in the world dress in order to make themselves sexually alluring. Even preteens want to make themselves up to appear older, accentuating sex. Are you affected by this widespread “air,” or attitude? Do you dress to thrill, to tease, to arouse improperly the interest of those of the opposite sex? If so, you are playing with fire. Breathing this “air” will choke your spirit of modesty, your desire to be chaste. (Micah 6:8) Those who have a worldly spirit will be drawn to you. From your actions, they will get the message that you are ready to join them in immorality. But why start in this direction by letting such “air” entice you to do what is bad in God’s sight?
18. How will always remembering that we represent Jehovah help us in selecting styles of dress and grooming?
18 To be modest, we do not have to dress or groom ourselves shoddily or unattractively. Consider the way the vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses dress and groom themselves. They avoid the extreme styles of this world but present themselves attractively, keeping in mind that they are ministers representing the Sovereign of the universe, Jehovah. Let the old world be critical of their modest styles. They dare not let this world’s attitudes cause them to lower their Christian standards. “This, therefore, I say and bear witness to in the Lord,” wrote the apostle Paul, “that you no longer go on walking just as the nations also walk in the unprofitableness of their minds . . . Having come to be past all moral sense, they gave themselves over to loose conduct to work uncleanness of every sort.” (Ephesians 4:17-19) The mature Christian will dress modestly, not walking just as the nations do.—1 Timothy 2:9, 10.
19. Having considered two major aspects of this world’s “air,” what is already apparent as to the danger of breathing it in?
19 So far, we have considered only two aspects of the “air” of this world. But already we have seen that this “air” is very harmful to spiritual health. In the next article, we will take up other features of this deadly “air” that the Devil and his system continually blow toward Christians, hoping that they will succumb to it. How important that we avoid such “air,” for absorbing the spirit of this world is like breathing the vapors of death!
How Would You Answer?
□ What is this world’s “air,” and who dominates it?
□ The world’s “air” has what “authority” over people?
□ Why may it be said that Christians are in a “no smoking” area?
□ As to toying with things immoral, how can this world’s “air” affect Jehovah’s people?
□ How can modesty help us to avoid being influenced by this world’s “air” as regards dress and grooming?
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Are you refusing to breathe this world’s death-dealing “air”?
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What do you do when whiffs of this world’s “air” drift your way?