Are You Willing to Listen to God?
WHEN we read the Bible, we quickly realize that the situation of people in the first century was in many ways similar to ours today. There was much immorality and dishonesty, particularly among Israel’s licentious neighbors, for whom immorality was often a part of religion. Life was uncertain for poor people, and there were political problems. By the year 66 C.E., Israel and Rome were engaged in a full-scale war. In those days, as now, people needed help.
Religiously, the similarities between those days and our time are many. Jewish religious leaders were hypocrites. (Matthew 23:15; Luke 20:46, 47) In the non-Jewish world, religious attitudes ran the gamut from cynicism to superstition and fanatical religious fervor. (Compare Acts 14:8-13; 19:27, 28.) Even in the relatively new Christian congregation, all was not well. At the end of the century, the apostle John warned: “Many deceivers have gone forth into the world.” (2 John 7) Yes, back there too, much counterfeit counsel was offered on the subject of religion. Yet reliable help was available.
Would You Have Listened to Jesus?
Jesus was one who offered sound counsel in those days. It was so persuasive that we read this of its effect: “The crowds were astounded at his way of teaching.” (Matthew 7:28) But few among those crowds really listened to what he said. Jesus performed miraculous works and set a fine example of godly living and conduct. Yet, even the supposedly better-educated leaders refused to see the value of what he said. Why?
To a large degree, it was a matter of prejudice. Some despised Jesus because he was from Nazareth. Others rejected him because he had not attended one of their schools and had no connections with the ruling class. (John 1:46; 7:12, 15, 47, 48) Moreover, Jesus did not always say what people wanted to hear. He spoke only the truth, and the Pharisees, for example, were often offended at his words. (Matthew 15:12-14) Indeed, after he had preached for three and a half years, the Jewish religious leaders had him killed. (Luke 23:20-35) What an opportunity they missed, since Jesus had “sayings of everlasting life”!—John 6:68.
If you had lived in Jerusalem at that time, would you have followed the religious leaders and the rest of the crowd? Or would you have been open-minded enough to grasp the sense of what Jesus was saying? If so, you would have been like a remarkable woman that Jesus met while on his travels.
One Who Did Listen
He met this woman while he was traveling through Samaria. He had sat down beside a well to rest, and the woman came along to draw water while he was there. We do not know her name, but the Bible records that Jesus, despite his tiredness, took the opportunity to talk to her about religion.—John 4:5-15.
Now, there were many reasons why this woman might have shrugged off Jesus’ approach. She was of a different religion—the Samaritan way of worship was different from the Jewish. Also, the Jews looked down on the Samaritans and refused to associate with them. Then, too, Jewish men did not usually address women who were strangers to them. (John 4:9, 27) Moreover, the Samaritan woman was living an immoral life, and she might have bristled at the possibility of being criticized or of having her sins exposed.—John 4:18.
However, that was not the way she reacted. Rather, she asked reasonable questions in response to Jesus’ tactful, interest-arousing approach. As the conversation developed, she ventured into a difficult area, alluding to the religious schism that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus answered kindly but frankly, telling the woman: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know.” (John 4:19-22) But she did not get offended. Her open mind was ready to hear more.
So Jesus continued with an important declaration: “Nevertheless, the hour is coming, and it is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him. God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.” (John 4:23, 24) Later, this open-minded woman showed appreciation by eagerly telling her neighbors what she had learned. They, in turn, sought further information by listening to Jesus’ words.—John 4:39-42.
What can we learn from this? Well, if we live in an area where there are strong racial, national, or religious prejudices, how do we respond when someone of a different race, nationality, or religion approaches us? Do we clam up when things are discussed that might show us up to be wrong? Or are we, like the Samaritan woman, willing at least to talk?
Would You Have Listened to Paul?
Another who offered fine counsel during the first century was the apostle Paul. At one time Paul too had a closed mind. He confessed: “Formerly I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and an insolent man. Nevertheless, I was shown mercy, because I was ignorant and acted with a lack of faith.” (1 Timothy 1:13) However, he accepted the truth about Jesus Christ and cast off his prejudices. His example shows that Bible truth can help ‘overturn strongly entrenched things’ in the heart if such things are detrimental to our well-being.—2 Corinthians 10:4.
Once he had become a Christian, Paul went forth boldly to spread the good news that he had learned. And as would be expected, he met up with the same kind of closed-mindedness that he himself had once had—but not in every case. In Beroea, in northern Greece, he found some meekhearted ones who were a fine example of how to listen to counsel. These ones recognized the ring of truth in Paul’s words. Hence, “they received the word with the greatest eagerness of mind.” But they were open-minded, not gullible. They ‘carefully examined the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.’ (Acts 17:11) They liked what they heard, although they checked its authenticity with the Bible before completely accepting it.
“Make Sure of All Things”
In our day, Jehovah’s Witnesses spend much time endeavoring to share the good news of the Kingdom with their neighbors belonging to other religions. What response do the Witnesses get? Many friendly persons are happy to receive them. But a number refuse, and some even get angry because the Witnesses call.
This is sad, for what Jehovah’s Witnesses want to talk about is called “good news” in the Bible. (Matthew 24:14) Moreover, they encourage the attitude of the apostle Paul, who said: “Make sure of all things; hold fast to what is fine.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Even if someone has strong opinions, surely, like the Beroeans and the Samaritan woman, that one should be open-minded enough to talk about God with others.
Why Be Open-Minded?
Happily, hundreds of thousands of people each year are doing just that. Many learn to recognize the wisdom that the Bible contains, and the result is real, lasting changes in their lives. Some were previously like Janet, a young woman with a long history of drug and alcohol abuse who was finally driven to try suicide. Today, Janet is a happy Christian person. Her study of the Bible helped her to gain the strength to follow Paul’s counsel: “Let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit.”—2 Corinthians 7:1.
Vernon was an alcoholic, and his marriage was in danger of breaking up. But following the Bible’s counsel enabled him to overcome this vice and become reconciled with his wife. (1 Corinthians 6:11) Debra had strong racial prejudices. But a Bible study and association with Christian people helped her to adjust her thinking. (Acts 10:34, 35) And who would have believed the changes that would occur in the life of a young prostitute in the Netherlands when, one day, she agreed to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses? Soon, she was a baptized Christian living a clean life and responsibly looking after her children.
Such experiences are repeated many times over as people listen to what the Bible says. Their lives are improved in ways that many of them never thought possible. More important, they gain a relationship with God, so that they can pray to him earnestly as “Our Father in the heavens.” (Matthew 6:9) And they gain a sure, unbreakable hope for the future as they experience the truth of Jesus’ words: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.”—John 17:3.
This is the kind of information that Jehovah’s Witnesses want to discuss when they pursue their ministry and visit their neighbors. Likely, they will be visiting you again soon. Will you be open-minded enough to listen to them?
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The Samaritan woman did not let prejudice prevent her from listening to Jesus. Are you equally open-minded?