Make Wise Use of Your Christian Freedom
“Be as free people, and yet holding your freedom . . . as slaves of God.”—1 PETER 2:16.
1. What freedom did Adam lose, and to what freedom will Jehovah restore mankind?
WHEN our first parents sinned in the garden of Eden, they lost for their children a glorious heritage—freedom from sin and corruption. As a result, all of us were born slaves to corruption and death. Happily, though, Jehovah purposes to restore faithful humans to a wonderful freedom. Today, righthearted ones anxiously await “the revealing of the sons of God,” as a result of which they “will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.”—Romans 8:19-21.
‘Anointed to Preach’
2, 3. (a) Who are “the sons of God”? (b) What wonderful standing do they enjoy, bringing what responsibility?
2 Who are these “sons of God”? They are spirit-anointed brothers of Jesus who will be rulers with him in the heavenly Kingdom. The first of these appeared during the first century C.E. They accepted the liberating truth that Jesus taught, and from Pentecost 33 C.E., they partook of the glorious privileges that Peter spoke of when he wrote to them: “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.’”—1 Peter 2:9a; John 8:32.
3 To be God’s special possession—what a wonderful blessing! And the modern-day remnant of these anointed sons of God enjoy the same blessed standing with God. But with such an elevated privilege comes responsibilities. Peter drew attention to one of these when he went on to say: “‘You should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”—1 Peter 2:9b.
4. How have anointed Christians fulfilled the responsibility that comes with their Christian freedom?
4 Have anointed Christians fulfilled this responsibility to declare abroad God’s excellencies? Yes. Speaking prophetically of the anointed since 1919, Isaiah said: “The spirit of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah is upon me, for the reason that Jehovah has anointed me to tell good news to the meek ones. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to those taken captive and the wide opening of the eyes even to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of goodwill on the part of Jehovah and the day of vengeance on the part of our God.” (Isaiah 61:1, 2) Today, the anointed remnant, following the example of Jesus, to whom this scripture primarily applied, zealously declare to others the good news of freedom.—Matthew 4:23-25; Luke 4:14-21.
5, 6. (a) What has resulted from the enthusiastic preaching of anointed Christians? (b) What privileges and responsibilities do those of the great crowd enjoy?
5 As a result of their enthusiastic preaching, a great crowd of other sheep have appeared on the world scene in these latter days. They have come out of all nations to join the anointed in serving Jehovah, and the truth has made these free as well. (Zechariah 8:23; John 10:16) Like Abraham they are declared righteous on the basis of faith and have entered into a close relationship with Jehovah God. And like Rahab their being declared righteous puts them in line for survival—in their case, survival of Armageddon. (James 2:23-25; Revelation 16:14, 16) But such elevated privileges also entail the responsibility to tell others about God’s glory. That is why John saw them publicly praising Jehovah, “crying with a loud voice, saying: ‘Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”—Revelation 7:9, 10, 14.
6 Last year the great crowd, now numbering more than four million, together with the small remaining band of anointed Christians, spent nearly a billion hours declaring abroad the excellencies of Jehovah. This was the best possible use of their spiritual freedom.
“Have Honor for the King”
7, 8. What responsibility toward secular authority does Christian freedom entail, and in this regard, what wrong attitude must we avoid?
7 Our Christian freedom entails other responsibilities. Peter pointed to some when he wrote: “Honor men of all sorts, have love for the whole association of brothers, be in fear of God, have honor for the king.” (1 Peter 2:17) What is implied by the expression “have honor for the king”?
8 “The king” represents secular rulers. Today, a spirit of disrespect for authority has developed in the world, and this can easily affect Christians. A Christian may even wonder why he should honor “the king,” since “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) In view of these words, he might feel free to disobey inconvenient laws and withhold taxes if he can get away with it. But this would be against the express command of Jesus to “pay back . . . Caesar’s things to Caesar.” It would be, in effect, ‘using his freedom as a blind for badness.’—Matthew 22:21; 1 Peter 2:16.
9. What are two good reasons for being obedient to secular authority?
9 Christians are obliged to have honor for authority and to be subject to it—even if this is in a relative way. (Acts 5:29) Why? At 1 Peter 2:14, 15, Peter points to three reasons when he says that governors are “sent by [God] to inflict punishment on evildoers but to praise doers of good.” The fear of punishment is reason enough for obeying authority. What a disgrace it would be for one of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be fined or imprisoned for assault, theft, or some other crime! Imagine how some would delight to publicize such a thing! On the other hand, as we develop a reputation for civil obedience, we receive praise from fair-minded administrators. We may be given more freedom to go about our work of preaching the good news. Further, ‘by doing good we muzzle the ignorant talk of the unreasonable men.’ (1 Peter 2:15b) This is a second reason for obeying authority.—Romans 13:3.
10. What is the strongest reason for obeying secular authority?
10 But there is a stronger reason. The authorities exist by Jehovah’s permission. As Peter says, the political rulers are “sent by” Jehovah, and it is “the will of God” that Christians remain subject to them. (1 Peter 2:15a) Similarly, the apostle Paul says: “The existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God.” Hence, our Bible-trained conscience moves us to obey the authorities. If we refuse to subject ourselves to them, we have “taken a stand against the arrangement of God.” (Romans 13:1, 2, 5) Who among us would willingly want to take a stand against God’s arrangement? What a misuse of Christian freedom that would be!
‘Have Love for the Brothers’
11, 12. (a) What responsibility toward fellow believers comes with our Christian freedom? (b) Who especially deserve our loving consideration, and why?
11 Peter also said that a Christian should “have love for the whole association of brothers.” (1 Peter 2:17) This is another responsibility that comes with Christian freedom. Most of us belong to a congregation. Indeed, all of us belong to the international association, or organization, of brothers. Showing love for these is a wise use of our freedom.—John 15:12, 13.
12 The apostle Paul singled out a group of Christians that especially deserve our love. He said: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.” (Hebrews 13:17) Those taking the lead in the congregation are the elders. True, these men are not perfect. Nevertheless, they are appointed under the supervision of the Governing Body. They lead by example and with considerateness, and they are assigned to keep watch over our souls. What a weighty assignment! (Hebrews 13:7) Happily, most congregations have a fine, cooperative spirit, and it is a joy for elders to work with them. It is more difficult when individuals do not wish to cooperate. The elder still does his work, but as Paul says, he does it with “sighing.” Surely, we do not want to make the elders sigh! We want them to find joy in their work so that they can build us up.
13. What are some ways in which we can cooperate with the elders?
13 What are some ways in which we can cooperate with the elders? One is in helping with the upkeep and cleaning of the Kingdom Hall. Another is by cooperating in the work of visiting the sick and helping the disabled. Again, we can strive to remain spiritually strong, so as not to become a burden. An important area of cooperation is in the maintaining of the moral and spiritual cleanness of the congregation, both by our own conduct and by reporting cases of serious sin that come to our attention.
14. How should we cooperate with disciplinary action taken by the elders?
14 Sometimes, in order to keep the congregation clean, elders have to disfellowship an unrepentant wrongdoer. (1 Corinthians 5:1-5) This protects the congregation. It may also help the wrongdoer. Often, such discipline has helped to bring a sinner to his senses. What, though, if the one disfellowshipped is a close friend or a relative? Suppose the individual is our father or mother or our son or daughter. Do we nevertheless respect the action taken by the elders? True, it may be difficult. But what an abuse of our freedom it would be to question the decision of the elders and continue to associate spiritually with one who has proved to be a corrupting influence in the congregation! (2 John 10, 11) Jehovah’s people as a whole are to be commended because of the way they cooperate in such matters. As a result, Jehovah’s organization remains undefiled in this unclean world.—James 1:27.
15. If an individual commits a serious sin, what should he immediately do?
15 What if we commit a serious sin? King David described those whom Jehovah favors when he said: “Who may ascend into the mountain of Jehovah, and who may rise up in his holy place? Anyone innocent in his hands and clean in heart, who has not carried My soul to sheer worthlessness, nor taken an oath deceitfully.” (Psalm 24:3, 4) If for some reason we are no longer ‘innocent in our hands and clean in heart,’ we must act with urgency. Our everlasting life is in jeopardy.
16, 17. Why should one guilty of serious sins not try to resolve the matter on his own?
16 Some have been tempted to hide serious sins, perhaps reasoning: ‘I have confessed to Jehovah and repented. So why involve the elders?’ The wrongdoer may be embarrassed or fear what the elders might do. He should, however, remember that although Jehovah alone can cleanse us of sin, He has made the elders primarily responsible for the purity of the congregation. (Psalm 51:2) They are there for healing, for “the readjustment of the holy ones.” (Ephesians 4:12) Not to go to them when we need spiritual help is like not going to a doctor when we are sick.
17 Some who try to handle matters alone find that months or years later, their conscience is still severely troubling them. Even worse, others who hide a serious error fall into sin a second and even a third time. When the matter finally comes to the attention of the elders, it is a case of repeated wrongdoing. How much better to follow the counsel of James! He wrote: “Is there anyone sick among you? Let him call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, greasing him with oil in the name of Jehovah.” (James 5:14) Go to the elders while it is still a time for healing. If we wait too long, we might become hardened in a course of sin.—Ecclesiastes 3:3; Isaiah 32:1, 2.
Appearance and Recreation
18, 19. Why did a priest comment favorably about Jehovah’s Witnesses?
18 Five years ago, in a parish magazine, a Catholic priest in Italy spoke warmly about Jehovah’s Witnesses.* He said: “Personally, I like Jehovah’s Witnesses; I frankly admit it. . . . The ones I know are impeccably mannered, soft-spoken . . . [and] most persuasive. When will we understand that truth needs an acceptable presentation? That those announcing the truth needn’t be halfhearted, foul-smelling, disheveled, sloppy?”
19 According to these words, the priest was impressed, among other things, by the way the Witnesses dressed and presented themselves. Obviously, those whom he met had listened to the counsel given by “the faithful and discreet slave” over the years. (Matthew 24:45) The Bible says that dress for women should be ‘well arranged and modest.’ (1 Timothy 2:9) In this decadent time, that counsel is necessary for men also. Is it not logical that representatives of God’s Kingdom should present themselves decently to outsiders?
20. Why should a Christian be conscious of his dress at all times?
20 Some may agree that at meetings and in field service, they should be careful about how they dress, but they may feel that Bible principles do not apply at other times. Do we, though, ever cease to be representatives of God’s Kingdom? True, circumstances vary. If we are helping to construct a Kingdom Hall, we will dress differently from when we attend a meeting in that same Kingdom Hall. When we are at leisure, we will likely dress in a more relaxed fashion. But whenever we are seen by others, our clothing should always be well arranged and modest.
21, 22. How have we been protected against harmful recreation, and in what way should we view counsel on such matters?
21 Another area that has received much attention is recreation. Humans—particularly young people—need recreation. It is not a sin or a waste of time to schedule relaxation for the family. Even Jesus invited his disciples to “rest up a bit.” (Mark 6:31) But be careful that recreation does not open the door to spiritual contamination. We are living in a world where recreation highlights sexual immorality, gross violence, horror, and spiritism. (2 Timothy 3:3; Revelation 22:15) The faithful and discreet slave is alert to such dangers and constantly warns us against them. Do you feel that these reminders are an infringement of your freedom? Or are you grateful that Jehovah’s organization cares enough about you to draw such dangers constantly to your attention?—Psalm 19:7; 119:95.
22 Never forget that though our freedom comes from Jehovah, we are responsible for how we use it. If we ignore good counsel and make wrong decisions, we cannot blame someone else. The apostle Paul says: “Each of us will render an account for himself to God.”—Romans 14:12; Hebrews 4:13.
Look for the Freedom of the Children of God
23. (a) What blessings with regard to freedom do we now enjoy? (b) What blessings do we eagerly await?
23 We are indeed a blessed people. We are free from false religion and superstition. Thanks to the ransom sacrifice, we can approach Jehovah with a cleansed conscience, free in a spiritual way from enslavement to sin and death. And soon will come “the revealing of the sons of God.” At Armageddon, Jesus’ brothers in their heavenly glory will be revealed to humans as destroyers of Jehovah’s enemies. (Romans 8:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8; Revelation 2:26, 27) Thereafter, these sons of God will be revealed as channels for blessings flowing from the throne of God to mankind. (Revelation 22:1-5) Eventually, this revealing of the sons of God will result in the blessing of faithful mankind with the glorious freedom of the children of God. Do you long for that time? Then use your Christian freedom wisely. Slave for God now, and you will enjoy that wondrous freedom for all eternity!
The priest later withdrew this commendation, apparently under pressure.
□ How have the anointed and the other sheep glorified Jehovah?
□ Why should Christians honor the secular authority?
□ In what ways can a Christian cooperate with the elders?
□ As regards dress, why do Jehovah’s Witnesses stand out as different from many in the world?
□ What should we avoid when it comes to recreation?
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The elders are especially deserving of our love and cooperation
[Pictures on page 18]
A Christian’s dress should be well arranged, modest, and appropriate for the occasion