Walking in Wisdom with Regard to the World
“Go on walking in wisdom toward those on the outside.”—COLOSSIANS 4:5.
1. With what were the early Christians confronted, and what counsel did Paul give to the congregation in Colossae?
THE early Christians living in the cities of the Roman world were continually confronted with idolatry, immoral pleasure-seeking, and pagan rites and customs. Those who lived in Colossae, a city in west-central Asia Minor, doubtless met up with the mother-goddess worship and spiritism of the native Phrygians, the pagan philosophy of the Greek settlers, and the Judaism of the Jewish colony. The apostle Paul counseled the Christian congregation to “go on walking in wisdom” toward such “outsiders.”—Colossians 4:5.
2. Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses today need to walk in wisdom toward those on the outside?
2 Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses meet up with similar wrong practices, and even more. They also, therefore, need to exercise wisdom in their relationship with those outside the true Christian congregation. Many in religious and political establishments as well as in the media are opposed to them. Some of these, either by outright attack or, more often, by innuendo, try to sully the reputation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and arouse prejudice against them. Just as the early Christians were unjustly viewed as a fanatical and even dangerous “sect,” Jehovah’s Witnesses today are often the butt of prejudice and misconceptions.—Acts 24:14; 1 Peter 4:4.
3, 4. (a) Why will true Christians never be loved by the world, but what should we try to do? (b) What did an author write about Jehovah’s Witnesses detained in a Nazi concentration camp?
3 True Christians do not expect to be loved by the world, which, according to the apostle John, “is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) Nevertheless, the Bible encourages Christians to endeavor to win individuals over to Jehovah and his pure worship. This we do by direct witnessing and also by our good behavior. The apostle Peter wrote: “Maintain your conduct fine among the nations, that, in the thing in which they are speaking against you as evildoers, they may as a result of your fine works of which they are eyewitnesses glorify God in the day for his inspection.”—1 Peter 2:12.
4 In her book Forgive—But Do Not Forget, author Sylvia Salvesen said of women Witnesses who were her fellow inmates in a Nazi concentration camp: “Those two, Käthe and Margarethe, and many others, helped me a lot, not only by their faith but in practical matters. They procured for us the first clean rags we had for our sores . . . In short we found ourselves amongst people who wished us well, and who showed their friendly feelings by their actions.” What a fine testimony from “those on the outside”!
5, 6. (a) What work is Christ accomplishing at the present time, and what should we not forget? (b) What should be our attitude toward people of the world, and why?
5 We can do much to break down prejudice by the wise way in which we conduct ourselves toward outsiders. True, we are living at the time when our reigning King, Christ Jesus, is separating people of the nations, “just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:32) But never forget that Christ is the Judge; it is he who decides who are “the sheep” and who are “the goats.”—John 5:22.
6 This should influence our attitude toward those who are not part of Jehovah’s organization. We may think of them as worldly people, but they are a part of the world of mankind that “God loved . . . so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) It is far better to consider people to be prospective sheep than presumptuously to decide that they are goats. Some who were once violently opposed to the truth are now dedicated Witnesses. And many of these were first won over by acts of kindness, before they responded to any direct witnessing. See, for example, the picture on page 18.
Zealous, Not Aggressive
7. What criticism did the pope express, but what question might we ask?
7 Pope John Paul II criticized sects in general, and Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular, when he stated: “The almost aggressive zeal with which some seek out new adherents, going from house to house, or stopping passersby on street corners, is a sectarian counterfeit of apostolic and missionary ardor.” It might be asked, If ours is a “counterfeit of apostolic and missionary ardor,” where is the real evangelizing zeal to be found? Certainly not among Catholics nor, for that matter, among Protestants or members of the Orthodox churches.
8. How should we carry out our house-to-house witnessing, hopefully with what result?
8 Nevertheless, in order to give the lie to any accusation of aggressiveness in our witnessing, we should always be kind, respectful, and polite when we approach people. The disciple James wrote: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show out of his fine conduct his works with a mildness that belongs to wisdom.” (James 3:13) The apostle Paul exhorts us “not to be belligerent.” (Titus 3:2) For example, rather than outrightly condemn the beliefs of a person we are witnessing to, why not show a sincere interest in his or her opinions? Then tell the person the good news as contained in the Bible. By adopting a positive approach and showing due respect for people with other beliefs, we will help them get in a better frame of mind to listen, and perhaps they will discern the value of the Bible’s message. The result may be that some will come to “glorify God.”—1 Peter 2:12.
9 The apostle Paul counseled: “Go on walking in wisdom toward those on the outside, buying out the opportune time for yourselves.” (Colossians 4:5) Explaining this latter expression, J. B. Lightfoot wrote: “Letting no opportunity slip you, of saying and doing what may further the cause of God.” (Italics ours.) Yes, we must be ready with words and deeds at the opportune time. Such wisdom also involves choosing an appropriate time of day to make calls. If our message is refused, is it because people do not appreciate it, or is it because we called at a time that was likely inopportune? Paul also wrote: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” (Colossians 4:6) This takes forethought and true love for neighbor. Let us always present the Kingdom message with graciousness.
Respectful and “Ready for Every Good Work”
10. (a) What counsel did the apostle Paul give to Christians living in Crete? (b) How have Jehovah’s Witnesses been exemplary in following Paul’s counsel?
10 We cannot compromise on Bible principles. On the other hand, we should not needlessly take issue with questions that do not involve Christian integrity. The apostle Paul wrote: “Continue reminding them [Christians in Crete] to be in subjection and be obedient to governments and authorities as rulers, to be ready for every good work, to speak injuriously of no one, not to be belligerent, to be reasonable, exhibiting all mildness toward all men.” (Titus 3:1, 2) Bible scholar E. F. Scott wrote about this passage: “Not only were Christians to obey authority, but they must be ready for any good work. This . . . means that, when occasion demanded, Christians should be among the foremost in showing public spirit. There would constantly be outbreaks of fire, plague, calamity of various kinds, when all good citizens would desire to help their neighbours.” Throughout the world there have been many instances of catastrophe striking and Jehovah’s Witnesses being among the first to perform relief work. They have helped not only their brothers but also outsiders.
11, 12. (a) How should Christians act toward the authorities? (b) What does subjection to authorities include when it comes to building Kingdom Halls?
11 This same passage from Paul’s letter to Titus also underscores the importance of adopting a respectful attitude toward the authorities. Young Christians who because of their stand on neutrality appear before judges should be particularly mindful to walk in wisdom toward those on the outside. They can do much to make or mar the reputation of Jehovah’s people by their appearance, their deportment, and the way they speak to such authorities. They should “render . . . to him who calls for honor, such honor,” and make their defense with deep respect.—Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:17; 3:15.
12 “Authorities” include local government officials. Now that more and more Kingdom Halls are being built, dealings with the local authorities are inevitable. Often, elders encounter prejudice. But it has been found that where congregation representatives establish a good relationship with the authorities and cooperate with the town planning commission, this prejudice can be broken down. Often a fine witness is given to people who previously knew little or nothing about Jehovah’s Witnesses and their message.
‘If Possible, Be Peaceable With All’
13, 14. What counsel did Paul give to Christians in Rome, and how can we apply it in our relations with outsiders?
13 Paul gave the following counsel to Christians living in pagan Rome: “Return evil for evil to no one. Provide fine things in the sight of all men. If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’ But, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing this you will heap fiery coals upon his head.’ Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.”—Romans 12:17-21.
14 In our relations with outsiders, we as true Christians inevitably encounter opposers. In the above passage, Paul shows that the path of wisdom is to endeavor to overcome the opposition by kind actions. Like fiery coals, these acts of kindness may melt down the enmity and win the opposer over to a kinder attitude toward Jehovah’s people, perhaps even arousing his interest in the good news. When this happens, evil is conquered with the good.
15. When should Christians be particularly careful to walk in wisdom toward those on the outside?
15 Walking in wisdom toward those on the outside is particularly important in homes where one of the marriage partners has not yet accepted the truth. Observance of Bible principles produces better husbands, better wives, better fathers, better mothers, and children who are more obedient and study harder at school. An unbeliever should be able to see the wholesome effect Bible principles have on a believer. Thus, some “may be won without a word through the conduct” of dedicated family members.—1 Peter 3:1, 2.
‘Working What Is Good Toward All’
16, 17. (a) With what sacrifices is God well pleased? (b) How should we “work what is good” toward our brothers and also toward those on the outside?
16 The greatest good that we can work for our neighbor is to bring him the message of life and teach him about reconciliation with Jehovah through Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:8-11) Therefore the apostle Paul tells us: “Through him [Christ] let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.” (Hebrews 13:15) Paul adds: “Moreover, do not forget the doing of good and the sharing of things with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Hebrews 13:16) In addition to our public witnessing, we should not forget “the doing of good.” It forms an integral part of the sacrifices with which God is well pleased.
17 Naturally, we do good to our spiritual brothers, who may be in need emotionally, spiritually, physically, or materially. Paul indicated this when he wrote: “As long as we have time favorable for it, let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.” (Galatians 6:10; James 2:15, 16) We should, however, not forget the words, “Let us work what is good toward all.” An act of kindness to a relative, a neighbor, or a work colleague could do much to break down prejudice against us and open up the person’s heart toward the truth.
18. (a) What dangers should we avoid? (b) How can we use our Christian goodness as a support for our public witnessing work?
18 To do this, we do not need to make close friends of those on the outside. Such associations are potentially dangerous. (1 Corinthians 15:33) And there is no intent to be friends with the world. (James 4:4) But our Christian goodness can support our preaching. In some lands it is becoming increasingly difficult to talk to people at their homes. Some apartment buildings are protected by devices that prevent us from contacting the occupants. In developed countries the telephone offers an avenue for preaching. In most countries street witnessing can be done. Yet, in all countries, being pleasant, polite, kind, and helpful opens up opportunities to break down prejudice and give a fine witness.
19. (a) Since we are not out to please men, what can we expect? (b) How should we endeavor to follow Daniel’s example and apply Peter’s counsel?
19 Jehovah’s Witnesses are neither men pleasers nor men fearers. (Proverbs 29:25; Ephesians 6:6) They fully realize that in spite of all their efforts to be exemplary taxpayers and good citizens, opposers will spread malicious lies and speak slightingly about them. (1 Peter 3:16) Knowing this, they try to imitate Daniel, of whom his enemies said: “We shall find in this Daniel no pretext at all, except we have to find it against him in the law of his God.” (Daniel 6:5) We will never compromise Bible principles to please men. On the other hand, we do not seek martyrdom. We endeavor to live peaceably and heed the apostolic counsel: “So the will of God is, that by doing good you may muzzle the ignorant talk of the unreasonable men.”—1 Peter 2:15.
20. (a) Of what are we convinced, and what encouragement did Jesus give us? (b) How can we go on walking in wisdom toward those on the outside?
20 We are convinced that our position of separateness from the world is in full harmony with the Bible. It is supported by the history of the first-century Christians. We are heartened by Jesus’ words: “In the world you are having tribulation, but take courage! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33) We do not fear. “Indeed, who is the man that will harm you if you become zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are happy. However, the object of their fear do not you fear, neither become agitated. But sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.” (1 Peter 3:13-15) While acting in this way, we will go on walking in wisdom toward those on the outside.
By Way of Review
□ Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses need to walk in wisdom toward those on the outside?
□ Why can true Christians never hope to be loved by the world, but what should they try to do?
□ What should be our attitude toward people of the world, and why?
□ Why should we “work what is good” not only toward our brothers but also toward those on the outside?
□ How can our walking in wisdom toward those on the outside help us in our public witnessing work?
[Picture on page 18]
At left: True Christians in France helping their neighbors after a flood
[Picture on page 20]
Christian acts of kindness can do much to break down prejudice
[Picture on page 23]
Christians should “be ready for every good work”