How Christians Cope With Public Reproach
HOW do you feel when someone reproaches you or spreads lies about you? Naturally you are deeply hurt. Jehovah’s Witnesses experience something similar whenever they become the target of incorrect or distorted information in the media. But as Jesus said at Matthew 5:11, 12, they still have reason to be joyful.
For instance, a Catholic publication in Germany claimed that “each Witness is obliged to donate between 17 and 28 percent of his income to the headquarters of the sect.” Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, do not constitute a sect, and their work is financed entirely by voluntary contributions. Many readers were misled by this false information, which Jehovah’s Witnesses find regrettable. But how should true Christians react to reproach in the media?
An Example for Christians to Follow
Matthew chapter 23 describes vividly how Jesus denounced his religious opposers for their hypocrisy and deceit. Does this provide a pattern for Christians today on how to deal with critics? Not really. The Son of God denounced his religious opposers by reason of the unique authority and insight he possessed, doing so for the benefit of the crowds that were listening.
Matthew 15:1-11 relates that Jesus was criticized because his disciples were said to have overstepped Jewish tradition. How did Jesus react? He stood his ground. On occasion, Jesus contended outspokenly with his critics, refuting their wrong views. Generally speaking, Christians today are not wrong in trying to correct misrepresentations of their work or teachings, attempting to clarify the situation in a factual and logical manner. They do this to help sincere people recognize that the criticism of Jehovah’s Witnesses is unwarranted and defamatory.
But notice how Jesus reacted a short time later when his disciples pointed out: “Do you know that the Pharisees stumbled at hearing what you said?” These Pharisees had “stumbled”—they were not simply upset but became incorrigible opponents whom Jesus rejected. Hence he answered: “Let them be. Blind guides is what they are.” Further discussion with such hostile antagonists was pointless, of benefit to no one, and would lead only to a fruitless argument. (Matthew 7:6; 15:12-14; compare 27:11-14.) The replies Jesus gave show that there is “a time to keep quiet and a time to speak.”—Ecclesiastes 3:7.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not expect everyone to speak favorably of them. They bear in mind Jesus’ words: “Woe, whenever all men speak well of you, for things like these are what their forefathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26) C. T. Russell, first president of the Watch Tower Society, was once asked why he did not defend himself against reproach. He answered: “If you stop to kick at every dog that barks at you, you’ll never get very far.”
So we should not let remarks by determined opposers distract us from our service to God. (Psalm 119:69) Let us concentrate on the work of true Christians, that is, evangelizing. As a natural consequence, we will have opportunities to answer questions and to explain the substance of our work, as enhancing a person’s morals and instructing him in God’s Word.—Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20.
Respond to Criticism?
Jesus said of his followers: “You are no part of the world . . . On this account the world hates you.” (John 15:19) Many press reports that heap reproach on Jehovah’s Witnesses are an expression of this hatred, and such should be ignored. However, the media may at times present information that reflects a lack of knowledge about the Witnesses or that distorts and misinterprets certain facts. Some journalists might draw material from biased sources. Whether we ignore false information in the media or defend the truth by appropriate means depends on the circumstances, the instigator of the criticism, and his goal.
Sometimes the facts can be corrected by a properly written letter to the editor if the letter is published in full. But such a letter could achieve the exact opposite of what is intended. How? The original untruth might thus receive even more publicity, or opposers may be handed further opportunity to get lies or slurs into print. In most cases it is wise to leave the question of a letter to the editor up to the elders concerned. If a negative press report stirs up prejudice, the branch office of the Watch Tower Society can inform congregations in that country of the facts, thus enabling all publishers to give a satisfactory explanation to inquirers.
Do you individually need to get involved at all with such twisted allegations? Jesus’ counsel to “let them be,” ignore them, clearly applies to this group of adversaries. Loyal Christians have Biblical reasons for shunning apostates and their views. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13; Titus 3:10, 11; 1 John 2:19; 2 John 10, 11) If someone is sincerely interested in whether criticism of the Witnesses is based on fact or fiction, your own well-founded knowledge is usually sufficient to supply an answer.—See The Watchtower of March 15, 1986, pages 13 and 14.
If you are confronted with distorted information in the press, take to heart the counsel of Proverbs 14:15: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.” In Switzerland many people were indignant when an emotional press report stated that a young female Witness died because her relatives refused to permit the medical staff to administer a blood transfusion. Were those the facts though? No. The patient refused a blood transfusion on religious grounds, but she did agree to alternative nonblood medical management. This could have been commenced without further ado and likely would have saved her life. However, the hospital delayed matters unnecessarily until it was too late. The press report did not mention these facts.
Hence, weigh carefully how much truth such reports contain. We can explain to inquirers that local elders attend to such cases in a loving manner and in accordance with Biblical guidelines. Sticking to principles when replying prevents us from jumping to conclusions.—Proverbs 18:13.
Firsthand Information Is Vital
In the first century, people spread lies about Jesus Christ in order to damage his reputation, some even presenting him as treasonous. (Luke 7:34; 23:2; compare Matthew 22:21.) Later, the young Christian congregation encountered broad-based opposition from both religious and worldly elements. Since “God chose the foolish things of the world,” many looked down on his servants. (1 Corinthians 1:22-29) True Christians today must reckon with reproach, which is a form of persecution.—John 15:20.
Jehovah’s Witnesses appreciate it, however, when the person they are conversing with is fair-minded and displays the same attitude as some of Paul’s visitors in Rome, who declared: “We think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.”—Acts 28:22.
Offer misinformed people an explanation, doing so with mildness. (Romans 12:14; compare 2 Timothy 2:25.) Invite them to get firsthand information about Jehovah’s Witnesses, which enables them to see through false accusations. You could also use explanations published by the Watch Tower Society that give details about the organization, its history, and its teachings.a Philip once answered Nathanael by simply saying: “Come and see.” (John 1:46) We can do likewise. Anyone who wishes is warmly welcome to visit the local Kingdom Hall in order to observe for himself what sort of persons Jehovah’s Witnesses are and what they believe.
Do Not Be Frightened by Opposers
How encouraging to know that reproach does not stop people from becoming Witnesses! During a TV talk show in Germany, apostates wove a fabric of lies about the Witnesses. A viewer recognized the apostate embellishments as being fantasy and was moved to resume his Bible study with the Witnesses. Yes, public reproach sometimes leads to positive results!—Compare Philippians 1:12, 13.
The apostle Paul knew that some would pay more attention to “false stories” than to the truth. He therefore wrote: “Keep your senses in all things, suffer evil, do the work of an evangelizer, fully accomplish your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:3-5) So do not allow yourself to be distracted, and ‘in no respect be frightened’ by your opponents. (Philippians 1:28) Remain calm and collected and preach the good news joyfully, and you will cope steadfastly with public reproach. Yes, remember Jesus’ promise: “Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake. Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens; for in that way they persecuted the prophets prior to you.”—Matthew 5:11, 12.
a See the publications Jehovah’s Witnesses—Unitedly Doing God’s Will Worldwide, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Twentieth Century, and Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom.
[Blurb on page 27]
When confronted with opposers, Jesus told his disciples: “Let them be.” What did he mean?
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“Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake.”—Matthew 5:11