Godly Obedience in a Religiously Divided Family
“IT HURTS much more than any physical blow. . . . I feel as though I am bruised all over, and yet no one can see it.” “Sometimes I feel like giving up on life . . . or leaving and never coming back.” “It is hard to think straight sometimes.”
Those emotion-filled words reveal feelings of desperation and loneliness. They come from victims of verbal abuse—accusations, threats, degrading name-calling, the silent treatment—and even physical abuse from mates and family members. Why are these people treated so badly? Simply because of differing religious beliefs. Under these circumstances, living in a religiously divided family makes the worship of Jehovah a real challenge. Yet, many such victimized Christians successfully manifest godly obedience.
Thankfully, such anguish and stress is not found in all religiously divided homes. Nonetheless, it does exist. Does your home fit this description? Then, you may find it difficult to maintain respect for your mate or for your parents. If you are a wife in that situation or children in such an environment, how can you succeed in showing godly obedience in a religiously divided home? What support can others give? And just how does God view the matter?
Why Is It So Hard to Be Obedient?
The world’s self-interest and ingratitude work along with your own imperfect tendencies and make godly obedience a constant struggle. Satan knows this, and he is out to break your spirit. He often uses family members who have little or no appreciation and respect for godly standards. Your elevated spiritual and moral values are often quite different from those of your unbelieving family. This means conflicting views on conduct and activity. (1 Peter 4:4) The pressure to turn you from the Christian standard may be intense, since you have obeyed the command: “Quit sharing with them in the unfruitful works that belong to the darkness.” (Ephesians 5:11) In their eyes nothing you do is right anymore. It is all due to your religion. One mother, when burdened with sick children, asked for help from her husband and got a sarcastic, “You have time for your religion; you don’t need help.” Such comments add to the challenge of being obedient.
Then there are times when you may disagree over matters that are not in direct violation of the Scriptures. Yet, you realize that you are part of a family and to that extent have certain obligations. “I get very emotional when thinking of how my father treats us because I realize he feels alone,” says Connie. “I have to remind myself often not to resent my father’s opposition. I need to tell myself that there is a strong reason why he reacts to or rejects our stand. Satan is the ruler of this system of things.” Susan, married to an unbeliever, confides: “In the beginning I used to feel that I wanted to split up—but no longer. I knew Satan was using him to get at me.”
Satan’s efforts to make you feel worthless may seem almost unrelenting. Days may pass with no communication with your mate. Life can become very lonely. This erodes confidence and self-respect and tests your godly obedience. Children also feel the emotional and physical drain. In one instance, even though their parents objected, three youthful servants of God faithfully attended Christian meetings. One of them, now a full-time minister, acknowledged: “We would feel numb and exhausted; we couldn’t sleep; it broke our hearts.”
What Does God Expect of You?
Obedience to God always comes first, and relative obedience to the husbandly head must always be as Jehovah directs. (Acts 5:29) That may be difficult, yet it is possible. Keep looking to God for help. He wants you to “worship with spirit and truth” and to listen to and submit to his direction. (John 4:24) Knowledge from God’s Word, as it fills the right kind of heart, prompts willing obedience. Although your personal circumstances may change, neither Jehovah nor his Word change. (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17) Jehovah has assigned headship to the husband. This remains true whether he accepts Christ’s headship or not. (1 Corinthians 11:3) Although this may be hard to live with if you face constant abuse and humiliation, the disciple James says: “The wisdom from above is . . . ready to obey.” (James 3:17) To recognize this headship unequivocally and to accept it require God’s spirit, particularly its fruit of love.—Galatians 5:22, 23.
When you love someone, it is easier to show godly obedience toward divinely constituted authority. Ephesians 5:33 counsels: “Let each one of you individually so love his wife as he does himself; on the other hand, the wife should have deep respect for her husband.”
Consider Jesus. He was verbally and physically abused, yet he never reviled anyone. He maintained a flawless record. (1 Peter 2:22, 23) For Jesus to suffer such great indignities, he needed tremendous courage and unyielding love for his Father, Jehovah. But, love “endures all things.”—1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
Paul reminded his fellow worker Timothy, and he reminds us today: “God gave us not a spirit of cowardice, but that of power and of love and of soundness of mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Deep love for Jehovah and for Jesus Christ can spur you on in godly obedience when the situation seems impossible to endure. Soundness of mind will help you to keep a balanced outlook and keep focused on your relationship with Jehovah and Jesus Christ.—Compare Philippians 3:8-11.
Mates That Succeed in Showing Godly Obedience
Sometimes you must wait a long time to see how Jehovah will take care of your problems. Yet, his hand is never short. “Always do the things Jehovah gives you the right and privilege to do—to worship him at meetings and assemblies, to study, to go in service, and to pray,” advises one who is succeeding in showing godly obedience. It is your efforts that Jehovah blesses, not merely your accomplishments. At 2 Corinthians 4:17, the apostle Paul said that ‘the tribulation is momentary, but it works out for us a glory that is everlasting.’ Meditate on this. It will be a stabilizing element for you. One wife reflects: “My family life is not getting better, and sometimes I wonder if Jehovah is pleased with me. But one thing I take as his blessing is the fact that I come out of these difficult situations better off than my husband. Knowing that our actions are pleasing Jehovah makes the whole trouble worthwhile.”
Jehovah promises that he will not let you go through situations beyond what you can endure. Trust him. He knows better than you do, and he knows you better than you know yourself. (Romans 8:35-39; 11:33; 1 Corinthians 10:13) Praying to Jehovah in difficult circumstances helps. Pray for his spirit to guide you, especially when you do not know which way to go or how to handle a situation. (Proverbs 3:5; 1 Peter 3:12) Constantly supplicate him for patience, self-control, and humility to obey the authority in your life. The psalmist said: “Jehovah is my crag and my stronghold and the Provider of escape for me.” (Psalm 18:2) Remembering this is a strengthening aid for those in religiously divided households.
Above all, put forth every effort to make your marriage a happy one. Yes, Jesus foresaw that the good news would cause divisions. Pray, though, that any division is never due to your attitude or conduct. (Matthew 10:35, 36) To this end, cooperation minimizes marital problems. Even when only you are displaying this proper attitude, it can go a long way toward preventing problems from getting to the point of excessive friction and dissension. Patience and love are so important. “Be gentle” and “restrained under evil.”—2 Timothy 2:24.
The apostle Paul became “all things to people of all sorts.” (1 Corinthians 9:22) Similarly, while not compromising Christian duties, you may sometimes need to adjust your schedule to spend more time with your mate and family. Give as much time as possible to the one with whom you chose to share your life. Show Christian consideration. This is an expression of godly obedience.
A God-fearing and submissive wife who is flexible and sympathetic finds it easier to manifest godly obedience. (Ephesians 5:22, 23) Words that are gracious, “seasoned with salt,” help to minimize the frequency of potential confrontations.—Colossians 4:6; Proverbs 15:1.
Godly wisdom admonishes you to settle differences quickly and to restore peace with good words that build up, rather than to go to sleep in “a provoked state.” (Ephesians 4:26, 29, 31) This takes humility. Lean heavily on Jehovah for strength. One Christian wife humbly admitted: “After fervent prayer, I have experienced Jehovah’s spirit lifting my arm to embrace my mate.” God’s Word counsels: “Return evil for evil to no one. . . . Keep conquering the evil with the good.” (Romans 12:17-21) This is wise advice and the course of godly obedience.
Children That Show Godly Obedience
Jehovah’s counsel to you children in religiously divided families is: “Be obedient to your parents in everything, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:20) Notice that the Lord Jesus Christ is brought into the matter. Hence, obedience to parents is not absolute. In a sense the counsel of Acts 5:29, to “obey God as ruler rather than men,” also pertains to Christian youths. Occasions will arise when you will have to decide what to do on the basis of what you know to be right according to the Scriptures. It may result in some form of punishment for refusing to engage in an act of false worship. While this is an unpleasant prospect, you can find comfort and can even rejoice in the fact that you are suffering for doing what is right in God’s eyes.—1 Peter 2:19, 20.
Since your thoughts are guided by Bible principles, you may differ with your parents on certain issues. This does not make them your enemies. Even if they are not dedicated servants of Jehovah, they deserve proper honor. (Ephesians 6:2) Solomon said: “Listen to your father who caused your birth, and do not despise your mother.” (Proverbs 23:22) Try to understand the hurt they feel over your pursuing a faith that seems strange to them. Communicate with them, and “let your reasonableness become known.” (Philippians 4:5) Share your feelings and concerns. Be firm for godly principles, yet, “if possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.” (Romans 12:18) The fact that you obey parental rule now shows to Jehovah that you desire to continue obedient as a subject of the Kingdom.
What Others Can Do
Christians living in religiously divided families need support and understanding from fellow worshipers. This is evident from the words of one who said: “I feel absolutely hopeless and helpless, since there is nothing anybody can do, and there is nothing I can do to change it. I am trusting in Jehovah to carry out his will in our family, whatever it may be.”
Association with spiritual brothers and sisters at Christian meetings is a refuge. This same person described her life as being “like two different worlds. One I have to be in and one I like to be in.” The love of the brotherhood is what makes it possible for these afflicted ones to endure and serve in all circumstances. Include them in your prayers. (Ephesians 1:16) Regularly, on every occasion, speak encouraging, positive, and comforting words to them. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) When practical and appropriate, include them in your theocratic and social activities.
Blessings and Benefits of Godly Obedience
Meditate daily on the blessings and benefits of displaying godly obedience in a religiously divided home. Work at being obedient. “Do not tire out.” (Galatians 6:9) Endurance of unfavorable circumstances and injustices “because of conscience toward God . . . is an agreeable thing” with God. (1 Peter 2:19, 20) Be obedient to the extent that Jehovah’s righteous principles and laws are not compromised. This shows loyalty to Jehovah’s arrangement. Your godly conduct may even save the life of your mate, children, or parents.—1 Corinthians 7:16; 1 Peter 3:1.
As you cope with the demands and expectations of a religiously divided family, remember the importance of keeping integrity to Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. You may yield on many points, but to yield integrity is to yield everything, including life itself. The apostle Paul said: “God . . . has at the end of these days spoken to us by means of a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the systems of things.” Recognizing this “salvation of such greatness” will fortify you to be obedient.—Hebrews 1:1, 2; 2:3.
Your uncompromising obedience and firmness for right morals and values is a healthy protection for you and your unbelieving mate. Fidelity builds strong family ties. Proverbs 31:11 says of a capable and loyal wife: “In her the heart of her owner has put trust.” Your chaste conduct and deep respect may open your unbelieving husband’s eyes. It may lead him to accept God’s truth.
Godly obedience is indeed precious and lifesaving. Pray for it in your family life. It will result in peace of mind and bring praise to Jehovah.