Maintain Unity in These Last Days
“Behave in a manner worthy of the good news . . . , standing firm in one spirit, with one soul striving side by side for the faith of the good news.”—PHILIPPIANS 1:27.
1. What contrast is there between Jehovah’s Witnesses and the world?
THESE are “the last days.” Without question, “critical times hard to deal with” are here. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) In this “time of the end,” with its unrest in human society, Jehovah’s Witnesses stand out in sharp contrast because of their peace and unity. (Daniel 12:4) But each individual belonging to the global family of Jehovah’s worshipers is called upon to work hard to maintain this unity.
2. What did Paul say about maintaining unity, and what question will we consider?
2 The apostle Paul admonished fellow Christians to maintain unity. He wrote: “Behave in a manner worthy of the good news about the Christ, in order that, whether I come and see you or be absent, I may hear about the things which concern you, that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one soul striving side by side for the faith of the good news, and in no respect being frightened by your opponents. This very thing is a proof of destruction for them, but of salvation for you; and this indication is from God.” (Philippians 1:27, 28) Paul’s words clearly show that we must work together as Christians. So, then, what will help us to maintain our Christian unity in these trying times?
Submit to the Divine Will
3. When and how did the first uncircumcised Gentiles become followers of Christ?
3 One way to maintain our unity is to submit to the divine will at all times. This may call for an adjustment in our thinking. Consider the early Jewish disciples of Jesus Christ. When the apostle Peter first preached to uncircumcised Gentiles in 36 C.E., God bestowed holy spirit upon these people of the nations, and they were baptized. (Acts, chapter 10) Until then, only Jews, proselytes to Judaism, and Samaritans had become followers of Jesus Christ.—Acts 8:4-8, 26-38.
4. After explaining what had taken place in connection with Cornelius, what did Peter say, and what test did this pose for Jesus’ Jewish disciples?
4 When the apostles and other brothers in Jerusalem learned about the conversion of Cornelius and other Gentiles, they were interested in hearing Peter’s report. After explaining what had taken place in connection with Cornelius and the other believing Gentiles, the apostle concluded with the words: “If, therefore, God gave the same free gift [of holy spirit] to them [those believing Gentiles] as he also did to us [Jews] who have believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I should be able to hinder God?” (Acts 11:1-17) This posed a test for Jewish followers of Jesus Christ. Would they submit to God’s will and accept believing Gentiles as their fellow worshipers? Or would the unity of Jehovah’s earthly servants be imperiled?
5. How did the apostles and other brothers respond to the fact that God had granted repentance to Gentiles, and what can we learn from this attitude?
5 The account says: “Now when they [the apostles and other brothers] heard these things, they acquiesced, and they glorified God, saying: ‘Well, then, God has granted repentance for the purpose of life to people of the nations also.’” (Acts 11:18) That attitude preserved and promoted the unity of Jesus’ followers. In only a short time, the preaching work went forward among the Gentiles, or people of the nations, and Jehovah’s blessing was upon such activities. We ourselves should acquiesce when our cooperation is requested in connection with the formation of a new congregation or when some theocratic adjustment is made under the guidance of God’s holy spirit. Our wholehearted cooperation will please Jehovah and will help us to maintain our unity in these last days.
Cling to the Truth
6. What bearing does the truth have on the unity of Jehovah’s worshipers?
6 As part of Jehovah’s family of worshipers, we maintain unity because all of us are “taught by Jehovah” and hold firmly to his revealed truth. (John 6:45; Psalm 43:3) Since our teachings are based on God’s Word, all of us speak in agreement. We gladly accept the spiritual food made available by Jehovah through “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45-47) Such uniform teaching assists us to maintain our unity worldwide.
7. If we individually have difficulty understanding a certain point, what should we do, and what should we not do?
7 What if we individually have difficulty understanding or accepting a certain point? We should pray for wisdom and undertake research in the Scriptures and Christian publications. (Proverbs 2:4, 5; James 1:5-8) Discussion with an elder may help. If the point still cannot be understood, it may be best to let the matter rest. Perhaps more information on the subject will be published, and then our understanding will be broadened. It would be wrong, however, to try to convince others in the congregation to accept our own divergent opinion. This would be sowing discord, not working to preserve unity. How much better it is to “go on walking in the truth” and encourage others to do so!—3 John 4.
8. What attitude toward the truth is appropriate?
8 In the first century, Paul said: “At present we see in hazy outline by means of a metal mirror, but then it will be face to face. At present I know partially, but then I shall know accurately even as I am accurately known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) Although the early Christians did not see all the details, they remained unified. We now have a much clearer understanding of Jehovah’s purpose and his Word of truth. Let us therefore be grateful for the truth we have received through the ‘faithful slave.’ And let us be thankful that Jehovah has led us by means of his organization. While we have not always had the same degree of knowledge, we have not been starving or thirsting spiritually. Instead, our Shepherd, Jehovah, has kept us unified and has taken good care of us.—Psalm 23:1-3.
Use the Tongue Aright!
9. How can the tongue be used to promote unity?
9 Using the tongue to encourage others is an important way to promote unity and a spirit of brotherhood. The letter that resolved a question on circumcision, as sent out by the first-century governing body, was a source of encouragement. After reading it, the Gentile disciples in Antioch “rejoiced over the encouragement.” Judas and Silas, who had been sent from Jerusalem with the letter, “encouraged the brothers with many a discourse and strengthened them.” Doubtless, the presence of Paul and Barnabas also encouraged and strengthened fellow believers in Antioch. (Acts 15:1-3, 23-32) We can do much the same when we gather for Christian meetings and ‘encourage one another’ through our presence and upbuilding comments.—Hebrews 10:24, 25.
10. To maintain unity, what may have to be done if reviling should occur?
10 However, the wrong use of the tongue can threaten our unity. “The tongue is a little member and yet makes great brags,” wrote the disciple James. “Look! How little a fire it takes to set so great a woodland on fire!” (James 3:5) Jehovah hates those causing contention. (Proverbs 6:16-19) Such talk can cause disunity. So, then, what if there is reviling, that is, the heaping of abuse upon someone or subjecting him or her to insulting speech? The elders will try to help the wrongdoer. However, an unrepentant reviler should be disfellowshipped so that the congregation’s peace, order, and unity can be maintained. After all, Paul wrote: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is . . . a reviler . . . , not even eating with such a man.”—1 Corinthians 5:11.
11. Why is humility important if we have said something that has caused tension between us and a fellow believer?
11 Bridling the tongue helps us to maintain unity. (James 3:10-18) But suppose something we have said has caused tension between us and a fellow Christian. Would it not be appropriate to take the initiative in making peace with our brother, apologizing if necessary? (Matthew 5:23, 24) True, this requires humility, or lowliness of mind, but Peter wrote: “Gird yourselves with lowliness of mind toward one another, because God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.” (1 Peter 5:5) Humility will move us to ‘pursue peace’ with our brothers, admitting our mistakes and making appropriate apology. This helps to maintain the unity of Jehovah’s family.—1 Peter 3:10, 11.
12. How can we use the tongue to promote and maintain the unity of Jehovah’s people?
12 We can further the family spirit among those in Jehovah’s organization if we use our tongue aright. Since that is what Paul did, he could remind the Thessalonians: “You well know how, as a father does his children, we kept exhorting each one of you, and consoling and bearing witness to you, to the end that you should go on walking worthily of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11, 12) Having set a fine example in this regard, Paul could urge fellow Christians to “speak consolingly to the depressed souls.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Think of how much good we can do by using the tongue to console, encourage, and upbuild others. Yes, “a word at its right time is O how good!” (Proverbs 15:23) Moreover, such speech helps to promote and maintain the unity of Jehovah’s people.
13. Why should we be forgiving?
13 Forgiving an offender who has apologized is essential if we are to maintain Christian unity. And how often should we forgive? Jesus told Peter: “Not, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22) If we are unforgiving, we are working against our own interests. How so? Well, animosity and nursing a grudge will rob us of peace of mind. And if we become known for cruel and unforgiving ways, we may bring ostracism upon ourselves. (Proverbs 11:17) Holding a grudge is displeasing to God and can lead to grave sin. (Leviticus 19:18) Remember that John the Baptizer was beheaded in a scheme contrived by wicked Herodias, who was “nursing a grudge” against him.—Mark 6:19-28.
14. (a) What does Matthew 6:14, 15 teach us about forgiveness? (b) Must we always wait for an apology before forgiving someone?
14 Jesus’ model prayer includes these words: “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone that is in debt to us.” (Luke 11:4) If we are unforgiving, we run the risk that some day Jehovah God will no longer forgive our sins, for Jesus said: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14, 15) So if we really want to do our part in maintaining unity in Jehovah’s family of worshipers, we will be forgiving, perhaps just forgetting an offense that may have been due to thoughtlessness and lacked any evil intent. Paul said: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also.” (Colossians 3:13) When we are forgiving, we help to maintain the precious unity of Jehovah’s organization.
Unity and Personal Decisions
15. What helps Jehovah’s people to maintain unity when making personal decisions?
15 God made us free moral agents with the privilege and responsibility to make personal decisions. (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20; Galatians 6:5) Yet, we are able to maintain our unity because we comply with Bible laws and principles. We take them into account when making personal decisions. (Acts 5:29; 1 John 5:3) Suppose a question arises concerning neutrality. We can make an informed personal decision by remembering that we are “no part of the world” and that we have ‘beaten our swords into plowshares.’ (John 17:16; Isaiah 2:2-4) Similarly, when we must make a personal decision regarding our relationship to the State, we consider what the Bible says about paying back “God’s things to God,” while subjecting ourselves to “the superior authorities” in secular matters. (Luke 20:25; Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1, 2) Yes, taking Bible laws and principles into account when making personal decisions helps maintain our Christian unity.
16. How can we help to maintain unity when making decisions that are neither right nor wrong Scripturally? Illustrate.
16 We can help to maintain Christian unity even when making a decision that is totally personal and neither right nor wrong Scripturally. How so? By showing loving concern for others who may be affected by our decision. To illustrate: In the congregation in ancient Corinth, a question arose regarding meat sacrificed to idols. Of course, a Christian would not participate in an idolatrous ceremony. However, it was not sinful to eat properly bled leftover meat of this kind that was sold in a public market. (Acts 15:28, 29; 1 Corinthians 10:25) Nevertheless, the consciences of some Christians were troubled over the eating of this meat. Paul therefore urged other Christians to avoid stumbling them. In fact, he wrote: “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat flesh at all, that I may not make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:13) So even if no Bible law or principle is involved, how loving it is to consider others when making personal decisions that could affect the unity of God’s family!
17. What is it advisable to do when we must make personal decisions?
17 If we are not sure what course to take, it is wise to decide in a way that leaves us with a clean conscience, and others should respect our decision. (Romans 14:10-12) Of course, when we must make a personal decision, we should seek Jehovah’s guidance in prayer. Like the psalmist, we can confidently pray: “Incline to me your ear. . . . For you are my crag and my stronghold; and for the sake of your name you will lead me and conduct me.”—Psalm 31:2, 3.
Always Maintain Christian Unity
18. How did Paul illustrate the unity of the Christian congregation?
18 In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, Paul used the human body to illustrate the unity of the Christian congregation. He stressed interdependency and the importance of each member. “If they were all one member, where would the body be?” asked Paul. “But now they are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand: ‘I have no need of you’; or, again, the head cannot say to the feet: ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Corinthians 12:19-21) Similarly, not all of us in the family of Jehovah’s worshipers perform the same function. Yet, we are united, and we need one another.
19. How can we benefit from God’s spiritual provisions, and what did one older brother say in this regard?
19 As the body needs food, care, and direction, we need the spiritual provisions that God gives us through his Word, spirit, and organization. To benefit from these provisions, we must be part of Jehovah’s earthly family. After many years in God’s service, one brother wrote: “I am so thankful that I have lived in the knowledge of Jehovah’s purposes from those early days just prior to 1914 when all was not so clear . . . to this day when the truth shines like the noonday sun. If one thing has been most important to me, it has been the matter of keeping close to Jehovah’s visible organization. My early experience taught me how unsound it is to rely on human reasoning. Once my mind had been resolved on that point, I determined to stay by the faithful organization. How else can one get Jehovah’s favor and blessing?”
20. What should we be determined to do about our unity as Jehovah’s people?
20 Jehovah has called his people out of worldly darkness and disunity. (1 Peter 2:9) He has brought us into blessed unity with himself and with our fellow believers. This unity will exist in the new system of things now so near. In these critical last days, therefore, let us continue to ‘clothe ourselves with love’ and do everything we can to promote and maintain our precious unity.—Colossians 3:14.
How Would You Answer?
◻ Why can doing God’s will and clinging to the truth help us to maintain unity?
◻ How is unity related to proper use of the tongue?
◻ What is involved in being forgiving?
◻ How can we maintain unity when making personal decisions?
◻ Why maintain Christian unity?
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Just as this shepherd keeps his flock together, so Jehovah keeps his people united
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By humbly apologizing when we cause offense, we help to promote unity