Maintaining Virtue in a Vice-Filled World
“Keep doing all things free from murmurings and arguments, that you may come to be blameless and innocent, children of God without a blemish in among a crooked and twisted generation.”—PHILIPPIANS 2:14, 15.
1, 2. Why did God call for the extermination of the Canaanites?
JEHOVAH’S commands leave no room for compromise. The Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land when the prophet Moses told them: “You should without fail devote them to destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, just as Jehovah your God has commanded you.”—Deuteronomy 7:2; 20:17.
2 Since Jehovah is a merciful God, why did he demand the extermination of Canaan’s inhabitants? (Exodus 34:6) One reason was ‘in order that the Canaanites might not teach Israel to do according to all the detestable things they did to their gods and thus sin against Jehovah God.’ (Deuteronomy 20:18) Moses also said: “It is for the wickedness of these nations that Jehovah is driving them away from before you.” (Deuteronomy 9:4) The Canaanites were the very embodiment of vice. Sexual depravity and idolatry were hallmarks of their worship. (Exodus 23:24; 34:12, 13; Numbers 33:52; Deuteronomy 7:5) Incest, sodomy, and bestiality were ‘the way of the land of Canaan.’ (Leviticus 18:3-25) Innocent children were cruelly sacrificed to false gods. (Deuteronomy 18:9-12) No wonder Jehovah deemed the mere existence of these nations a threat to the physical, moral, and spiritual well-being of his people!—Exodus 34:14-16.
3. What resulted because the Israelites did not fully carry out God’s orders regarding Canaan’s inhabitants?
3 Because God’s orders were not fully carried out, many inhabitants of Canaan survived Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land. (Judges 1:19-21) In time, the insidious influence of the Canaanites was felt, and it could be said: “They [the Israelites] continued rejecting [Jehovah’s] regulations and his covenant that he had concluded with their forefathers and his reminders with which he had warned them, and they went following vain idols and became vain themselves, even in imitation of the nations that were all around them, concerning whom Jehovah had commanded them not to do like them.” (2 Kings 17:15) Yes, through the years many Israelites practiced the very vices that had caused God to order the extinction of the Canaanites—idolatry, sexual excesses, and even child sacrifice!—Judges 10:6; 2 Kings 17:17; Jeremiah 13:27.
4, 5. (a) What happened to unfaithful Israel and Judah? (b) What exhortation is given at Philippians 2:14, 15, and what questions are raised?
4 The prophet Hosea therefore declared: “Hear the word of Jehovah, O sons of Israel, for Jehovah has a legal case with the inhabitants of the land, for there is no truth nor loving-kindness nor knowledge of God in the land. There are the pronouncing of curses and practicing of deception and murdering and stealing and committing of adultery that have broken forth, and acts of bloodshed have touched other acts of bloodshed. That is why the land will mourn and every inhabitant in it will have to fade away with the wild beast of the field and with the flying creature of the heavens, and even the fishes of the sea themselves will be gathered in death.” (Hosea 4:1-3) In 740 B.C.E., the corrupt northern kingdom of Israel was vanquished by Assyria. Somewhat over a century later, the unfaithful southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylon.
5 These events illustrate how dangerous it can be to allow ourselves to be overtaken by vice. God despises unrighteousness and will not tolerate it among his people. (1 Peter 1:14-16) It is true that we live in “the present wicked system of things,” in a world that is becoming increasingly corrupt. (Galatians 1:4; 2 Timothy 3:13) Even so, God’s Word exhorts all Christians to keep acting in such a way that they are “blameless and innocent, children of God without a blemish in among a crooked and twisted generation, among whom [they] are shining as illuminators in the world.” (Philippians 2:14, 15) But how can we maintain virtue in a vice-filled world? Is it really possible to do so?
The Vice-Filled Roman World
6. Why did first-century Christians face a challenge in maintaining virtue?
6 First-century Christians faced the challenge of maintaining virtue because vice permeated every aspect of Roman society. The Roman philosopher Seneca said of his contemporaries: “Men struggle in a mighty rivalry of wickedness. Every day the desire for wrong-doing is greater, the dread of it less.” He compared Roman society to “a community of wild beasts.” It is no surprise, then, that for entertainment the Romans sought out sadistic gladiatorial contests and lewd theatrical performances.
7. How did Paul describe the vices that were common among many in the first century C.E.?
7 The apostle Paul may have had in mind the decadent behavior of people in the first century when he wrote: “God gave them up to disgraceful sexual appetites, for both their females changed the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature; and likewise even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust toward one another, males with males, working what is obscene and receiving in themselves the full recompense, which was due for their error.” (Romans 1:26, 27) Bent on the pursuit of unclean fleshly desires, Roman society became inundated with vice.
8. How were children often exploited in Greek and Roman society?
8 History does not make clear how prevalent homosexuality was among the Romans. No doubt, though, they were influenced by their Greek predecessors, among whom it was widely practiced. It was customary for older men to corrupt young boys, taking them under their wing in a student-teacher relationship that often steered the youngsters into deviant sexual behavior. Undoubtedly, Satan and his demons were behind such vice and mistreatment of children.—Joel 3:3; Jude 6, 7.
9, 10. (a) In what way did 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10 condemn vice of various kinds? (b) What was the background of some in the Corinthian congregation, and what change took place in their case?
9 Writing under divine inspiration, Paul told Christians in Corinth: “What! Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom. And yet that is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean, but you have been sanctified, but you have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.”—1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
10 Paul’s inspired letter thus condemned sexual immorality, saying that “fornicators” would “not inherit God’s kingdom.” After listing a number of vices, however, Paul said: “That is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean.” With God’s help it was possible for wrongdoers to become clean in his eyes.
11. How did first-century Christians fare in the wicked environment of their day?
11 Yes, Christian virtue thrived even in the vice-filled world of the first century. Believers were ‘transformed by making their minds over.’ (Romans 12:2) They abandoned their “former course of conduct” and were ‘made new in the force actuating their minds.’ Thus they fled from the world’s vices and “put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.”—Ephesians 4:22-24.
Today’s Vice-Filled World
12. What change has come over the world since 1914?
12 What about our day? The world we live in is more vice-ridden than ever. Especially since 1914 there has been a global moral decline. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Rejecting traditional ideas about virtue, morality, honor, and ethics, many have become self-centered in their thinking and are “past all moral sense.” (Ephesians 4:19) Newsweek magazine said: “We live in an age of moral relativism,” adding that the prevailing moral climate “has reduced all ideas of right and wrong to matters of personal taste, emotional preference or cultural choice.”
13. (a) How does much of today’s entertainment promote vice? (b) What bad effect can improper entertainment have upon individuals?
13 As in the first century, decadent entertainment is common today. Television, radio, movies, and videos emit a steady stream of sexually oriented material. Vice has even infiltrated computer networks. Pornographic material is becoming increasingly available on present-day computer networks, and it is being accessed by individuals of various ages. What are the effects of all of this? Says one newspaper columnist: “When blood and mayhem and sleazy sex drench our popular culture, we get accustomed to blood and mayhem and sleazy sex. We grow jaded. Depravity becomes more and more tolerable because less and less scandalizes us.”—Compare 1 Timothy 4:1, 2.
14, 15. What evidence is there that sexual morality has declined worldwide?
14 Consider this report in The New York Times: “What would have been considered scandalous 25 years ago has now become an acceptable living arrangement. The number of couples choosing to live together rather than marry climbed 80 percent [in the United States] between 1980 and 1991.” This is not merely a North American phenomenon. The magazine Asiaweek reports: “A cultural debate is raging in countries throughout [Asia]. The issue is sexual freedom vs. traditional values, and the pressures for change are growing steadily.” Statistics show an increasing acceptance of adultery and premarital sex in many lands.
15 The Bible foretold that satanic activity would be intense in our day. (Revelation 12:12) It should not surprise us, then, that vice is alarmingly prevalent. For example, the sexual exploitation of children has reached epidemic proportions.* The United Nations Children’s Fund reports that “commercial sexual exploitation is damaging children in virtually every country of the world.” Each year “more than 1 million children worldwide are reportedly forced into child prostitution, trafficked and sold for sexual purposes, and used in the production of child pornography.” Homosexuality is also common, with some politicians and religious leaders taking the lead in promoting it as an “alternative life-style.”
Rejecting the World’s Vices
16. What stand do Jehovah’s Witnesses take with respect to sexual morality?
16 Jehovah’s Witnesses do not join the chorus of those who endorse permissive standards of sexual morality. Says Titus 2:11, 12: “The undeserved kindness of God which brings salvation to all sorts of men has been manifested, instructing us to repudiate ungodliness and worldly desires and to live with soundness of mind and righteousness and godly devotion amid this present system of things.” Yes, we cultivate a real hatred, an abhorrence, of such vices as premarital sex, adultery, and homosexual acts.* (Romans 12:9; Ephesians 5:3-5) Paul gave this exhortation: “Let everyone naming the name of Jehovah renounce unrighteousness.”—2 Timothy 2:19.
17. How do true Christians view the use of alcoholic beverages?
17 True Christians reject the world’s view of seemingly minor vices. For example, many people today view alcohol abuse with wry amusement. But Jehovah’s people heed the counsel of Ephesians 5:18: “Do not be getting drunk with wine, in which there is debauchery, but keep getting filled with spirit.” If a Christian chooses to drink, he does so in moderation.—Proverbs 23:29-32.
18. How do Bible principles guide Jehovah’s servants in their treatment of family members?
18 As Jehovah’s servants, we also reject the view of some in the world that yelling and screaming at one’s mate and children or reviling them with hurtful words is acceptable behavior. With a determination to pursue a virtuous course, Christian husbands and wives work together to apply Paul’s counsel: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness. But become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.”—Ephesians 4:31, 32.
19. How prevalent is vice in the business world?
19 Dishonesty, fraud, lying, cutthroat business tactics, and stealing also are common today. An article in the business magazine CFO reports: “A survey of 4,000 workers . . . found that 31 percent of respondents had witnessed ‘serious misconduct’ during the previous year.” Such misconduct included lying, falsifying records, sexual harassment, and theft. If we are to remain morally clean in Jehovah’s eyes, we must avoid such conduct and be honest in our financial dealings.—Micah 6:10, 11.
20. Why do Christians need to be free of “the love of money”?
20 Consider what happened to one man who imagined that he would have more time for God’s service if he made a killing in a financial venture. He drew others into an investment scheme by greatly exaggerating their prospective profits. When these did not materialize, he became so desperate to cover the huge losses incurred that he stole money that had been entrusted to him. Because of his actions and unrepentant attitude, he was disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation. True indeed is the Bible’s warning: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”—1 Timothy 6:9, 10.
21. What behavior is common among men in power in the world, but how are those in responsible positions in the Christian congregation to conduct themselves?
21 Worldly men of power and influence often lack virtue and demonstrate the truth of the maxim, ‘Power corrupts.’ (Ecclesiastes 8:9) In some lands, bribery and other forms of corruption are a way of life among judges, policemen, and politicians. However, those taking the lead in the Christian congregation must be virtuous and are not to lord it over others. (Luke 22:25, 26) Elders, as well as ministerial servants, do not serve “for love of dishonest gain.” They must be immune to any attempts to pervert or influence their judgment by the prospect of personal enrichment.—1 Peter 5:2; Exodus 23:8; Proverbs 17:23; 1 Timothy 5:21.
22. What will the next article discuss?
22 By and large, Christians are successfully meeting the present-day challenge of maintaining virtue in our vice-filled world. Yet, virtue involves more than simply avoiding wickedness. The next article will discuss what cultivating virtue really requires.
See the series “Protect Your Children!,” appearing in Awake! of October 8, 1993.
Those who have engaged in homosexual acts in times past can make changes in their behavior, just as some did in the first century. (1 Corinthians 6:11) Helpful information was presented in Awake! of March 22, 1995, pages 21-3.
Points for Review
□ Why did Jehovah order the extermination of the Canaanites?
□ What vices were common in the first century, and how did Christians fare in such an environment?
□ What evidence is there that the world has witnessed a global moral decline since 1914?
□ What common vices must Jehovah’s people reject?
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First-century Christians were virtuous, even though they lived in a vice-filled world
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Vice has even infiltrated computer networks, giving many young people and others access to pornographic material
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Christians must maintain virtue, not imitating the dishonest tactics of others