Christians and the World of Mankind
“Go on walking in wisdom toward those on the outside.”—COLOSSIANS 4:5.
1. What did Jesus say with regard to his followers and the world?
IN A prayer to his heavenly Father, Jesus said of his followers: “The world has hated them, because they are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” Then he added: “I request you, not to take them out of the world, but to watch over them because of the wicked one.” (John 17:14, 15) Christians were not to be separated physically from the world—for example, by segregation in monasteries. Rather, Christ “sent them forth into the world” to be his witnesses “to the most distant part of the earth.” (John 17:18; Acts 1:8) Still, he asked God to watch over them because Satan, “the ruler of this world,” would incite hatred against them on account of Christ’s name.—John 12:31; Matthew 24:9.
2. (a) How does the Bible use the word “world”? (b) What balanced attitude does Jehovah show toward the world?
2 In the Bible the word “world” (Greek, koʹsmos) often designates unrighteous human society, which “is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) Because Christians comply with Jehovah’s standards and also heed the command to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom to the world, sometimes a difficult relationship has existed between them and the world. (2 Timothy 3:12; 1 John 3:1, 13) However, koʹsmos is also used in Scripture to refer to the human family in general. Speaking of the world in this sense, Jesus said: “God loved the world 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. For God sent forth his Son into the world, not for him to judge the world, but for the world to be saved through him.” (John 3:16, 17; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 John 4:14) So, while hating the things that characterize Satan’s wicked system, Jehovah showed his love for mankind by sending his Son to earth in order to save all who would “attain to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9; Proverbs 6:16-19) Jehovah’s balanced attitude toward the world should guide his worshipers.
3, 4. (a) What position did Jesus adopt as to rulership? (b) How did Jesus view the world of mankind?
3 Shortly before his death, Jesus told Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is no part of this world.” (John 18:36) In harmony with these words, Jesus had earlier rejected Satan’s offer to give him authority over the kingdoms of the world, and he had refused to allow the Jews to make him a king. (Luke 4:5-8; John 6:14, 15) Yet, Jesus showed great love for the world of mankind. An example of this was reported by the apostle Matthew: “On seeing the crowds he felt pity for them, because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.” Out of love, he preached to the people in their towns and villages. He taught them and healed their infirmities. (Matthew 9:36) He was also sensitive to the physical needs of those who came to learn from him. We read: “Jesus called his disciples to him and said: ‘I feel pity for the crowd, because it is already three days that they have stayed with me and they have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away fasting. They may possibly give out on the road.’” (Matthew 15:32) What loving concern!
4 The Jews were strongly prejudiced against the Samaritans, but Jesus spoke at length to a Samaritan woman and spent two days giving a thorough witness in a Samaritan city. (John 4:5-42) Although God sent him to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus on occasion responded to expressions of faith by other non-Jews. (Matthew 8:5-13; 15:21-28) Yes, Jesus demonstrated that it is possible to be “no part of the world” and at the same time show love for the world of mankind, for people. Do we similarly show compassion for people where we live, work, or do our shopping? Do we show concern for their well-being—not only for their spiritual needs but also for other needs if it is reasonably within our power to help? Jesus did, and by so doing, he opened up the way to teach people about the Kingdom. True, we cannot work literal miracles as Jesus did. But an act of kindness often does, so to speak, work miracles in breaking down prejudice.
Paul’s Attitude Toward People “on the Outside”
5, 6. How did the apostle Paul deal with Jews who were “on the outside”?
5 In several of his letters, the apostle Paul refers to people “outside” or “on the outside,” meaning non-Christians, whether Jews or Gentiles. (1 Corinthians 5:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:12; 1 Timothy 3:7) How did he deal with such ones? He ‘became all things to people of all sorts, that he might by all means save some.’ (1 Corinthians 9:20-22) When he arrived in a city, his pattern of preaching was first to go to the Jews who had settled there. What was his approach? Tactfully and respectfully he offered convincing Bible proofs that the Messiah had come, had died a sacrificial death, and had been resurrected.—Acts 13:5, 14-16, 43; 17:1-3, 10.
6 In this way Paul built on the Jews’ knowledge of the Law and the prophets so as to teach them about the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. And he succeeded in convincing some. (Acts 14:1; 17:4) Despite opposition by Jewish leaders, Paul showed warm feelings for fellow Jews when he wrote: “Brothers, the goodwill of my heart and my supplication to God for them [the Jews] are, indeed, for their salvation. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God; but not according to accurate knowledge.”—Romans 10:1, 2.
Helping Non-Jewish Believers
7. How did many proselytes respond to the good news that Paul preached?
7 Proselytes were non-Jews who had become circumcised practicers of Judaism. Evidently, there were proselyte Jews in Rome, Syrian Antioch, Ethiopia, and Antioch in Pisidia—indeed, throughout the Jewish Diaspora. (Acts 2:8-10; 6:5; 8:27; 13:14, 43; compare Matthew 23:15.) Unlike many Jewish rulers, proselytes likely were not haughty, and they could not proudly boast of descent from Abraham. (Matthew 3:9; John 8:33) Rather, they had abandoned pagan gods and had humbly turned to Jehovah, acquiring some knowledge of him and his laws. And they shared the Jewish hope of a coming Messiah. Having already shown a willingness to change in their search for truth, many of them were ready to make more changes and respond to the preaching of the apostle Paul. (Acts 13:42, 43) When a proselyte who had once worshiped pagan gods converted to Christianity, he was uniquely equipped to witness to other Gentiles who still worshiped those gods.
8, 9. (a) Apart from proselytes, what other class of Gentiles was attracted to the Jewish religion? (b) How did many uncircumcised God-fearers respond to the good news?
8 Apart from circumcised proselytes, other non-Jews were attracted to the Jewish religion. The first of these to become a Christian was Cornelius who, although not a proselyte, was “a devout man and one fearing God.” (Acts 10:2) In his commentary on Acts, Professor F. F. Bruce wrote: “Such Gentiles are commonly called ‘God-fearers’; while this is not a technical term, it is a convenient one to use. Many Gentiles of those days, while not prepared to become full converts to Judaism (the requirement of circumcision being a special stumbling block for men), were attracted by the simple monotheism of Jewish synagogue worship and by the ethical standards of the Jewish way of life. Some of them attended synagogue and became tolerably conversant with the prayers and scripture lessons, which they heard read in the Greek version.”
9 The apostle Paul met up with many God-fearers when preaching in synagogues in Asia Minor and Greece. In Pisidian Antioch he addressed those assembled in the synagogue as “men, Israelites and you others that fear God.” (Acts 13:16, 26) Luke writes that after Paul preached for three Sabbaths in the synagogue in Thessalonica, “some of them [the Jews] became believers [Christians] and associated themselves with Paul and Silas, and a great multitude of the Greeks who worshiped God and not a few of the principal women did so.” (Acts 17:4) Likely, some of the Greeks were uncircumcised God-fearers. There is evidence that many such Gentiles associated themselves with Jewish communities.
Preaching Among “Unbelievers”
10. How did Paul preach to the Gentiles who had no background in the Scriptures, and with what result?
10 In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the word “unbelievers” can refer to people in general outside the Christian congregation. Often it refers to pagans. (Romans 15:31; 1 Corinthians 14:22, 23; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 6:14) In Athens many unbelievers were educated in Greek philosophy with no background at all in the Scriptures. Did this discourage Paul from witnessing to them? No. He did, however, adapt his approach. He skillfully presented Biblical ideas without directly quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures, which were unknown to the Athenians. He adroitly showed a similarity between Bible truth and certain thoughts expressed by ancient Stoic poets. And he presented the concept of one true God for all mankind, a God who will judge in righteousness by means of a man who died and was resurrected. Thus Paul tactfully preached about Christ to the Athenians. The result? While the majority mocked him outright or were skeptical, “some men joined themselves to him and became believers, among whom also were Dionysius, a judge of the court of the Areopagus, and a woman named Damaris, and others besides them.”—Acts 17:18, 21-34.
11. What kind of city was Corinth, and what was the result of Paul’s preaching activity there?
11 In Corinth there was a sizable community of Jews, so Paul began his ministry there by preaching in the synagogue. But when the Jews turned out to be opposed, Paul went to the Gentile population. (Acts 18:1-6) And what a population! Corinth was a busy, cosmopolitan, commercial city, notorious throughout the Greco-Roman world for its loose living. Indeed, “to Corinthianize” meant to act immorally. Yet, it was after the Jews had rejected Paul’s preaching that Christ appeared to him and said: “Have no fear, but keep on speaking . . . , for I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9, 10) Sure enough, Paul established a congregation in Corinth, even though some of its members had previously led a “Corinthian” life-style.—1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
Trying to Save “All Sorts of Men” Today
12, 13. (a) How is our territory today similar to that of Paul’s day? (b) What attitude do we show in territories where Christendom’s religions have long been established or where many are disillusioned with organized religion?
12 Today, as in the first century, “the undeserved kindness of God . . . brings salvation to all sorts of men.” (Titus 2:11) The territory for preaching the good news has expanded to cover all the continents and most of the islands of the sea. And, as in Paul’s day, “all sorts of men” are indeed encountered. For example, some of us preach in lands where the churches of Christendom have been established for many centuries. Like the Jews of the first century, their members may be strongly bound by religious traditions. Still, we are happy to seek out those with a good heart condition and build on whatever knowledge of the Bible they have. We do not talk down to them or disdain them even if their religious leaders sometimes oppose and persecute us. Rather, we recognize that some among them may have “a zeal for God” even though lacking accurate knowledge. Like Jesus and Paul, we show genuine love for people, and we have an ardent desire that they be saved.—Romans 10:2.
13 While preaching, many of us meet individuals who are disillusioned with organized religion. They may, however, still be God-fearers, believing in God to some extent and trying to live good lives. In this twisted and increasingly godless generation, should we not rejoice to meet people who have some belief in God? And are we not eager to direct them to a form of worship that is not marked by hypocrisy and falsehood?—Philippians 2:15.
14, 15. How has a large field become available for preaching the good news?
14 In his illustration of the dragnet, Jesus foretold that there would be a large territory for the preaching work. (Matthew 13:47-49) Explaining this illustration, The Watchtower of June 15, 1992, stated on page 20: “Over the centuries members of Christendom played a key role in translating, copying, and distributing God’s Word. Churches later formed or supported Bible societies, which rendered the Bible into the languages of remote lands. They also sent out medical missionaries and teachers, who made rice Christians. This gathered vast numbers of unsuitable fish, who did not have God’s approval. But at least it exposed millions of non-Christians to the Bible and to a form of Christianity, although corrupted.”
15 Proselytizing by Christendom has been especially effective in South America, Africa, and some islands of the sea. In our day, many meek ones have been located in these areas, and we can continue to do much good if we have a positive, loving attitude toward such humble people, even as Paul had toward Jewish proselytes. Among those who need our help are also the millions of people who might be termed “sympathizers” of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are always pleased to see us when we visit them. Some have studied the Bible with us and have attended our meetings, particularly the annual Memorial of Christ’s death. Do not such ones represent a large field for preaching the good news of the Kingdom?
16, 17. (a) What types of people do we approach with the good news? (b) How do we imitate Paul in preaching to various types of people?
16 Further, what of those who come from cultures outside Christendom—whether we meet them in their homelands or they are immigrants to Western lands? And what of those many millions who have totally turned their backs on religion, becoming atheistic or agnostic? Moreover, what of those who heed with almost religious fervor modern philosophy or the pop psychology that is published in the numerous self-help books found in bookstores? Should any of such people be shunned, considered beyond redemption? Not if we imitate the apostle Paul.
17 When preaching in Athens, Paul did not fall into the trap of debating philosophy with his listeners. He did, though, adapt his reasoning to the people he was dealing with, presenting Bible truths in a clear, logical way. Similarly, we do not have to become experts in the religions or philosophies of the people we preach to. However, we do adapt our approach to make our witnessing effective, thus becoming “all things to people of all sorts.” (1 Corinthians 9:22) Writing to Christians in Colossae, Paul stated: “Go on walking in wisdom toward those on the outside, buying out the opportune time for yourselves. 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 4:5, 6.
18. What responsibility do we have, and what should we never forget?
18 Like Jesus and the apostle Paul, let us show love to people of all sorts. Especially, let us go out of our way to share with others the good news of the Kingdom. On the other hand, never forget that Jesus said of his disciples: “They are no part of the world.” (John 17:16) What this means for us will be considered further in the following article.
By Way of Review
◻ Describe Jesus’ balanced attitude toward the world.
◻ How did the apostle Paul preach to Jews and proselytes?
◻ How did Paul approach God-fearers and unbelievers?
◻ How can we be “all things to people of all sorts” in our preaching activity?
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By performing acts of kindness to their neighbors, Christians can often break down prejudice