Defending Our Faith
“Sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you.”—1 PETER 3:15.
1, 2. Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses not surprised by opposition, but what do they desire?
IN MOST countries, Jehovah’s Witnesses are generally recognized as honest, clean-living people. Many view them as good neighbors who do not cause any trouble. Yet, ironically, these peace-loving Christians have suffered unjust persecution—in times of war and of peace. They are not surprised by such opposition. In fact, they expect it. After all, they know that faithful Christians in the first century C.E. were “objects of hatred,” so why should those endeavoring to be true followers of Christ today expect to be treated any differently? (Matthew 10:22) Besides, the Bible says: “All those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.”—2 Timothy 3:12.
2 Jehovah’s Witnesses do not seek persecution, nor do they enjoy the hardships—fines, imprisonments, or harsh treatment—it may bring. They desire to ‘lead a calm and quiet life’ so that they can preach the good news of God’s Kingdom without hindrance. (1 Timothy 2:1, 2) They appreciate the religious freedom they have in most lands to carry on with their worship, and they conscientiously do what they can to “be peaceable with all men,” including the rulers of human governments. (Romans 12:18; 13:1-7) Why, then, are they “objects of hatred”?
3. What is one reason why Jehovah’s Witnesses have been unjustly hated?
3 Basically, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been unjustly hated for the same reasons that the early Christians were persecuted. First, Jehovah’s Witnesses act upon their religious beliefs in ways that make them unpopular with some. For example, they zealously preach the good news of God’s Kingdom, but people often misunderstand their zeal, viewing their preaching as “aggressive proselytizing.” (Compare Acts 4:19, 20.) They also are neutral toward the politics and wars of the nations, and sometimes this has been wrongly taken to mean that the Witnesses are disloyal citizens.—Micah 4:3, 4.
4, 5. (a) How have Jehovah’s Witnesses been targets of false accusations? (b) Who have often been the principal instigators of persecution of Jehovah’s servants?
4 Second, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been targets of false accusations—barefaced lies and twisted presentations of their beliefs. As a result, they have been the object of unjustified attack in some lands. Further, because they seek nonblood medical treatment that is in harmony with their desire to obey the Bible’s command to ‘abstain from blood,’ they have wrongly been labeled “child murderers” and “a suicide cult.” (Acts 15:29) But the fact is that Jehovah’s Witnesses place a high value on life, and they seek to obtain the best available medical care for themselves and their children. The accusation that numerous children of Jehovah’s Witnesses die each year as a result of refusing blood transfusions is totally unfounded. In addition, because Bible truth does not have the same effect on all family members, Witnesses have also been accused of breaking up families. Yet, those acquainted with Jehovah’s Witnesses know that they highly regard family life and try to follow the Biblical commands that a husband and wife love and respect each other and that children obey their parents whether they are believers or not.—Ephesians 5:21–6:3.
5 In many instances, the principal instigators of persecution of Jehovah’s servants have turned out to be religious opposers who have used their influence with political authorities and the media to try to suppress the activities of the Witnesses. How should we, Jehovah’s Witnesses, respond to such opposition—whether it is a result of our beliefs and practices or because of false accusations?
“Let Your Reasonableness Become Known to All Men”
6. Why is it important to have a balanced view of those outside the Christian congregation?
6 To begin with, we need to have the right view—Jehovah’s view—of those who do not share our religious convictions. Otherwise, we might unnecessarily invite hostility or reproach from others. “Let your reasonableness become known to all men,” wrote the apostle Paul. (Philippians 4:5) Hence, the Bible encourages us to have a balanced view of those outside the Christian congregation.
7. What is involved in keeping ourselves “without spot from the world”?
7 On the one hand, the Scriptures very clearly admonish us to “keep [ourselves] without spot from the world.” (James 1:27; 4:4) The term “world” here, as in many places in the Bible, has reference to the mass of humanity apart from true Christians. We live in the midst of this society of people; we come in contact with them on the job, at school, in the neighborhood. (John 17:11, 15; 1 Corinthians 5:9, 10) Yet, we keep ourselves without spot from the world by shunning attitudes, speech, and conduct that conflict with God’s righteous ways. It is also vital that we recognize the danger of intimate association with this world, particularly with those who show utter disregard for Jehovah’s standards.—Proverbs 13:20.
8. Why does the counsel to remain without spot from the world not give us any basis for looking down on others?
8 However, the counsel to remain without spot from the world does not give us any basis for categorically belittling those who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Proverbs 8:13) Recall the example of the Jewish religious leaders, discussed in the preceding article. The form of religion they developed did not win favor with Jehovah; nor did it contribute to good relations with non-Jews. (Matthew 21:43, 45) From their self-righteous perch, these fanatic men looked down on the Gentiles. We do not take such a narrow view, treating non-Witnesses with disdain. Like the apostle Paul, our wish is that all who hear the Bible’s message of truth gain God’s favor.—Acts 26:29; 1 Timothy 2:3, 4.
9. A balanced, Scriptural view should have what effect on the way we speak about those who do not share our beliefs?
9 A balanced, Scriptural view should affect the way we speak about non-Witnesses. Paul instructed Titus to remind the Christians on the island of Crete “to speak injuriously of no one, not to be belligerent, to be reasonable, exhibiting all mildness toward all men.” (Titus 3:2) Notice that Christians were to speak injuriously of “no one”—not even of the non-Christians on Crete, some of whom were known for their lying, gluttony, and laziness. (Titus 1:12) So it would be unscriptural for us to use disparaging terms when referring to ones who do not share our beliefs. A superior attitude will not attract others to Jehovah’s worship. Rather, when we view and treat others in line with the reasonable principles of Jehovah’s Word, we “adorn the teaching” of God.—Titus 2:10.
When to Keep Quiet, When to Speak
10, 11. How did Jesus demonstrate that he knew when it was (a) “a time to keep quiet”? (b) “a time to speak”?
10 There is “a time to keep quiet and a time to speak,” says Ecclesiastes 3:7. Here, then, is the challenge: deciding when to ignore opposers and when to speak up to defend our faith. We can learn much from the example of one who was always perfect in discretion—Jesus. (1 Peter 2:21) He knew when it was “a time to keep quiet.” For instance, when the chief priests and the older men falsely accused him before Pilate, Jesus “made no answer.” (Matthew 27:11-14) He did not want to say anything that might interfere with the carrying out of God’s will for him. He chose, instead, to let his public record speak for itself. He knew that not even the truth would change their proud minds and hearts. So he ignored their charge, refusing to break his purposeful silence.—Isaiah 53:7.
11 However, Jesus also knew when it was “a time to speak.” On occasion, he contended outspokenly and openly with his critics, refuting their false accusations. For example, when the scribes and Pharisees tried to discredit him in front of a crowd by accusing him of expelling demons by means of Beelzebub, Jesus chose not to let the false charges stand. With devastating logic and a powerful illustration, he overturned the lie. (Mark 3:20-30; see also Matthew 15:1-11; 22:17-21; John 18:37) Similarly, when Jesus, after his betrayal and arrest, was dragged before the Sanhedrin, High Priest Caiaphas craftily demanded: “By the living God I put you under oath to tell us whether you are the Christ the Son of God!” This too was “a time to speak,” for to remain silent could have been interpreted as a denial of his being the Christ. So Jesus answered: “I am.”—Matthew 26:63, 64; Mark 14:61, 62.
12. What were the circumstances that moved Paul and Barnabas to speak with boldness in Iconium?
12 Consider also the example of Paul and Barnabas. Acts 14:1, 2 states: “In Iconium they entered together into the synagogue of the Jews and spoke in such a manner that a great multitude of both Jews and Greeks became believers. But the Jews that did not believe stirred up and wrongly influenced the souls of people of the nations against the brothers.” The New English Bible reads: “But the unconverted Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the Christians.” Not content with rejecting the message themselves, Jewish opposers embarked on a smear campaign, trying to prejudice the Gentile population against Christians.* How deep their hatred of Christianity must have been! (Compare Acts 10:28.) This, Paul and Barnabas felt, was “a time to speak,” lest the new disciples become disheartened by public reproach. “Therefore they [Paul and Barnabas] spent considerable time speaking with boldness by the authority of Jehovah,” who showed his approval by empowering them to perform miraculous signs. This resulted in some being “for the Jews but others for the apostles.”—Acts 14:3, 4.
13. In dealing with reproach, when is it usually “a time to keep quiet”?
13 How, then, should we respond when we are reproached? That all depends upon the circumstances. Some situations call for us to apply the principle that there is “a time to keep quiet.” Especially is this so when determined opposers try to draw us into pointless arguments. We must not forget that some people simply do not want to know the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12) Endeavoring to reason with those whose hearts are proudly fixed in unbelief is fruitless. More than that, were we to immerse ourselves in debating every false accuser who attacks us, we could become sidetracked from a far more important and rewarding activity—that of helping honesthearted ones who really want to learn Bible truth. So when confronted with antagonists who are bent on spreading lies about us, the inspired advice is: “Avoid them.”—Romans 16:17, 18; Matthew 7:6.
14. In what ways may we defend our faith before others?
14 This, of course, does not mean that we do not defend our faith. After all, there is also “a time to speak.” We are rightly concerned about sincere people who have been exposed to defamatory criticism of us. We are willing to give a clear explanation of our heartfelt convictions to others; indeed, we welcome the opportunity. Peter wrote: “Sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) When genuinely interested individuals ask for proof for the beliefs we hold dear, when they inquire about the false charges raised by opposers, it is our responsibility to defend our faith, providing sound Biblical answers. In addition, our fine conduct can speak volumes. As open-minded observers note that we truly try to live in harmony with God’s righteous standards, they can readily see that the charges made against us are false.—1 Peter 2:12-15.
What About Slanderous Publicity?
15. What is one example of how Jehovah’s Witnesses have been the target of distorted information in the media?
15 At times, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been the target of distorted information in the media. For example, on August 1, 1997, a Russian newspaper published a slanderous article claiming, among other things, that Witnesses categorically require members to ‘reject their wives, husbands, and parents if these do not understand and do not share their faith.’ Anyone who is truly acquainted with Jehovah’s Witnesses knows that the charge is false. The Bible indicates that Christians are to treat unbelieving family members with love and respect, and Witnesses endeavor to follow that direction. (1 Corinthians 7:12-16; 1 Peter 3:1-4) Even so, the article was printed, and many readers were thus misinformed. How can we defend our faith when we are falsely accused?
16, 17, and box on page 16. (a) What did The Watchtower once say about responding to false information in the media? (b) Under what circumstances might Jehovah’s Witnesses respond to negative reports in the media?
16 Here again, there is “a time to keep quiet and a time to speak.” The Watchtower once expressed it this way: “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.” In some cases it may be best to ignore negative reports, thus not giving further publicity to the lies.
17 In other cases it may be “a time to speak.” A responsible journalist or reporter may have been misinformed about Jehovah’s Witnesses and may welcome truthful information about us. (See box “Correcting a Misrepresentation.”) If negative reports in the media arouse prejudice that hinders our preaching work, representatives of the branch office of the Watch Tower Society may take the initiative to defend the truth by some suitable means.* For example, qualified elders might be assigned to present the facts, as in a TV program, where failure to appear might imply that Jehovah’s Witnesses have no answer. Individual Witnesses wisely cooperate with the direction of the Watch Tower Society and its representatives in such matters.—Hebrews 13:17.
Legally Defending the Good News
18. (a) Why do we not need the permission of human governments to preach? (b) What course do we follow when denied permission to preach?
18 Our authorization to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom comes from heaven. Jesus, who commissioned us to do this work, has been given ‘all authority in heaven and on earth.’ (Matthew 28:18-20; Philippians 2:9-11) Hence, we do not need the permission of human governments to preach. Even so, we recognize that having religious freedom is conducive to spreading the Kingdom message. In lands where we have the freedom to carry on with our worship, we will use the legal system to protect it. Where we have been denied such freedom, we will, within the framework of the law, endeavor to obtain it. Our objective is, not social reform, but “the defending and legally establishing of the good news.”*—Philippians 1:7.
19. (a) What may be the result of our ‘paying back God’s things to God’? (b) What is it our determination to do?
19 As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we acknowledge Jehovah as the Universal Sovereign. His law is supreme. We conscientiously obey human governments, thus ‘paying back Caesar’s things to Caesar.’ But we will allow nothing to interfere with our fulfilling a far more important responsibility—‘paying back God’s things to God.’ (Matthew 22:21) We fully understand that doing so will make us “objects of hatred” by the nations, but we accept this as part of the cost of discipleship. The legal record of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 20th century is a testimony to our determination to defend our faith. With Jehovah’s help and backing, we will continue “without letup teaching and declaring the good news.”—Acts 5:42.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible explains that the Jewish opposers “made it their business to go purposely to such [Gentiles] as they had any acquaintance with, and said all that their wit or malice could invent, to beget in them not only a mean but an ill opinion of Christianity.”
After the slanderous article was published in the Russian newspaper (mentioned in paragraph 15), Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed to the Russian Federation Presidential Judicial Chamber for Media Disputes with a request to review the false charges made in the article. Recently the court issued a decision that castigated the newspaper for printing the libelous article.—See Awake!, November 22, 1998, pages 26-7.
See the article “Legally Protecting the Good News,” on pages 19-22.
Do You Recall?
□ Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses “objects of hatred”?
□ How should we view those who do not share our religious beliefs?
□ In dealing with opposers, what balanced example did Jesus set?
□ When we are reproached, how can we apply the principle that there is “a time to keep quiet and a time to speak”?
[Box on page 16]
Correcting a Misrepresentation
“In Yacuiba, Bolivia, a local evangelical group arranged for a TV station to show a film that was evidently produced by apostates. In view of the bad effects of that program, the elders decided to visit two TV stations and offer to pay to have them show the public the videos Jehovah’s Witnesses—The Organization Behind the Name and The Bible—A Book of Fact and Prophecy. After seeing the Society’s videos, the owner of a radio station became indignant at the misrepresentations in the apostates’ program and offered to make free spot announcements for Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding their upcoming district convention. Attendance was unusually high, and many honesthearted ones began to ask sincere questions when the Witnesses visited them in the ministry.”—1997 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages 61-2.
[Picture on page 17]
On occasion, Jesus openly refuted the false accusations of his critics