“For Everything There Is an Appointed Time”
“For everything there is an appointed time, even a time for every affair under the heavens.”—ECCLESIASTES 3:1.
1. What difficulty do imperfect humans have, and to what has this led in some instances?
PEOPLE often say, “I should have done it sooner.” Or possibly in hindsight, “I should have waited.” Such reactions demonstrate the difficulty that imperfect humans have in determining the right time for certain things to be done. This limitation has caused relationships to crumble. It has led to disappointment and frustration. And worst of all, it has weakened some people’s faith in Jehovah and his organization.
2, 3. (a) Why is accepting Jehovah’s determination of appointed times the course of wisdom? (b) What balanced view should we have as regards the fulfillment of Bible prophecy?
2 Having the wisdom and the insight that humans lack, Jehovah is capable of foreknowing, if he so desires, the outcome of every action. He can know “from the beginning the finale.” (Isaiah 46:10) Hence, he can unerringly pick the most opportune time to do anything he wants to do. Rather than trusting our own faulty sense of timing, therefore, we are wise to accept Jehovah’s determination of appointed times!
3 For example, mature Christians loyally wait for Jehovah’s appointed time for certain Bible prophecies to be fulfilled. They stay busy in his service, all the while keeping clearly in mind the principle of Lamentations 3:26: “Good it is that one should wait, even silently, for the salvation of Jehovah.” (Compare Habakkuk 3:16.) At the same time, they are convinced that Jehovah’s announced execution of judgment, “even if it should delay, . . . will without fail come true. It will not be late.”—Habakkuk 2:3.
4 On the other hand, if we fail to understand fully certain Bible texts or explanations provided in Watch Tower publications, do we have reason to become impatient? Awaiting Jehovah’s appointed time to clarify matters is the course of wisdom. “For the Sovereign Lord Jehovah will not do a thing unless he has revealed his confidential matter to his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7) What a marvelous promise! But we must realize that Jehovah reveals his confidential matters at the time he deems advisable. For that purpose God has authorized a “faithful and discreet slave” to provide his people with “their [spiritual] food at the proper time.” (Matthew 24:45) There is, therefore, no reason for us to become overly concerned, or even agitated, that certain matters are not fully explained. Rather, we can be confident that if we patiently wait on Jehovah, he will provide, through the faithful slave, what is needed “at the proper time.”
5. Of what benefit is a consideration of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8?
5 Wise King Solomon spoke of 28 different things, each of which has its “appointed time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) An understanding of the meaning and implications of what Solomon said will help us to determine the right time and the wrong time for certain actions, as viewed by God. (Hebrews 5:14) That, in turn, will allow us to pattern our lives accordingly.
“A Time to Weep and a Time to Laugh”
6, 7. (a) What causes concerned people today to “weep”? (b) How does the world try to counteract the serious situation in which it finds itself?
6 Although there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh,” who does not prefer the latter to the former? (Ecclesiastes 3:4) Sad to say, we live in a world that primarily gives us reasons for weeping. Depressing news dominates the media. We recoil in horror when we hear of youngsters gunning down fellow students at school, of parents abusing their children, of terrorists killing or maiming innocent victims, and of so-called natural disasters playing havoc with human lives and property. Starving, hollow-eyed children and uprooted refugees on the run vie for our attention on the television screen. Previously unfamiliar terms like ethnic cleansing, AIDS, germ warfare, and El Niño now create anxiety in our minds and hearts—each in its own way.
7 No doubt about it, today’s world is full of tragedy and heartache. Nevertheless, as if to downplay the seriousness of the situation, the entertainment industry routinely serves up shallow, tasteless, oftentimes immoral and violent offerings, designed to mislead us into ignoring the misery that others are suffering. But the carefree spirit of foolish jesting and frivolous laughter that such entertainment engenders is not to be confused with genuine joy. The joy that is a fruit of God’s spirit is something Satan’s world simply cannot provide.—Galatians 5:22, 23; Ephesians 5:3, 4.
8. Should Christians today give priority to weeping or to laughter? Explain.
8 Recognizing the world’s deplorable state, we can understand that today is hardly the time to give high priority to laughter. It is not the time to live only for recreation and entertainment or to allow “having fun” to take precedence over the pursuit of spiritual matters. (Compare Ecclesiastes 7:2-4.) “Those making use of the world” should be “as those not using it to the full,” said the apostle Paul. Why? Because “the scene of this world is changing.” (1 Corinthians 7:31) True Christians live each day in full recognition of the seriousness of the times in which we live.—Philippians 4:8.
Despite Weeping, Truly Happy!
9. What regrettable situation existed in the days prior to the Deluge, and what meaning does this have for us today?
9 The people who lived at the time of the global Deluge lacked a serious view of life. They went about their daily routine and failed to weep over the “badness of man [that] was abundant in the earth,” looking on with indifference as “the earth became filled with violence.” (Genesis 6:5, 11) Jesus referred to that regrettable state, and he foretold a similar attitude among people in our day. He warned: “As they were in those days before the flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark; and they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away, so the presence of the Son of man will be.”—Matthew 24:38, 39.
10. How did the Israelites living in the days of Haggai show that they lacked appreciation for Jehovah’s appointed time?
10 Some 1,850 years after the Flood, in the days of Haggai, many Israelites showed a similar lack of serious concern for spiritual matters. Busy pursuing personal interests, they failed to discern that theirs was the time for giving priority to Jehovah’s interests. We read: “As regards this people, they have said: ‘The time has not come, the time of the house of Jehovah, for it to be built.’ And the word of Jehovah continued to come by means of Haggai the prophet, saying: ‘Is it the time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house is waste? And now this is what Jehovah of armies has said, “Set your heart upon your ways.”’”—Haggai 1:1-5.
11. What questions might we appropriately ask ourselves?
11 As Jehovah’s Witnesses today, with responsibilities and privileges before Jehovah like those of the Israelites of Haggai’s time, we would also do well to set our hearts upon our ways, doing so in all seriousness. Do we “weep” over world conditions and the reproach these bring upon God’s name? Are we pained when people deny God’s existence or blatantly ignore his righteous principles? Do we react as did the marked individuals seen by Ezekiel in a vision 2,500 years ago? About them we read: “Jehovah went on to say to [the man with the secretary’s inkhorn]: ‘Pass through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and you must put a mark on the foreheads of the men that are sighing and groaning over all the detestable things that are being done in the midst of it.’”—Ezekiel 9:4.
12. What significance does Ezekiel 9:5, 6 have for people today?
12 The significance of this account for us today becomes apparent when we read the instructions to the six men with weapons for smashing: “Pass through the city after him and strike. Let not your eye feel sorry, and do not feel any compassion. Old man, young man and virgin and little child and women you should kill off—to a ruination. But to any man upon whom there is the mark do not go near, and from my sanctuary you should start.” (Ezekiel 9:5, 6) Our survival of that fast-approaching great tribulation depends upon our recognizing that today is primarily a time to weep.
13, 14. (a) What kind of people did Jesus pronounce happy? (b) Explain why you think that this description well fits Jehovah’s Witnesses.
13 Of course, the fact that Jehovah’s servants “weep” over the sorry state of world affairs does not preclude their being happy. On the contrary! They are actually the happiest group of people on earth. Jesus provided the touchstone for happiness when he said: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need, . . . those who mourn, . . . the mild-tempered ones, . . . those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, . . . the merciful, . . . the pure in heart, . . . the peaceable, . . . those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” (Matthew 5:3-10) There is abundant evidence to show that this description fits Jehovah’s Witnesses, collectively, better than it does any other religious organization.
14 Especially since the restoration of true worship in 1919 do Jehovah’s happy people have reason for “laughter.” Spiritually, they shared the exhilarating experience of those who returned from Babylon in the sixth century B.C.E.: “When Jehovah gathered back the captive ones of Zion, we became like those who were dreaming. At that time our mouth came to be filled with laughter, and our tongue with a joyful cry. . . . Jehovah has done a great thing in what he has done with us. We have become joyful.” (Psalm 126:1-3) Still, even in the midst of spiritual laughter, Jehovah’s Witnesses wisely keep in mind the seriousness of the times. Once the new world has become a reality and earth’s inhabitants have taken “a firm hold on the real life,” then the time will have arrived when laughter will replace weeping for all eternity.—1 Timothy 6:19; Revelation 21:3, 4.
“A Time to Embrace and a Time to Keep Away From Embracing”
15. Why are Christians selective in picking friends?
15 Christians are selective about whom they embrace in friendship. They keep in mind Paul’s warning: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) And wise King Solomon noted: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.”—Proverbs 13:20.
16, 17. How do Jehovah’s Witnesses view friendship, dating, and marriage, and why?
16 Servants of Jehovah choose as friends individuals who have the same love for Jehovah and his righteousness that they do. While they appreciate and enjoy the companionship of their friends, they wisely avoid the permissive, overly liberal view of dating that is prevalent in some countries today. Rather than indulging in it as harmless fun, they view dating as a serious step toward marriage that should be taken only when one is physically, mentally, and spiritually ready—as well as Scripturally free—to enter into a permanent partnership.—1 Corinthians 7:36.
17 Some may feel that it is old-fashioned to take such a view of dating and marriage. But Jehovah’s Witnesses do not allow peer pressure to influence their choice of friends or their decisions as regards dating and marriage. They know that “wisdom is proved righteous by its works.” (Matthew 11:19) Jehovah always knows best, so they take seriously his counsel to marry “only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14) They avoid rushing into marriage with the mistaken thought that divorce or separation are acceptable options should the relationship falter. They take their time to seek out a suitable partner, realizing that once marriage vows are taken, Jehovah’s law applies: “So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.”—Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9.
18. What can serve as a starting point for a happy marriage?
18 Marriage is a lifelong commitment that deserves careful planning. A man will logically ask himself, ‘Is she really the right person for me?’ But equally important, he should ask, ‘Am I really the right person for her? Am I a mature Christian who can care for her spiritual needs?’ Both prospective partners have an obligation before Jehovah to be spiritually strong, capable of forming a solid marriage union that merits divine approval. Thousands of Christian couples can testify that because of its emphasis on giving rather than on receiving, the full-time ministry is an excellent starting point for a happy marriage.
19. Why do some Christians remain single?
19 Some Christians “keep away from embracing” by choosing to remain single for the sake of the good news. (Ecclesiastes 3:5) Others postpone marriage until they feel that they are spiritually qualified to attract a fitting mate. But let us also remember those single Christians who yearn for the intimacies and benefits of marriage and yet fail to find a partner. We can be sure that Jehovah rejoices over their refusal to compromise divine principles in their pursuit of marriage. We also do well to appreciate their loyalty and to offer them the appropriate support that they deserve.
20. Why do even marriage partners at times “keep away from embracing”?
20 Should even married couples occasionally “keep away from embracing”? Evidently so in a sense, for Paul noted: “This I say, brothers, the time left is reduced. Henceforth let those who have wives be as though they had none.” (1 Corinthians 7:29) Accordingly, the joys and blessings of marriage must at times take a backseat to theocratic responsibilities. A balanced view of this matter will not weaken a marriage but strengthen it because it helps to remind both partners that Jehovah must always be the central stabilizing figure in their relationship.—Ecclesiastes 4:12.
21. Why should we not judge married couples in the matter of parenthood?
21 Additionally, some married couples have refrained from having children in order to be freer to carry on their service to God. This has meant sacrifice on their part, and Jehovah will reward them accordingly. Incidentally, whereas the Bible encourages singleness for the sake of the good news, it makes no direct comment on remaining childless for the same reason. (Matthew 19:10-12; 1 Corinthians 7:38; compare Matthew 24:19 and Luke 23:28-30.) Thus, married couples must make their own decision on the basis of personal circumstances and their own conscientious feelings. Whatever that decision may be, married couples are not to be criticized.
22. What is it important for us to determine?
22 Yes, “for everything there is an appointed time, even a time for every affair under the heavens.” There is even “a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8) The next article will explain why it is important for us to determine for which of the two it is now the time.
Can You Explain?
□ Why is it vital for us to know that “for everything there is an appointed time”?
□ Why is today chiefly “a time to weep”?
□ Why are Christians, although “weeping,” nevertheless truly happy?
□ How do some Christians show that they view the present to be “a time to keep away from embracing”?
[Pictures on page 6, 7]
Although Christians “weep” because of world conditions . . .
. . . they are actually the happiest people in the world
[Picture on page 8]
The full-time ministry is an excellent basis for a happy marriage