Firmly Uphold Godly Teaching
“Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.”—PROVERBS 3:5, 6.
1. How are we exposed to human knowledge as never before?
PRESENTLY, there are about 9,000 daily newspapers in circulation worldwide. Every year some 200,000 new books are published in the United States alone. According to one estimate, by March of 1998, there were about 275 million Web pages on the Internet. This figure is said to be growing at a rate of 20 million pages per month. As never before, people have access to information on just about any subject. While this situation has its positive aspects, such a superabundance of information has caused problems.
2. What problems can result from access to a superabundance of information?
2 Some individuals have become information addicts, always feeding an insatiable desire to be up-to-date while neglecting more important things. Others acquire partial information about complex fields of knowledge and then view themselves as experts. Based on only a limited understanding, they may make crucial decisions that can cause harm to themselves or to others. And always present is the danger of exposure to false or inaccurate information. There is often no reliable way to verify that the flood of information is accurate and balanced.
3. What warnings regarding the pursuit of human wisdom are found in the Bible?
3 Curiosity has long been a human trait. The dangers of wasting too much time in the pursuit of useless or even harmful information were recognized back in the days of King Solomon. He said: “Take a warning: To the making of many books there is no end, and much devotion to them is wearisome to the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) Centuries later the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: “Guard what is laid up in trust with you, turning away from the empty speeches that violate what is holy and from the contradictions of the falsely called ‘knowledge.’ For making a show of such knowledge some have deviated from the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:20, 21) Yes, Christians today need to avoid unnecessary exposure to harmful ideas.
4. What is one way we can manifest our trust in Jehovah and his teachings?
4 Jehovah’s people also do well to heed the words of Proverbs 3:5, 6: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.” Trusting in Jehovah includes rejecting any idea that conflicts with God’s Word, whether it stems from our own reasoning or from that of our fellowman. To protect our spirituality, it is vital that we train our perceptive powers so that we can identify harmful information and shun it. (Hebrews 5:14) Let us discuss some sources of such information.
A World Overpowered by Satan
5. What is one source of harmful ideas, and who is behind it?
5 The secular world is a prolific source of harmful ideas. (1 Corinthians 3:19) Jesus Christ prayed to God regarding his disciples: “I request you, not to take them out of the world, but to watch over them because of the wicked one.” (John 17:15) Jesus’ request that his disciples be protected from “the wicked one” acknowledged the influence that Satan has in the world. Our being Christians does not automatically shield us from the bad influences of this world. John wrote: “We know we originate with God, but the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) Especially during this final part of the last days, it is to be expected that Satan and his demons will saturate the world with harmful information.
6. How can the world of entertainment cause moral desensitization?
6 It is also to be expected that some of this harmful information may appear harmless. (2 Corinthians 11:14) Consider, for example, the world of entertainment, with its TV shows, movies, music, and printed page. Many agree that in more and more cases, certain forms of entertainment promote degrading practices, such as immorality, violence, and drug abuse. On first exposure to a form of entertainment that sinks to a new low, audiences may be shocked. But repeated exposure can desensitize one. Never should we view as acceptable or harmless entertainment that promotes harmful ideas.—Psalm 119:37.
7. What kind of human wisdom can erode our confidence in the Bible?
7 Consider another source of potentially damaging information—the flood of ideas published by some scientists and scholars who challenge the Bible’s authenticity. (Compare James 3:15.) Such material appears frequently in mainstream magazines and popular books, and it can erode confidence in the Bible. Some individuals take pride in weakening the authority of the Word of God with endless speculations. A similar danger existed in the days of the apostles, as is clear from the apostle Paul’s words: “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.”—Colossians 2:8.
Enemies of the Truth
8, 9. How is apostasy manifesting itself today?
8 Apostates can present yet another threat to our spirituality. The apostle Paul foretold that apostasy would arise among professed Christians. (Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3) In fulfillment of his words, after the death of the apostles, a great apostasy led to the development of Christendom. Today, there is no great apostasy taking place among God’s people. Still, a few individuals have left our ranks, and some among them are bent on defaming Jehovah’s Witnesses by spreading lies and misinformation. A few work with other groups in organized resistance to pure worship. In doing so, they side with the very first apostate, Satan.
9 Some apostates are increasingly using various forms of mass communication, including the Internet, to spread false information about Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a result, when sincere individuals do research on our beliefs, they may stumble across apostate propaganda. Even some Witnesses have unwittingly exposed themselves to this harmful material. In addition, apostates occasionally take part in television or radio programs. What is the wise course to follow in view of this?
10. What is the wise reaction to apostate propaganda?
10 The apostle John directed Christians not to accept apostates into their homes. He wrote: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him. For he that says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.” (2 John 10, 11) Avoiding all contact with these opponents will protect us from their corrupt thinking. Exposing ourselves to apostate teachings through the various means of modern communication is just as harmful as receiving the apostate himself into our homes. Never should we allow curiosity to lure us into such a calamitous course!—Proverbs 22:3.
Within the Congregation
11, 12. (a) What was a source of harmful ideas in the first-century congregation? (b) How did some Christians fail to be firm in upholding godly teachings?
11 Consider yet another possible source of harmful ideas. While not intending to teach falsehoods, a dedicated Christian can develop the habit of speaking thoughtlessly. (Proverbs 12:18) Because of our imperfect nature, all of us will at times transgress with our tongue. (Proverbs 10:19; James 3:8) Evidently, in the apostle Paul’s day, there were some in the congregation who failed to control their tongue and got involved in quibbling debates about words. (1 Timothy 2:8) There were others who thought too much of their own opinions and even went so far as to challenge the authority of Paul. (2 Corinthians 10:10-12) Such a spirit resulted in needless conflicts.
12 Sometimes these disagreements escalated into “violent disputes about trifles,” disrupting the peace of the congregation. (1 Timothy 6:5; Galatians 5:15) Of those who caused these arguments, Paul wrote: “If any man teaches other doctrine and does not assent to healthful words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor to the teaching that accords with godly devotion, he is puffed up with pride, not understanding anything, but being mentally diseased over questionings and debates about words. From these things spring envy, strife, abusive speeches, wicked suspicions.”—1 Timothy 6:3, 4.
13. What was the conduct of most Christians in the first century?
13 Happily, in apostolic times the majority of Christians were faithful and remained focused on the work of declaring the good news of God’s Kingdom. They were busy looking after “orphans and widows in their tribulation” and kept themselves “without spot from the world,” not wasting their time on futile debates about words. (James 1:27) They avoided “bad associations” even within the Christian congregation in order to safeguard their spirituality.—1 Corinthians 15:33; 2 Timothy 2:20, 21.
14. If we are not careful, how can the normal exchange of ideas degenerate into harmful arguments?
14 Similarly, the situations described in paragraph 11 are not typical of the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses today. Still, we do well to acknowledge the potential for such futile debates. Of course, it is normal to discuss Bible accounts or wonder about aspects of the promised new world that have not as yet been revealed. And there is nothing wrong with exchanging ideas on personal matters, such as dress and grooming or choice of entertainment. However, if we become dogmatic about our ideas and take offense when others do not agree with us, the congregation may end up becoming divided over minor issues. What begins as harmless small talk may become harmful indeed.
Guarding Our Trust
15. To what extent can the “teachings of demons” harm us spiritually, and what counsel is offered in the Scriptures?
15 The apostle Paul warns: “The inspired utterance says definitely that in later periods of time some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to misleading inspired utterances and teachings of demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1) Yes, harmful ideas pose a real threat. Understandably, Paul entreated his dear friend Timothy: “O Timothy, guard what is laid up in trust with you, turning away from the empty speeches that violate what is holy and from the contradictions of the falsely called ‘knowledge.’ For making a show of such knowledge some have deviated from the faith.”—1 Timothy 6:20, 21.
16, 17. What has God entrusted to us, and how should we guard it?
16 How can we today benefit from this loving warning? Timothy was given a trust—something valuable to care for and protect. What was it? Paul explains: “Keep holding the pattern of healthful words that you heard from me with the faith and love that are in connection with Christ Jesus. This fine trust guard through the holy spirit which is dwelling in us.” (2 Timothy 1:13, 14) Yes, Timothy’s trust included the “healthful words,” “the teaching that accords with godly devotion.” (1 Timothy 6:3) In harmony with these words, Christians today are determined to protect their faith and the body of truth with which they have been entrusted.
17 Guarding that trust includes cultivating such things as good Bible-study habits and perseverance in prayer, while working “what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.” (Galatians 6:10; Romans 12:11-17) Paul further admonishes: “Pursue righteousness, godly devotion, faith, love, endurance, mildness of temper. Fight the fine fight of the faith, get a firm hold on the everlasting life for which you were called and you offered the fine public declaration in front of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:11, 12) Paul’s use of such phrases as “fight the fine fight” and “get a firm hold” makes it clear that we must actively and determinedly resist spiritually harmful influences.
The Need for Discernment
18. How can we display Christian balance in our approach to secular information?
18 Of course, in fighting the fine fight of the faith, discernment is needed. (Proverbs 2:11; Philippians 1:9) For instance, it would be unreasonable to distrust all secular information. (Philippians 4:5; James 3:17) Not all human ideas conflict with God’s Word. Jesus alluded to the need for sick people to consult a qualified physician—a secular profession. (Luke 5:31) Despite the relatively primitive nature of medical treatment in Jesus’ day, he acknowledged that there was some benefit to be derived from a physician’s help. Christians today display balance in the matter of secular information, but they resist exposure to any that might be harmful to them spiritually.
19, 20. (a) How do elders act with discernment when assisting those who speak unwisely? (b) How does the congregation deal with those who insist on promoting false teachings?
19 Discernment is also vital on the part of elders when called upon to assist those who speak unwisely. (2 Timothy 2:7) At times, congregation members may get caught up in disputes about trifles and speculative arguments. To protect the unity of the congregation, elders should be quick to address such problems. At the same time, they avoid imputing wrong motives to their brothers and are not overhasty to view them as apostates.
20 Paul described the spirit in which assistance is to be given. He said: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.” (Galatians 6:1) Speaking specifically about Christians who struggle with doubts, Jude wrote: “Continue showing mercy to some that have doubts; save them by snatching them out of the fire.” (Jude 22, 23) Of course, if after repeated admonitions someone insists on promoting false teachings, elders need to take decisive action in order to protect the congregation.—1 Timothy 1:20; Titus 3:10, 11.
Filling Our Minds With Praiseworthy Things
21, 22. About what should we be selective, and with what should we fill our minds?
21 The Christian congregation shuns harmful words that “spread like gangrene.” (2 Timothy 2:16, 17; Titus 3:9) This is true whether such words reflect misleading secular “wisdom,” the propaganda of apostates, or thoughtless talk within the congregation. While a healthy desire to learn new things can be beneficial, unbridled curiosity could expose us to harmful ideas. We are not ignorant of Satan’s designs. (2 Corinthians 2:11) We know that he is making great efforts to distract us so as to slow us down in our service to God.
22 As fine ministers, let us firmly uphold godly teaching. (1 Timothy 4:6) May we make wise use of our time by being selective about the information we choose to take in. Then we will not be easily shaken by Satan-inspired propaganda. Yes, let us keep considering “whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is.” If we fill our minds and hearts with such things, the God of peace will be with us.—Philippians 4:8, 9.
What Did We Learn?
• How may secular wisdom pose a threat to our spirituality?
• What can we do to protect ourselves from harmful apostate information?
• What kind of speech should be avoided within the congregation?
• How is Christian balance displayed when dealing with today’s superabundance of information?
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Many popular magazines and books conflict with our Christian values
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Christians can exchange ideas without becoming dogmatic