“Temporary Residents” in a Wicked World
“In faith all these . . . publicly declared that they were strangers and temporary residents in the land.”
1. What did Jesus say about the position of his followers with regard to the world?
“THEY are in the world,” said Jesus of his disciples. But he explained: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:11, 14) Thus, Jesus clearly indicated the position of his true followers with respect to “this system of things,” whose god is Satan. (2 Cor. 4:4) Although living in this wicked world, they would be no part of it. Their situation in this system would be that of “aliens and temporary residents.”
They Lived as “Temporary Residents”
2, 3. Why can it be said that Enoch, Noah, and Abraham and Sarah lived as “strangers and temporary residents”?
2 From earliest times, faithful servants of Jehovah stood out as different from those in the ungodly world in which they lived. Before the Flood, Enoch and Noah “walked with the true God.” (Gen. 5:22-24; 6:9) Both of them were courageous preachers of Jehovah’s judgments against Satan’s wicked world. (Read 2 Peter 2:5; Jude 14, 15.) Because they walked with God in an ungodly world, Enoch “pleased God well” and Noah “proved himself faultless among his contemporaries.”
3 At God’s invitation, Abraham and Sarah gave up the comforts of city life in Ur of the Chaldeans and accepted the challenge of living as nomads in a foreign land. (Gen. 11:27, 28; 12:1) The apostle Paul wrote: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed in going out into a place he was destined to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, although not knowing where he was going. By faith he resided as an alien in the land of the promise as in a foreign land, and dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the very same promise.” (Heb. 11:8, 9) Concerning such faithful servants of Jehovah, Paul said: “In faith all these died, although they did not get the fulfillment of the promises, but they saw them afar off and welcomed them and publicly declared that they were strangers and temporary residents in the land.”
A Warning to the Israelites
4. What warning were the Israelites given before they became residents in their land?
4 Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, became numerous and were eventually organized into a nation with a law code and a land. (Gen. 48:4; Deut. 6:1) The people of Israel were never to forget that the real Owner of their land was Jehovah. (Lev. 25:23) They were like tenants obliged to respect the Owner’s wishes. Moreover, they were to remember that “not by bread alone does man live”; they were not to let material prosperity cause them to forget Jehovah. (Deut. 8:1-3) Before settling in their land, the Israelites were given this warning: “It must occur that when Jehovah your God will bring you into the land that he swore to your forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to give you, great and good-looking cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things and that you did not fill, and cisterns hewn out that you did not hew out, vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant, and you shall have eaten and become satisfied, watch out for yourself that you may not forget Jehovah.”
5. Why did Jehovah reject Israel, and to what new nation did he transfer his favor?
5 This warning was not unfounded. In Nehemiah’s day, a group of Levites recalled with shame what occurred after the Israelites took possession of the Promised Land. After the people of Israel occupied comfortable houses and had an abundance of food and wine, “they began to eat and to be satisfied and to grow fat.” They rebelled against God, even killing the prophets he sent to warn them. Jehovah therefore abandoned them to their enemies. (Read Nehemiah 9:25-27; Hos. 13:6-9) Later, under Roman domination, the faithless Jews went so far as to kill the promised Messiah! Jehovah rejected them and transferred his favor to a new nation, spiritual Israel.
“No Part of the World”
6, 7. (a) How would you explain what Jesus said about the position of his followers with regard to the world? (b) Why were true Christians not to become a part of Satan’s system?
6 As shown earlier in this article, the Head of the Christian congregation, Jesus Christ, made it clear that his followers would be separate from the world, Satan’s wicked system of things. Shortly before his death, Jesus told his disciples: “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you.”
7 As Christianity spread, were Christians to come to terms with the world, conforming to its practices and becoming a part of it? No. Wherever they lived, they were to distinguish themselves from Satan’s system. Some 30 years after Christ’s death, the apostle Peter wrote to Christians living in different parts of the Roman world: “Beloved, I exhort you as aliens and temporary residents to keep abstaining from fleshly desires, which are the very ones that carry on a conflict against the soul. Maintain your conduct fine among the nations.”
8. How did one historian describe the relationship of early Christians to the world?
8 Confirming that early Christians conducted themselves as “aliens and temporary residents” in the Roman world, historian Kenneth Scott Latourette wrote: “It is one of the commonplaces of history that in its first three centuries Christianity met persistent and often severe persecution . . . The accusations varied. Because they refused to participate in pagan ceremonies the Christians were dubbed atheists. Through their abstention from much of the community life
Not Using the World to the Full
9. As true Christians, how do we give proof that we are not “haters of the human race”?
9 What is the situation today? With regard to “the present wicked system of things,” we maintain the same stance as did the early Christians. (Gal. 1:4) Because of this, we are misunderstood by many and are even hated by some. Yet, we certainly are not “haters of the human race.” Out of love for fellow humans, we go from house to house, making every effort to contact each occupant with the “good news of [God’s] kingdom.” (Matt. 22:39; 24:14) We do this because we are convinced that Jehovah’s Kingdom government under Christ will shortly put an end to imperfect human rulership, replacing it with a righteous new system of things.
10, 11. (a) How do we make limited use of the world? (b) What are some ways in which vigilant Christians refrain from using the world to the full?
10 In view of the imminent end of the present system of things, as Jehovah’s servants we realize that this is no time to settle down in this dying world. We heed the apostle Paul’s words: “This I say, brothers, the time left is reduced. Henceforth let those . . . who buy [be] as those not possessing, and those making use of the world as those not using it to the full; for the scene of this world is changing.” (1 Cor. 7:29-31) But how do present-day Christians make use of the world? They do this by using modern technology and means of communication to spread Bible knowledge worldwide in hundreds of languages. They make limited use of the world to earn a living. They purchase necessary goods and services made available in the world. However, they avoid using the world to the full in that they keep worldly possessions and occupations in the proper place.
11 Vigilant Christians refrain from using the world to the full with regard to higher education. Many people in this world consider higher education an indispensable stepping-stone to prestige and an affluent life. But we Christians live as temporary residents and pursue different goals. We avoid “minding lofty things.” (Rom. 12:16; Jer. 45:5) Since we are Jesus’ followers, we heed his warning: “Keep your eyes open and guard against every sort of covetousness, because even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15) Consequently, young Christians are encouraged to pursue spiritual goals, getting only as much education as is required to meet their basic needs while focusing on preparing themselves to serve Jehovah ‘with their whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.’ (Luke 10:27) By doing so, they can become “rich toward God.”
Avoid Being Weighed Down by the Anxieties of Life
12, 13. How does our heeding Jesus’ words recorded at Matthew 6:31-33 distinguish us from people in the world?
12 Jehovah’s servants differ from people of the world in their attitude toward material things. In this regard, Jesus told his followers: “Never be anxious and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or, ‘What are we to drink?’ or, ‘What are we to put on?’ For all these are the things the nations are eagerly pursuing. For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:31-33) From personal experience, many of our fellow believers have found that our heavenly Father supplies the things they need.
13 “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Tim. 6:6, New International Version) That is the very opposite of the viewpoint of people in today’s world. For example, when young people get married, many of them expect to ‘have it all’ right away
14. What lesson can we draw from Jesus’ parable of the sower?
14 In his parable of the sower, Jesus said that “the anxiety of this system of things and the deceptive power of riches” can choke the word of God in our hearts and cause us to become unfruitful. (Matt. 13:22) Our living contentedly as temporary residents in this system of things helps us to avoid falling into this trap. Instead, it enables us to keep our eye “simple,” or “in focus,” looking “all one way” toward God’s Kingdom and keeping its interests first in our lives.
“The World Is Passing Away”
15. What words of the apostle John determine the outlook and conduct of true Christians toward the present world?
15 A fundamental reason why we as true Christians consider ourselves to be “aliens and temporary residents” in this world is our conviction that its days are numbered. (1 Pet. 2:11; 2 Pet. 3:7) This outlook determines our choices in life, our desires, and our aspirations. The apostle John counseled fellow believers not to love the world or the things in the world because “the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.”
16. How can we show that we have been set apart as a distinct people?
16 The Israelites were told that if they obeyed Jehovah, they would become his “special property out of all other peoples.” (Ex. 19:5) When faithful, Israel differed from all other nations in worship and way of life. Similarly today, Jehovah has separated for himself a people who are markedly different from Satan’s world. We are told: “Repudiate ungodliness and worldly desires and . . . live with soundness of mind and righteousness and godly devotion amid this present system of things, while we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of the Savior of us, Christ Jesus, who gave himself for us that he might deliver us from every sort of lawlessness and cleanse for himself a people peculiarly his own, zealous for fine works.” (Titus 2:11-14) This “people” is made up of anointed Christians and millions of Jesus’ “other sheep,” who aid and support them.
17. Why will the anointed and their companions never regret having lived as temporary residents in this wicked world?
17 “The happy hope” of the anointed is that of reigning with Christ in heaven. (Rev. 5:10) When the hope of eternal life on earth is fulfilled for the other sheep, they will no longer be temporary residents in a wicked world. They will have beautiful homes and an abundance to eat and drink. (Ps. 37:10, 11; Isa. 25:6; 65:21, 22) Unlike the Israelites, they will never forget that all of this is from Jehovah, “the God of the whole earth.” (Isa. 54:5) Neither the anointed nor the other sheep will regret having lived as temporary residents in this wicked world.
How Would You Answer?
• In what way did faithful men of old live as temporary residents?
• How did the early Christians conduct themselves with regard to the world?
• How do true Christians limit their use of the world?
• Why will we never regret having lived as temporary residents in this wicked world?
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The early Christians abstained from violent and immoral entertainment