Happiness Is Possible in a Divided Household
“How do you know but that you will save your [mate]?”—1 COR. 7:16.
CAN YOU FIND THE ANSWERS?
What can believers do to cultivate peace in a religiously divided home?
How might a Christian help unbelieving family members to embrace true worship?
What can others do to help fellow believers who live in religiously divided households?
1. What effect can acceptance of the Kingdom message have on a family?
WHEN Jesus sent out his apostles on one occasion, he said: “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’” (Matt. 10:1, 7) This good news would bring peace and happiness to those accepting it with true appreciation. However, Jesus warned his apostles that many would oppose their Kingdom-preaching work. (Matt. 10:16-23) An especially painful form of opposition is experienced when family members reject the Kingdom message.—Read Matthew 10:34-36.
2. Why is happiness not out of reach for Christians who live in religiously divided households?
2 Does this mean that happiness is out of reach for Christ’s followers who live in religiously divided households? Not at all! Though family opposition can sometimes be severe, that is not always the case. Then, too, family opposition is not necessarily permanent. Much depends on how believers respond to opposition or indifference. Moreover, Jehovah blesses those who are loyal to him, making them joyful despite unfavorable circumstances. Believers can add to their own happiness (1) by endeavoring to cultivate peace in the home and (2) by sincerely trying to help unbelieving family members to embrace true worship.
CULTIVATE PEACE IN THE HOME
3. Why should a Christian in a divided household cultivate peace?
3 For the seed of righteousness to bear fruit in a family environment, peaceful conditions in the home are essential. (Read James 3:18.) Even if a Christian’s family is not yet unified in pure worship, he must make an earnest effort to cultivate peace in the home. How can this be done?
4. How may Christians maintain their inner peace?
4 Christians must maintain their inner peace. This calls for heartfelt prayer, which can bring us the incomparable “peace of God.” (Phil. 4:6, 7) Happiness and peace result from taking in knowledge of Jehovah and applying Scriptural principles in life. (Isa. 54:13) Participation in congregation meetings and zealous activity in the field ministry are also vital if we are to enjoy peace and happiness. Sharing in Christian activities in some way is generally possible for believers living in divided households. For example, consider Enza,* whose husband is violently opposed. She engages in the disciple-making work after taking care of her household duties. Enza says, “Jehovah richly blesses me with good results each time I make the effort to share the good news with others.” Such blessings certainly result in peace, satisfaction, and happiness.
5. What challenge do believers in divided households often face, and what help is available?
5 We need to make an earnest effort to cultivate a peaceful relationship with unbelieving family members. This may present a challenge because what they want us to do may at times conflict with Bible principles. Our holding firmly to right principles may upset some unbelieving family members, but such a stand promotes peace in the long run. Of course, being unyielding when something does not violate Scriptural principles may cause unnecessary friction. (Read Proverbs 16:7.) When facing a challenge, it is important to seek Scriptural counsel from publications of the faithful and discreet slave class and from the elders.—Prov. 11:14.
6, 7. (a) Why do some oppose family members who begin to study with Jehovah’s Witnesses? (b) How should a Bible student or a believer respond to family opposition?
6 Cultivating peace in a household calls for trust in Jehovah and insight into the feelings of unbelieving family members. (Prov. 16:20) Even new Bible students can show discernment in this regard. Some unbelieving husbands or wives may not object to having their mate study the Bible. They may even acknowledge that this could be good for the family. Others, however, may manifest hostility. Esther, who is now a Witness, admits that she reacted in “pure anger” when her husband began studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. “I either threw out his literature or burned it,” she says. Howard, who at first opposed his wife’s Bible study, remarks: “Many husbands are afraid that their wives are being tricked into joining a religious sect. A husband may not know how to react to this supposed threat and may become antagonistic.”
7 A student whose mate is opposed should be helped to see that he does not have to discontinue his Bible study. Often he will be able to resolve matters by being mild-tempered and showing respect for his unbelieving mate. (1 Pet. 3:15) Howard says, “I am so grateful that my wife stayed calm and did not overreact!” His wife explains: “Howard demanded that I give up studying the Bible. He said that I was being brainwashed. Instead of arguing, I said that he could be right, but I also told him that I could not honestly see how. So I asked him to read the book I was studying. He did so and could not disagree with what it said. This deeply affected him.” It is good to remember that unbelieving spouses may feel abandoned or threatened when their mate leaves to participate in Christian activities, but loving reassurances can go a long way in allaying such feelings.
HELP THEM TO EMBRACE TRUE WORSHIP
8. What counsel did the apostle Paul give to Christians who have unbelieving mates?
8 The apostle Paul advises Christians not to leave a marriage partner just because that individual is an unbeliever.* (Read 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.) Keeping in mind the possibility that an unbelieving marriage mate may become a Christian can help a believer to maintain his or her happiness although living in a divided household. In trying to reach the unbeliever with the message of the truth, though, a certain caution is in order, as the following experiences bear out.
9. When introducing Bible truth to unbelieving family members, what caution is in order?
9 Reflecting on his reaction to learning Bible truth, Jason says, “I wanted to tell everyone!” When a Bible student comes to appreciate the truthfulness of what he has been taught from the Scriptures, he may be so happy that he talks about it almost all the time. He may expect unbelieving family members to accept the Kingdom message immediately, but the good news could be met with an adverse response. How did Jason’s initial enthusiasm affect his wife? “I felt overwhelmed,” she recalls. One woman who accepted the truth 18 years after her husband did says, “I, for one, needed to learn it gradually.” If you are presently conducting a Bible study with a student whose mate has no desire to take part in true worship, why not hold regular practice sessions to help the student to approach issues tactfully? Moses said: “My instruction will drip as the rain, my saying will trickle as the dew, as gentle rains upon grass.” (Deut. 32:2) A few well-placed droplets of truth will often do more good than a spiritual downpour would.
10-12. (a) What counsel did the apostle Peter give to Christians who have unbelieving mates? (b) How did one Bible student learn to apply the counsel recorded at 1 Peter 3:1, 2?
10 The apostle Peter provided inspired counsel for Christian wives living in religiously divided households. “Be in subjection to your own husbands,” he wrote, “in order that, if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect.” (1 Pet. 3:1, 2) A wife may be able to win her husband over to true worship by being in subjection and showing deep respect for him, even if he treats her harshly. Likewise, a believing husband should conduct himself in a godly way and be a loving head of the household despite any opposition he may encounter from his unbelieving wife.—1 Pet. 3:7-9.
11 Many modern-day examples illustrate the value of applying Peter’s counsel. Consider the case of Selma. When she began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, her husband, Steve, was not pleased. He admits, “I became angry, jealous, possessive, and insecure.” Selma observes: “Even before I got the truth, living with Steve was like walking on eggshells. He was hot-tempered. When I started studying the Bible, this characteristic intensified.” What helped?
12 Selma recalls a lesson she learned from the Witness who studied with her. “On one particular day,” says Selma, “I didn’t want to have a Bible study. The night before, Steve had hit me as I had tried to prove a point, and I was feeling sad and sorry for myself. After I told the sister what had happened and how I felt, she asked me to read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. As I did, I began to reason, ‘Steve never does any of these loving things for me.’ But the sister made me think differently by asking, ‘How many of those acts of love do you show toward your husband?’ My answer was, ‘None, for he is so difficult to live with.’ The sister softly said, ‘Selma, who is trying to be a Christian here? You or Steve?’ Realizing that I needed to adjust my thinking, I prayed to Jehovah to help me be more loving toward Steve. Slowly, things started to change.” After 17 years, Steve accepted the truth.
HOW OTHERS CAN HELP
13, 14. How can others in the congregation assist those who live in a religiously divided household?
13 Like gentle drops of rain that soak the ground and help plants to grow, many individuals in the congregation contribute to the happiness of Christians in divided households. “The love of my brothers and sisters was what helped me to stand firm in the truth,” says Elvina in Brazil.
14 Kindness and interest on the part of others in the congregation can do much to affect the heart of an unbelieving family member. A husband in Nigeria who accepted the truth 13 years after his wife did states: “While I was traveling with a Witness, his vehicle broke down. He sought out fellow Witnesses in a neighboring village, and they gave us accommodations for the night. They cared for us as if we had known them from childhood. Right away, I felt the Christian love that my wife had always spoken about.” In England, a wife who came into the truth 18 years after her husband did recalls: “The Witnesses invited both of us for meals. I always felt welcome.”* Says a husband in the same land who eventually became a Witness: “Brothers and sisters would visit us, or we were invited to their homes, and I found that they had a caring attitude. This was especially noticeable when I was in the hospital and many came to visit me.” Can you find ways to show similar interest in unbelieving family members?
15, 16. What can help a believer to maintain happiness when others in the family remain unbelievers?
15 Of course, not all unbelieving spouses, children, parents, or other relatives embrace true worship, even after years of faithful conduct and tactful witnessing on the part of the believer. Some remain indifferent or become unrelenting opposers. (Matt. 10:35-37) When Christians display godly traits, however, this can have a very good effect. A former unbelieving husband states: “When the believing mate starts to let those lovely qualities shine, you do not know what is going on in the unbeliever’s mind and heart. So don’t ever give up on your unbelieving mate.”
16 Even if a family member remains an unbeliever, happiness is possible for the believer. Although her husband has not responded to the Kingdom message after 21 years of effort on her part, one sister says: “I am able to maintain my joy by striving to please Jehovah, by maintaining my loyalty to him, and by working to strengthen my spirituality. Immersing myself in spiritual activities—personal study, meeting attendance, the field ministry, and helping others in the congregation—has drawn me closer to Jehovah and has safeguarded my heart.”—Prov. 4:23.
DO NOT GIVE UP!
17, 18. How can a Christian remain hopeful even in a religiously divided household?
17 If you are a faithful Christian living in a religiously divided household, do not give up. Remember that “Jehovah will not desert his people for the sake of his great name.” (1 Sam. 12:22) He is with you as long as you cling to him. (Read 2 Chronicles 15:2.) So “take exquisite delight in Jehovah.” Indeed, “roll upon Jehovah your way, and rely upon him.” (Ps. 37:4, 5) “Persevere in prayer,” and have faith that our loving heavenly Father can help you to endure hardships of all kinds.—Rom. 12:12.
18 Petition Jehovah for his holy spirit to help you promote peace in the home. (Heb. 12:14) Yes, it is possible to foster peaceful conditions that may eventually touch the heart of unbelieving family members. You will experience happiness and peace of heart and mind as you “do all things for God’s glory.” (1 Cor. 10:31) In these endeavors, how heartening it is to know that you have the loving support of your brothers and sisters in the Christian congregation!
Names have been changed.
Paul’s counsel does not rule out legal separation in extreme situations. That is a serious personal decision. See “Keep Yourselves in God’s Love,” pages 220-221.
Eating with unbelievers is not forbidden in the Scriptures.—1 Cor. 10:27.
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Choose the right time to explain your beliefs
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Show concern for unbelieving mates