Reaching the Heart of Unbelieving Relatives
“GO HOME to your relatives, and report to them all the things Jehovah has done for you and the mercy he has shown you,” said Jesus Christ. At the time he was likely in Gadara, southeast of the Sea of Galilee, speaking to a man who wanted to become his follower. Jesus’ words show that he understood a basic human trait—the desire to share matters of interest and importance with relatives.—Mark 5:19.
We often see that trait today too, though in some cultures it is more evident than in others. Hence, when an individual becomes a worshipper of the true God, Jehovah, he usually wants to share his new faith with his relatives. But how should he go about it? How can he reach the heart of relatives who have a different religion—or no faith at all? The Bible offers positive, realistic counsel.
“WE HAVE FOUND THE MESSIAH”
In the first century, Andrew was one of the first ones to identify Jesus as the Messiah. And whom did he immediately tell of his discovery? “He [Andrew] first found his own brother Simon and said to him: ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means, when translated, ‘Christ’).” Andrew led Peter to Jesus, thereby giving Peter the chance to become one of Jesus’ disciples.—John 1:35-42.
About six years later when Peter was staying in Joppa, he was invited to travel northward to Caesarea to visit the house of Cornelius, an army officer. Whom did Peter find gathered in the house? “Cornelius, of course, was expecting [Peter and those traveling with him] and had called together his relatives and close friends.” Cornelius thus gave his relatives the chance to hear Peter speak and to make a decision based on what they heard.—Acts 10:22-33.
What can we learn from the way Andrew and Cornelius treated their relatives?
Neither Andrew nor Cornelius left matters to chance. Andrew personally introduced Peter to Jesus, and Cornelius made arrangements for his relatives to hear what Peter had to say. But Andrew and Cornelius did not put their relatives under pressure or slyly try to maneuver them into becoming Christ’s followers. Do you see a lesson in that? We do well to act similarly. We may be able to share some thoughts with our relatives and create opportunities for them to come in contact with Bible truths and with fellow believers. Still, we respect their freedom of choice and avoid exerting unpleasant pressure on them. To illustrate how we can help our relatives, consider the example of Jürgen and Petra, a married couple in Germany.
Petra studied the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses and in time got baptized. Her husband, Jürgen, was an officer in the army. At first, Jürgen was not happy with his wife’s decision. But in time, he realized that the Witnesses preach the truth from the Bible. He too dedicated his life to Jehovah, and today he is an elder in the local congregation. What advice does he now give about reaching the heart of a relative who has a different faith?
Jürgen observes: “We should not try to force the issue and overwhelm our relatives with spiritual matters. That may simply reinforce their reluctance. In the long run, it may be better if we tactfully offer tidbits now and again. It is also useful to put our relatives in contact with brothers who are of the same age group and who have similar interests. Doing this can bridge the gap.”
The apostle Peter and the relatives of Cornelius reacted quickly to the Bible’s message. Others in the first century who came in contact with the truth needed more time to make a decision.
WHAT OF JESUS’ BROTHERS?
Several of Jesus’ relatives expressed faith in him during his public ministry. For example, it seems possible that the apostles James and John were cousins of Jesus and that their mother, Salome, was his aunt. She may have been one of the “many other women, who were ministering to them [Jesus and the apostles] from their belongings.”—Luke 8:1-3.
Other members of Jesus’ family, however, did not exercise faith immediately. For instance, on one occasion over a year after Jesus’ baptism, crowds gathered in a house to hear him. “But when his relatives heard about it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying: ‘He has gone out of his mind.’” Some time later, when Jesus’ half brothers inquired about his travel plans, he did not answer them directly. Why? Because “his brothers were, in fact, not exercising faith in him.”—Mark 3:21; John 7:5.
What can we learn from the way Jesus treated his relatives? He did not take offense when some claimed that he had lost his mind. Even after his execution and resurrection, Jesus gave additional encouragement to his relatives by appearing to his half brother James. This appearance seems to have helped convince not only James but also Jesus’ other half brothers that He truly was the Messiah. Thus, they were with the apostles and others in an upper room in Jerusalem and evidently received the holy spirit. In time, James and Jude, another of Jesus’ half brothers, went on to enjoy wonderful privileges.—Acts 1:12-14; 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 15:7.
SOME NEED MUCH TIME
As in the first century, some relatives today need considerable time before they get onto the way to life. Take, for example, Roswitha, who was an active Roman Catholic when her husband got baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1978. Sincere in her beliefs, Roswitha at first opposed her husband. But over the years, her opposition eased and she came to see that the Witnesses are teaching the truth. In 2003 she herself got baptized. What contributed to the change? Rather than being offended at her initial opposition, her husband gave Roswitha opportunities to change her opinion. What advice does she give? “Much good can be achieved with patience, patience, and still more patience.”
Monika got baptized in 1974, and her two sons became Witnesses about ten years later. Although Hans, her husband, never opposed their faith, it was not until 2006 that he was baptized. With the benefit of hindsight, what advice does the family have? “Stick loyally to Jehovah, and do not compromise on questions of faith.” Of course, it was important to assure Hans constantly of their continued love for him. And they never gave up hope that he would eventually accept their faith.
REFRESHED BY THE WATER OF TRUTH
Jesus once described the message of truth as being like water that imparts everlasting life. (John 4:13, 14) We want our relatives to be refreshed by drinking the cool, clear water of truth. Surely, we would not want them to choke because too much water was being forced on them too quickly. Whether they feel refreshed or choked may depend on how we explain our faith to them. The Bible says that “the heart of the righteous one meditates before answering” and that “the heart of the wise one gives his mouth insight and adds persuasiveness to his speech.” How can we apply this counsel?—Prov. 15:28; 16:23.
A wife may wish to explain her faith to her husband. If she “meditates before answering,” she will carefully choose her words and not speak hastily. She should not give the impression of feeling self-righteous or superior. Her well-thought-out speech can be refreshing and promote peace. When is her husband relaxed and easily approachable? What sort of topics does he enjoy talking or reading about? Is he interested in science, politics, or sports? How can she arouse his curiosity about the Bible while at the same time respect his feelings and opinions? Thinking along those lines will help her to speak and act with insight.
Reaching the heart of family members who are not yet Witnesses is not simply a matter of explaining our faith in measured doses. What we say ought to be supported by a record of fine conduct.
“Be consistent in applying Bible principles in everyday life. That is a very effective way of making the relative sit up and take notice, even though he may not admit as much,” explains Jürgen, mentioned above. Hans, who got baptized almost 30 years after his wife, agrees. “Exemplary Christian conduct is important, so that the relative sees the positive effect of the truth in our life.” Our relatives ought to be able to see that our faith makes us different from others in a positive way, not in a negative or distasteful way.
The apostle Peter gave valuable counsel to wives whose husbands do not share their beliefs: “Be in subjection to your husbands, so 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. Do not let your adornment be external—the braiding of hair and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothing—but let it be the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible adornment of the quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God.”—1 Pet. 3:1-4.
Peter wrote that a husband could be persuaded by the exemplary behavior of his wife. With that Scriptural guideline in mind, a sister named Christa has been trying to touch her husband’s heart by her conduct ever since her baptism in 1972. Although her husband at one time studied with the Witnesses, he has not yet made the truth his own. He has attended some Christian meetings and gets on well with those in the congregation. They, in turn, respect his right to choose. How does Christa try to reach his heart?
“I am determined to stick to the way Jehovah wants me to go. At the same time, I try to win my husband ‘without a word’ through my good behavior. When Bible principles are not at stake, I do all I can to comply with his wishes. And, of course, I respect his free will and leave the matter in Jehovah’s hands.”
Christa’s course illustrates the value of being flexible. She keeps an upbuilding routine in spiritual matters, including regular meeting attendance and a meaningful share in the Christian ministry. Yet, she shows understanding, realizing that her mate has a rightful claim to her love, time, and attention. Being flexible and understanding is wise for any of us who are dealing with unbelieving relatives. “There is an appointed time for everything,” explains the Bible. This includes time spent with family members, especially mates, who do not share our faith. Time spent together promotes communication. Experience shows that good communication decreases the risk of their feeling lonely, left out, or jealous.—Eccl. 3:1.
NEVER GIVE UP HOPE
“It is important to show that we love the family member and that we pray for him,” observes Holger, whose father got baptized 20 years after other members of the family. Christa adds that she ‘will never give up hope that her husband will take a stand for Jehovah after all and accept the truth.’ Our attitude toward our relatives who do not share our faith should always be positive, marked by hope.
Our goal is to keep relationships intact, to offer our relatives a chance to recognize the truth, and to touch their heart with the Bible’s message. And in all things we should behave “with a mild temper and deep respect.”—1 Pet. 3:15.