“If anyone loves God, this one is known by him.”—1 COR. 8:3.
1. Relate a Bible account that underscores the kind of delusional thinking that has overcome some of God’s people. (See opening image.)
ONE morning, High Priest Aaron stood at the entrance of Jehovah’s tabernacle, holding an incense-burning fire holder. Nearby, Korah along with 250 men were also offering incense to Jehovah, each one with his own fire holder. (Num. 16:16-18) At first glance, all the men seemed to be loyal worshippers of Jehovah. Unlike Aaron, however, the others were arrogant renegades attempting to usurp the priesthood. (Num. 16:1-11) They had deluded themselves into thinking that God would accept their worship. But such an expectation was insulting to Jehovah, who can read hearts and could see their hypocrisy.—Jer. 17:10.
2. What had Moses predicted, and did his words come true?
2 Appropriately, the day before, Moses had predicted: “In the morning Jehovah will make known who belongs to him.” (Num. 16:5) Sure enough, Jehovah differentiated between genuine worshippers and counterfeit ones when “a fire came out from Jehovah and consumed [Korah and] the 250 men offering the incense.” (Num. 16:35; 26:10) At the same time, Jehovah spared the life of Aaron, signaling approval of the real priest and genuine worshipper of God.—Read 1 Corinthians 8:3.
3. (a) What situation arose in the apostle Paul’s day? (b) What precedent for handling rebels had Jehovah set centuries earlier?
3 A similar situation arose some 1,500 years later in the apostle Paul’s day. Certain professed Christians adopted false teachings; yet, they continued to associate with the congregation. To the casual observer, these apostates might not have been different from others in the congregation. But their apostasy presented a danger to faithful Christians. These wolves in sheep’s clothing began “subverting the faith of some.” (2 Tim. 2:16-18) Jehovah is no casual observer, however, and Paul would have known this from the way God handled the situation with the rebels—Korah and his supporters—centuries earlier. In this regard, let us consider an intriguing passage of Scripture and see what practical lessons we can learn from it.
“I AM JEHOVAH; I DO NOT CHANGE”
4. Of what was Paul convinced, and how did he express his conviction to Timothy?
4 Paul was sure that Jehovah could recognize hypocritical worship, and he was likewise convinced that Jehovah could identify those who are obedient to Him. Paul manifested his strong conviction by the wording he chose when writing under inspiration to Timothy. After referring to the spiritual harm that apostates were already inflicting upon some within the congregation, Paul wrote: “Despite that, the solid foundation of God remains standing, having this seal, ‘Jehovah knows those who belong to him,’ and, ‘Let everyone calling on the name of Jehovah renounce unrighteousness.’”—2 Tim. 2:18, 19.
5, 6. What is significant about Paul’s use of the phrase “the solid foundation of God,” and how did this expression likely affect Timothy?
5 What is significant about Paul’s word choice in this scripture? This is the only mention in the Bible of “the solid foundation of God.” The Bible uses the word “foundation” as a metaphor for various things, including literal Jerusalem as the capital of ancient Israel. (Ps. 87:1, 2) The role that Jesus plays in Jehovah’s purpose is also compared to a foundation. (1 Cor. 3:11; 1 Pet. 2:6) What did Paul have in mind when he wrote about “the solid foundation of God”?
6 Paul mentions “the solid foundation of God” in the same context in which he quotes Moses’ words about Korah and his supporters, recorded at Numbers 16:5. Paul was evidently referring to the events in Moses’ day in an effort to encourage Timothy and remind him of Jehovah’s ability to detect and counteract rebellious acts. Jehovah’s purpose was not about to be thwarted by apostates in the congregation any more than it was by Korah centuries before. Paul did not explain in detail what “the solid foundation of God” represents. Yet, the wording used surely evoked in Timothy reassuring thoughts of trust and confidence in Jehovah’s ways.
7. Why can we be sure that Jehovah will act with righteousness and faithfulness?
7 Jehovah’s lofty principles are unshakable. “The decisions of Jehovah will stand forever; the thoughts of his heart are from generation to generation,” says Psalm 33:11. Other scriptures speak of Jehovah’s rulership, loyal love, righteousness, and faithfulness as enduring forever. (Ex. 15:18; Ps. 106:1; 111:3; 117:2) Malachi 3:6 says: “I am Jehovah; I do not change.” Similarly, James 1:17 states that Jehovah “does not vary or change like the shifting shadows.”
A “SEAL” THAT BUILDS FAITH IN JEHOVAH
8, 9. What lesson can we learn from the “seal” in Paul’s illustration?
8 Paul’s word picture recorded at 2 Timothy 2:19 depicts a foundation with a message on it, as if imprinted with a seal. In ancient times, it was not uncommon to display an inscription on a building’s foundation, perhaps showing who built it or who owned it. Paul was the first Bible writer to use this particular illustration.* The seal on “the solid foundation of God” has two pronouncements. First, “Jehovah knows those who belong to him” and second, “Let everyone calling on the name of Jehovah renounce unrighteousness.” This reminds us of what we read at Numbers 16:5.—Read.
9 What lesson can we learn from the “seal” in Paul’s word picture? For those who belong to God, Jehovah’s values and principles can be summed up in two fundamental truths: (1) Jehovah loves those who are loyal to him, and (2) Jehovah hates unrighteousness. How is this lesson relevant to the issue of apostasy within the congregation?
10. How did the actions of apostates affect faithful ones in Paul’s day?
10 Timothy and other faithful ones were likely perturbed by the actions of apostates in their midst. Some Christians may have questioned why such individuals were allowed to remain in the congregation. Faithful ones might have wondered whether Jehovah really distinguished between their resolute loyalty to him and the hypocritical worship of apostates.—Acts 20:29, 30.
11, 12. How did Paul’s letter no doubt strengthen Timothy’s faith?
11 Paul’s letter no doubt strengthened Timothy’s faith by reminding him of what happened when faithful Aaron was vindicated and hypocritical Korah and his companions were exposed, rejected, and destroyed. In effect, Paul was saying that even though there were counterfeit Christians in their midst, Jehovah would recognize those who really belonged to him, just as he did in the days of Moses.
12 Jehovah never changes; he is dependable. He hates unrighteousness, and in due time he brings unrepentant wrongdoers to justice. As one “calling on the name of Jehovah,” Timothy was also reminded of his own responsibility to reject the unrighteous influence of counterfeit Christians.*
GENUINE WORSHIP IS NEVER IN VAIN
13. What confidence can we have?
13 We can likewise derive spiritual strength from Paul’s inspired words. First of all, it is reassuring to know that Jehovah is well-aware of our loyalty to him. This is not a passive awareness. Rather, Jehovah is intensely interested in those who belong to him. The Bible says: “The eyes of Jehovah are roving about through all the earth to show his strength in behalf of those whose heart is complete toward him.” (2 Chron. 16:9) Therefore, we can have absolute confidence that what we do for Jehovah “out of a clean heart” is never in vain.—1 Tim. 1:5; 1 Cor. 15:58.
14. What type of worship does Jehovah not tolerate?
14 It is also sobering to know that Jehovah does not tolerate hypocritical worship. As his eyes “are roving about through all the earth,” he can detect those whose heart is not “complete toward him.” “Jehovah detests a devious person,” says Proverbs 3:32, such as one who deliberately puts up a front, feigning obedience while practicing sin in secret. Although a devious person may skillfully deceive other humans for a while, Jehovah’s almightiness and righteousness guarantee that “the one covering over his transgressions will not succeed.”—Prov. 28:13; read 1 Timothy 5:24; Hebrews 4:13.
15. What should we avoid, and why?
15 The overwhelming majority of Jehovah’s people are sincere in their devotion. It would be highly unusual for someone in the congregation to adopt a deceitful form of worship deliberately. Still, if it happened in Moses’ day and in the time of the early Christian congregation, it can also happen today. (2 Tim. 3:1, 5) Should we, however, be suspicious of our fellow Christians, second-guessing the genuineness of their loyalty to Jehovah? Absolutely not! It would be wrong to entertain baseless suspicions about our brothers and sisters. (Read Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 13:7.) What is more, having a tendency to distrust the integrity of others in the congregation would be harmful to our own spirituality.
16. (a) What might each of us do to prevent hypocrisy from taking root in our heart? (b) What lessons can be gleaned from the box “Keep Testing . . . Keep Proving . . .”?
16 Each Christian should “examine his own actions.” (Gal. 6:4) Because of our sinful inclinations, there is always the potential for inadvertently adopting traits that are less than sincere. (Heb. 3:12, 13) So from time to time, we might examine our motives for serving Jehovah. We may ask ourselves: ‘Do I worship Jehovah out of love for him and in recognition of his sovereignty? Or do I place more emphasis on the physical blessings I hope to enjoy in Paradise?’ (Rev. 4:11) Surely we can all benefit from examining our own actions and removing any vestiges of hypocrisy from our heart.
LOYALTY THAT RESULTS IN HAPPINESS
17, 18. Why should we be genuine and sincere in our worship of Jehovah?
17 As we strive to be genuine and sincere in our worship, we reap many benefits. “Happy is the man whom Jehovah does not charge with guilt, in whose spirit there is no deceit,” says the psalmist. (Ps. 32:2) Yes, those who rid their heart of hypocrisy are happier, and they put themselves in line to enjoy perfect happiness in the future.
18 In due time, Jehovah will expose all who practice badness or who lead a double life, making a clear “distinction between a righteous person and a wicked person, between one serving God and one not serving him.” (Mal. 3:18) In the meantime, it is reassuring to know that “the eyes of Jehovah are on the righteous, and his ears listen to their supplication.”—1 Pet. 3:12.
Revelation 21:14, written decades after Paul’s letters to Timothy, mentions 12 “foundation stones” inscribed with the names of the 12 apostles.
The following article considers how we can imitate Jehovah by renouncing unrighteousness.