“The objective of this instruction is love out of a clean heart and out of a good conscience.”—1 TIM. 1:5.
1, 2. Who is the Source of our conscience, and why can we be thankful that we have this faculty?
JEHOVAH GOD created humans with free will, that is, the liberty to choose between one option and another. God provided a valuable guide for the first man and woman and their future offspring—the conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong. Used properly, the conscience can help us to do good and to avoid wrongdoing. Our conscience thus is an evidence of God’s love for us and of his desire that humans be united in doing good.
2 Today, humans still have the faculty of conscience. (Read Romans 2:14, 15.) Though many have strayed far from the Bible’s standards of conduct, we find that some individuals often do what is good and abhor what is bad. The conscience holds many individuals back from committing deeds of extreme wickedness. Imagine how much worse world conditions would be if no one had a conscience! We would likely hear of even more evil than we do now. How grateful we can be that God has provided humans with a conscience!
3. Why is the conscience a powerful force for good in the Christian congregation?
3 Unlike people in general, servants of Jehovah want to train their conscience. They want the proddings of their conscience to agree with the standards of right and wrong, good and bad, as reflected in God’s Word. A properly trained conscience exercises a powerful influence for good in the Christian congregation. However, training and using our Christian conscience is not just a mental activity. The Bible links a good conscience to faith and love. Paul wrote: “The objective of this instruction is love out of a clean heart and out of a good conscience and out of faith without hypocrisy.” (1 Tim. 1:5) As we train our conscience and respond to it, our love for Jehovah will deepen and our faith will be strengthened. In fact, the way we use our conscience reveals the depth of our spirituality, the quality of our heart, and the intensity of our desire to please Jehovah. Indeed, this inner voice reflects what sort of person we truly are.
4. How can we train our conscience?
4 But how can we train our conscience? Key ways are by regularly and prayerfully studying the Bible, meditating on what we read, and then putting into practice what we have learned. Obviously, this involves more than accumulating facts and learning rules. Our study of the Bible should gradually give us an ever more precise picture of Jehovah, his personality, his qualities, and what he likes or dislikes. Our conscience becomes attuned to the ways of Jehovah God. This should stir our heart, moving us to want to become more and more like him.
5. What will we consider in this article?
5 However, we might ask: How can a well-trained conscience help us when we need to make decisions? How can we respect the conscientious decision of a fellow believer? And how can our conscience move us to greater works of zeal? With those questions in mind, let us consider three areas in which our conscience can be a positive factor: (1) health care, (2) recreation, and (3) the ministry.
6. What is one field in which questions arise and decisions must be made?
6 The Bible encourages us to avoid harmful practices and to be moderate in habits, such as in eating and drinking. (Prov. 23:20; 2 Cor. 7:1) As we apply Bible principles, we will be safeguarding our health to a degree, even if advancing age and infirmity may still affect us. In some lands, both conventional medicine and a range of alternative therapies are available. Branch offices regularly receive letters from brothers and sisters who are considering one form of treatment or another. Many ask, “Can a servant of Jehovah accept such treatment?”
7. How can we make decisions about medical treatments?
7 Neither a branch office nor the local congregation elders are authorized to make health-care decisions for a Witness, even if he asks what to do. (Gal. 6:5) They can, of course, call attention to what Jehovah has said that may have a bearing on the decision. For example, a Christian needs to remember the Biblical command “to keep abstaining from . . . blood.” (Acts 15:29) That would clearly rule out medical treatments that involve taking in whole blood or any of its four major components. This knowledge could even influence a Christian’s conscience when he makes a personal decision regarding minor fractions derived from one of those four components.* But what other Bible advice can guide us when we are contemplating medical treatment?
8. How can Philippians 4:5 help us with regard to health care?
8 Proverbs 14:15 says: “The naive person believes every word, but the shrewd one ponders each step.” For some illnesses, there may be no known cure. So it is wise to be cautious when it comes to treatments that feature stunning claims but that are promoted merely with hearsay testimonials. Paul was inspired to write: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.” (Phil. 4:5) Reasonableness also holds us back from devoting so much time to health care that spiritual matters are forced into the background. Were we to allow health care to become the main focus of our life, we would run the risk of becoming self-centered. (Phil. 2:4) Spiritual matters are most important, and with regard to health, our expectations should remain reasonable.—Read Philippians 1:10.
9 A Christian who is reasonable does not impose his views on others. In one European land, a married couple were zealously advocating certain food supplements and a diet. They persuaded some brothers to use the supplements, but others chose not to. In time, the results fell short of expectations, and there was widespread resentment. The couple had a right to choose for themselves whether they would follow a certain diet and take the supplements, but was it reasonable to put the unity of the congregation at risk over health care? For a time, Christians in ancient Rome had differing opinions with regard to eating certain foods and observing certain days. What advice did Paul give them? Regarding the latter, he said: “One man judges one day as above another; another judges one day the same as all others; let each one be fully convinced in his own mind.” It was important not to put a stumbling block before others.—Read Romans 14:5, 13, 15, 19, 20.
10. Why should we respect the personal decisions of others? (See opening image.)
10 If we cannot understand the conscientious decision of a fellow believer on some personal matter, we should not quickly judge him or feel that we ought to pressure him to change his mind. Perhaps his conscience is still “weak” and in need of more training or is too sensitive on certain issues. (1 Cor. 8:11, 12) On the other hand, it may be that we need to examine our own conscience, which may need further training in line with divine principles. On matters like health care, each of us should be willing to make a personal decision and accept the responsibility that comes with it.
ENJOY UPBUILDING RECREATION
11, 12. When choosing recreation, what Bible counsel should we keep in mind?
11 Jehovah created humans in a way that makes it possible for them to enjoy and benefit from recreation. Solomon wrote that there is “a time to laugh” and “a time to dance.” (Eccl. 3:4) But not every pastime is beneficial, relaxing, or refreshing; nor is it good to engage in recreation too much or too often. How can our conscience help us to enjoy upbuilding recreation and benefit from it?
12 The Scriptures warn against certain behavior identified as “the works of the flesh.” These works include “sexual immorality, uncleanness, brazen conduct, idolatry, spiritism, hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, dissensions, divisions, sects, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and things like these.” Paul wrote that “those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom.” (Gal. 5:19-21) Accordingly, we can ask ourselves: ‘Does my conscience move me to shun sports that are aggressive, competitive, nationalistic, or violent? Does my inner voice warn me when I am tempted to view a film that features pornographic scenes or one that condones immorality, drunkenness, or spiritism?’
13 The Bible also provides principles that can help us mold our conscience with regard to recreation. One is that “physical training is beneficial for a little.” (1 Tim. 4:8) Many have concluded that a measure of regular exercise promotes good health and refreshes the body and mind. If we want to enjoy exercise in a group, should we share in it with just anyone? Proverbs 13:20 tells us: “The one walking with the wise will become wise, but the one who has dealings with the stupid will fare badly.” Does this not suggest that we should be selective in our choice of recreation, guided by our Bible-trained conscience?
14. How did one youth act in harmony with Romans 14:2-4?
14 Christian and Daniela are the parents of two teenagers. Christian relates: “During our Family Worship evening, we discussed recreation. We agreed that some ways of having fun are acceptable whereas others are not. Who can be considered good association? One of our daughters complained that during recess at her school, some Witness youths behave in a way that she thought was not proper. And she felt under pressure to behave in the same way. We reasoned that each of us has a conscience, and we ought to be guided by it in choosing what we do and with whom.”—Read Romans 14:2-4.
15. How can considering Matthew 6:33 be of help when planning recreation?
15 There is also the question of when to engage in recreation. Do you plan recreation around theocratic activities, such as meetings, field ministry, and personal study? Or do you find yourself trying to fit theocratic activities between periods of leisure? What are your priorities? Jesus said: “Keep on, then, seeking first the Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33) Does your conscience prompt you to set priorities that line up with Jesus’ advice?
MOTIVATED TO ZEALOUS WORKS
16. Our conscience can have what bearing on our preaching?
16 A good conscience does much more than warn us against wrongdoing. It moves us to do good works. Foremost among these good works is our participation in the ministry from house to house and our taking advantage of opportunities to witness informally. Paul’s conscience moved him to do so. He wrote: “Necessity is laid upon me. Really, woe to me if I do not declare the good news!” (1 Cor. 9:16) As we imitate him, our conscience speaks to us, assuring us that we are doing the right thing. And by preaching the good news, we appeal to the conscience of those to whom we speak. Paul said: “By making the truth manifest, we recommend ourselves to every human conscience in the sight of God.”—2 Cor. 4:2.
17. How did one young sister act in harmony with her conscience?
17 When Jacqueline was 16 years old, she studied biology in school. The theory of evolution was explained in some detail. “My conscience would not let me share as fully in class discussions as I normally did. I could not support the theory of evolution. I approached the teacher and explained my position. To my surprise, he was very friendly and offered me the chance to speak to the whole class on the subject of creation.” Jacqueline felt deep inner satisfaction at having listened to and acted in line with her Bible-trained conscience. Does your conscience similarly move you to do what is right?
18. Why should we be interested in having a good, reliable conscience?
18 How fine it is when our goal is to bring our lives ever more into harmony with Jehovah’s standards and ways! To that end, the conscience can be an invaluable tool. By regularly immersing ourselves in God’s Word, meditating on what we find, and striving to put it into practice, we train our conscience. It will thus prove to be a valuable asset in our Christian life!
See “Questions From Readers” in The Watchtower of June 15, 2004, pp. 29-31.