“Do not think I came to bring peace to the earth; I came to bring, not peace, but a sword.”—MATT. 10:34.
1, 2. (a) What peace can we enjoy now? (b) What prevents us from finding complete peace at this time? (See opening image.)
WE ALL want peaceful lives, free from anxiety. How thankful we are that Jehovah grants us “the peace of God,” an inner calm that can protect us from disturbing thoughts and feelings! (Phil. 4:6, 7) Because of our dedication to Jehovah, we also enjoy “peace with God,” a good relationship with him.—Rom. 5:1.
2 However, God’s time to bring about complete peace has not yet come. These critical last days are filled with conflict, and countless people have contentious attitudes. (2 Tim. 3:1-4) As Christians, we must wage a spiritual war against Satan and the false teachings that he promotes. (2 Cor. 10:4, 5) But the greatest threat to our peace may come from unbelieving relatives. Some might ridicule our beliefs, accuse us of dividing the family, or threaten to disown us unless we give up our faith. How should we view family opposition? How can we successfully deal with the challenges it brings?
HOW TO VIEW FAMILY OPPOSITION
3, 4. (a) What effect do Jesus’ teachings have? (b) When would it be especially challenging to follow Jesus?
3 Jesus knew that his teachings would divide people and that those who follow him would need courage to do so in the face of opposition. This opposition could affect peaceful relations among family members. Jesus said: “Do not think I came to bring peace to the earth; I came to bring, not peace, but a sword. For I came to cause division, with a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Indeed, a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.”—Matt. 10:34-36.
4 In saying “Do not think I came to bring peace,” Jesus meant that some of his listeners needed to think about the consequences of following him. His message could divide people. Of course, Jesus’ motive was to proclaim God’s message of truth, not to damage relationships. (John 18:37) Still, holding faithfully to Christ’s teachings would be challenging if one’s close friends or family members rejected the truth.
5. What have Jesus’ followers experienced?
5 Jesus included the pain of family opposition as part of the suffering that his followers must be willing to endure. (Matt. 10:38) In order to prove worthy of the Christ, his disciples have had to endure ridicule or even alienation from their families. Yet, they have gained far more than they have lost.—Read Mark 10:29, 30.
6. What must we remember if our relatives oppose our efforts to worship Jehovah?
6 Even when our relatives oppose our efforts to worship Jehovah, we continue to love them, but we must remember that our love for God and Christ comes first. (Matt. 10:37) We must also realize that Satan will try to use our affection for our family to break our integrity. Let us consider some situations involving family opposition and see how we can successfully face the challenges that these bring.
AN UNBELIEVING MATE
7. How should those with an unbelieving mate view their situation?
7 The Bible warns that those who marry “will have tribulation in their flesh.” (1 Cor. 7:28) If you have an unbelieving mate, you may experience more than the usual stress and anxiety in your marriage. Nevertheless, it is important for you to view your situation as Jehovah does. Your mate’s present unwillingness to follow Christ is not in itself a valid reason for separation or divorce. (1 Cor. 7:12-16) Although an unbelieving husband may not take the lead in spiritual matters, he should be respected because of his position as the head of the family. Likewise, an unbelieving wife should be shown self-sacrificing love and tender affection by her Christian husband.—Eph. 5:22, 23, 28, 29.
8. What questions can you ask yourself if your spouse tries to limit your worship?
8 What if your spouse tries to limit your worship? For example, one sister was told by her husband to share in the field ministry only on certain days of the week. If you face a similar situation, ask yourself: ‘Is my spouse demanding that I stop worshipping my God? If not, can I yield to the request?’ Being reasonable can help you to avoid needless marital conflict.—Phil. 4:5.
9. How can Christians teach their children to honor an unbelieving parent?
9 Training children can be especially challenging if you have an unbelieving mate. For instance, you need to teach your children to obey the Bible’s command: “Honor your father and your mother.” (Eph. 6:1-3) But what if your mate does not follow the Bible’s high standard of conduct? Set the example by honoring your mate. Focus on his or her good qualities, and express appreciation for your mate. Avoid saying negative things about your mate in front of your children. Instead, explain to them that each person must choose whether to serve Jehovah. The children’s good conduct might help to draw the unbelieving parent to true worship.
10. How can Christian parents teach their children Bible truth in a religiously divided household?
10 At times, unbelieving mates will demand that children share in pagan celebrations or be taught false religious beliefs. Some husbands may forbid the Christian wife to teach the children from the Bible. Even so, a Christian wife does what she can to teach the children Bible truth. (Acts 16:1; 2 Tim. 3:14, 15) For example, the husband of a Witness wife might not allow her to conduct a formal Bible study with her minor children or to take them with her to Christian meetings. While respecting his decisions, she can still express her faith in the presence of her children as opportunities arise, thus giving them moral training and knowledge about Jehovah. (Acts 4:19, 20) Of course, her children must eventually make their own decision regarding worship.—Deut. 30:19, 20.*
RELATIVES WHO OPPOSE TRUE WORSHIP
11. What may cause a problem with non-Witness relatives?
11 At first, we may not have told our family about our association with Jehovah’s Witnesses. As our faith grew, though, we saw the need to be open about our beliefs. (Mark 8:38) If your courageous stand has resulted in a problem between you and your non-Witness relatives, consider some steps to take to reduce conflict and still maintain integrity.
12. Why may unbelieving relatives oppose us, but how can we show them empathy?
12 Have empathy for unbelieving relatives. While we may be overjoyed about the Bible truths we have learned, our relatives may mistakenly believe that we have been tricked or have become part of a cult. They may think that we no longer love them because we do not celebrate holidays with them. They may even fear for our eternal welfare. We should show empathy by trying to see things from their viewpoint and by listening carefully to discern their real concerns. (Prov. 20:5) The apostle Paul endeavored to understand “people of all sorts” in order to share the good news with them, and a similar approach can help us as well.—1 Cor. 9:19-23.
13. How should we speak with unbelieving relatives?
13 Speak with mildness. “Let your words always be gracious,” says the Bible. (Col. 4:6) We can ask Jehovah for his holy spirit so that we can display its fruitage when speaking with our relatives. We should not try to argue about all their false religious ideas. If they hurt us by their speech or actions, we can imitate the example of the apostles. Paul wrote: “When insulted, we bless; when persecuted, we patiently endure; when slandered, we answer mildly.”—1 Cor. 4:12, 13.
14. What are the benefits of maintaining fine conduct?
14 Maintain fine conduct. Although mild speech is helpful in dealing with opposing relatives, our good conduct can speak even louder. (Read 1 Peter 3:1, 2, 16.) By your example, let your relatives see that Jehovah’s Witnesses enjoy happy marriages, look after their children, and live a clean, moral, and fulfilling life. Even if our relatives never accept the truth, we can have the joy that comes from pleasing Jehovah by our faithful course.
15. How can we plan ahead for situations that might lead to conflict?
15 Plan ahead. Think of situations that might lead to conflict, and determine how to handle them. (Prov. 12:16, 23) A sister from Australia relates: “My father-in-law strongly opposed the truth. Before calling to check on him, my husband and I would pray that Jehovah help us not to respond in kind to angry reactions. We would prepare topics to discuss so that we could keep the conversation friendly. To avoid long conversations that would usually lead to a heated discussion about religion, we set a time limit for the visit.”
16. How can you overcome feelings of guilt about displeasing your relatives?
16 Of course, you cannot expect to avoid all disagreements with your unbelieving relatives. Such conflict can make you feel guilty, especially because you love your relatives dearly and have always tried to please them. If you feel this way, strive to put your loyalty to Jehovah ahead of your love for your family. Such a stand may actually help your relatives to see that applying Bible truth is a life-and-death matter. In any case, remember that you cannot force others to accept the truth. Instead, let them see in you the benefits of following Jehovah’s ways. Our loving God offers to them, just as he does to us, the opportunity to choose the course they will follow.—Isa. 48:17, 18.
IF A FAMILY MEMBER LEAVES JEHOVAH
17, 18. What can help you to cope if a family member leaves Jehovah?
17 When a family member is disfellowshipped or he disassociates himself from the congregation, it can feel like the stab of a sword. How can you cope with the pain that this brings?
18 Keep up your spiritual routine. Build yourself up by regularly reading the Bible, preparing for and attending Christian meetings, sharing in the field ministry, and praying for the strength to endure. (Jude 20, 21) But what if you feel that your heart is not in your activity, that you are just going through the motions? Do not give up! A good spiritual routine can help you to gain control of your thoughts and feelings. Consider the experience of the writer of Psalm 73. He had developed a wrong viewpoint and had become greatly troubled, but he was able to correct his thinking when he entered God’s place of worship. (Ps. 73:16, 17) Your faithfully worshipping Jehovah can help you to do the same.
19. How can you show respect for Jehovah’s arrangement for discipline?
19 Respect the discipline of Jehovah. His arrangement can bring the best long-term outcome for all, including the wrongdoer, even though the immediate effect is painful. (Read Hebrews 12:11.) For example, Jehovah instructs us to “stop keeping company” with unrepentant wrongdoers. (1 Cor. 5:11-13) Despite our pain of heart, we must avoid normal contact with a disfellowshipped family member by telephone, text messages, letters, e-mails, or social media.
20. What hope can we maintain?
20 Maintain hope. Love “hopes all things,” including that those who have left Jehovah will come back to him. (1 Cor. 13:7) If you see evidence that a close family member is having a change of heart, you could pray that he or she gain strength from the Scriptures and respond to Jehovah’s appeal: “Return to me.”—Isa. 44:22.
21. What should you do if you experience family division because you are following Jesus?
21 Jesus said that if we were to put any human before him, we would not be worthy of him. Yet, he was confident that his disciples would have the courage to maintain their loyalty to him despite family opposition. If following Jesus has brought “a sword” into your family, rely on Jehovah to help you deal with the challenges successfully. (Isa. 41:10, 13) Find joy in knowing that Jehovah and Jesus are pleased with you and that they will reward your faithful course.
For more information on training children in a religiously divided household, see “Questions From Readers” in The Watchtower, August 15, 2002.