“I ponder over your reminders.”—PS. 119:99.
1. What is one thing that makes humans superior to animals?
ONE thing that makes humans superior to animals is the fact that humans have been endowed with a conscience. That has been true ever since man has been on the earth. After Adam and Eve broke Jehovah’s law, they hid themselves. This indicates that their conscience was bothering them.
2. How can our conscience be like a compass? (See opening picture.)
2 Those with a poorly trained conscience can be likened to a ship that is navigating with a defective compass. Setting off on a journey without an accurate compass can be treacherous. The winds and currents of the ocean can easily throw a ship off course. A properly calibrated compass can help the captain to keep the ship on course. Our conscience can be likened to a moral compass. It is an inner sense of right or wrong that can guide us in the right direction. But in order for our conscience to be an effective guide, it must be properly adjusted, or calibrated.
3. What can result when a conscience is not properly trained?
3 When a person’s conscience is not properly trained, it does not act as a restraint from wrongdoing. (1 Tim. 4:1, 2) Such a conscience might even convince us that “bad is good.” (Isa. 5:20) Jesus warned his followers: “The hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he has offered a sacred service to God.” (John 16:2) That was true of those who murdered the disciple Stephen, and it has been true of others like them. (Acts 6:8, 12; 7:54-60) How ironic that in committing such evil crimes as murder, religious fanatics violate the very laws of the One whom they claim to worship! (Ex. 20:13) Clearly, their consciences are treacherous guides!
4. How can we prevent our conscience from becoming ineffective?
4 How can we prevent our conscience from becoming ineffective? The laws and principles contained in God’s Word are “beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16) Therefore, by diligently studying the Bible, meditating on what it says, and applying it in our lives, we can train our conscience to be more sensitive to God’s thinking, and it can thus serve as a reliable guide. Let us consider how Jehovah’s laws and principles can help us to train our conscience.
LET GOD’S LAWS TRAIN YOU
5, 6. How do we benefit from following God’s laws?
5 In order to benefit from God’s laws, we need to do more than simply read them or become acquainted with them. We must grow to love and respect them. God’s Word says: “Hate what is bad, and love what is good.” (Amos 5:15) But how do we actually do that? A key is to learn to view things the way Jehovah views them. To illustrate: Imagine that you are having difficulty sleeping well. Your doctor prescribes a program involving diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes. After trying the program, you find that it works! You probably would greatly appreciate your doctor for helping you to improve the quality of your life.
6 In like manner, our Creator has given us laws that can protect us from the damaging effects of sin and thus improve our life. Think about how we benefit from following the Bible’s laws about lying, scheming, stealing, sexual immorality, violence, and spiritism. (Read Proverbs 6:16-19; Rev. 21:8) When we experience the rich rewards that come from doing things Jehovah’s way, our heart naturally grows in love and appreciation for both Jehovah and his laws.
7. Reading and meditating on real-life Bible accounts can help us to do what?
7 Thankfully, we do not need to suffer the consequences of breaking God’s laws to learn valuable lessons. We can learn from the mistakes of others whose transgressions are recorded in God’s Word. Proverbs 1:5 says: “A wise person listens and takes in more instruction.” Indeed, we receive the very best instruction from God, such as when we read and meditate on real-life Bible accounts. For example, think of the pain that King David experienced after he disobeyed Jehovah’s command and committed adultery with Bath-sheba. (2 Sam. 12:7-14) While reading and meditating on this account, we might ask ourselves: ‘How could King David have avoided the heartache he suffered because of his adulterous act with Bath-sheba? If I faced a similar temptation, would I have the strength to turn away? Would I flee like Joseph, or would I give in like David?’ (Gen. 39:11-15) By reflecting on the bad consequences of sin, we can strengthen our heart to “hate what is bad.”
8, 9. (a) What purpose does our conscience serve? (b) How do Jehovah’s principles and our conscience interact?
8 We may well stay far away from practices that God hates. Yet, there are other activities or aspects of life about which the Scriptures provide no specific command. In such areas, how can we determine what is acceptable and pleasing to God? That is where our Bible-trained conscience comes into play.
9 Jehovah has lovingly given us principles that work in conjunction with our Bible-trained conscience. He himself says: “I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself, the One guiding you in the way you should walk.” (Isa. 48:17, 18) By using our mind and heart to reason on Bible principles, we correct, direct, and mold our conscience. That, in turn, helps us to make wise decisions.
LET GOD’S PRINCIPLES GUIDE YOU
10. What are principles, and how did Jesus use them effectively?
10 A principle is a fundamental truth or doctrine that is used as a basis of reasoning or action. To understand a principle includes understanding the thinking of the Lawgiver and the reasons why he gave certain laws. Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught basic truths to help his disciples recognize the consequences of certain attitudes or actions. For example, he taught that resentment can lead to violence and that lust can lead to adultery. (Matt. 5:21, 22, 27, 28) To help us have a conscience that is properly trained, we should let godly principles guide us and thus bring glory to God.—1 Cor. 10:31.
11. How may consciences differ?
11 On certain matters, two different Christians with Bible-trained consciences might come to opposite conclusions. Consider the use of alcoholic beverages. The Bible does not condemn the moderate use of alcohol. It does, however, warn against the excessive use of alcohol, as well as drunkenness. (Prov. 20:1; 1 Tim. 3:8) Does this mean that a Christian has no other factors to consider as long as his use of alcohol is moderate? Not at all. While he may be at peace with his own conscience, the Christian must also consider the conscience of others.
12. How can the words found at Romans 14:21 move us to respect the conscience of others?
12 Regarding the need for a Christian to be sensitive to the conscience of others, Paul wrote: “It is best not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything over which your brother stumbles.” (Rom. 14:21) Would you be willing to forgo things that are within your right if you could thus avoid stumbling a brother whose conscience differs from yours? No doubt you would. Before they came to a knowledge of the truth, some of our brothers abused alcohol, but now they are determined to abstain from it. Surely, none of us would want to contribute to a brother’s falling back into a course that would cause him great harm! (1 Cor. 6:9, 10) Therefore, it would be unloving for a host to pressure a brother to drink alcohol if he has declined to do so.
13. How did Timothy set a good example in promoting Kingdom interests?
13 While likely in his late teens or early 20’s, the young man Timothy submitted to painful circumcision in order to avoid stumbling Jews to whom he was going to preach. His attitude was similar to that of the apostle Paul. (Acts 16:3; 1 Cor. 9:19-23) Like Timothy, are you willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of others?
“PRESS ON TO MATURITY”
14, 15. (a) What is involved in growing to maturity? (b) In what way is demonstrating love for others related to Christian maturity?
14 All Christians should want to move “beyond the primary doctrine about the Christ” and to “press on to maturity.” (Heb. 6:1) This does not happen automatically. We need to “press on,” or keep working at it. Growing to maturity involves advancing to an increased level of knowledge and insight. That is why we have repeatedly been encouraged to read a portion of the Bible daily. (Ps. 1:1-3) Have you made that a personal goal? Doing such reading can give you greater insight into Jehovah’s laws and principles and a deeper understanding of God’s Word.
15 The foremost law for Christians is the law of love. Jesus told his disciples: “By this all will know that you are my disciples—if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) Jesus’ half brother James called love “the royal law.” (Jas. 2:8) Paul said: “Love is the law’s fulfillment.” (Rom. 13:10) This emphasis on love is not surprising, since the Bible tells us that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) God’s love is not reflected merely in sentiment. John wrote: “By this the love of God was revealed in our case, that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we might gain life through him.” (1 John 4:9) Yes, God’s love moved him to action. To the extent that we demonstrate love for Jehovah and his Son, for our Christian brothers, as well as for others of mankind, we give evidence of our Christian maturity.—Matt. 22:37-39.
16. As we progress spiritually toward maturity, why do principles become more important to us?
16 As you advance toward Christian maturity, you will find that principles become more important to you. That is because laws may apply to a specific situation, whereas principles are far broader in application. For example, a young child does not understand the dangers of bad associations, so a discerning parent will set rules to protect him. (1 Cor. 15:33) But as the child matures, his thinking ability develops, and he is able to reason on Bible-based principles. Thus, he can increasingly make wise decisions in choosing his associates. (Read 1 Corinthians 13:11; 14:20.) When we reason on godly principles, our conscience increasingly becomes a more reliable guide, attuned to God’s thinking.
17. Why can we say that we have what we need to make wise decisions?
17 Do we have everything we need to make wise decisions that please Jehovah? Yes. By making skilled use of the laws and principles found in God’s Word, we will be “fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) Therefore, search for Scriptural principles in order to ‘perceive what the will of Jehovah is.’ (Eph. 5:17) Make good use of study aids provided through the Christian congregation, such as the Watch Tower Publications Index, the Research Guide for Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Watchtower Library, the Watchtower ONLINE LIBRARY, and the JW Library app. These tools are designed to help us get the most out of our personal and family study.
A BIBLE-TRAINED CONSCIENCE BRINGS BLESSINGS
18. What blessings result when we act in harmony with Jehovah’s laws and principles?
18 Blessings result from observing Jehovah’s laws and principles, as we read at Psalm 119:97-100: “How I do love your law! I ponder over it all day long. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, because it is with me forever. I have more insight than all my teachers, because I ponder over your reminders. I act with more understanding than older men, because I observe your orders.” We can increasingly act with wisdom, insight, and understanding if we take the time to “ponder over” God’s laws and principles. With diligent effort, we can attain “the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ” as we let God’s laws and principles train our conscience.—Eph. 4:13.