Saturday, September 26, 2009

"Keep Conquering the Evil With the Good"

*I wanted to post this previous Watchtower article about the book of Nehemiah, since it relates to today's text discussion and also tomorrow's Watchtower lesson on preaching with boldness. I really like Nehemiah because he mustered up the Israelites and motivated them to rally themselves and their families together in order to complete a very daunting task in record time, despite all kinds of attempts to stop them and slow the work down. That's exactly what we face today when it comes to the preaching the good news, so reading about the obstacles they encountered and how they dealt with them is beneficial for us to keep in mind.

(Photos & article on pgs 27-31 of the 7/1/07 Watchtower)

“Keep Conquering the Evil With the Good”
“Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.”—Romans 12:21.

Is it possible to stand firm against those who fiercely oppose true worship? Is it possible to defeat the forces that try to pull us back into the ungodly world? The answer to both questions is yes! Why do we say so? Because of what the apostle Paul states in his letter to the Romans. He writes: “Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.” (Romans 12:21) If we trust in Jehovah and are determined not to let the world conquer us, its evil will not overcome us. Further, the expression “keep conquering the evil” shows that we can defeat evil if we keep up our spiritual fight against it. Only those who let their guard down and cease fighting will be overcome by this wicked world and its evil ruler, Satan the Devil.—1 John 5:19.

Some 500 years before Paul’s time, a servant of God living in Jerusalem demonstrated the truth of Paul’s words about the fight against evil. That man of God, Nehemiah, not only withstood opposition from ungodly people but also conquered evil with good. What challenges did he face? What enabled him to succeed? How can we imitate his example? To answer those questions, let us consider some events in the life of Nehemiah.

Nehemiah served at the court of King Artaxerxes of Persia. Although Nehemiah lived among unbelievers, he did not become “fashioned after” the “system of things” of those days. (Romans 12:2) When a need arose in Judah, he sacrificed his comfortable lifestyle, made the arduous journey to Jerusalem, and took on the huge task of rebuilding the city wall. (Romans 12:1) Even though he was governor of Jerusalem, Nehemiah daily toiled alongside his fellow Israelites “from the ascending of the dawn until the stars came out.” As a result, within only two months, the project was completed! (Nehemiah 4:21; 6:15) That was an amazing feat, for during the construction work, the Israelites faced various forms of opposition. Who were Nehemiah’s opposers, and what was their goal?

The main opposers were Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, influential men living near Judah. Since they were enemies of God’s people, “it seemed to them something very bad that [Nehemiah] had come to seek something good for the sons of Israel.” (Nehemiah 2:10, 19) Nehemiah’s enemies were bent on stopping Nehemiah’s building plans, even resorting to evil schemes. Would Nehemiah ‘let himself be conquered by evil’?

“Angry and Highly Offended”
Nehemiah courageously exhorted his people: “Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.” They replied: “We must build.” Nehemiah notes: “They strengthened their hands for the good work,” but opposers “began to deride us and look on us despisingly and say: ‘What is this thing that you are doing? Is it against the king that you are rebelling?’” Nehemiah was not intimidated by their taunts and false accusations. He told the opposers: “The God of the heavens is the One that will grant us success, and we ourselves, his servants, shall get up, and we must build.” (Nehemiah 2:17-20) Nehemiah was determined to push forward with “the good work.”

One of those opposers, Sanballat, “became angry and highly offended” and stepped up his verbal barrage. “What are the feeble Jews doing?” he mocked. “Will they bring the stones to life out of the heaps of dusty rubbish?” Tobiah joined in the jeering, saying: “If a fox went up against it, he would certainly break down their wall of stones.” (Nehemiah 4:1-3) How did Nehemiah react?

Nehemiah simply ignored the mockery. He followed God’s command and did not seek to retaliate. (Leviticus 19:18) Rather, he left the matter in Jehovah’s hands and prayed: “Hear, O our God, for we have become an object of contempt; and make their reproach return upon their own head.” (Nehemiah 4:4) Nehemiah trusted in Jehovah’s assurance: “Vengeance is mine, and retribution.” (Deuteronomy 32:35) Further, Nehemiah and his people “kept building the wall.” They did not let themselves become sidetracked. In fact, “the entire wall came to be joined together clear to half its height, and the people continued to have a heart for working.” (Nehemiah 4:6) The enemies of true worship had failed to halt the building work! How can we imitate Nehemiah?

Today, opposers at school, at work, or even at home may hurl taunts and accusations at us. However, often such false charges are best handled by applying the Scriptural principle: “There is . . . a time to keep quiet.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7) Hence, like Nehemiah, we refrain from retaliating with cutting words. (Romans 12:17) We turn to God in prayer, trusting the one who assures us: “I will repay.” (Romans 12:19; 1 Peter 2:19, 20) In that way, we do not let our opposers sidetrack us from the spiritual work that is to be carried out today—the preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom and the making of disciples. (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) Each time we participate in the preaching work and refuse to be deterred by opposition, we show the same faithful spirit that Nehemiah did.

‘We Shall Certainly Kill You’
When opposers of true worship in Nehemiah’s time heard that “the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem had gone forward,” they took up their swords to “fight against Jerusalem.” For the Jews the situation looked gloomy. There were Samaritans in the north, Ammonites in the east, Arabs in the south, and Ashdodites in the west. Jerusalem was surrounded; the builders appeared to be trapped! What were they to do? “We prayed to our God,” says Nehemiah. The enemies threatened: “We shall certainly kill them and put a stop to the work.” Nehemiah responded by assigning the builders the task of defending the city “with their swords, their lances and their bows.” True, humanly speaking, the small band of Jews did not stand a chance against the overwhelming enemy forces, but Nehemiah urged them: “Do not be afraid . . . Jehovah the great and the fear-inspiring One keep in your mind.”—Nehemiah 4:7-9, 11, 13, 14.

Now there was a sudden turn of events. The enemies called off the attack. Why? “The true God had frustrated their counsel,” reports Nehemiah. However, Nehemiah realized that the enemies remained a threat. Therefore, he prudently adjusted the work method of the builders. From then on, “each one was active in the work with his one hand while the other hand was holding the missile.” Nehemiah also assigned a man who in case of an enemy attack would “blow the horn” to warn the builders. Above all, Nehemiah reassured the people: “Our God himself will fight for us.” (Nehemiah 4:15-20) Encouraged and prepared to deal with aggression, the builders kept working. What lessons can we draw from this account?

At times, true Christians face violent opposition. In fact, in some lands vicious opposers of true worship form an overwhelming enemy force. Humanly speaking, our fellow believers in those lands do not stand a chance. Nevertheless, those Witnesses are confident that ‘God will fight for them.’ Indeed, those who are persecuted for their beliefs have time and again experienced that Jehovah answers their prayers and ‘frustrates the counsel’ of powerful enemies. Even in countries where the Kingdom work is banned, Christians find ways to keep on preaching the good news. Just as the builders in Jerusalem adjusted their work method, so Jehovah’s Witnesses today prudently adjust their preaching methods when under attack. Of course, they refrain from using physical weapons. (2 Corinthians 10:4) Even the threat of physical violence does not make them halt their preaching activities. (1 Peter 4:16) On the contrary, those courageous brothers and sisters “keep conquering the evil with the good.”

“Come, and Let Us Meet”
After Nehemiah’s enemies realized that their open assaults had failed, they turned to more subtle forms of opposition. In fact, they tried three schemes. What were they?

First, Nehemiah’s enemies tried to deceive him. They told him: “Come, and let us meet together by appointment in the villages of the valley plain of Ono.” Ono lay between Jerusalem and Samaria. So the enemies proposed that Nehemiah meet them halfway to resolve the differences. Nehemiah could have thought: ‘That sounds reasonable. It is better to talk than to fight.’ But Nehemiah refused. He explained why: “They were scheming to do me harm.” He saw through their scheme and was not deceived. Four times he told his opposers: “I am not able to go down. Why should the work cease while I take off from it and have to go down to you?” The enemies’ attempts to get Nehemiah to compromise failed. He kept his eye focused on the building work.—Nehemiah 6:1-4.

Second, Nehemiah’s enemies resorted to spreading false rumors, accusing Nehemiah of “scheming to rebel” against King Artaxerxes. Once more, Nehemiah was told: “Let us consult together.” Again Nehemiah refused, for he discerned the enemies’ intention. Nehemiah explained: “All of them were trying to make us afraid, saying: ‘Their hands will drop down from the work so that it will not be done.’” This time, however, Nehemiah did rebut his enemies’ accusation, stating: “Things such as you are saying have not been brought about, but it is out of your own heart that you are inventing them.” Moreover, Nehemiah turned to Jehovah for support, praying: “Strengthen my hands.” He trusted that with Jehovah’s help, he would be able to foil this evil plot and push forward with the building project.—Nehemiah 6:5-9.

Third, Nehemiah’s enemies used a traitor, the Israelite Shemaiah, to try to make Nehemiah break God’s Law. Shemaiah said to Nehemiah: “Let us meet by appointment at the house of the true God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple; for they are coming in to kill you.” Shemaiah said that Nehemiah was about to be assassinated but that he could save his life by hiding in the temple. However, Nehemiah was not a priest. He would commit a sin by hiding in the house of God. Would he break God’s Law in an attempt to save his life? Nehemiah responded: “Who is there like me that could enter into the temple and live? I shall not enter!” Why did Nehemiah not fall into the trap that had been set for him? Because he knew that although Shemaiah was a fellow Israelite, “it was not God that had sent him.” After all, a true prophet would never advise him to break God’s Law. Again, Nehemiah did not let himself be conquered by evil opposers. Shortly thereafter he could report: “At length the wall came to completion on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days.”—Nehemiah 6:10-15; Numbers 1:51; 18:7.

Like Nehemiah, we too might face opposers in the form of false friends, false accusers, and false brothers. Some individuals may invite us to meet them halfway, so to speak. They may try to convince us that if we serve Jehovah with a little less zeal, we could pursue worldly goals at the same time. However, because God’s Kingdom comes first in our lives, we refuse to compromise. (Matthew 6:33; Luke 9:57-62) Opposers also spread false accusations against us. In some lands we are accused of posing a threat to the State, just as Nehemiah was accused of rebelling against the king. Some accusations have been successfully rebutted in judicial courts. But whatever the outcome in individual situations, we confidently pray that Jehovah will direct matters according to his will. (Philippians 1:7) Opposition may also come from those who pretend to serve Jehovah. Just as a fellow Jew tried to persuade Nehemiah to break God’s Law to save his life, so apostate former Witnesses may try to influence us to compromise in one way or another. However, we reject apostates because we know that our lives are saved, not by breaking God’s laws, but by keeping them! (1 John 4:1) Yes, with Jehovah’s help we can conquer any form of evil.

Sharing Good News Despite Facing Evil
God’s Word states regarding Christ’s anointed brothers: “They conquered [Satan] because . . . of the word of their witnessing.” (Revelation 12:11) Hence, there is a direct connection between conquering Satan—the source of evil—and preaching the Kingdom message. No wonder that Satan relentlessly attacks both the anointed remnant and the “great crowd” by stirring up opposition!—Revelation 7:9; 12:17.

As we have seen, opposition may come in the form of verbal attacks or threats of physical violence or in more subtle forms. In any case, Satan’s goal is always the same—to put a stop to the preaching work. However, he will fail miserably because in imitation of Nehemiah of old, God’s people are determined to “keep conquering the evil with the good.” They will do so by keeping up the preaching of the good news until Jehovah says that the work is done!—Mark 13:10; Romans 8:31; Philippians 1:27, 28.