Seeking Righteousness Will Protect Us
“Keep on, then, seeking first . . . [God’s] righteousness.”—MATTHEW 6:33.
1, 2. What decision did a young Christian make, and why did she make that decision?
A YOUNG Christian woman in Asia worked as a secretary in a government office. She was conscientious, reporting for work early and not loitering at her job. However, since her position was not permanent, it came up for review. The head of the department told the young woman that he would employ her permanently and even give her a higher position, provided she would have an immoral relationship with him. This she flatly refused, even though it would mean the loss of her employment.
2 Was that young Christian woman unrealistic? No, she was carefully following Jesus’ words: “Keep on, then, seeking first . . . [God’s] righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) For her, following righteous principles was far more important than gaining an advantage by means of committing sexual immorality.—1 Corinthians 6:18.
The Importance of Righteousness
3. What is righteousness?
3 “Righteousness” implies a state of moral integrity and honesty. In the Bible, the Greek and Hebrew words have the thought of “rectitude” or “uprightness.” It is not self-righteousness, judging oneself by one’s own standards. (Luke 16:15) It is uprightness according to Jehovah’s standards. It is God’s righteousness.—Romans 1:17; 3:21.
4. Why is righteousness important to a Christian?
4 Why is righteousness important? Because Jehovah, the “righteous God,” favors his people when they practice righteousness. (Psalm 4:1; Proverbs 2:20-22; Habakkuk 1:13) Anyone who works unrighteousness cannot have a close relationship with him. (Proverbs 15:8) That is why the apostle Paul urged Timothy: “Flee from the desires incidental to youth, but pursue righteousness,” along with other vital qualities. (2 Timothy 2:22) It is also why Paul included “the breastplate of righteousness” when he listed the various parts of our spiritual armor.—Ephesians 6:14.
5. How can imperfect creatures seek righteousness?
5 Of course, no human is righteous in a complete sense. All inherit imperfection from Adam, and all are sinful, unrighteous, from birth. Yet, Jesus said that we should seek righteousness. How is that possible? In that Jesus gave his perfect life as a ransom for us, and if we exercise faith in that sacrifice, Jehovah is willing to forgive our sins. (Matthew 20:28; John 3:16; Romans 5:8, 9, 12, 18) On that basis, as we learn Jehovah’s righteous standards and do our utmost to observe them—praying for help to overcome our weaknesses—Jehovah accepts our worship. (Psalm 1:6; Romans 7:19-25; Revelation 7:9, 14) How comforting that is!
Righteous in an Unrighteous World
6. Why was the world a dangerous place for the early Christians?
6 When Jesus’ disciples received the commission to be his witnesses “to the most distant part of the earth,” they faced a difficult situation. (Acts 1:8) All their assigned territory was “lying in the power of the wicked one,” Satan. (1 John 5:19) The world was infected with the wicked spirit that he promotes, and Christians would be exposed to its contaminating influence. (Ephesians 2:2) For them, the world was a dangerous place. Only by seeking first God’s righteousness could they endure with their integrity intact. Most did endure, but a few were diverted from “the path of righteousness.”—Proverbs 12:28; 2 Timothy 4:10.
7. What responsibilities require that a Christian resist corrupting influences?
7 Is the world safer for Christians today? By no means! It is even more corrupt than it was in the first century. In addition, Satan has been cast down to the earth and wages vicious warfare against anointed Christians, “the remaining ones of [the woman’s] seed, who observe the commandments of God and have the work of bearing witness to Jesus.” (Revelation 12:12, 17) Satan also attacks any who support that “seed.” Yet, Christians cannot hide from the world. While no part of it, they have to live in it. (John 17:15, 16) And they have to preach in it to seek out rightly disposed people and teach them to be disciples of Christ. (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) Therefore, since Christians cannot entirely avoid the corrupting influences in this world, they have to resist them. Let us consider four of those influences.
The Trap of Immorality
8. Why did the Israelites turn to worshipping the gods of the Moabites?
8 Toward the end of their 40-year trek in the wilderness, a large number of Israelites turned from the path of righteousness. They had witnessed many acts of deliverance by Jehovah, and soon they would march into the Promised Land. Yet, at that critical point, they turned to serving the gods of the Moabites. Why? They succumbed to “the desire of the flesh.” (1 John 2:16) The record says: “The people started to have immoral relations with the daughters of Moab.”—Numbers 25:1.
9, 10. What situation today makes it vital always to keep in mind the corrupting power of wrong fleshly desires?
9 That episode demonstrates the way wrong fleshly desires can corrupt unwary ones. We do well to learn from it, especially since immorality has become widely viewed as an acceptable lifestyle. (1 Corinthians 10:6, 8) A report from the United States says: “Until around 1970, cohabitation [the practice of unmarried couples living together] was illegal in all American states. Now, it is routine. More than half of all first marriages are preceded by cohabitation.” That and similar loose moral practices are not limited to one country. They are found all around the world, and sadly, some Christians have followed the trend—even losing their standing in the Christian congregation.—1 Corinthians 5:11.
10 Moreover, propaganda promoting immorality seems to be everywhere. Movies and television programs suggest that it is perfectly acceptable for young people to have sex before marriage. Homosexual relationships are depicted as normal. And many shows depict increasingly graphic sex. Pictures of graphic sex are also easily accessible on the Internet. For instance, a newspaper columnist reported that his seven-year-old son came home from school and excitedly told his father that a school friend had come across an Internet site showing naked women performing sex acts. The father was horrified, but how many children have come across such sites without telling their parents? In addition, how many parents know the contents of the video games their children play? Many popular games feature disgusting immorality, as well as demonism and violence.
11. How can a family be protected from the immorality of the world?
11 How can a family resist such degraded “entertainment”? By seeking first God’s righteousness, refusing to get involved with anything immoral. (2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5:3) Parents who properly oversee their children’s activities and inculcate in their children a love of Jehovah and his righteous laws fortify them against pornography, pornographic video games, immoral movies, and other unrighteous temptations.—Deuteronomy 6:4-9. *
The Danger of Community Pressure
12. What problem arose in the first century?
12 When Paul was in Lystra in Asia Minor, he miraculously healed a man. The account says: “The crowds, seeing what Paul had done, raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian tongue: ‘The gods have become like humans and have come down to us!’ And they went calling Barnabas Zeus, but Paul Hermes, since he was the one taking the lead in speaking.” (Acts 14:11, 12) Later those same crowds wanted to kill Paul and Barnabas. (Acts 14:19) Clearly, those people were very susceptible to community pressure. It seems that when some from that region became Christians, they did not lose their superstitious tendencies. In his letter to Christians in Colossae, Paul warned against the “worship of the angels.”—Colossians 2:18.
13. What are some customs that a Christian has to avoid, and how can he find the strength to do so?
13 Today, true Christians likewise need to avoid popularly accepted customs based on false religious ideas that violate Christian principles. In some lands, for example, many customary ceremonies surrounding birth and death are based on the lie that we have a spirit that survives death. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) There are lands in which it is the custom to subject young girls to female genital mutilation. * This is a cruel, unnecessary practice that is out of harmony with the loving care that Christian parents owe their children. (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7; Ephesians 6:4) How can Christians resist community pressures and abandon such practices? By having complete trust in Jehovah. (Psalm 31:6) The righteous God will strengthen and care for those who say to him from their heart: “You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God, in whom I will trust.”—Psalm 91:2; Proverbs 29:25.
Do Not Forget Jehovah
14. What warning did Jehovah give the Israelites shortly before they entered the Promised Land?
14 Shortly before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Jehovah warned them not to forget him. He said: “Watch out for yourself that you may not forget Jehovah your God so as not to keep his commandments and his judicial decisions and his statutes that I am commanding you today; for fear that you may eat and indeed satisfy yourself, and you may build good houses and indeed dwell in them, and your herd and your flock may increase, and silver and gold may increase for you, and all that is yours may increase; and your heart may indeed be lifted up and you may indeed forget Jehovah your God.”—Deuteronomy 8:11-14.
15. How can we be sure that we are not forgetting Jehovah?
15 Could something similar happen today? Yes, if we have the wrong priorities. However, if we seek first God’s righteousness, pure worship will be the most important thing in our lives. We will, as Paul encouraged us to do, ‘buy out the opportune time’ and have a sense of urgency in our ministry. (Colossians 4:5; 2 Timothy 4:2) If, though, meeting attendance and field service are less important to us than relaxation or finding ways to have a good time, we could forget Jehovah in the sense of viewing him as secondary in our lives. Paul said that in the last days, men would be “lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:4) Sincere Christians examine themselves regularly to be sure that they are not influenced by that kind of thinking.—2 Corinthians 13:5.
Beware of an Independent Spirit
16. What wrong spirit was manifested by Eve and by some in Paul’s day?
16 In Eden, Satan successfully appealed to Eve’s selfish desire for independence. Eve wanted to make her own decisions about right and wrong. (Genesis 3:1-6) In the first century, some in the Corinthian congregation had a similar independent spirit. They thought they knew better than Paul, and he sarcastically called them superfine apostles.—2 Corinthians 11:3-5; 1 Timothy 6:3-5.
17. How can we avoid developing an independent spirit?
17 In the world today, many are “headstrong, puffed up with pride,” and some Christians have been influenced by that way of thinking. Some have even become opposers of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:4; Philippians 3:18) When it comes to pure worship, it is vital that we look to Jehovah for direction and cooperate with “the faithful and discreet slave” and the congregation elders. That is a way to seek righteousness, and it protects us from developing an independent spirit. (Matthew 24:45-47; Psalm 25:9, 10; Isaiah 30:21) The congregation of the anointed is “a pillar and support of the truth.” Jehovah has provided it to protect and guide us. (1 Timothy 3:15) Recognizing its vital role will help us to ‘do nothing out of egotism’ as we humbly submit to Jehovah’s righteous will.—Philippians 2:2-4; Proverbs 3:4-6.
Be Imitators of Jesus
18. We are encouraged to imitate Jesus in what ways?
18 Of Jesus, the Bible prophetically says: “You have loved righteousness and you hate wickedness.” (Psalm 45:7; Hebrews 1:9) What a fine attitude to imitate! (1 Corinthians 11:1) Jesus did not merely know Jehovah’s upright standards; he loved them. So when Satan tempted him in the wilderness, Jesus was unhesitating and firm in his refusal to stray from “the path of righteousness.”—Proverbs 8:20; Matthew 4:3-11.
19, 20. What are the good results of seeking righteousness?
19 True, the unrighteous desires of the flesh can be strong. (Romans 7:19, 20) Still, if righteousness is precious to us, this will strengthen us against wickedness. (Psalm 119:165) A deep love of righteousness will shield us when we are confronted by what is wrong. (Proverbs 4:4-6) Remember, whenever we give in to temptation, we give Satan a victory. How much better to resist him and give the victory to Jehovah!—Proverbs 27:11; James 4:7, 8.
20 Because they seek righteousness, true Christians are “filled with righteous fruit, which is through Jesus Christ, to God’s glory and praise.” (Philippians 1:10, 11) They put on “the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.” (Ephesians 4:24) They belong to Jehovah and live to serve him, not to please themselves. (Romans 14:8; 1 Peter 4:2) That is what governs their thoughts and actions. What delight they bring to the heart of their heavenly Father!—Proverbs 23:24.
^ par. 11 Valuable suggestions for parents on protecting the family from immoral influences are found in the book The Secret of Family Happiness, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
^ par. 13 Female genital mutilation used to be called female circumcision.
Can You Explain?
• Why is it vital to seek righteousness?
• How can an imperfect Christian seek righteousness?
• What are some things in the world that a Christian has to avoid?
• How does seeking righteousness protect us?
[Picture on page 26]
For Jesus’ followers, the world was a dangerous place
[Picture on page 27]
Children who are taught to love Jehovah will be fortified against immorality
[Picture on page 28]
Some Israelites forgot Jehovah after they became prosperous in the Promised Land
[Picture on page 29]
Like Jesus, Christians hate unrighteousness