Do Not Become Forgetful Hearers

“Become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning.”​—JAMES 1:22.

1. What miracles were the people of ancient Israel privileged to witness?

“UNFORGETTABLE” would be a good word to describe the miracles performed by Jehovah in ancient Egypt. Each one of the Ten Plagues was undeniably awesome. Those blows were followed by the amazing deliverance of the people of Israel through the parted waters of the Red Sea. (Deuteronomy 34:10-12) If you had been an eyewitness of those events, hopefully you would never have forgotten the One responsible for them. Yet, the psalmist sang: “They [the Israelites] forgot God their Savior, the Doer of great things in Egypt, wonderful works in the land of Ham, fear-inspiring things at the Red Sea.”​—Psalm 106:21, 22.

2. What shows that Israel’s appreciation for God’s mighty acts was short-lived?

2 After crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites “began to fear Jehovah and to put faith in Jehovah.” (Exodus 14:31) The men of Israel joined Moses in a victory song to Jehovah, and Miriam and other women responded by playing tambourines and dancing. (Exodus 15:1, 20) Yes, God’s people were impressed with Jehovah’s mighty acts. But their appreciation for the One who performed those acts was short-lived. Soon afterward many of them behaved as though they had suffered a major memory loss. They became murmurers and complainers against Jehovah. Some engaged in idolatry and sexual immorality.​—Numbers 14:27; 25:1-9.

What Could Make Us Forget?

3. Because of our imperfect nature, what could we forget?

3 Israel’s lack of appreciation is indeed perplexing. Still, the same thing could happen to us. True, we have not witnessed such divine miracles. In our relationship with God, however, there surely have been occasions that were unforgettable. Some of us may remember when we accepted the truth from the Bible. Other joyful times may include our prayer of dedication to Jehovah and our water baptism as true Christians. Many of us have experienced Jehovah’s helping hand at other points in our life. (Psalm 118:15) Above all, through the sacrificial death of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, we have received the hope of salvation. (John 3:16) Nevertheless, because of our imperfect nature, when faced with wrong desires and the anxieties of life, we may too easily forget the good things that Jehovah has done for us.

4, 5. (a) How does James warn about the danger of being forgetful hearers? (b) How can we apply James’ illustration of the man and the mirror?

4 In his letter to fellow Christians, Jesus’ half brother James warned about the danger of being forgetful hearers. He wrote: “Become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning. For if anyone is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, this one is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, and off he goes and immediately forgets what sort  of man he is.” (James 1:22-24) What did James mean by those words?

5 When we get up in the morning, we usually look in the mirror to see what adjustments we need to make to our appearance. As we engage in various activities and the mind focuses on other things, we stop thinking about what we saw in the mirror. This can happen in a spiritual sense too. As we look into the Word of God, we can compare what we are with what Jehovah expects us to be. Hence, we come face-to-face with our weaknesses. This knowledge should motivate us to make adjustments in our personality. But as we go about our daily activities and struggle with our problems, we can easily stop thinking about spiritual matters. (Matthew 5:3; Luke 21:34) It is as if we forget God’s loving acts in our behalf. If this should happen, we become vulnerable to sinful inclinations.

6. What Scriptural consideration can help us not to forget Jehovah’s word?

6 In his first inspired letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul refers to the forgetful Israelites in the wilderness. Just as first-century Christians benefited from Paul’s words, reviewing what he wrote can help us not to forget Jehovah’s word. Let us therefore consider 1 Corinthians 10:1-12.

Repudiate Worldly Desires

7. What undeniable evidence of Jehovah’s love did the Israelites receive?

7 What Paul says about the Israelites serves as a warning for Christians. In part, Paul writes: “I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea and all got baptized into Moses by means of the cloud and of the sea.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4) The people of Israel in Moses’ day had seen great manifestations of God’s power, including God’s miraculous pillar of cloud that led them by day and that helped them to escape through the Red Sea. (Exodus 13:21; 14:21, 22) Yes, those Israelites received undeniable evidence of Jehovah’s love for them.

8. What were the consequences of Israel’s spiritual forgetfulness?

8 “Nevertheless,” Paul continues, “on most of them God did not express his approval, for they were laid low in the wilderness.” (1 Corinthians 10:5) How sad! Most of the Israelites who left Egypt disqualified themselves from entering the Promised Land. Disapproved by God for their lack of faith, they died in the wilderness. (Hebrews 3:16-19) What can we learn from this? Paul says: “These things became our examples, for us not to be persons desiring injurious things, even as they desired them.”​—1 Corinthians 10:6.

9. How had Jehovah provided for his people, and how did Israel react?

9 The Israelites had plenty to keep them spiritually focused while in the wilderness. They entered into a covenant with Jehovah and became a nation dedicated to him. Moreover, they were given a priesthood, a tabernacle as a center of worship, and a provision for offering sacrifices to Jehovah. Rather than rejoicing over these spiritual gifts, however, they allowed themselves to become dissatisfied with God’s material provisions.​—Numbers 11:4-6.

10. Why should we always keep God in our thoughts?

10 Unlike the Israelites in the wilderness, Jehovah’s people today enjoy God’s approval. As individuals, though, it is vital that we keep God in our thoughts. Doing so will help us to reject selfish cravings that could cloud our spiritual vision. We must be determined “to repudiate ungodliness and worldly desires and to live with soundness of mind and righteousness and godly devotion amid this present system of things.” (Titus 2:12) Those of us who since infancy have been associated with the Christian congregation should never think that we are missing out on something good. Should such thoughts ever cross our minds, we do well to remember Jehovah and the wonderful  blessings he has in store for us.​—Hebrews 12:2, 3.

Total Obedience to Jehovah

11, 12. How could a person become guilty of idolatry without engaging in the veneration of images?

11 Paul gives us another word of caution when he writes: “Neither become idolaters, as some of them did; just as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and they got up to have a good time.’” (1 Corinthians 10:7) Paul is referring to the occasion when the Israelites prevailed upon Aaron to make a golden calf. (Exodus 32:1-4) Although it is unlikely that we would turn to outright idol worship, we could become idolaters by allowing our own selfish desires to distract us from worshiping Jehovah whole-souled.​—Colossians 3:5.

12 On another occasion, Paul wrote about some who were concerned mainly with material things rather than with spiritual matters. Concerning those “walking as the enemies of the torture stake of the Christ,” he wrote: “Their finish is destruction, and their god is their belly.” (Philippians 3:18, 19) The object of their idolatry was not a carved image. It was their desire for physical things. Of course, not all desires are wrong. Jehovah created us with human needs and the ability to enjoy various pleasures. But those who place the pursuit of pleasure above their relationship with God do, indeed, become idolaters.​—2 Timothy 3:1-5.

13. What can we learn from the account of the golden calf?

13 After they left Egypt, the Israelites made a golden calf to worship. In addition to the warning against idolatry, there is another important lesson in this account. The Israelites disobeyed clear direction from Jehovah. (Exodus 20:4-6) Yet, they did not intend to reject Jehovah as their God. They made sacrifices to the molten calf and called the occasion “a festival to Jehovah.” Somehow they deceived themselves into thinking that God would ignore their disobedience. This was an insult to Jehovah, and it angered him greatly.​—Exodus 32:5, 7-10; Psalm 106:19, 20.

14, 15. (a) Why did the Israelites have no excuse for becoming forgetful hearers? (b) If we are determined not to become forgetful hearers, what will we do with regard to Jehovah’s commandments?

14 It would be very unusual for one of Jehovah’s Witnesses to join a false religion. While remaining in the congregation, however, some might reject Jehovah’s direction in other ways. The people of Israel had no excuse for  becoming forgetful hearers. They heard the Ten Commandments and were present when Moses gave them God’s command: “You must not make along with me gods of silver, and you must not make gods of gold for yourselves.” (Exodus 20:18, 19, 22, 23) Still, the Israelites worshiped the golden calf.

15 We too would have no valid excuse if we were to become forgetful hearers. In the Scriptures, we have direction from God regarding many areas of life. For example, Jehovah’s Word specifically condemns the practice of borrowing and not paying back. (Psalm 37:21) Children are commanded to be obedient to their parents, and fathers are expected to bring up their children in the “mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:1-4) Single Christians are instructed to marry “only in the Lord,” and married servants of God are told: “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” (1 Corinthians 7:39; Hebrews 13:4) If we are determined not to become forgetful hearers, we will take these and other directives from God very seriously and will comply with them.

16. What were the consequences of worshiping the golden calf?

16 Jehovah did not accept the Israelites’ attempt to worship him on their own terms. Rather, 3,000 were destroyed, probably for the prominent role they played in the rebellious action of worshiping the golden calf. Other wrongdoers suffered a plague from Jehovah. (Exodus 32:28, 35) What a lesson for any who read God’s Word but choose for themselves what they want to obey!

“Flee From Fornication”

17. To what event was 1 Corinthians 10:8 referring?

17 One area wherein fleshly desires can induce spiritual forgetfulness is brought up by Paul when he says: “Neither let us practice fornication, as some of them committed fornication, only to fall, twenty-three thousand of them in one day.” (1 Corinthians 10:8) Here Paul refers to an incident on the Plains of Moab at the end of Israel’s 40-year trek through the wilderness. The Israelites had recently received Jehovah’s help in conquering lands east of the Jordan, but many proved to be forgetful and unappreciative. At the border  of the Promised Land, they were enticed into sexual immorality and the unclean worship of the Baal of Peor. Some 24,000 were destroyed, 1,000 of whom were ringleaders.​—Numbers 25:9.

18. What kind of conduct can lead to sexual immorality?

18 Jehovah’s people today are well-known for their high moral standards. But when tempted with sexual immorality, some Christians have stopped thinking about God and his principles. They have become forgetful hearers. At first, the temptation may not involve an act of fornication. It may be an inclination to delve into pornography, to indulge in improper jesting or flirting, or to pursue close association with morally weak individuals. All of these things have led Christians into sinful conduct.​—1 Corinthians 15:33; James 4:4.

19. What Scriptural counsel helps us to “flee from fornication”?

19 If tempted to engage in immoral conduct, we must not stop thinking about Jehovah. Rather, we must observe the reminders in his Word. (Psalm 119:1, 2) As Christians, most of us do our utmost to remain morally clean, but doing what is right in God’s eyes calls for continuous effort. (1 Corinthians 9:27) To Christians in Rome, Paul wrote: “Your obedience has come to the notice of all. I therefore rejoice over you. But I want you to be wise as to what is good, but innocent as to what is evil.” (Romans 16:19) Just as the 24,000 Israelites were executed for their sins, fornicators and other wrongdoers will soon experience Jehovah’s adverse judgment. (Ephesians 5:3-6) Instead of becoming forgetful hearers, then, we must continue to “flee from fornication.”​—1 Corinthians 6:18.

Always Appreciate Jehovah’s Provisions

20. How did the Israelites put Jehovah to the test, and what was the result?

20 The vast majority of Christians never succumb to sexual immorality. Yet, we need to be careful that we do not allow ourselves to pursue a course that leads to a pattern of murmuring that could result in divine disapproval. Paul admonishes us: “Neither let us put Jehovah to the test, as some of [the Israelites] put him to the test, only to perish by the serpents. Neither be murmurers, just as some of them murmured, only to perish by the destroyer.” (1 Corinthians 10:9, 10) The Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron​—yes, even against God himself—​complaining about the miraculously provided manna. (Numbers 16:41; 21:5) Was Jehovah less offended by their murmuring than by their fornication? The Bible account shows that many murmurers were killed by serpents. (Numbers 21:6) On an earlier occasion, more than 14,700 rebellious murmurers were destroyed. (Numbers 16:49) So let us not put Jehovah’s patience to the test by treating his provisions with disrespect.

21. (a) What exhortation was Paul inspired to write? (b) According to James 1:25, how can we be truly happy?

21 In writing to fellow Christians, Paul concludes the list of warnings with the exhortation: “Now these things went on befalling them as examples, and they were written for a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived. Consequently let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:11, 12) Like  the Israelites, we have received many blessings from Jehovah. Unlike them, however, may we never forget and fail to appreciate the good things God is doing for us. When life’s anxieties weigh us down, let us reflect on the wonderful promises found in his Word. May we remember our precious relationship with Jehovah and continue to do the Kingdom-preaching work that has been entrusted to us. (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) Such a course is sure to bring us true happiness, for the Scriptures promise: “He who peers into the perfect law that belongs to freedom and who persists in it, this man, because he has become, not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, will be happy in his doing it.”​—James 1:25.

How Would You Answer?

• What could make us forgetful hearers?

• Why is total obedience to God essential?

• How can we “flee from fornication”?

• What should be our attitude toward Jehovah’s provisions?

[Study Questions]

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The Israelites forgot Jehovah’s mighty deeds in their behalf

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Jehovah’s people are determined to maintain high moral standards