God Welcomes All the Nations
ON HIS first trip to Mali, John was touched by the warm hospitality shown by Mamadou and his family. As John sat on the ground and clumsily ate from the common dish, he wondered how best to share with his host a most precious gift—the Kingdom good news from God’s Word, the Bible. Though he knew French, a language spoken in Mali, John wondered how he could communicate with a family that had a totally different religion and way of thinking.
Not surprisingly, John thought about the Bible account of the city of Babel. There God confused the language of the rebellious people. (Genesis 11:1-9) As a result, populations with different languages, religions, and thinking patterns have sprung up in various parts of the earth. Today, as travel and migration become commonplace, many face a challenge similar to the one John faced, even in their own neighborhood: How to share their Bible-based hope with people of a different background?
An Ancient Example
Like other prophets in Israel, Jonah spoke primarily to the Israelites. He prophesied at a time when the apostate ten-tribe kingdom openly engaged in God-dishonoring practices. (2 Kings 14:23-25) Imagine Jonah’s reaction when he received the special mission to leave his home country and go to Assyria to preach to the inhabitants of Nineveh, people with a different religion and culture. Jonah might not even have spoken the Ninevites’ language, at least not fluently. Whatever the case, Jonah apparently found the challenge overwhelming, and he fled.—Jonah 1:1-3.
Clearly, Jonah needed to learn that Jehovah God sees beyond mere appearances and examines the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) After miraculously saving Jonah from drowning, Jehovah commanded him a second time to preach to the inhabitants of Nineveh. Jonah obeyed, and as a result, the Ninevites repented en masse. Still, Jonah did not have the right viewpoint. By means of a powerful object lesson, Jehovah taught him that he needed to change his attitude. Jehovah asked Jonah: “Ought I not to feel sorry for Nineveh the great city, in which there exist more than one hundred and twenty thousand men who do not at all know the difference between their right hand and their left?” (Jonah 4:5-11) What about us today? How can we help people from a different background?
Welcoming Samaritans and Non-Jews
In the first century, Jesus ordered his followers to make disciples of people of all the nations. (Matthew 28:19) This was not easy for them. Jesus’ disciples were Jews and, like Jonah, were used to talking only to people from the same background and culture. Naturally, they would also have felt pressured by the common prejudices of the day. Jehovah directed matters, however, so that his servants progressively discerned his will for them.
The first step was to overcome the prejudice between Jews and Samaritans. Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. Yet, more than once, Jesus prepared the way for the future acceptance of the good news by the Samaritans. He showed his impartiality by speaking to a Samaritan woman. (John 4:7-26) On another occasion, by means of the illustration of the neighborly Samaritan, he showed a religious Jew that people other than the Jews were capable of showing love for neighbor. (Luke 10:25-37) When the time came for Jehovah to bring Samaritans into the Christian congregation, Philip, Peter, and John—all of Jewish origin—preached to the inhabitants of Samaria. Their message produced a great deal of joy in that city.—Acts 8:4-8, 14-17.
If it was hard for the Jewish Christians to love Samaritans, who were in fact distant relatives of the Jews, it must have been even harder for them to show neighborly love to non-Jews, or Gentiles, who were scorned and hated by the Jews. Nevertheless, after Jesus died, the barrier between Jewish Christians and Gentiles could be removed. (Ephesians 2:13, 14) To help Peter accept this new arrangement, Jehovah showed him a vision in which He told him to “stop calling defiled the things God has cleansed.” Jehovah’s spirit then led him to a Gentile named Cornelius. When Peter understood God’s viewpoint—that he should not call this man of the nations defiled because God had cleansed him—he said under inspiration: “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:9-35) How amazed Peter was when God showed that he accepted Cornelius and his family by pouring out holy spirit upon them!
Paul—A Chosen Vessel to the Nations
Paul’s ministry is an outstanding example of how Jehovah progressively prepares his servants to love and help all sorts of people. At the time of Paul’s conversion, Jesus said that Paul would serve as a chosen vessel to bear His name to the nations. (Acts 9:15) Paul then went to Arabia, perhaps to meditate on God’s purpose to use him in declaring the good news to the nations.—Galatians 1:15-17.
During his first missionary journey, Paul showed zeal in preaching to non-Jews. (Acts 13:46-48) Jehovah blessed Paul’s activity, proof that the apostle was doing things according to Jehovah’s arrangement. Paul showed that he fully appreciated Jehovah’s viewpoint when he courageously corrected Peter, who had manifested partiality in avoiding association with his non-Jewish brothers.—Galatians 2:11-14.
Further evidence that God was directing Paul’s efforts is seen in his second missionary journey when the holy spirit prevented Paul from preaching in the Roman province of Bithynia. (Acts 16:7) The time was apparently not right. Later, though, some Bithynians became Christians. (1 Peter 1:1) In a vision, a Macedonian entreated Paul, saying: “Step over into Macedonia and help us.” Paul drew the conclusion that he should change his route in order to declare the good news in that Roman province.—Acts 16:9, 10.
Paul’s ability to adapt was strongly tested when he preached to the Athenians. Greek and Roman law prohibited the introduction of foreign gods and new religious customs. Paul’s love for people moved him to consider closely their religious practices. In Athens he noticed an altar inscribed “to an Unknown God.” He mentioned this detail in his witnessing work. (Acts 17:22, 23) What a fine way to introduce his message in a kind, respectful manner!
How happy Paul must have been when he looked back on the results of his work as an apostle to the nations! He helped to establish congregations made up of numerous Christians of non-Jewish origin in Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, and towns in Galatia. He helped men and women of faith, like Damaris, Dionysius, Sergius Paulus, and Titus. What a privilege to see people who knew neither Jehovah nor the Bible accept the truth of Christianity! Regarding his role in helping non-Jews come to a knowledge of the truth, Paul stated: “In this way, indeed, I made it my aim not to declare the good news where Christ had already been named, . . . but, just as it is written: ‘Those to whom no announcement has been made about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.’” (Romans 15:20, 21) Could we share in declaring the good news to people who are not from our culture?
Helping All the Peoples of the Earth
Solomon prayed to Jehovah about non-Israelites who would come to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. He petitioned: “May you yourself listen from the heavens, your established place of dwelling, and you must do according to all that for which the foreigner calls to you; in order that all the peoples of the earth may get to know your name.” (1 Kings 8:41-43) Thousands of Kingdom proclaimers in many countries today echo those feelings. They meet people like the Ninevites who, spiritually speaking, ‘do not know the difference between their right hand and their left.’ And Kingdom preachers are eager to have a share in the fulfillment of prophecies concerning the gathering of true worshipers from many different nations.—Isaiah 2:2, 3; Micah 4:1-3.
Just as people from Christendom have accepted the Bible’s message of hope, people from other religious backgrounds are doing so. How should this affect you personally? Examine yourself honestly. If you feel that prejudice is deeply rooted in you, get rid of it with love. * Do not reject people whom God is willing to accept.—John 3:16.
Prepare yourself mentally before you talk to people from another background. Get acquainted with their beliefs, their concerns, and their way of thinking; then search for common ground. Manifest goodness and compassion toward others. Avoid confrontation, be flexible and positive. (Luke 9:52-56) Doing so, you will be pleasing Jehovah, “whose will is that all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.”—1 Timothy 2:4.
How delighted we are to have in our congregations people from a wide variety of backgrounds! (Isaiah 56:6, 7) How heartwarming it is to hear today not only such names as Mary, John, Stephen, and Tom but also such names as Mamadou, Jegan, Reza, and Chan! Truly, “a large door that leads to activity has been opened” to us. (1 Corinthians 16:9) May we seize the opportunities before us to extend the invitation offered by the impartial God, Jehovah, to welcome people of all the nations!
^ par. 19 See Awake!, July 8, 1996, pages 5-7, “Walls That Block Communication.”
[Pictures on page 23]
Paul shared the good news with people everywhere by being adaptable
. . . in Athens
. . . in Philippi
. . . while traveling