United by Love of God
WHEN the Christian congregation was formed in the first century of our Common Era, one of its outstanding characteristics—despite the diversity of its members—was its unity. Those worshipers of the true God came from nations in Asia, Europe, and Africa. They represented a variety of backgrounds—priests, soldiers, slaves, refugees, tradesmen, professionals, and businesspeople. Some were Jews, and others, Gentiles. Many had been adulterers, homosexuals, drunkards, thieves, or extortioners. Nevertheless, when they became Christians, they left their bad practices behind and became closely united in the faith.
What enabled first-century Christianity to bring all these people together in unity? Why were they at peace with one another and with people in general? Why did they not join in uprisings and conflicts? Why was early Christianity so different from today’s major religions?
What Drew Congregation Members Close Together?
The foremost factor that united fellow believers in the first century was love of God. Those Christians recognized their primary obligation to love the true God, Jehovah, with all their heart, soul, and mind. For instance, the apostle Peter, a Jew, was instructed to visit the house of a foreign national, someone with whom he would not normally have close association. What moved him to obey was primarily love for Jehovah. Peter and other early Christians enjoyed a close relationship with God that was based on accurate knowledge of His personality, likes, and dislikes. In time, all worshipers understood that it was Jehovah’s will for them to be “united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.”—1 Corinthians 1:10; Matthew 22:37; Acts 10:1-35.
Believers were further drawn together by their faith in Jesus Christ. They wanted to follow closely in his footsteps. He commanded them: “Love one another; just as I have loved you . . . By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35) This was to be, not a superficial emotion, but a self-sacrificing love. What would be the result? Jesus prayed concerning those putting faith in him: “I make request . . . that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in union with me and I am in union with you, that they also may be in union with us.”—John 17:20, 21; 1 Peter 2:21.
Jehovah poured out his holy spirit, or active force, upon his true servants. This spirit promoted unity among them. It opened to them an understanding of Bible teachings that was accepted in all congregations. Worshipers of Jehovah preached the same message—the sanctification of Jehovah’s name through God’s Messianic Kingdom, a heavenly government that is to rule over all mankind. Early Christians understood their obligation to be “no part of this world.” Hence, whenever civil uprisings or military conflicts occurred, Christians remained neutral. They pursued peace with everyone.—John 14:26; 18:36; Matthew 6:9, 10; Acts 2:1-4; Romans 12:17-21.
All believers assumed their responsibility to promote unity. How? By ensuring that their conduct was in harmony with the Bible. Hence, the apostle Paul wrote to Christians: “Put away the old personality which conforms to your former course of conduct,” and “put on the new personality.”—Ephesians 4:22-32.
Of course, believers in the first century were imperfect, and situations developed that challenged their unity. For example, Acts 6:1-6 relates that a difference arose between Jewish Christians who spoke Greek and those who spoke Hebrew. Those speaking Greek felt that they were being discriminated against. Once the apostles were informed about the matter, however, it was attended to swiftly and fairly. Later, a question of doctrine led to controversy regarding the obligations of non-Jews in the Christian congregation. A decision was made based on Bible principles, and this decision was uniformly accepted.—Acts 15:1-29.
These examples show that disagreements did not lead to ethnic divisions or to unyielding doctrinal disunity in the first-century Christian congregation. Why not? Because the unifying factors—love for Jehovah, faith in Jesus Christ, self-sacrificing love for one another, acceptance of the guidance of the holy spirit, a common understanding of Bible teachings, and a readiness to change one’s conduct—were powerful enough to keep the early congregation united and at peace.
United in Worship in Modern Times
Can unity be achieved in the same way today? Can these same factors still draw members of a faith together and enable them to be at peace with all races in all parts of the world? Yes, they can! Jehovah’s Witnesses are united in a worldwide brotherhood spanning more than 230 lands, islands, and territories. And they are united by the same factors that united Christians in the first century.
Foremost in contributing to the unity enjoyed by Jehovah’s Witnesses is their devotion to Jehovah God. This means that they strive to be loyal to him under all circumstances. Witnesses of Jehovah also exercise faith in Jesus Christ and in his teachings. These Christians show self-sacrificing love for fellow believers and preach the same good news of God’s Kingdom in all the lands where they are active. They are happy to talk about this Kingdom with people of all faiths, races, nationalities, and social groups. Jehovah’s Witnesses also remain neutral in the affairs of the world, which helps them to withstand the political, cultural, social, and commercial pressures that are so divisive among mankind. All Witnesses accept their obligation to promote unity by conducting themselves in harmony with Bible standards.
Unity Attracts Others
This unity has often aroused the interest of individuals who were not Witnesses. Ilse, * for instance, was once a Catholic nun in a convent in Germany. What attracted her to Jehovah’s Witnesses? Ilse said: “They are the best people I have ever met. They do not go to war; they do nothing to harm anyone. They want to help people to live happily on a paradise earth under God’s Kingdom.”
Then there is Günther, who was a German soldier stationed in France during the second world war. One day a Protestant priest held a religious service for the soldiers in Günther’s unit. The priest prayed for blessings, protection, and victory. After the service, Günther took up his position as a lookout. Through his binoculars, he observed enemy troops on the other side of the battle lines also attending a religious service conducted by a priest. Günther later noted: “Likely that priest also prayed for blessings, protection, and victory. I wondered how it was possible for Christian churches to be on opposing sides of the same war.” These impressions were etched on Günther’s memory. When he later came in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not participate in war, Günther became part of their worldwide brotherhood.
Ashok and Feema used to belong to an Eastern religion. In their home, they had a shrine to a god. When serious illness struck their family, they reexamined their religion. In conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Ashok and Feema were impressed by the teachings of the Bible and by the love existing among the Witnesses. They are now zealous publishers of the good news of Jehovah’s Kingdom.
Ilse, Günther, Ashok, and Feema are united with millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a global brotherhood. They believe the Bible’s promise that the same factors that unite them in worship today will soon unite all obedient mankind. Then, there will be no further atrocities, disunity, and division in the name of religion. The whole world will be united in the worship of the true God, Jehovah.—Revelation 21:4, 5.
^ par. 16 Some of the names used in this article have been changed.
[Pictures on page 4, 5]
Despite coming from diverse backgrounds, the early Christians were united