“The one pursuing valueless things is in want of heart.”—PROV. 12:11.
As Christians, we all possess valuable things of one kind or another. They might include a measure of health and strength, inborn mental abilities, or financial resources. Because we love God, we are happy to use those things in his service and thus respond to the inspired exhortation: “Honor God with your valuable things.”—Prov. 3:9.
On the other hand, the Bible also speaks of valueless things and warns against wasting our resources in pursuit of them. In this regard, consider the words of Proverbs 12:11: “The one cultivating his ground will himself be satisfied with bread, but the one pursuing valueless things is in want of heart.” It is not difficult to see how that proverb applies in a literal sense. If a man spends his time and energy working hard to support his family, he stands a good chance of achieving relative security. (1 Tim. 5:8) If, however, he wastes his resources pursuing valueless things, he demonstrates “want of heart,” a lack of balanced judgment and good motivation. Very likely, such a man will find himself in need.
What, though, if we apply the principle of the proverb to our worship? Then we see that a Christian who diligently and faithfully serves God enjoys real security. He can be confident of God’s blessing now and has an unshakable hope for the future. (Matt. 6:33; 1 Tim. 4:10) However, a Christian who is distracted by valueless things puts his relationship with God and his prospects for everlasting life in danger. How can we avoid that? We have to discern the things in our lives that are “valueless” and cultivate a determination to reject them.—Titus 2:11, 12.
What, then, are valueless things? In a general sense, they can be anything that distracts us from serving God whole-souled. They could, for example, include various forms of relaxation. Of course, relaxation has its place. But when we spend too much time on “fun” things at the expense of activities connected with our worship, relaxation becomes a valueless thing, adversely affecting our spiritual well-being. (Eccl. 2:24; 4:6) To avoid that, a Christian cultivates balance, carefully watching how he spends his valuable time. (Colossians 4:5.) There are, though, valueless things that are much more dangerous than relaxation. Among these are false gods.
Renounce Valueless Gods
It is interesting that in most Bible verses where the word “valueless” appears, it is applied to false gods. For example, God said to Israel: “You must not make valueless gods for yourselves, and you must not set up a carved image or a sacred pillar for yourselves, and you must not put a stone as a showpiece in your land in order to bow down toward it.” (Lev. 26:1) King David wrote: “God is great and very much to be praised, and he is to be feared more than all other gods. For all the gods of the peoples are valueless gods. As for God, he made the heavens.”—1 Chron. 16:25, 26.
As David indicated, we are surrounded by evidence of God’s greatness. (Ps. 139:14; 148:1-10) What a privilege it was for the Israelites to be in a covenant relationship with God! How foolish they were to turn away from him and bow down before carved images and sacred pillars! In times of crisis, their false gods proved to be truly valueless, powerless to save themselves let alone their worshippers.—Judg. 10:14, 15; Isa. 46:5-7.
In many lands today, people still bow down to man-made images, and such gods are just as useless now as they were in the past. (1 John 5:21) However, the Bible describes things other than images as gods. Consider, for example, these words of Jesus: “No one can slave for two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stick to the one and despise the other. You cannot slave for God and for Riches.”—Matt. 6:24.
How can “Riches” become like a god? Well, as an example, think of a stone lying in a field in ancient Israel. Such a stone could be useful for the construction of a house or a wall. On the other hand, if it was set up as “a sacred pillar” or as “a showpiece,” it became a stumbling block to God’s people. (Lev. 26:1) Similarly, money has its place. We need it just to survive, and we can use it well in God’s service. (Eccl. 7:12; Luke 16:9) But if we place the pursuit of money ahead of our Christian service, money becomes, in effect, a god to us. (1 Timothy 6:9, 10.) In this world, where the pursuit of financial gain is so important to people, we have to make sure that we keep a balanced view in this matter.—1 Tim. 6:17-19.
Another example of something useful that can become a valueless thing is secular education. We want our children to be well-educated so that they can make their way in life. Even more important, a well-educated Christian is better able to read the Bible with understanding, reason on problems and come to sound conclusions, and teach Bible truths in a clear and persuasive way. Getting a good education takes time, but it is time well spent.
What, though, of higher education, received in a college or a university? This is widely viewed as vital to success. Yet, many who pursue such education end up with their minds filled with harmful propaganda. Such education wastes valuable youthful years that could best be used in God’s service. (Eccl. 12:1) Perhaps it is not surprising that in lands where many have received such an education, belief in God is at an all-time low. Rather than looking to the advanced educational systems of this world for security, a Christian trusts in God.—Prov. 3:5.
Do Not Let Fleshly Desire Become a God
In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul points to something else that can become a god. He speaks of some who used to be fellow worshippers and says: “There are many, I used to mention them often but now I mention them also with weeping, who are walking as the enemies of the torture stake of the Christ, and their finish is destruction, and their god is their belly, . . . and they have their minds upon things on the earth.” (Phil. 3:18, 19) How can a person’s stomach, or belly, be a god?
It appears that for those acquaintances of Paul, a desire to indulge in fleshly desires became more important than serving God along with Paul. Some may literally have overindulged in food or drink to the point of gluttony or drunkenness. (Prov. 23:20, 21; compare Deuteronomy 21:18-21.) Others may have chosen to make the most of the opportunities available in the first-century world and were thus distracted from serving God. May we never allow a desire for the so-called good life to cause us to slow down in our whole-souled service to God.—Col. 3:23, 24.
Paul also mentioned false worship in another context. He wrote: “Deaden, therefore, your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Col. 3:5) Covetousness is a strong desire for something we do not possess. It can be for material things. It can even include illicit sexual desire. (Ex. 20:17) Is it not sobering to think that such desires amount to idolatry, worship of a false god? Jesus used a vivid word picture to show how important it is to control such wrong desires at any cost.— Mark 9:47; 1 John 2:16.
Beware of Words That Are Valueless
Valueless things can include words. For example, God said to Jeremiah: “Falsehood is what the prophets are prophesying in my name. I have not sent them, nor have I commanded them or spoken to them. A false vision and divination and a valueless thing and the trickiness of their heart they are speaking prophetically to you people.” (Jer. 14:14) Those false prophets claimed to speak in God’s name, but they were promoting their own ideas, their own wisdom. Thus, their words were “a valueless thing.” They were worthless and posed a real spiritual threat. In 607 B.C.E., many who heeded such valueless words met an untimely death at the hands of Babylonian soldiers.
In contrast, Moses said to the Israelites: “Apply your hearts to all the words that I am speaking in warning to you today . . . For it is no valueless word for you, but it means your life, and by this word you may lengthen your days upon the soil to which you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of it.” (Deut. 32:46, 47) Yes, Moses’ words were inspired by God. Thus, they were valuable, indeed vital, for the well-being of the nation. Those who heeded them enjoyed long life and prosperity. May we always repudiate valueless words and cling to valuable words of truth.
Do we hear valueless things being uttered today? Yes. For example, some scientists say that evolutionary theory and scientific discoveries in other fields demonstrate that there is no longer any need to believe in God, that everything can be explained by natural processes. Should such proud statements concern us? Of course not! Human wisdom differs from divine wisdom. (1 Cor. 2:6, 7) However, we know that when human teachings contradict what God has revealed, it is always the human teachings that are wrong. (Romans 3:4.) Despite the progress of science in some fields, the Bible’s assessment of human wisdom remains true: “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” Compared with the infinite wisdom of God, human reasoning is futile.—1 Cor. 3:18-20.
Another example of valueless words is found among the religious leaders of Christendom. These claim to speak in God’s name, but most of their utterances are not based on the Scriptures, and what they say is basically worthless. Apostates too speak valueless words, claiming to have greater wisdom than the appointed “faithful and discreet slave.” (Matt. 24:45-47) However, apostates speak their own wisdom, and their words are valueless, a stumbling block to any who might listen. (Luke 17:1, 2) How can we avoid being misled by them?
How to Renounce Valueless Words
The aged apostle John gave fine counsel in this regard. (1 John 4:1.) In harmony with John’s counsel, we always encourage those we meet in the preaching work to test what they have been taught by comparing it with the Bible. That is a good rule for us too. If any statements come to our ears that are critical of the truth or that cast aspersions on the congregation, the elders, or any of our brothers, we do not accept them at face value. Rather, we ask: “Is the one spreading this story acting in harmony with what the Bible says? Do these stories or allegations further God’s purpose? Do they promote the peace of the congregation?” Anything we hear that tears down the brotherhood rather than builds it up is a worthless thing.—2 Cor. 13:10, 11.
When it comes to valueless words, elders too learn an important lesson. Whenever they are called upon to give counsel, they bear in mind their limitations and do not presume to offer counsel solely from their own personal store of knowledge. They should always point to what the Bible says. A sound rule is found in the words of the apostle Paul: “Do not go beyond the things that are written.” (1 Cor. 4:6) Elders do not go beyond the things that are written in the Bible. And by extension, they do not go beyond the Bible-based counsel written in the publications of the faithful and discreet slave.
Valueless things—be they “gods,” words, or something else—are very harmful. For that reason, we always pray for God’s help to recognize them for what they are, and we seek his guidance in how to repudiate them. When we do so, we in effect say with the psalmist: “Make my eyes pass on from seeing what is worthless; preserve me alive in your own way.” (Ps. 119:37) In the following article, we will further discuss the value of accepting God’s guidance.