See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise" (Eph. 5:15).
No one was better qualified than the apostle Paul to counsel his brethren to "walk circumspectly." None other, indeed, had had such thankless tasks to perform, such cruel trials to bear, such bitter persecutors. " . . . in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches" (2 Cor. 11:23-28).
Looked upon as a traitor by his fellow citizens, tracked down by the hating Jews who tried by every possible means to put him to death, Paul was placed under the most forbidding circumstances to accomplish the ministry to which God had called him. Thus his counsel is all the more valuable, because it has been inspired by a personal experience, by a merciless reality.
Just what is a man who "walks circumspectly"? If I were to sum up such a man from the viewpoint of the work to be accomplished in the Southern European Division religious liberty department, of which I have been the secretary for more than twenty-eight years, I would give preference to the definition found in the dictionary of the Academie Francaise: "[A man] who takes heed to what he says, to what he does, taking into consideration circumstances and surroundings."
Truly these four points specify admirably the conduct of the one whose mission it is to defend religious liberty and who consequently must intervene whenever that liberty is violated, which very often occurs in delicate situations. Such a one must take heed to what he says, and still more so, to what he should not say, which is even more difficult. To keep silence is a very golden and important art and is contrary to the impulses of human nature, especially when defending a just cause. Yet how many failures within this sphere may be attributed solely to some word thrown indiscriminately into the conversation, and which, when once uttered, cannot be withdrawn!
We must be careful also as to what we do. An attitude, a gesture, or simply the expression on one's face revealing surprise, disappointment, or discouragement may have a determining influence upon a sensitive listener.
Circumstances, too, play a preponderant role. One must know how to utilize them to the maximum, as far as possible without our opponent being aware of it. All circumstances are not always known beforehand, and we must react to those that arise during the discussion both quickly and very tactfully.
Lastly, we must adapt ourselves to our surroundings. This is not always an easy thing to do. We may find ourselves face to face with a polished, distinguished gentleman or with a hard, ill-mannered, insolent, vulgar person. Success will then depend in a great measure upon our personal attitude, upon the ability with which we approach the problems we have to solve, upon our reserve of patience, and above all else upon the atmosphere in which the conversation is to take place, which can only be created by a personality gifted with great spirituality. This is where a vast knowledge of the Scriptures and real communion with our heavenly Father can render the greatest service and permit us to obtain the most beneficial results. "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63).
To come abruptly to the point is not always the best means to reach the goal. This is true in almost all human activities, but particularly important in the field of religious liberty. "See then that ye walk circumspectly." Here Paul is insisting upon our personal responsibility. Each one must take heed to conduct himself in the right way. No one should be conscience for another—something we often try to do, but which is neither Biblical nor in harmony with the Spirit of Prophecy. When it comes to defending the cause of religious liberty one must show initiative, and conduct oneself as a pioneer. This branch of the work, relatively speaking, is a new one. Here one cannot content oneself to follow the beaten track, to imitate one's predecessors. Furthermore, each situation that arises offers an original character, which obliges one to modify or adapt his methods.
When a religious liberty problem presents itself, disorderly precipitance, inconsiderate zealousness, and misguided judgment are out of place. This does not mean we should never act urgently. It is often very important not to lose time, not to wait until things become too grave, or until measures have been taken that are difficult to redress. Serious information should be gathered beforehand and all precautions taken. We should visit those who can help us when the time for the decisive interview comes. We should not be content to visit only those men who are favorable to the cause of religious liberty. It is often helpful and necessary to contact those who seem to be, or are in fact, our enemies.
The apostle invites us not to walk "as fools, but as wise." What a strong statement! How do fools walk? They do not walk with the fear of God in their hearts. Instead of seeking heavenly wisdom, they act according to their own wisdom. I hesitate to say so, but I have met with almost inextricable situations just because some brethren thought themselves clever enough to dissimulate and even deceive the authorities. Be it in financial matters, in erecting schools, or in establishing a program, frankness and sincerity must be the rule. King Solomon, who received the gift of wisdom from God, affirms: "The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit" (Prov. 14: 8). The one who wishes to deceive gives proof of stupidity.
One of the foremost characteristics of a Christian should be loyalty. When governing authorities know they can have entire confidence in those who approach them in regard to religious liberty then the defenders of this cause are very near the goal they wish to attain.
Solomon has also declared: "Wisdom is better than strength" (Eccl. 9:16)—not only the strength of brutal force but the strength of sound reasoning! Must we, with the law in our hands, go at it tooth and nail to prove that religious liberty is our just right? To do so would be a deplorable method and would, in general, be doomed to failure. "Wisdom is better than weapons of war" (Eccl. 9:18). The important thing to remember in religious liberty relations is to win the confidence and touch the hearts of those we contact. The secret of true success lies in interesting people, in putting oneself in their place, in showing them that to grant religious liberty serves their own interests. All these interventions must be carried out with the calm assurance that we are defending a just cause. Religious liberty is the foundation of all liberty. The Lord's blessing will rest upon those who endeavor to live up to its principles.