[A Review of the October 15, 2014 Watchtower article on page 23]
“We are God’s fellow workers.” – 1 Cor. 3:9
The full text of 1 Corinthians 3:9 reads:
“For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field under cultivation, God’s building.” (1Co 3:9)
So Paul uses three metaphors in just one verse: Co-workers, a farming field, and a building. The Watchtower we are studying ignores the other two and focuses on the first only. This may well be because the context of 1 Cor. 3 shows that the building—God’s building—that Paul is referring to is God’s temple in which his spirit dwells.
“. . .Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that the spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him; for the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple.” (1Co 3:16, 17)
Since the article is encouraging greater service from the other sheep, it would not do to focus on Paul’s reference to God’s fellow workers as also being God’s building or temple since we know that is limited to the anointed.
Paragraph 6 tells us that “the work assigned to us today glorifies Jehovah. (Matt. 5:16; read 1 Corinthians 15:58.)” Since we are told to read 1 Corinthian 15:58 to prove that our assigned work glorifies Jehovah, let’s do just that.
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always having plenty to do in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in connection with the Lord.” (1Co 15:58)
Who is the Lord spoken of here? 1 Corinthians 8:6 tells us it is Jesus Christ. So when we do the work assigned to us, whom do we really glorify? Does not the slave bring honor to his master—his owner—by his good works? So who owns us?
“So let no one boast in men; for all things belong to you, 22 whether Paul or A·pol′los or Ce′phas or the world or life or death or things now here or things to come, all things belong to you; 23 in turn you belong to Christ; Christ, in turn, belongs to God.” (1Co 3:21-23)
Sure, we can glorify God by our works, but only through our husbandly owner, Jesus Christ. Let us not forget that nor circumvent him by scant praise, or by marginalizing his supreme role as we are often wont to do as Jehovah’s Witnesses. This article makes 37 references to Jehovah, but only 7 to Jesus. We are encouraged to be Jehovah’s fellow workers which we should. It’s a Biblical truth. However, the article makes no reference to being a fellow worker with Jesus. Yet, who is our master? We are slaves of Jesus as well as God, so should we not acknowledge our immediate master as Paul and Timothy did? (Phil 1:1) Who sent workers into the field? And who is the master in Jesus’ parable about the man who hires day laborers? (Mt 9:37; 10:10; 20:1-16) Again, there is nothing wrong with viewing God as our fellow worker in a sense, but why must we constantly ignore Jesus when he is central to any question at hand. (2 Co 1:20)
Maintaining a Positive View of Work Assignments
Now we get to the heart of the matter. Paul was talking to the Corinthians about working with God on the “field under cultivation” and in the work of building up the spiritual temple. (1 Co 3:9, 16, 17) However, when we get do to specifics—to the actual application—we find that the article is looking for donations, specifically donations of time, labor and skills. Noah built the ark. Moses built the tabernacle. We today are to build the world headquarters at Warwick?
“Whether you are working to renovate a local Kingdom Hall or to build our world headquarters at Warwick, New York, cherish your privilege to serve in this way. (See opening image of artist’s rendering.) It is sacred service.”
We are told it is a “privilege” and a “sacred service” to build our world headquarters. Now we know that Noah’s work was a sacred service because Jehovah himself told Noah to build the Ark. Likewise, God spoke to Moses face-to-face, and the plans for the tabernacle were drawn up by God himself. You can’t get much more sacred than that. (Ex. 33:11; 39:32) So those working on its construction and those donating their wealth were performing a sacred or holy service.
Are we to believe that God wanted the world headquarters to be built at Warwick? Did he tell the Governing Body to build it? Is it being built at his direct command? What evidence is there of this? Let us test the inspired expression. (1 John 4:1) The Watchtower is comparing the building of Warwick with the work that Noah and Moses performed. It claims that working on or contributing to the construction of our world headquarters is sacred service. That can only be true if Jehovah has directed that the facility be built. We would and have made this same claim about our branch facilities. In the 1980s the organization was short of funds, but wanted to build a printing plant in Spain. This was presented as something that Jehovah was directing the organization to do. Many came forward with “jewels, rings, and bracelets” to be converted to cash. (“How Is It All Financed?” jv p. 346-347) Then just a couple of decades later, the Bethel was closed, sold, its volunteer staff sent packing, and the profit from the sale was sent to the world headquarters in New York. The apparent reason was to avoid a new requirement being imposed by the Spanish Government for Bethel to provide a pension plan for its workers.
Does it not bring reproach on Jehovah’s name to claim he directed that the Spanish Branch be built only to have it closed and sold a few years later to avoid being forced to provide our volunteers with a pension plan? (Surely the many ex-circuit overseers over 70 trying to get by on the paltry allowance of a special pioneer are wishing they had been enrolled in some Bethel pension plan, but that’s another story.) If asked, we would likely give the excuse that it is all part of a divine plan beyond our comprehension. Of course, a more likely scenario is that it’s just the best laid plans of men going awry. Time and unforeseen circumstances and all that. Not a problem. We all make mistakes. No one is alleging bad nor good intentions here. It simply is what it is. All’s well as long as we don’t try to blame God for it by saying that the original decision was his. But that is exactly what we are doing and our brothers are still buying into that misrepresentation.
For example, one sister invited to move to a Bethel in another country after hers was shut down said, “When I remembered that the invitation came from Jehovah, I accepted it gladly.” She apparently believes Jehovah God invited her to serve in the new Bethel. That would put her a notch above the Apostle Paul who only got his invitation to step over into Macedonia from Jesus Christ. In fact, it seems that in the first century Jesus did all the directing of congregation matters. Not so today. According to our theology, Jehovah has now taken the reins from his Son.
In our midweek meeting this past week, the brother taking the first part kept referring to Jehovah’s direction and Jehovah’s lead. All the new organizational arranges are, according to him and thousands like him, the will of God. The Pioneer Assist program was Jehovah’s direction and had his blessing. Then, after years of diminishing results, when it was quietly dropped, that too was the will of God.
The Bible tells us, “It is the blessing of Jehovah that makes one rich, And He adds no pain with it.” (Pr 10:22)
I am personally aware of several costly branch initiatives that had hundreds of brothers devoting tens of thousands of man-hours and many tens (even hundreds) of thousands of dollars only to be dropped unceremoniously and with nary a word of explanation. All these freely gave of both time and labor at significant cost to their personal lives and family responsibilities. They did this because they believed they were fulfilling God’s will. When all their work was dumped in the metaphorical trash bin with no reason given as to why, many went away feeling disillusioned and used. If asked, most would acknowledge that our leadership is imperfect and men make mistakes. That is true. However, when asked to do something by these same men, no one suggests that the initiative is from men. It is always from God.
In the world, when a major project fails, heads roll. This doesn’t happen in our organization however. The reason is likely the fact that the organization doesn’t suffer when a large project goes south. The labor and donated funds have usually produced either leasehold improvements or assets in the form of funds and/or equipment. Assets and equipment get sold and there are no workers to be paid, so the organization always wins financially.
In all this, it is our “privilege” to do this holy work for Jehovah.
Continue Enjoying Your Privilege of Working with Jehovah
It was recently brought to my attention that the word “privilege” does not occur in the Bible. In the NWT it shows up about a dozen times, but it appears to be a less-than-accurate rendering of the Greek or Hebrew word. Often “honor” is a better translation. Be that as it may, it is used constantly and extensively within the JW community and its publications to refer to ones with special status. It therefore is often used to establish a distinction between brothers. Those not “privileged” to serve as pioneers, or in Bethel, or as elders are made to feel less worthy. Yet a feeling of privilege or entitlement is not something the Christian should ever want to feel.
“. . .So YOU, also, when YOU have done all the things assigned to YOU, say, ‘We are good-for-nothing slaves. What we have done is what we ought to have done.’”” (Lu 17:10)
The caption of the illustration on page 26 states: “Our greatest privilege—doing Jehovah’s work!” Half the pictures in that collage show brothers and sisters working in construction or in building maintenance. Where in the Bible does it say that Jehovah’s work is building expensive structures? Is there even one account in the 70 years that span the life and times of the first century congregation where Christians are shown constructing buildings? There is nothing wrong with building a place of worship or a training or manufacturing facility. But if we make the claim that it is Jehovah’s work, then we had better be able to back that up. Do we think the Catholic, Protestant or Mormon churches don’t make the same claim when asking for funds to build another cathedral or temple? A Witness would quickly counter that they are not doing God’s work, because they are all part of false religion. So the criteria is whether a religion teaches truth or falsehood according to our JW criterion.
What happens though if we are found to also be teaching falsehoods?
That is a topic discussed extensively on this site. For now, let’s look at the example of our Lord Jesus.
“. . .“Foxes have dens and birds of heaven have roosts, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay down his head.”” (Mt 8:20)
“. . .“One thing is missing about you: Go, sell what things you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come be my follower.”” (Mr 10:21)
“Why was it this perfumed oil was not sold for three hundred de·nar′i·i and given to the poor people?” 6 He said this, though, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief and had the money box and used to carry off the monies put in it.
Jesus had nothing and the funds that were donated to him were used to sustain him and his disciples with the excess going to the poor.
Now when a congregation is dissolved what happens to the money from the sale of the hall that was built by local labor and funds? Is the congregation even given the opportunity to decide? No, the funds go to the local branch or headquarters. They are never given to the poor.
Perhaps if we were to get out of real estate, we could use our funds for purposes more in line with the example Jesus set. Then we might have cause to claim that it is Jehovah’s direction, that we are his fellow workers and that we are engaged in sacred service.