[From ws15/02 p. 5 for April 6-12]
“This people honors me with their lips, yet their heart is far removed from me.” (Mt 15:8 NWT)
“Therefore, all the things they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds, for they say but they do not practice what they say.” (Mt 23:3 NWT)
You may wonder why I’ve broken with custom by not citing this week’s Watchtower Study theme text above. I felt that with this particular study, there was something more important worth focusing on.
This study article contains many fine scriptural points. It is a really good message. Unfortunately, there is a danger that the reader might confuse the message with the messenger. This would not prove beneficial.
Jesus is Humble
The opening paragraphs of the article focus on the need to imitate Jesus. There can be no argument that as a role model, he is without peer.
First we examine his humility.
“Humility begins with the way we think about ourselves. ‘Humility is to know how lowly we really are before God,’ says one Bible dictionary. If we are truly humble before God, we will also refrain from estimating ourselves to be above our fellow humans.” – Par. 4
We cannot always control what people say about us. The Pharisees had many negative things to say about Jesus. Others praised him. However, when it was within his power to do something about it, our Lord did not hesitate to adjust the thinking of those he taught. He displayed humility by rejecting undue or inappropriate praise.
“And one of the rulers questioned him, saying: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” 19 Jesus said to him: “Why do you call me good? Nobody is good except one, God.” (Lu 18:18, 19)
As a ruler of the people, this man was accustomed to titles himself. He chose to apply one to Jesus, calling him “Good Teacher”. In all probability, he thought he was rendering due honor to the Christ, yet Jesus knew that such an honorific was inappropriate. Any title or distinction we get should come from God, not men, and certainly not from ourselves. Jesus rejected it and thus avoided the bad precedent it would have set. He immediately took the opportunity to correct the thinking of the ruler and all those present who might otherwise fall into the easy human pattern of exalting others over ourselves as rulers.
In this regard, what pattern is the present Governing Body setting? Simply put, a governing body is a body that governs or rules. This title alone puts them at odds with Scripture. (See Mt 23:8) This current Governing Body has now claimed the appointment of “Faithful and Discreet Slave” for themselves. “The Faithful Slave” or more simply, “The Slave”, has taken on the characteristic of a title among Jehovah’s Witnesses. Commonly uttered phrases like, “We want to obey The Slave…” or “Let’s find out what The Slave has to say on that…” are proof of this fact. All this they have done despite the clear indication in Scripture that the faithful and discreet slave isn’t identified until the master returns. (See Mt 24:46)
I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness in an era when we disdained creature worship. We were uncomfortable with praise. Even sincere comments of appreciation following a public talk made me uneasy. We were all good-for-nothing slaves, just doing what we ought to do; thankful that God’s love was so extensive as to encompass even such unworthy creatures as we. (Lu 17:10) If you feel similarly, then perhaps you too are troubled by the amount of praise that is being heaped upon the Governing Body in recent years. One only has to watch one of the monthly broadcasts on tv.jw.org to see numerous examples of speakers and interviewees waxing on about the “privilege” it is to serve with and learn from members of the Governing Body. Since the content of these broadcasts is wholly within the GB’s scope to regulate, it would appear they are not imitating our Lord Jesus in correcting those who would give them undue praise. In fact, they encourage it. These are, after all, their broadcasts.
None of Jesus’ disciples ever referred to his or her time with him as a privilege. This term, so often used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to describe any form of special service, is inappropriate because it creates a de facto class system within our brotherhood. The Bible speaks of assignments, not privileges. We do what we do because we can and we ought to. (1Ti 1:12) Privilege bespeaks exclusion. A privileged class and a non-privileged one. Yet, access to Jesus was open to all. The offer to serve with him in his kingdom as one of his brothers is likewise open to all. The hope of being God’s son was not for a privileged few but for all who are willing to drink of the water of life.
“…To anyone thirsting I will give from the fountain of the water of life free. 7 Anyone conquering will inherit these things, and I shall be his God and he will be my son.” (Re 21:6, 7)
One final word about all this. It is by our expressions and ultimately our works that we manifest what is in our heart. (Lu 6:45; Mt 7:15-20) If a Jehovah’s Witness publicly denies that the Governing Body is the Faithful and Discreet Slave, he will be persecuted with the greatest punishment at our disposal in a modern world that enforces human rights. By public announcement, he will be declared untouchable. Thus ostracized, he will be forced to live, cut off from all Witness family and friends, unless of course, he should recant. Is this imitating the humility of our Lord Jesus Christ? Is it not the way of the world? The way worldly rulers in less reputable regimens enforce their authority? The way the Christian part of Babylon the Great used to enforce its clerical authority?
Another evidence of Jesus’ humility is mentioned in par. 7: “Jesus chose to live in humble circumstances unencumbered by many material things. (Matt. 8:20)” This is an excellent message for us to apply to our own lives, adjusting our mental attitude to be content with what we have so as to better serve the Lord without distractions. (1Ti 6:8)
However, what of the messenger? Is he “unencumbered by many material things”? There was a time when I took great pride in explaining to the Catholics I preached to in South America with their block-spanning, town-dwarfing churches that the Watchtower, Bible & Track Society didn’t own any of the Kingdom Halls we met in. Each hall was wholly owned by the local congregation. Not anymore. The Organization has unilaterally and summarily assumed ownership of all Kingdom Halls. It has directed all bodies of elders to “donate” to headquarters any discretionary reserve funds saved up by the local congregation. It has also directed all congregations to pledge a fixed monthly amount to the Kingdom Hall construction work. It has built Patterson and is now building a new luxurious headquarters in a resort-like setting at Warwick, NY. It just purchased a multi-million dollar FAA training facility in Palm Coast, Florida and tour groups there are told of ten other properties across the U.S. which are being purchased.
We have seen the “rental” for the use of our own assembly halls soar in the last year. In our own area costs have almost tripled. One circuit was told they had to come up with $14,000 for the hall rental for their one-day assembly. Ostensibly, the sky-rocketing increases are to be used for the construction of new assembly halls, but wouldn’t it make more sense to save these monies and return to the older and cheaper method of renting high school auditoriums? Do we really need all these possessions? Think of the savings and convenience that would result from not having 1 or 2 hour travel times to distant assembly halls.
Whatever the case, the ongoing call for more donations is putting a significant financial burden on the brotherhood, and for what? Throughout North American and Europe we see the work slowing down. We are at stagnation regarding growth in many countries. Unless the trend unexpectedly reverses, we’ll soon see negative growth, despite the Organization’s recent efforts to redefine the statistical indicators.
The excuse often given for all this construction and real estate investment is that we are merely following the leading of Jehovah’s spirit, trying to keep up with the fast-moving celestial chariot. But if that is the case then how do we explain fiascos like the abandonment of the Spanish branch? After consuming an enormous investment of free labor and donated funds amounting to millions of dollars, the Governing Body decided to close down and sell the Spanish branch facility because the government wanted them to contribute to the country’s old age pension fund—which incidentally would have been to the benefit of our own aging membership.[i] Our claim requires us to accept the belief that this was all what Jehovah intended to happen.
Lowliness of Mind
Paragraph 7 also mentions how Jesus’ humility was evident in his willingness to perform even menial tasks. Then, to bring this forward to our day, the “messenger” refers to a traveling overseer from the year 1894 who after many years in the service was called to work in the henhouse of the Kingdom farm in upstate New York. There can be no doubt that this brother was a fine example of one who imitated the humility displayed by Jesus Christ. But why do we have to go back over 100 years to find such an example?
Paragraph 10 carries the excellent message: “Humble Christians are not interested in seeking prominence in this system. They would rather lead a simple life, even doing what the world might consider menial work so that they can serve Jehovah to the fullest extent possible.”
This is the message. Is the messenger complying with the message? Across North America, and one presumes around the world, millions are being spent to purchase and set up huge projection screen systems for all the regional conventions. The purpose of any gathering should be to draw us closer to Jesus. However, if the purpose is to draw us closer to the Organization, then one can see the justification for projecting sky-high images of Governing Body members and other prominent organization leaders.
There was a time when we did not even know the names of the Governing Body members, much less their faces. We felt no need to. They were just men like ourselves. We worshipped God and praised the Christ. That has all changed. Now it is all about the Organization. We walk around with jw.org badges on our lapels; hand out business cards with the jw.org logo affixed; make sure that we only use the latest literature that carries the jw.org logo; and tell people to obey the Organization – a.k.a. the Governing Body.
Imitating the humility of Jesus does not mean we must submit to men. As Jesus humbly submitted to God, so we must humbly submit to him. He is our head. (1Co 11:3)
This is not the message which the Governing Body is conveying however.
“Above all, we can show humility by our obedience. It takes lowliness of mind to ‘be obedient to those who are taking the lead’ in the congregation and to accept and follow the direction we receive from Jehovah’s organization.” – Par. 10
“It takes lowliness of mind…to accept and follow the direction we receive from Jehovah’s organization.” No mention is made of Jesus, yet 1 Corinthians 11:3 says nothing about a fourth “head” in the chain of command.
Jesus Is Tender
The message for the rest of the article concerns imitating Jesus’ tenderness. It is a truly fine message and many scriptures are quoted to support what is said. Let us hope that those reading and studying this article together will not be distracted off message by what many may see as hypocrisy.
“Hence, an elder who is tenderly compassionate does not try to control the sheep, making rules or using guilt to pressure them to do more when their circumstances do not permit them to. [sic] Rather, he endeavors to bring joy to their hearts, trusting that their love for Jehovah will move them to serve him as fully as possible.” – Par. 17
Well said! But if this is how the elder is to act, how much more so the elder’s elder, so to speak. How often do we hear of brothers and sisters going to a district (now regional) convention only to come home depressed and guilt-laden that they are not doing enough and are unworthy? In this, the messenger is demonstrably off message.
The Bible-based message in this Watchtower Study is excellent. The principles found in the numerous scriptures cited demand our serious consideration. Let us not be distracted by the actions of the messenger. This is yet another occasion when the words of our Master ring true.
“Therefore, all the things they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds, for they say but they do not practice what they say.” (Mt 23:3)
[i] If we are to claim that Jehovah is guiding this work, then what can be said for the lack of provision made for those many long-time servants who ministered to the flock as circuit overseers and district overseers, and who are now turned out to pasture at the age of 70 to fend for themselves on the pittance which is given to special pioneers? These ones trusted that “mother” would take care of them, and many are now living in abject poverty. Let us not blame Jehovah for our failure to provide for such ones. (2Co 8:20,21)