Back in 1984, Brooklyn headquarters staff member, Karl F. Klein wrote:

“Since I first began taking in ‘the milk of the word,’ here are but a few of the many excellent spiritual truths Jehovah’s people have come to understand: the distinction between God’s organization and Satan’s organization; that Jehovah’s vindication is more important than the salvation of creatures…” (w84 10/1 p. 28)

In the first article in this series, we examined the JW doctrine that the Bible’s theme is the “vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty” and saw that it was Scripturally unfounded.

In the second article, we discovered the underlying reason behind the Organization’s continued emphasis on this false teaching.  Focusing on the so-called “issue of universal sovereignty” has allowed the JW leadership to take upon themselves the mantle of divine authority.  Slowly, imperceptibly, Jehovah’s Witnesses have gone from following the Christ to following the Governing Body.  Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, the rules of the Governing Body have come to permeate every aspect of the lives of their followers, influencing the way the faithful think and behave by imposing restrictions that go beyond anything written in God’s Word.[1]

Pushing the theme of “the vindication of God’s sovereignty” does more than empower Organization Leadership.  It justifies the very name, Jehovah’s Witnesses, for what are they bearing witness to, if not that Jehovah’s rule is better than Satan’s?   If Jehovah’s rule does not need to be vindicated, if the purpose of the Bible is not to prove His rule is better than Satan’s, then there is no “universal court case”[2] and no need of witnesses for God.[3]  Neither He nor his method of governing are on trial.

At the close of the second article, questions were posed as to the true nature of the sovereignty of God.  Is it just like man’s sovereignty with the only difference being that His provides a righteous ruler and just laws?  Or is it something radically different from anything we’ve ever experienced?

The introductory quote in this article is taken from the October 1, 1984 Watchtower.  It reveals unwittingly that to Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is no practical distinction between Satan’s rule and God’s.  If Jehovah’s vindication is more important than the salvation of his people, wherein lies the distinction between God’s rule and Satan’s?  Are we to conclude that, to Satan, his own vindication is less important than the salvation of his followers?  Hardly!  So according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, as regards vindication, Satan and Jehovah do not differ.  They both want the same thing: self-justification; and getting it is more important than the salvation of their subjects.   In short, Jehovah’s Witnesses are looking at the opposite side of the same coin.

A Jehovah’s Witness may feel he is only displaying humility by teaching that the vindication of God’s rulership is more important than his personal salvation.  Yet, since nowhere does the Bible teach such a thing, this humility has the unintended consequence of bringing reproach on God’s good name.  Indeed, who are we to presume to tell God what he should see as important?

In part, this situation is due to a lack of real understanding as to what constitutes the rule of God.  How does God’s sovereignty differ from that of Satan and man?

Can we, perhaps, glean the answer by revisiting the question of the Bible’s theme?

The Bible’s Theme

Since sovereignty isn’t the theme of the Bible, what is?  The sanctification of God’s name?  That certainly is important, but is that all the Bible is about?  Some would suggest that the salvation of humankind is the Bible’s theme: Paradise lost to paradise regained.  Others suggest that it’s all about the seed of Genesis 3:15.  Admittedly, there is some merit in that reasoning since a book’s theme runs through it from start (theme introduction) to finish (theme resolution), which is precisely what the “seed theme” does.  It is introduced in Genesis as a mystery, one which slowly unfolds throughout the pages of the pre-Christian Scriptures.  Noah’s flood can be seen as a means of preserving the few remaining ones of that seed.  The book of Ruth, while an excellent object lesson in faithfulness and loyalty, provides a link in the genealogical chain leading to the Messiah, the key element of the seed.  The book of Esther shows how Jehovah preserved the Israelites and thus the seed from a monstrous attack by Satan.  In the last book of the Bible canon, Revelation, the mystery is finished with the final triumph of the seed culminating with the death of Satan.

Sanctification, Salvation, or the Seed?  One thing is certain, these three topics are closely related.  Should it concern us to fix on one as more important than the others; to settle on the Bible’s central theme?

I recall from my high school English literature class that in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice there are three themes.  If a play can have three distinct themes, how many are there in God’s word for humankind?  Perhaps by striving to identify the theme of the Bible we risk reducing it to the status of Sacred Novel.  The only reason we are even having this discussion is because of the misguided emphasis the Watchtower, Bible & Tract Society’s publications have placed on the issue.  But as we’ve seen, that was done to support a human agenda.

So rather than engage in what is essentially an academic debate as to which theme is the central one,  let us instead focus on one theme that will help us to understand our Father better; for in understanding him, we will understand his way of ruling—his sovereignty if you will.

A Hint at the End

After about 1,600 years of inspired writing, the Bible comes to its end.  Most scholars agree that the last books ever written are the gospel and three epistles of John.  What is the overriding theme of the books which constitute the final words Jehovah has delivered to humankind?  In a word, “love”.  John is sometimes referred to as “the apostle of love” because of the emphasis he places on that quality in his writings.  In his first letter there is an inspiring revelation about God found in a short, simple sentence of only three words:  “God is love”.  (1 John 4:8, 16)

I may be going out on a limb here, but I don’t believe there is a sentence in the entire Bible that reveals more about God, and indeed about all creation, than those three words.

God is love

It is as if everything written to that point covering 4,000 years of human interaction with our Father was all there just to lay the groundwork for this startling revelation.  John, the disciple Jesus loved, is chosen at the end of his life to sanctify God’s name by the revelation of this singular truth: God IS love.

What we have here is the fundamental quality of God; the defining quality. All other qualities—his justice, his wisdom, his power, whatever else there may be—are subject to and moderated by this one overriding aspect of God.  Love!

What Is Love?

Before we go further, we should first make sure that we understand what love is.  Otherwise, we could proceed under a false premise which would inevitably lead us to a wrong conclusion.

There are four Greek words that can be translated as “love” in English.  Common in Greek literature is erōs from which we get our English word “erotic”.  This refers to love of a passionate nature.  While not restricted exclusively to physical love with its strong sexual overtones, it is most frequently used in Greek writings in that context.

Next we have storgē.  This is used to describe the love between family members. Principally, it is used for blood relations, but the Greeks also used it to describe any family relationship, even a metaphorical one.

Neither erōs nor storgē appear in the Christian Greek Scriptures, though the latter does occur in a compound word at Romans 12:10 which has been translated “brotherly love”.

The most common word in Greek for love is philia which refers to the love between friends—that warm affection which is born of mutual respect, shared experiences, and a “meeting of the minds”.   Thus while a husband will love (erōs) his wife and a son can love (storgē) his parents, the members of a truly happy family will be bound together by love (philia) for one another.

Unlike the other two words, philia does occur in the Christian Scriptures in its various forms (noun, verb, adjective) just over two dozen times.

Jesus loved all his disciples, but it was known among them that he had a special affection for one, John.

“So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved (philia), and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2 NIV)

The fourth Greek word for love is agapē.  While philia is quite common in classical Greek writings, agapē is not.  Yet the reverse is true in the Christian Scriptures.  For every occurrence of philia, there are ten of agapē.  Jesus seized on this little used Greek word while rejecting its far more common cousins.  The Christian writers did likewise, following the lead of their master, with John championing the cause.

Why?

In short, because our Lord needed to express new ideas; ideas for which there was no word.  So Jesus took the best candidate from the Greek vocabulary and folded into this simple word a depth of meaning and a power it had never before expressed.

The other three loves are loves of the heart.  Expressing it with a nod to the psychology majors among us, they are loves that involve chemical/hormonal reactions in the brain.  With erōs we speak of falling in love, though today it is more often a matter of falling in lust.  Still, higher brain function has little to do with it.  As for storgē, it is partly designed into the human and partly the result of the brain being molded from infancy.  This is not to suggest anything wrong, as this was obviously designed into us by God.  But again, one doesn’t make a conscious decision to love one’s mother or father.  It just happens that way, and it takes an enormous betrayal to destroy that love.

We might think that philia differs, but again, chemistry is involved.  We even use that term in English, especially when two people are considering marriage.  While erōs may factor in, what we look for in a mate is someone with whom they have “good chemistry.”

Have you ever come across someone who wants to be your friend, yet you feel no special affection for the person?  He or she may be a wonderful person—generous, trustworthy, intelligent, whatever.  From a practical point of view, an excellent choice for a friend, and you may even like the person to a degree, but you know that there is no chance for close and intimate friendship.  If asked, you probably wouldn’t be able to explain why you don’t feel that friendship, but you can’t make yourself feel it.  Simply put, there is just no chemistry there.

The book The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge says this on page 115:

“Recent fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans of lovers looking at photos of their sweethearts show that the part of the brain with great concentrations of dopamine is activated; their brains looked like those of people on cocaine.”

In a word, love (philia) makes us feel good.  That is how our brains are wired.

Agapē differs from the other forms of love in that it is a love born of the intellect.  It may be natural to love one’s own people, one’s friends, one’s family, but loving one’s enemies does not come naturally.   It requires us to go against nature, to conquer our natural impulses.

When Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, he employed the Greek word agapē to introduce a love based on principle, a love of the mind as well as the heart.

“However, I say to you: Continue to love (agapate) your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise on both the wicked and the good and makes it rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Mt 5:44, 45)

It is a conquest of our natural tendencies to love those hating us.

This is not to suggest that agapē love is always goodIt can be misapplied.  For instance, Paul says, “For Demas has forsaken me because he loved (agapēsas) the present system of things…” (2Ti 4:10)  Demas left Paul because he reasoned that he could get what he wanted by returning to the world.   His love was the result of a conscious decision.

While the application of reason—the power of the mind—distinguishes agapē from all other loves, we mustn’t think that there is no emotional component to it.  Agapē is an emotion, but it is an emotion we control, rather than one that controls us.  While it may seem cold and unromantic to “decide” to feel something, this love is anything but cold.

For centuries, writers and poets have romanced about ‘falling in love’, ‘being swept away by love’,  ‘consumed by love’…the list goes on.  Always, it is the lover who is unable to resist being carried along by the power of love.  But such love, as experience has shown, is often fickle.  Betrayal can cause a husband to lose the erōs of his wife; a son to lose the storgē of this parents; a man to lose the philia of a friend, but agapē never fails.  (1Co 13:8) It will continue as long as there is any hope of redemption.

Jesus said:

“If you love (agapēsēte) those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:46-48)

We may deeply love those who love us, showing that agapē is a love of great feeling and emotion.  But to be perfect like our God is perfect, we must not stop there.

To put it another way, the other three loves control us.  But agapē is the love that we control.  Even in our sinful state, we can reflect the love of God, because we are made in his image and he is love. Without sin, the predominant quality of a perfect[4] man would also be love.

Applied as God does, agapē is a love that always seeks the best for the loved one.  Erōs: a man may tolerate bad traits in a lover so as not to lose her.  Storgē: a mother may fail to correct bad conduct in a child for fear of alienating him.  Philia: a man may enable wrong conduct in a friend so as not to jeopardize the friendship.  However, if each of these also feels agapē for the lover/child/friend, he (or she) would do whatever possible to benefit the loved one, no matter the risk to self or to the relationship.

Agapē puts the other person first.

A Christian who desires to be perfect as his Father is perfect will moderate any expression of erōs, or storgē, or philia with agapē.

Agapē is a triumphant love.  It is the love that conquers all things.  It is the love that endures.  It is a selfless love that never fails.  It is greater than hope.  It is greater than faith. (1 John 5:3; 1 Cor. 13:7, 8, 13)

The Depth of God’s Love

I have studied God’s word all my life and now I am officially an old man.  I am not alone in this. Many reading the articles on this forum have likewise devoted a lifetime to learning about and trying to comprehend the love of God.

Our situation brings to mind a friend of mine who owns a cottage by a northern lake.  He has gone there every summer since he was a child.  He knows the lake well—every nook, every inlet, every rock just below the surface.  He has seen it at dawn on a still morning when its surface is like glass.  He knows its currents that come up on a hot afternoon when summer breezes churn up its surface.  He has sailed upon it, he has swum it, he has played in its cool waters with his children.  Yet, he has no idea how deep it is.  Twenty feet or two thousand, he does not know.  The deepest lake on earth is just over a mile in depth.[5] Yet it is a mere pond by comparison with the depth of God’s infinite love.  After more than half a century, I am like my friend who only knows the surface of God’s love.  I have barely an inkling of its depths, but that’s okay. That is what eternal life is for, after all.

“…this is eternal life: to know you, the only true God…” (John 17:3 NIV)

Love and Sovereignty

Since we are only cruising the surface of God’s love, let us chart that part of the lake—to extend the metaphor—that concerns the issue of sovereignty.  Since God is love, his exercise of sovereignty, his rule, must be based on love.

We have never known a government that operates on love.  So we are entering uncharted waters.  (I shall leave the metaphor now.)

When asked if Jesus paid the temple tax, Peter reflexively answered in the affirmative.  Jesus later corrected him by asking:

“What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth receive duties or head tax? From their sons or from the strangers?” 26 When he said: “From the strangers,” Jesus said to him: “Really, then, the sons are tax-free.” (Mt 17:25, 26)

Being the son of the king, the heir, Jesus had no obligation to pay the tax.  What is interesting is that soon, Simon Peter was to become a son of the king also, and therefore, also tax-free.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Adam was a son of God.  (Luke 3:38)  Had he not sinned, all of us would still be God’s sons.  Jesus came to the earth to effect a reconciliation.  When his work is done, all humans will again be God’s children, just as all the angels are.  (Job 38:7)

So right away, we have a unique form of rule in God’s kingdom.  All his subjects are also his children.  (Remember, God’s rule does not start until the 1,000 years have ended. – 1Co 15:24-28) We must therefore abandon any idea of sovereignty as we know it.  The closest human example we can find to explain God’s rulership is that of a father over his children.  Does a father seek to rule over his sons and daughters?  Is that his goal?  Granted, as children, they are told what to do, but always with the purpose of helping them to stand on their own feet; to achieve a measure of independence.  The father’s rules are for their benefit, never his own.  Even after they are adults, they continue to be guided by those laws, because they learned as children that bad things befell them when they didn’t listen to father.

Of course, a human father is limited.  His children may very well grow to surpass him in wisdom. However, that will never be the case with our heavenly Father.  Still, Jehovah didn’t create us to micromanage our lives.  Nor did he create us to serve him.  He doesn’t need servants.  He is complete in himself.  So why did he create us?  The answer is that God is love.  He created us so that he could love us, and so that we could grow to love him in return.

While there are aspects to our relationship with Jehovah God that can be likened to a king with his subjects, we will understand his rule much better if we keep the image of a family head foremost in our mind.  What father puts his own justification over the welfare of his children?  What father is more interested in establishing the rightfulness of his position as family head than he is in saving his children?  Remember, agapē puts the loved one first!

While the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty is not mentioned in the Bible, the sanctification of his name is.  How can we understand that as it relates to us and to his agapē-based rule?

Imagine a father is fighting for custody of his children.  His wife is abusive and he knows the children will not fare well with her, but she has slandered his name to the point that the court is about to grant her sole custody.  He must fight to clear his name.  However, he does not do this out of pride, nor out of a need for self-justification, but rather to save his children. Love for them is what motivates him.  This is a poor analogy, but its purpose is to show that clearing his name does not benefit Jehovah but rather it benefits us.  His name is sullied in the minds of many of his subjects, his erstwhile children.  Only by understanding that he is not as many would paint him, but rather worthy of our love and obedience, can we then benefit from his rule.  Only then can we rejoin his family.  A father can adopt a child, but the child must be willing to be adopted.

Sanctifying God’s name saves us.

Sovereign versus Father

Jesus never refers to his Father as sovereign.  Jesus himself is called king in many places, but he always referred to God as Father.  In fact, the number of times that Jehovah is referred to as Father in the Christian Scriptures outnumbers even the number of places Jehovah’s Witnesses have presumptuously inserted His name in the Holy Christian Writings.  Of course, Jehovah is our king.  There is no denying that.  But He is more than that—He is our God.  More than that, He is the only true God.  But even with all that, He wants us to call him Father, because His love for us is the love of a father toward his children.  Rather than a sovereign who governs, we want a Father who loves, for that love will always seek what is best for us.

Love is the true sovereignty of God.  This is a rule that neither Satan nor man can ever hope to emulate, let alone surpass.

Love is the true sovereignty of God.

Viewing the sovereignty of God through glasses colored by the governmental rule of man, including the rulership of religious “governing bodies”, has caused us to defame the name and rule of Jehovah.  Jehovah’s Witnesses are told they live in a true theocracy, a modern example of God’s rule for all the world to see.  But it is no rule of love.  Replacing God is a body of governing men.  Replacing love is an oral law that infringes on every aspect of the individual’s life, virtually eradicating the need for a conscience.  Replacing mercy is a call for more and more sacrifice of time and money.

There was another religious body that acted this way, claiming to be a theocracy and to represent God, yet so devoid of love that they actually killed the son of God’s love.  (Col. 1:13)  They claimed to be children of God, but Jesus pointed to another as their father. (John 8:44)

The mark that identifies the true Disciples of Christ is agapē.  (John 13:35) It is not their zeal in the preaching work; it is not the number of new members joining their organization; it is not the number of languages into which they translate the good news.  We will not find it in beautiful buildings or splashy international conventions.  We find it at the grass roots level in deeds of love and mercy.  If we are looking for a true theocracy, a people who today is ruled by God, then we must ignore all the sales propaganda of the world’s churches and religious organizations and look for that one simple key: love!

“By this all will know that you are my disciples—if you have love among yourselves.”” (Joh 13:35)

Find this and you will have found the sovereignty of God!

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[1] Like the oral law of the Scribes and Pharisees which regulated the minutia of life such as whether it was permitted to kill a fly on the Sabbath, the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses has its own oral traditions which prohibit a woman from wearing a pantsuit in the field ministry in the dead of winter, which keep a brother with a beard from advancement, and which regulate when a congregation is allowed to clap.
[2] See w14 11/15 p. 22 par. 16; w67 8/15 p. 508 par. 2
[3] This is not to suggest that there is no need to bear witness.  Christians are called to bear witness about Jesus and our salvation through him. (1Jo 1:2; 4:14;Re 1:9; 12:17)  However, this witness has nothing to do with some metaphorical court case in which God’s right to rule is being judged.  Even the much used justification for the name from Isaiah 43:10 calls upon Israelites—not Christians—to bear witness before the nations of that day that Jehovah was their savior.  His right to rule is never mentioned.
[4] I use “perfect” here in the sense of complete, i.e. without sin, as God intended us to be.  This is in contrast to a “perfected” man, one whose integrity has been proven through fiery test.  Jesus was perfect at birth but was perfected by trial through death.
[5] Lake Baikal in Siberia