[From ws15/05 p. 24 for July 20-26]
“Become imitators of God, as beloved children.” – Eph. 5:1
A Little Side Trip First
While not strictly on topic, I think it will be beneficial to take a little side trip to continue our topic of last week’s study.
Last week we examined how the eisegetical nature of the Bible study method employed by the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses can lead us to erroneous conclusions regarding the true meaning of faith.
This week’s study opens with one of the most egregious examples of eisegesis one is likely to find in the Bible writings of any major religion—and that’s saying a lot.
“Undoubtedly, we rejoice that God has promised immortality in heaven to faithful anointed ones and everlasting life on earth to Jesus’ loyal ‘other sheep.’” (John 10:16; 17:3; 1 Cor. 15:53) – par. 2
Here are the scriptures cited in the paragraph as proof for that statement:
“And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those too I must bring in, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.” (Joh 10:16)
“This means everlasting life, their coming to know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” (Joh 17:3)
“For this which is corruptible must put on incorruption, and this which is mortal must put on immortality.” (1Co 15:53)
Using these Scriptures, can you prove that God has promised everlasting life on earth to Jesus’ loyal “other sheep”? Can you even prove who the other sheep are?
We are taught that the other sheep are not adopted children of God, but only friends. Yet the theme text from Ephesians 5:1 says that we are to “imitate God as beloved children.” Where does it say that the other sheep are God’s friends, but not his children?
Here’s how eisegesis works. You start studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses. (This really applies to any form of organized religion, but I’ll illustrate it with the one I know best.) They teach you about the resurrection, the condition of the dead, God’s name, and many other fundamental things. You may disagree depending on your background, but slowly their deft use of the Bible convinces you. You come to know and like your teachers. They are so sincere. At some point, you begin to trust them. At that point, you stop examining skeptically. They no longer have to prove everything. Their conclusions and speculation start sounding like fact.
In my case, the trusted individuals were my parents who in turned learned from good friends who learned from others. Overriding it all was the trusted source of the publications of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society.
Then one day the Governing Body told me about a new form of overlapping generation to explain their version of Mt. 24:34 and I began to doubt. Then a friend asked me to prove 1914 and I found I couldn’t. Then I had to prove that the other sheep must not partake and I found I couldn’t. Then I had to prove that our judicial system is Scriptural and I found I couldn’t. We are told to be “ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of [us] a reason for the hope in [us]”, but over and over I was unable to do so. (1 Peter 3:15)
Eisegesis failed me. But when I started looking at the Bible and letting it just say what it means—exegesis—I suddenly understood what Jesus meant when he said the truth will set us free. (John 8:32)
Sorry. That has taken us way off topic, but it is such an important subject that I felt it deserved to be dealt with on the spot. Now back to the Watchtower article.
How Jesus Reflected God’s Love
Jesus did not start his ministry to find fault, but to enlighten and build up by sharing the wondrous message of the Good News. However, opposers made it necessary for him to point out wrong thinking and sources of spiritual hypocrisy and corruption. This he did to protect the sheep.
We are all sheep, but we are all shepherds too. Sometimes we are in need of help, and other times we have the opportunity to provide comfort and loving care. We wear many hats as we strive to follow in the footsteps of our Master. This week I would like to try a different tack. This week we will take the publishers of this article at their word.
“When Jesus saw people suffering, he was moved to show them love. Thus, he perfectly reflected the love of his Father. After one extensive preaching tour, Jesus and his apostles were about to go to an isolated place to get some rest. Because he felt pity for the crowd awaiting him, however, Jesus took time “to teach them many things.”– par. 4
So if you’re out in the preaching work and there’s a sister who’s living alone, perhaps feeling depressed, isolated, and ignored, you would not want to give in to the self-serving thought that you have to make your time and can’t afford to lose a half-hour or more by dropping in on the sister to encourage and perhaps see if she needs something.
Jesus was never self-serving. This paragraph quotes from Mark 6 which contains the miracle of the bread and fishes. So Jesus didn’t just see to the spiritual needs of the sheep but also their physical needs. He could have thought, “Well, if they are not wise enough to bring their own provisions, that’s on them.” We would always want to imitate his caring and giving nature. How easy is for us to see people who rarely come to the meetings and dismiss them as weak and even bad association for us. We might reason, if they want our help, then they have to come to the meetings and go out in service regularly. Otherwise, they don’t deserve our time.
This would not be imitating our Lord.
Paragraph 5 and 6 give an excellent example involving a young brother learning to see life through the eyes of an elderly one. It closes with the thought: “To imitate God’s love, we must put ourselves in our brother’s shoes, so to speak.” Paragraph 7 acknowledges that it is not always easy “to understand the pain that others are experiencing.” It closes by citing 1 Peter 3:8:
“Finally, all of you have unity of mind, fellow feeling, brotherly affection, tender compassion, and humility.”
How often have the brothers and sisters in your hall invited you over to their home? How often have you done the same? We talk about fellowshipping at the meetings, but five or ten minutes before and after a meeting is not what Peter had in mind when he spoke of tender compassion and brother affection. The fact that he added “humility” to the equation speaks volumes about the kind of relationship he was encouraging us to have with our brothers. A humble person is not prone to being judgmental. He does not probe into another’s life with intrusive questions. His speech is never intended to measure the value or worthiness of another. If our questions make someone feel like we are checking up on them, then how can we say we are showing true fellow feeling and genuine humility?
Imitate Jehovah’s Kindness
God’s Son said: “The Most High . . . is kind toward the unthankful and wicked….[Jesus] treated people in a kind manner by anticipating how his words and actions might affect another individual’s feelings.” – par. 8
We hear accounts of possibly well-meaning brothers using pat or facile solutions when trying to help someone they see as weak. They might say, “All you have to do is be more regular at meetings, and get out in the field service every week.” They are not entirely to blame for our publications and the travelling overseers promote the idea of spirituality through routine.
They do not realize that often what they see as a source of encouragement is exactly the opposite. How many Jehovah’s Witnesses are discouraged and depressed because they are failing to meet arbitrary standards? These are not just any standards either. They are led to believe that their everlasting life depends on compliance with these standards. Jesus said, “My yoke is kindly, and my load is light.” (Mt. 11:30) However, what we lay on the brothers is more akin to the yoke of the Pharisees.
“They bind up heavy loads and put them upon the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger. 5 All the works they do they do to be viewed by men;. . .” (Mt 23:4, 5)
The emphasis the JW leadership puts on works that are visible before men is a fulfillment of what Jesus says here in verse 5. Can we find one word of our Lord where he speaks of putting in more hours in the preaching work as a means to gain favor with him? We must remember that Hebrews 10:24 does not say, “let us consider one another and incite by guilt to fine works.”
How else can we imitate the kindness of the Lord who, according to this paragraph, is kind even to the wicked?
Let us say that we know of a sister who was disfellowshipped for fornication. Then we learn that she has married the person she was living with and is returning to the meetings. However, the elders feel that she needs more time to show repentance. They feel that by coming to meetings and enduring the ongoing rebuke of the congregation through shunning, they are demonstrating repentance. (This is akin to the Catholic mentality of penance.) Three months go by. Then six. Finally after a year, she is reinstated. What should we do in the meantime? Should we obey men and do nothing to help this sister, ignoring and totally shunning her? Is that the course of love? Is it the course of obedience? Obedience to men, yes. But are we interested in obeying men, or God? In a circumstance like this, Paul counselled the Corinthian congregation on how to deal with one they had rebuked.
“This rebuke given by the majority is sufficient for such a man, 7 so that, on the contrary now, YOU should kindly forgive and comfort [him], that somehow such a man may not be swallowed up by his being overly sad.” (2Co 2:6, 7)
This counsel likely came only months after the initial direction to shun the sinner. By withholding love when the evidence is clear that a sinner has left off his sin, we can cause him to be overly sad, and even become swallowed up and lost to us. If we did that, what would the Lord Jesus say to us? “Well done, good and faithful slave, for you obeyed the elders. Too bad for this one that he wasn’t stronger, but that was his problem. You, however, enter into my rest.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think so!
Imitate God’s Wisdom
“Our being able to conceive of events that we have not lived through can also help us to imitate Jehovah’s wisdom and foresee the probable results of our actions.” – par. 10
“Never would we make plans or do anything that could endanger our precious relationship with Jehovah! Instead, let us act in harmony with these inspired words: ‘The shrewd one sees the danger and conceals himself, but the inexperienced keep right on going and suffer the consequences.’ – Prov. 22:3” – par. 11
Sound counsel. So, what are the consequences for perpetrating a lie about God or about the teachings of Jesus? Consider these verses:
“But anything defiled and anyone who does what is disgusting and deceitful will in no way enter into it; only those written in the Lamb’s scroll of life will enter.” (Re 21:27)
“Outside are the dogs and those who practice spiritism and those who are sexually immoral and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices lying.’” (Re 22:15)
If we know a teaching is false, then are we not being deceitful if we teach others that it is true? If we know a doctrine is false, then are we not showing that we love and practice the lie if we take our valuable time every week to go from door to door to continue to spread this falsehood?
So ask yourself, do you believe that the teachings of “the overlapping generation”, or Christ’s invisible presence in 1914, or the 1919 appointment of the Governing Body as the faithful slave, or the other sheep as friends—not sons—of God are true? If not, then how can you best imitate God’s wisdom and avoid the consequences of promoting such teachings?
Admittedly, this can be a delicate line to walk for those who continue to associate so as to have the opportunity to help others awaken to the truth. We should not judge anyone, for Jehovah sees the heart.
Avoid Harmful Contemplation
Speaking of Eve, paragraph 12 says:
“Instead of being told what was good and bad, she would decide this for herself.”
Eve did reject God’s rule, wanting to determine for herself what was good or bad. This thinking was independent from God’s and therefore harmful. However, we can go in the opposite direction. We can surrender our free thought to another man or group of men. We can come to depend on men to govern us and determine what is right and wrong for us. This too is thinking which is independent from God. It is just other version of Adam and Eve’s sin. Instead of deciding for ourselves what is good and bad, we leave it to others, thinking that this way we can please God. We begin to trust men and stop examining the Scriptures for ourselves on a daily basis. (Acts 17:11)
The way to please God is to stop thinking independently of him, and start listening and obeying his Son, our Lord, our King, our redeemer. We need to stop trusting in self-proclaimed nobles and the son of earthling man in whom no salvation exists. (Ps 146:3)