[From ws12/16 p. 4 December 26-January 1]

The opening example in this week’s study teaches us something we can all agree upon: it is a fine thing to encourage someone when they’re feeling depressed, or worthless, or unloved. Not all encouragement is good however.  Throughout history, men have inspired others to carry out heinous acts, so when we speak of being encouraging, our motives must be pure, not self-serving.

You may have noticed—as we’ve remarked upon in previous articles—that the publications seem to be getting more and more careless in the application of support Scriptures. It almost seems like the writer simply does a word search, finds a text with the “word of the day” and uses it as support.  Thus, in this study about encouragement, after giving the example of the type of encouragement being promoted using the opening example of Cristina’s life, the supporting text of Hebrews 3:12, 13 is used.

“Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God; 13 but keep on encouraging one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you should become hardened by the deceptive power of sin.” (Heb 3:12, 13)

This Scripture is obviously not talking about helping someone when they’re down, when they’re depressed, or when they feel worthless. The type of encouragement spoken of here is of a whole other kind.

Paragraph four also makes an unsubstantiated claim intended to foster the “us vs. them” mentality prevalent in the congregation:

Many employees are not being commended, so they complain that there is a chronic shortage of encouragement in the workplace.

No references are given, nor is evidence presented to support the idea of a “chronic shortage of encouragement in the workplace.”  This promotes the idea that outside of the congregation, in the wicked world, everything is bad and discouraging. The fact is that companies spend many millions of dollars training middle and upper management on how to deal with their employees supportively, how to give encouragement and praise, how to deal with conflict in a positive way. Whether this is done out of genuine concern for the welfare of others or because ‘a happy employee is a productive employee’ is really beside the point. It is easy to make a generalized statement claiming many employees are not being encouraged, but it is equally likely that many employees are being encouraged, more than ever before.  The only purpose of bringing this up in the magazine is to condemn the world by implication and contrast that with the encouraging atmosphere that is presumed to be exclusive to the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is held to be a shining light in the darkness of this world.

Paragraphs 7 thru 11 give excellent Bible examples of encouragement. We can all learn from them and should reflect and meditate on each one with a view to enriching our own lives by the examples set.

Encouragement in Action Today

From paragraph 12 onward, the article makes application of such examples to our day.

One reason why our heavenly Father has kindly arranged for us to have regular meetings is that we can give and receive encouragement there. (Read Hebrews 10:24, 25.) Just like Jesus’ early followers, we meet together to learn and to be encouraged. (1 Cor. 14:31) – par. 12

This implies that the weekly meeting arrangement of the Organization is from Jehovah God.  The paragraph then goes on to relate how such meetings encouraged Christina, who was mentioned at the beginning of the article. This is a common technique used in the publications, particularly the magazines, to reinforce an article’s theme or subtext.  An anecdote, such as the case of Christina in this article, is cited and used as support for whatever idea is being carried forward. This is often very convincing to the noncritical reader. Such anecdotes are viewed as evidence. But for every “Christina” there are many who would speak of a discouraging environment in the congregation. Particularly among the young – and more so today than ever before, what with social networking – one hears complaints about different congregations that are full of cliques.  From personal experience, I have seen congregations where everyone arrives to the meeting within five minutes of its start and dashed off within 10 minutes of its end. How indeed can they follow the counsel of Hebrews 10:24, 25 in such an environment?  There is no opportunity to deal with individual needs during the two hours where pro-Organization instruction is sounded down from the platform. Is this truly the environment that was the pattern in the first century? Is this how Jehovah, or more specifically, Jesus, as the head of the congregation, wants our meetings to be conducted?  Yes, these meetings serve to incite us to “fine works” as defined by the Organization, but is this what the writer of Hebrews had in mind?

The paragraph would have us believe so by quoting 1 Corinthians 14:31. Does this verse really support the current arrangement found in the organization?

“For you can all prophesy one at a time, so that all may learn and all may be encouraged.” (1Co 14:31)

Again, it seems that the writer has done a word search on “encourage*” and just dropped in a reference without examining if it really applies.  In this case, the reference actually seems to indicate that the current meeting arrangement is not from God, unless our Lord has changed his mind about things.  (He 13:8)  Reading the context of 1 Corinthians chapter 14 we see a scenario that doesn’t jibe with the current classroom-like meeting arrangement, wherein 50 to 150 people face a platform while one male sounds down instruction originating from a central committee.

In the first century, Christians met in private homes, often sharing meals together.  Instruction came by the spirit through different ones depending on the gifts each had received.  Women seemed to have a share in this instruction based on what we read in 1 Corinthians.  (The words written at 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 have been long misunderstood and misapplied in our male-dominated society.  To understand what Paul really meant when he wrote those verses, see the article The Role of Women.)

The remaining paragraphs give specific counsel as to what kind of encouragement is needed.

  • Par. 13: Elders and Circuit Overseers should be thanked and shown appreciation.
  • Par. 14: Children should be encouraged when they are being counselled.
  • Par. 15: The poor should be encouraged to donate to the Organization.
  • Par. 16: We should encourage everyone generally.
  • Par. 17: Be specific in our encouragement.
  • Par. 18: Encourage and thank public speakers.

Overall, this article seems to be positive, if a bit light in the meat of the word.  Be that as it may, there is little here that one can find serious fault with.  Missing, of course, is information about how we can encourage others to remain faithful to Jesus.  Nor is Hebrews 3:12, 13 (cited earlier in the WT article) developed in such a way as we can learn how to encourage others whose faith in God is waning and who are in danger of giving in to the deceptive power of sin.

If one were to try to establish an underlying theme, it might be that the encouragement being sought relates to helping all to be regular meeting attendees, zealous in the preaching work, financially supportive of the Organization, and submissive to the “theocratic arrangement” embodied in the authority of the organization exercised by the elders and travelling overseers.

However, as is often the case, this is not a stand-alone article.  Instead, it attempts to cloak next week’s study in a Scriptural garment so that we do not question the counsel to be obedient and submissive to the Organization, which is the real theme of this two-part study.