[From ws17/10 p. 7 – November 27-December 3]
“We should love, not in word or with the tongue, but in deed and truth.” – 1 John 3:18
(Occurrences: Jehovah=20; Jesus=4)
The first question in this week’s Watchtower study is:
- What is the highest form of love, and why is that so? (See opening image.)
How would you answer that after seeing this image?
Now it has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. One reason is that the image goes directly to the brain bypassing any filters or interpretive cerebral elements. While some might dispute that point, few would deny that what we see has an immediate impact and can lead us easily to a particular point of view.
To illustrate, ask a young child that same question directing him to the above image and what do you think the answer will be? Would it surprise you if they said, “Cleaning the Kingdom hall, or building a Kingdom hall”?
The actual answer from the paragraph is that the highest form of love is unselfish love “based on right principles”. Would it shock you to learn this is not true?
To prove this, read Paul’s words to Timothy.
“Do your utmost to come to me shortly. 10 For Deʹmas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things, . . .” (2Ti 4:9, 10)
The verb translated “loved” in his passage comes from the Greek verb agapaó, corresponding to the Greek noun agapé. Demas’ love for this system of things which caused him to abandon Paul in his need can hardly be called an ‘unselfish love based on right principles’.
This is an example of what has become of the spiritual nourishment provided to Jehovah’s Witnesses—“food at the proper time” they like to call it. It is bad enough that the analysis of agapé in this article is superficial, but what is far worse is that it is misrepresented.
There are four words in Greek for love. Agapé is one of the four, but in Classical Greek literature it is rarely used. For this reason, it had few cultural connotations, making it the perfect word for Jesus to seize upon so as to define something new: A kind of love rarely found in the world at large. John tells us that God is agapé. So God’s love becomes the Gold Standard by which all Christian love is measured. For this reason, among others, he sent us his Son—His perfect reflection—so that we could learn how this love should be manifested among humans.
In imitation of God’s exceptional love, followers of Christ should also have agapé for one another. It is undeniably the greatest of all Christian virtues. Yet, as we see from Paul’s words, it can be misapplied. Demas was selfish, yet his agapé was still based on reason. He wanted what the current system of things offered, so it was only logical for him to abandon Paul, put himself first, and go off to take advantage of what the system could provide. Logical, but not right. His agapé was based on principles, but the principles were flawed, so the expression of his love was perverted. So agape can be selfish if the love is directed inward, toward oneself; or unselfish, if directed outward for the good of others. Christian agapé, since by definition it imitates the Christ, is outgoing love. Yet, defining it only as “unselfish love” is too superficial a definition, much like defining the Sun as a hot ball of gas. It is that, but it is so much more.
William Barclay does an excellent job of explaining the word:
Agapé has to do with the mind: it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live. Agapé has supremely to do with the will. It is a conquest, a victory, and achievement. No one ever naturally loved his enemies. To love one’s enemies is the conquest of all our natural inclinations and emotions.
This agapé, this Christian love, is not merely an emotional experience which comes to us unbidden and unsought; it is a deliberate principle of the mind, and a deliberate conquest and achievement of the will. It is in fact the power to love the unlovable, to love people whom we do not like. Christianity does not ask us to love our enemies and to love men at large in the same way as we love our nearest and our dearest and those who are closest to us; that would be at one and the same time impossible and wrong. But it does demand that we should have at all times a certain attitude of the mind and a certain direction of the will toward all men, no matter who they are.
What then is the meaning of this agapé? The supreme passage for the interpretation of the meaning of agapé is Matt. 5.43-48. We are there bidden to love our enemies. Why? In order that we should be like God. And what is the typical action of God that is cited? God sends his rain on the just and the unjust and on the evil and the good. That is to say—no matter what a man is like, God seeks nothing but his highest good.[i]
If we truly love our fellow man, we will also do what is best for him. This doesn’t mean we will do what he wants or what pleases him. Oftentimes, what is best for someone is not what they want. When we share truth with our JW brethren that contradicts what they’ve been taught, they are often very unhappy with us. They may even persecute us. This is in part because we are undermining their carefully constructed world view—the illusion that gives them a feeling of security, albeit one that will ultimately prove to be false. Such a deconstruction of a preciously held “reality” is painful, but holding on to it to the bitter end will prove far more painful, even devastating. We want them to avoid the inevitable outcome, so we speak up, though it often means risking our own security. Few of us enjoy conflict and discord. Frequently, it will turn friends into enemies. (Mt 10:36) Yet, we take the risk over and over, because love (agapé) never fails. (1Co 13:8-13)
The one-dimensional thinking of this study as regards Christian love is evident when it gives the example of Abraham in paragraph 4.
Abraham put his love for God ahead of his own feelings when he was commanded to offer up his son Isaac. (Jas. 2:21) – par. 4
What a transparent misapplication of Scripture. James is talking about Abraham’s faith, not his love. It was faith in God which caused him to obey, willingly offering his own son in sacrifice to Jehovah. Yet the writer of this article would have us believe this is a valid example of unselfish love. Why use this poor example? Could it be that the theme of the article is “love”, but the purpose of the article is to promote self-sacrifice on behalf of the Organization?
Consider the other examples from paragraph 4.
- By love, Abel offered something to God.
- By Love, Noah preached to the world.[ii]
- By Love, Abraham made a costly sacrifice.
Bearing in mind the opening images, we can start to see a pattern emerge.
Genuine Love Versus Counterfeit Love
Many of the examples set forward in this article promote the idea of serving the organization. Defining agapé as “unselfish love” flows right into the idea of self-sacrificing love. But to whom are the sacrifices offered?
Similarly, love for Jehovah and our neighbor moves us not only to ask God ‘to send out workers into the harvest’ but also to have a full share in the preaching work. – par. 5 [This would be the preaching work controlled by the Organization.]
Likewise today, apostates and others who create divisions in the congregation use “smooth talk and flattering speech” to make themselves appear to be loving, but their true motive is selfish. – par. 7 [Love for the Organization would cause us to reject anyone who disagrees with us.]
Hypocritical love is especially shameful because it is a counterfeit of the godly quality of self-sacrificing love. – par. 8 [Those who contradict us, do not have true love.]
In contrast, genuine love moves us to find joy in serving our brothers without fanfare or recognition. For instance, the brothers who support the Governing Body in helping to prepare spiritual food do so anonymously, not drawing attention to themselves or revealing the material they have worked on. – par. 9 [True love will mean we will never take the limelight away from the Governing Body.]
All of this reasoning evaporates when we realize that true Christian agapé is about doing the right thing despite the personal cost. We do the right thing, because that is what our Father, who is agapé, always does. His principles guide our mind and our mind rules our heart, causing us to do things we may not want to do, yet we do them because we seek always the advantage of others.
The Governing Body wants you to demonstrate sacrificial love toward the Organization. They want you to obey all their directives even if that requires you to make sacrifices. Such sacrifices are done, according to them, out of love.
When some point out the flaws in their teachings, they accuse these ones as hypocritical apostates who demonstrate counterfeit love.
Hypocritical love is especially shameful because it is a counterfeit of the godly quality of self-sacrificing love. Such hypocrisy might fool men, but not Jehovah. In fact, Jesus said that those who are like hypocrites would be punished “with the greatest severity.” (Matt. 24:51) Of course, Jehovah’s servants would never want to display hypocritical love. However, we do well to ask ourselves, ‘Is my love always genuine, not tainted by selfishness or deception?’ – par. 8
Jesus said: “However, if YOU had understood what this means, ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice,’ YOU would not have condemned the guiltless ones.” (Mt 12:7)
Today, the focus is also on sacrifice and not mercy. More and more we see “guiltless ones” standing up to be heard, and these are roundly condemned as apostates and hypocrites.
Jesus’ principal complaint against the Jewish Governing Body comprised of the priests, scribes, and Pharisees was that they were hypocritical. However, do you think for a minute that they viewed themselves as hypocritical? They condemned Jesus of that, saying that he expelled demons by the power of the Devil, but never once would they turn that light upon themselves. (Mt 9:34)
Agapé may at times be unselfish, and at times self-sacrificing, but what it is above all else is love that seeks the best long-term benefits for the one to whom that love is expressed. That loved one might even be an enemy.
When a Christian disagrees with a teaching of the Governing Body because he can prove it to be false based on Scripture, he does so out of love. Yes, he knows this will cause some division. That is to be expected and is inevitable. Jesus’ ministry was based entirely on love, yet he foretold that it would result in great division. (Luke 12:49-53) The Governing Body wants us to quietly comply with their directives and to sacrifice our time and resources for their projects, but if they are in the wrong, it is only the course of love to point that out. A true follower of the Christ wants all to be saved and none to be lost. So he will courageously take a stand, even at great risk to himself and his well-being, because that is the course of Christian agapé .
The Governing Body loves to characterize anyone who disagrees with them as an apostate who uses “’smooth talk and flattering speech’ to make themselves appear to be loving”, referring to such ones as selfish deceivers. But let’s look at that a little more closely. If an elder in the congregation starts to speak up because he sees that some of what is written in the publications is inaccurate—even false and misleading—how is that deceptive? Moreover, how is that selfish? That man has everything to lose, and apparently nothing to gain. (In fact, he has much to gain, but that is intangible and only perceived with eyes of faith. In reality, he hopes to gain Christ’s favor, but all he can realistically expect from men is persecution.)
The publications praise faithful men of the past who stood up and spoke the truth, even though they did cause divisions in the congregation and did suffer persecution and even death. Yet, similar men today are vilified when they do the same work in our modern congregation.
Are not the hypocrites the ones who proclaim how righteous they are while continuing to teach falsehoods and persecute “the guiltless ones” who courageously stand up for truth?
The ignominious irony of paragraph 8 is not lost on those who truly agapé truth, Jesus, Jehovah, and yes, their fellow man.
The Watchtower uses the term “self-sacrificing love” in this article. This is one of those Watchtower terms that seems appropriate and unobjectional when viewed superficially. However, one has to question the repeated use in the publications of a term which does not appear in the Bible. Why does God’s word never speak of “self-sacrificing love”?
True, the love of the Christ includes a willingness to make sacrifices in the sense of giving up things that we hold precious, like our time and resources, to benefit another. Jesus did willingly offer himself up for our sins, and he did this out of love both for the Father and for us. Yet, to characterize Christian love as “self-sacrificing” is to limit its range. Jehovah, the greatest embodiment of love, created all things out of love. Yet he never expresses this as a great sacrifice. He’s not like some rare mothers who constantly guilt their children by reminding them of how much they suffered in giving them birth.
Are we to view every expression of love as a sacrifice? Does this not distort our view of this most divine of qualities? Jehovah wants mercy and not sacrifice, but it seems that the Organization has it the other way round. In one article and video after another, we see sacrifice emphasized, but when do we speak of mercy? (Mt 9:13)
In Israelite times, there were whole burnt offerings (sacrifices) where everything was consumed. It all went to Jehovah. However, the majority of sacrifices left something for the priest, and from this they lived. But it would have been wrong for the priest to have taken more than his allotment; and even worse for him to pressure the people to make more sacrifices so he could profit from them.
The over-emphasis on making sacrifices is completely of Organizational origin. Who is really benefiting from all this “self-sacrificing love”?
[i] New Testament Words by William Barclay ISBN 0-664-24761-X
[ii] Witnesses believed that Noah preached from house to house, despite any evidence of this in the Bible. After 1,600 years of human procreation, the world was likely populated extensively—which is why the Flood had to be global—making it impossible for one man on foot or horseback to reach everyone in the short time available to him.