[From ws1/18 p. 27 – March 26-April 1]
“You will . . . see the distinction between a righteous person and a wicked person.” Malachi 3:18
The very title of this Watchtower study article is worrying once we begin to read its contents. Its thrust seems to cause us to separate ourselves from any contact with individuals deemed unworthy due to their traits. Indeed, why do we need to examine the difference in people? If we concentrate on improving our own Christian qualities, does it really matter how others are different? Does it affect us?
Please read Malachi 3 if you have time before continuing with this review, as it will help you better understand the context of the verses that are being used by this WT article, so that you can discern the true context of what the Bible is saying.
Paragraph 2 opens with:
“These last days are a time of moral chaos. The apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy describes the characteristics of people who are alienated from God, characteristics that will become more pronounced in the days ahead. (Read 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13.)”
The Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy around 65 C.E. Consider the time. These were the last days of the Jewish system of things. Starting one year later (66 C.E.) the first Roman invasion came. By 70 C.E., the city lay in ruins, and by 73 C.E. all revolt had been quashed.
Now turning back to Malachi 3.
- Malachi 3:1 is clearly a prophecy about Jesus coming as the Messiah, the Messiah awaited by Israel.
- Malachi 3:5 talks about Jehovah coming to judge the Israelites.
- The next verses record God’s plea to his people to return to him so they might not get destroyed.
- Malachi 3:16-17 is clearly talking about spiritual Israel, “a special property”, becoming Jehovah’s possession as a replacement for the wicked natural nation of Israel. These ones would be shown compassion (by being saved from the destruction of the nation of Israel). All these events occurred in the first century from the time of the ministry of Jesus starting in 29 C.E. to the destruction of the Jews as a nation in 70 C.E. and the escape of the early Christians to Pella.
Therefore, the theme scripture from Malachi 3:18 had its fulfillment during that time period. The distinction between a righteous person and a wicked one resulted in the salvation of the former (Christians) and the destruction of the latter (faithless Jews). There is therefore no basis on which to claim a modern antitypical fulfillment. More accurately, the paragraph should have read “Those last days were a time of moral chaos.”
How we view ourselves
Paragraphs 4 thru 7 give good Bible-based counsel on avoiding such traits as being puffed up with pride, haughty eyes and a lack of humility.
How we relate to others
Paragraphs 8 thru 11 again contain good Bible-based counsel. However, we need to examine the final part of paragraph 11 where it says “Jesus also said that love for one another would be the quality that would identify true Christians. (Read John 13:34-35.) Such Christian love would even be extended to one’s enemies.—Matthew 5:43-44.”
Over the years, I have been a member of a few congregations and have visited many others. Very few have been happy, most have been riven by problems of one kind or another, including cliques, gossiping, slandering, and abuse of power by the elders. The latter often used the platform to launch tirades against congregation members who had stood up to them. I have seen, and continue to see, love, but usually on an individual basis, only rarely has it proven to be congregation-wide. Certainly, I have not witnessed this love on a wide enough basis to claim the Organization as a whole is the true Christian congregation chosen by God because of its members’ love for one another. (Admittedly, this is one man’s perception. Perhaps your experience is different.)
Now what about love being extended to one’s enemies?
- Can shunning a teenager because he or she stopped attending meetings be considered a loving act? Does the teenager become worse than one’s enemies, worthy of less love?
- Can shunning a victim of child sexual abuse be considered loving and Christ-like because they can no longer bear to see their abuser face-to-face at every meeting?
- Can shunning of a recently bereaved mother by her own son and daughter-in-law simply because she no longer attends meetings be Christian?
Since when did non-attendance at meetings make a person worse than an enemy? What is especially sad about these practices within the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they are not rare nor isolated. They have become the norm.
What about the treatment of those questioning the teachings of the organization?
- Even if they are thought of as enemies (incorrectly) rather than one’s desirous of truth, is it the love of the Christ to call them “mentally diseased” or “apostates” when they have left neither Jesus nor Jehovah?
- Is it Christ’s love to disfellowship them because they will not obey the men of the Organization rather than God? (Acts 5:29)
- If we truly feel such ones are erring, would not the course of true Christian love move us to reason with them from the Scriptures, rather an arrive at a snap judgment?
- Is it love or fear that causes so many to cut off communication from such ones?
We are then reminded of Jesus’ example.
“Jesus showed great love for others. He went from city to city, telling people the good news about the Kingdom of God. He cured the blind, the lame, the lepers and the deaf (Luke 7:22) “. (par. 12)
How does the organization match up to this example?
Is it really telling people the good news about the Kingdom of God? It tells us we can only be friends of God when Galatians 3:26-29 states “You are all, in fact, sons of God through your faith in Christ Jesus.”
While we cannot cure the blind, lame, and deaf as Jesus did, we can imitate his spirit in doing what we can to alleviate the suffering of others through charitable works; yet the Organization discourages all such efforts in favour of our support of its programs of hall building and performing field service the JW way.
Paragraph 13 contains yet another unverifiable experience in an attempt to bolster the message they want to convey. While it is true that the atmosphere at large conventions is heady, those who attend similar conventions of other religious denominations will say the same thing. It is not how we appear to be loving when we are all in a good mood that counts. Jesus himself recognized this:
. . .For if you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Are not also the tax collectors doing the same thing? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what extraordinary thing are you doing? Are not also the people of the nations doing the same thing? (Matthew 5:46, 47)
At conventions, we are “loving those who love us”. This is not extraordinary, though this article would have us believe so. We must love our enemies, as the Father does. (Matthew 5:43-48) We must love the unlovable to be like the Christ. Often, our biggest test comes when we must love our brothers who offend us, or who “lyingly say every sort of wicked thing about us”, because they fear the truth that we speak. (Mt 5:11)
Wolves and Lambs
We are then treated to another subtle piece of propaganda to have nothing to do with non-witnesses when the article says:
“Other qualities displayed by people in the last days provide additional reasons for Christians to keep their distance from such people.” (par. 14)
The message being transmitted is ‘stay away from those worldly people’. In other words, we are encouraged to lump everyone into the same group; to paint anyone who is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses with the same brush. But inside the congregation, supposedly, we are safe.
I personally know elders whose most prominent trait is not humility, but what Paul refers to as ‘without self-control, fierce,…headstrong’. Evidence of this can be seen when you refuse to obey the direction of the body of elders. How quickly they label this as “loose conduct”, and threaten expulsion from the congregation to those they consider to be rebellious.
I am sure most readers have to mix with men like this within the congregation, so why make an exception for non-witnesses? Ultra-Orthodox Jews will avert their eyes from a Gentile. Gypsies have their own term for non Roma Gypsies, “Gorgas”. The message from these and similar groups is “don’t have anything to do with those not of our kind”. Normal people would view them as extreme. Is the organization any different?
What was Jesus’ example? He spent time with tax collectors and sinners trying to help them to be different rather than shunning them (Matthew 11:18-19).
Paragraph 16 highlights how learning about the Bible has changed people’s lives. Wonderful as it is, all religions can point to examples like this. It is the Bible that changes people’s lives for the better. It is not an identifying marker of the true religion which is what the article tries to imply.
From these turn away
Paragraph 17 tells us “We who serve God must be careful that we do not become influenced by the unrighteous attitudes of others. Wisely, we heed the inspired counsel to turn away from those described at 2 Timothy 3:2-5.” However, is that really what 2 Timothy 3:2-5 is telling us?
Check any Greek Interlinear translation for 2 Timothy 3:5 including the Kingdom Interlinear Translation. Does it say we need “to turn away from those people”? No, rather it says “these be turning yourself away from”. What is the “these” referring to? Paul had been describing the traits people would have. It is the traits being referred to as “these”. Yes, we should turn ourselves away from practising such traits. The ones who practise these traits are those we should be assisting to change, not turning away from (or turning our backs on).
As the latter part of the paragraph correctly says, “But we can avoid being drawn into their thinking and imitating their characteristics. We do this by strengthening our spirituality by Bible study”.
In conclusion, rather than looking for differences with other people, let us help them to develop godly qualities and eliminate any differences.