[From ws 5/18 p. 12, July 9–15]
“As for that on the fine soil, these are the ones who…bear fruit with endurance.”—Luke 8:15.
Paragraph 1 opens with the experience of Sergio and Olinda saying “this faithful couple are busy preaching the Kingdom message there six mornings a week, year-round”. Here we see once again one of the few subjects discussed in the Watchtower study articles. That of the preaching work. (The others consist of baptism of children, donations to the Organization, accepting discipline and accepting the authority of the elders and the Governing Body.)
How do the couple preach? “They take their place near a bus stop and offer our Bible literature to passersby.” The picture from the article shows exactly how. By sitting or standing next to a cart.
So what is the dictionary definition of preaching?[i]
- “to deliver a sermon or religious address to an assembled group of people, typically in church.”
- “to publicly proclaim or teach (a religious message or belief).”
- “to earnestly advocate (a belief or course of action).”
We therefore need to ask the question: How are the elderly couple ‘preaching’? According to the description in the paragraph and the picture shown above none of the three definitions were taking place. “Smiling at those who look at them” doesn’t really qualify.
What likely happens during these times, wrongly described as ‘preaching’, is alluded to in the next paragraph when it says “Like Sergio and Olinda, many faithful brothers and sisters around the world have been preaching for decades in unresponsive home territories”. Yet what did Jesus say about unresponsive territories? Matthew 10:11-14 and Luke 9:1-6 show that they were to leave the unresponsive behind and move on. Luke also mentions they were to heal people as they went. The Apostle Paul followed this pattern as per examples in Acts 13:44-47,51 and Acts 14:5-7, 20, etc. There was no indication that they were to ‘flog’ unresponsive territory to try and make it responsive.
“Why may we feel discouraged?”
“Like Paul, we preach to people out of heartfelt concern. (Matthew 22:39; 1 Corinthians 11:1)” (Par.5)
Do or did “we preach to people out of heartfelt concern”? If you have been a witness, ask yourself this. If they were to tell us tomorrow that there would be no more hourly reporting, that the elders will not be taking note of how much we go out in door-to-door work, would the preaching activity continue unabated and without diminishment? It would if all were truly preaching out of “heartfelt concern”.
What if we were to hear that the role of pioneer was eliminated. No more special distinction to be given to those committing themselves to 70 hours a month in preaching? All would be the same, just regular publishers? Would those now pioneering continue to put in the 70 hours, because their interest was not the status of being seen as a privileged pioneer, but they were only acting out of “heartfelt concern” for their neighbours?
Some might as admitted in paragraph 5 which states: “So despite moments of discouragement, we endure. Elena, a pioneer for over 25 years, speaks for many of us when she says: “I find the preaching work difficult. Still, there is no other work I would rather do.”
What is not addressed under this sub heading is perhaps why the territory may be unresponsive. Such as:
- Most people are wary of strangers on their doorsteps.
- Most witnesses, instead of using the Bible, use literature and videos produced by men.
- Many people have lost faith in God because of the track record of religion.
- They don’t know the person who is calling, so they judge us on the basis of our religious affiliation which includes allowing children to die by refusing them blood transfusions when needed, and of protecting child abusers.
- Additionally, there is no counterbalance to the above, such as a record on the part of the Organization of helping the poor and needy thorough charitable works.
“How can we bear fruit?”
“Why can we be sure that regardless of where we preach, we can have a fruitful ministry?” (Par.6)
By now you will have noticed the only fruit being discussed is the preaching work. Is that what Jesus had in mind as the most important or only fruit? The paragraph continues “To answer that important question, let us examine two of Jesus’ illustrations in which he considers the need to “bear fruit.” (Matthew 13:23)”. So let us do that.
“Read John 15:1-5,8”
Paragraph 7 starts:
“Read John 15:1-5,8. Note that Jesus told his apostles: ‘My Father is glorified in this, that you keep bearing much fruit and prove yourselves my disciples.’” It continues “What, then, is the fruitage that Christ’s followers need to bear? In this illustration, Jesus did not directly say what that fruitage is, but he did mention a significant detail that helps us to determine the answer.” (Par.7)
Did you notice “Jesus did not directly say what that fruitage is” yet they go on to make a claim as to “what that fruitage is”. Firstly, they say what it is NOT. “Hence, in this illustration, the fruitage that each Christian must bear cannot refer to new disciples whom we may be privileged to make.” (Par.8)
What is the reason they give for this conclusion? “Because we cannot force people to become disciples.”
This line of reasoning ignores the logic of Jesus’ analogy. You cannot force a tree to bear fruit either. You can only plant it, nurture it, water it, and protect it. But your goal in all that is to gain the fruitage of the tree, the fruitage of your labours.
Next, they claim: “What activity makes up the essence of “bearing fruit”? The preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom.”(Par.9)
This is pure conjecture. What does ‘essence’ mean? According to Google dictionary it means “the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, which determines its character.” Therefore the question arises: Is preaching the good news intrinsic to bearing fruit? A clue is given tucked away in a footnote referenced at the end of the sentence. As a footnote no doubt most readers will overlook it or scan it but not digest its import. It says “While “bearing fruit” also applies to producing “the fruitage of the spirit,” in this article and the next, we focus on producing “the fruit of our lips,” or Kingdom preaching.—Galatians 5:22, 23; Hebrews 13:15.” Therefore they acknowledge that bearing fruit applies to producing the fruitage of the spirit, but for the next two articles they will basically ignore that fact. In fact, they will do far more than that.
What is more, as at the time of writing, among the following twelve study articles to this one, there is not even one dedicated to even one fruit of the spirit, discussing how we can manifest it in normal everyday life. One article deals with compassion but only from the point of view of the preaching work. One non-study article deals with patience, but only from the aspect of waiting for Jehovah to bring Armageddon.
Furthermore, so as to ascertain scripturally what is ‘intrinsic’ in bearing fruit, let us now take a few moments to really examine what John was saying in John 15:1-5,8. To better understand the point Jesus was making we need to read on into verse 9 and 10 as the context. There, John wrote Jesus’ words in John 15:10 as follows: “If you observe my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have observed the commandments of the Father and remain in his love.”
The first thing to note is that Jesus’ true disciples were to observe Jesus commandments. It was therefore observing more than one commandment that was needed. Furthermore as verse 5 highlighted “He that remains in [union with] me, and I in [union with] him, this one bears much fruit; because apart from me you can do nothing at all.” Notice the parallel? Remaining in Christ’s love means that one remains in Christ. To remain in Christ’s love we need to observe his commandments. What are his commandments? Jesus mentions his primary commandment a couple of verses later in John 15:12 when he goes on to say “This is my commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you.” A reasonable conclusion would therefore be that the commandment to love one another as Christ loved us is the essence, the intrinsic nature that determines the character of bearing fruit.
What were other commandments Jesus was referring to this passage from John 15? Both Luke 18:20-23 and Matthew 19:16-22 help us understand what commandments. The Bible accounts record when a rich young man asked Jesus “Teacher, what good must I do in order to get everlasting life?” The reply given was “If, though, you want to enter into life, observe the commandments continually.” The young man asked “Which ones?” “Jesus said, Why, You must not murder, You must not commit adultery, You must not steal, You must not bear false witness, Honour your father and your mother, and You must love your neighbour as yourself.” Do you notice how Jesus emphasised “The preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom” as the primary commandment to “get everlasting life”? No, of course not. It’s not even mentioned. When the rich young man said “I have kept all these; yet what am I lacking?” what was Jesus reply? Go preaching? No, “Jesus said to him: ’If you want to be perfect, go sell your belongings and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.’” The common theme between all these commandments was how to treat others. How to act as a Christian in other words. John 15:17 confirms this by repeating for emphasis “These things I command YOU, that YOU love one another”.
It should be noted that if one exhibits the qualities of Christ, others will observe and see that one is a man of God and those being called forth by God will join with one and the consequence is that by bearing the fruitage of the spirit, one will naturally make disciples.
“Read Luke 8:5-8, 11-15” (Par. 10-12)
1 Corinthians 4:6 warns us: “learn the [rule]: ‘Do not go beyond the things that are written…’”.
With this in mind. let’s examine how they interpret Luke 8:5-8,11-15.
Notice verse 11. Here Jesus starts to interpret his own illustration.
“Now the illustration means this: The seed is the word of God.”
The article agrees with and mentions this. Paragraph 11 then says “Just as the fine soil in Jesus’ illustration retained the seed, we accepted the message and held on to it.” This understanding is in agreement with Luke 8:16. So far so good, but now comes the subtle “going beyond the things written”. We are told “And just as a wheat stalk produces as fruit, not new stalks, but new seed, we are producing as fruit, not new disciples, but new Kingdom seed. How do we produce new Kingdom seed? Each time we in one way or another proclaim the Kingdom message, we duplicate and scatter, so to speak, the seed that was planted in our heart.” (Par. 11) There is no clear support in this passage in Luke 8 to interpret the parable this way. Indeed Jesus certainly did not interpret the fruit as our proclamation of the Kingdom message. The emphasis rather is shown in Luke 8:15 where Jesus said “As for that on the fine soil, these are the ones that, after hearing the word with a fine and good heart, retain it and bear fruit with endurance.” Yes, it is retained, not rescattered as the Organization would like to have it. Instead the fine and good heart is linked with the result of fruitage that endures.
Surely it would make more sense to understand the fruitage as being the Christian qualities that are developed by a receptive heart which then endure as the individual who loves God and Jesus strives to display the fruits of the spirit. The parallel account in Matthew 13:23 talks about “As for the one sown upon the fine soil, this is the one hearing the word and getting the sense of it, who really does bear fruit and produces, this one a hundredfold, that one sixty, the other thirty.” Does not 1 Samuel 15:22 remind us that “Does Jehovah have as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Look! To obey is better than a sacrifice, to pay attention than the fat of rams.” In addition James 1:19-27 is also very helpful to see the important things in which God and Jesus want us to obey rather than the sacrifices the Organization wants us to make so as to serve its purpose.
Paul encouraged the early Christians in Colossians 1:10 “to walk worthily of Jehovah to the end of fully pleasing [him] as YOU go on bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the accurate knowledge of God,” and in discussing fruitage advised the Ephesians in Ephesians 5:8-11 that the “fruitage of the light consists of every sort of goodness and righteousness and truth”.
Therefore when paragraph 12 says “What lesson can we draw from Jesus’ illustrations of the vine and of the sower?” we know the scripturally-backed answer is ‘we need to cultivate the fruits of the spirit’.
Interestingly, the Greek word translated “bringing forth fruit” in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon is understood as “metaphorically, to bear, bring forth, deeds: thus of men who show their knowledge of religion by their conduct, Matthew 13:23; Mark 4:20; Luke 8:15;” Note the plurality of deeds or works which we already commented on and “their conduct”, not ‘by their preaching’.
“How can we endure in bearing fruit?”
Having already established scripturally that the need to “endure in bearing fruit” is not specifically related to the preaching work then the remainder of the article is almost completely irrelevant. However one or two points do bear commenting on.
(Paragraph 13) “Note what he further said in his letter to the Christians in Rome about his feelings toward those Jews: “The goodwill of my heart and my supplication to God for them are indeed for their salvation. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to accurate knowledge.” (Romans 10:1, 2)”
With regard to this passage we should have the same feelings towards all the brothers and sisters who are not yet awakened. Yes, many do have a zeal for God, but lack accurate knowledge. What accurate knowledge was Paul talking about? Was it the need for the preaching work at the expense of the development of Christian qualities and fruits of the spirit as per Galatians 5:22-23? According to the context, it was:
“For because of not knowing the righteousness of God but seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the Law, so that everyone exercising faith may have righteousness.” (Romans 10:3-4,)
Did you notice the problem was because they did not properly understand the righteousness of God, they ended up seeking their own righteousness? These ones did not understand that Christ had ended the law, because that very law showed that no one could gain salvation by works. They needed the free gift highlighted in Ephesians 3:11-12 where Paul wrote “according to the eternal purpose that he formed in connection with the Christ, Jesus our Lord, 12 by means of whom we have this freeness of speech and an approach with confidence through our faith in him” (See also Romans 6:23). The exercising of true faith requires far more than just preaching.
“How can we imitate Paul? First, we strive to maintain a heartfelt desire to find any who might be “rightly disposed for everlasting life.” Second, we supplicate Jehovah in prayer to open the heart of sincere ones. (Acts 13:48; 16:14)” (Par.15)
The only way to truly imitate Paul today in terms of preaching would be to preach the original good news from the Bible directly. Bearing some message purporting to be good news from JW.Org or from the literature published by the Organization or any other religious Organization for that matter is secondhand news at best. The good news direct from God’s word is what Paul preached. This way the importance to our faith of Jesus Christ as the key to the outworking of God’s purpose would be restored to its rightful place. John 5:22-24 contains Jesus reminder that “He that does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”
Additionally, do the angels assist in the preaching work as claimed in paragraph 15 when it says “We also pray to God that angels may direct us to find honest hearted ones. (Matthew 10:11-13; Revelation 14:6)”? The scripture in Revelation 14 is referring to the future coming day of judgement, not the current day and Matthew 10 simply contains Jesus’ instructions to his disciples as to how to treat their territory. Yes, of course God is capable of directing angels so that honest hearted ones learn of the good news, but that presupposes that the message as preached by Jehovah’s Witnesses is the correct good news, and one that no others preach; that God and Jesus are using the Organization to find honest hearted ones; and that God is using the angels in this task right now. Even if just one of those suppositions is incorrect—and we have proof for none of them—then the answer would have to be ‘No, angels will not direct us’.
“Do not let your hand rest”
The final 3 paragraphs are an exhortation not to give up summed up by saying “They notice our neat attire, polite behaviour, and warm smile. In time, our conduct may help some to see that their negative views about us may not be correct after all.”
So it seems that is all that matters at least from the Organization’s point of view. An external show, all of which can be a façade for what the real person is in private. Given the reality of the head-in-the-sand attitude of dealing with instances of child sexual abuse within the Organization, it seems the Organization is going to continue to allow this scandal to grow and blacken the reputation of the individual Witnesses by association.
Yes, we should be noticed not only by our neat attire, polite behaviour and warm smile, but also by our actions towards others being in harmony with the true fruitage, that of the holy spirit, thereby showing that we truly live our faith instead of just preaching it.
Is it not time for the Organization to come clean, and change the emphasis from that of outward appearances (in particular preaching) to that of being real Christians in actions and qualities (displaying the real fruitage, the fruits of the spirit)? This would undoubtedly reduce many of the problems the Organization faces both as an Organization and on an individual witness basis.
Yes, Jehovah loves those who bear fruits of the spirit with endurance as they strive to imitate his son and our mediator Jesus Christ. As 1 Peter 2:21-24 reminds us:
“In fact, to this course you were called, because even Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely. He committed no sin, nor was deception found in his mouth. When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously. He himself bore our sins in his own body upon the stake, in order that we might be done with sins and live to righteousness.”