Twice I started to write a post about this week’s Watchtower study (w12 6/15 p. 20 “Why Put Jehovah’s Service First?”) and twice I decided to trash what I wrote. The problem with writing a commentator piece on an article like this is that it is difficult to do without sounding like you’re anti-zeal for Jehovah. What finally motivated me to put pen to paper, so to speak, were two separate e-mails—one from a friend and another from a close relative—as well as comments made in our own meeting. From the e-mails it is evident that an article like this induces strong feelings of guilt. These individuals are doing a fine job of serving God. We are not talking about marginal Christians here. In fact these e-mails are merely the two latest representations in a long line of guilt-ridden missives from friends and family who compare themselves to others and come up feeling inadequate and unworthy. Why should convention parts and printed articles intended to motivate to love and fine works end up inducing such guilt? It doesn’t help the situation when well-meaning brothers and sisters make ill-considered comments during the study of articles like this one. Service to God is often reduced down to a matter of good scheduling and self-abnegation. It seems that all one has to do to please God and get eternal life is live like a pauper and devote 70 hours a month to the preaching work. A de facto formula for salvation.
This is nothing new, of course. It is a very old problem of imposing one’s personal opinion on the life course of another. One sister I know very well started pioneering in her youth because the speaker on the district convention program said that if one could pioneer and wasn’t, it was questionable whether one could expect to survive Armageddon. So she did, and her health gave out, and so she stopped pioneering, and wondered why Jehovah didn’t answer her prayers just like they said he would on the convention platform in those wonderful interviews with real live, successful pioneers.
It may well be that Jehovah did answer her prayers. But the answer was No. Yes! No to pioneering. Of course, to suggest such a thing in the face of an article like we just studied is likely to elicit expressions of horror. This particular sister never pioneered again. Yet to date she has helped more than 40 individuals reach baptism. What is wrong with this picture? The problem is that this type of article gives all those who are “righteous over much” an opportunity to beat their drums with little fear of being set straight, given that anything less than enthusiastic support for every point made in the article comes across as disloyalty to the leading of the so-called faithful slave.
We are supposed to encourage pioneering and the pioneer spirit at every turn. If one fails to give less than enthusiastic support, or should one raise his hand and say “That’s all well and good, but…”, one is in danger of being branded a negative influence or worse.
Therefore, at risk of being branded a dissenter, allow us to balance the scales a little bit—or at least, attempt to.
The article opens with the following premise from paragraph 1: “Jehovah, I want you to be my Master in every aspect of my life. I am your servant. I want you to determine how I should spend my time, what my priorities should be, and how I should use my resources and talents.”
Okay, let’s agree that that is essentially true. After all, if Jehovah asks us to sacrifice our firstborn, as he did of Abraham, we should be willing to do so. The trouble with this statement is that throughout the article we then presume to teach how Jehovah wants each one of us to spend our time, what priorities he wants each of us to have, and how he wants us to use our resources and talents. Consider that we cite such examples as Noah, Moses, Jeremiah, and the apostle Paul. Each of these men knew exactly how Jehovah wanted him to spend his time, set his priorities, and use his resources and talents. How so? Because Jehovah spoke directly to each one of them. He told them explicitly what he wanted them to do. As for the rest of us, he gives us principles and expects us to work out how they apply to us personally.
If at this point, you are heating up the branding iron, allow me to say this: I am not discouraging pioneering. What I am saying is that the idea that everyone should be pioneering, circumstances permitting, appears to me to be inconsistent with what the Bible says. And what does “circumstances permitting” mean, anyways? If we are willing to get draconian, wouldn’t just about everyone be able to change their circumstances so as to permit pioneering?
First of all, the Bible says nothing at all about pioneering; nor is there anything in the Bible to support the idea that an arbitrary number of hours dedicated to the preaching work each month—a number that has been set by humans not God—somehow ensures one that he is putting Jehovah first? (The monthly requirement started out at 120 then dropped to 100 then to 83 and finally now sits at 70—almost half the original number.) We are not disputing that pioneering has helped expand the preaching work in our day. It has its place in Jehovah’s earthly organization. We have many service roles. Some are defined in the Bible. Most are the result of decisions made by the modern-day administration. However, it seems to be a misleading over-simplification to suggest that performing any of these roles, including pioneering, indicates we are fulfilling our dedication to God. Likewise, not choosing to make a life-style out of one of these roles doesn’t automatically imply we are failing to live up to our dedication to God.
The Bible does speak of being whole souled. But it leaves it up to the individual as to how he or she will demonstrate that devotion to God. Are we over-emphasizing one particular type of service? The fact that so many are discouraged following these talks and articles would suggest that perhaps we are. Jehovah rules his people through love. He does not motivate through guilt. He does not want to be served because we feel guilty. He wants us to serve because we love him. He doesn’t need our service, but he wants our love.
Look at what Paul has to say to the Corinthians:
(1 Corinthians 12:28-30) . . .And God has set the respective ones in the congregation, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then powerful works; then gifts of healings; helpful services, abilities to direct, different tongues. 29 Not all are apostles, are they? Not all are prophets, are they? Not all are teachers, are they? Not all perform powerful works, do they? 30 Not all have gifts of healings, do they? Not all speak in tongues, do they? Not all are translators, are they?
Now factor in what Peter has to say:
(1 Peter 4:10) . . .In proportion as each one has received a gift, use it in ministering to one another as fine stewards of God’s undeserved kindness expressed in various ways.
If not all are apostles; if not all are prophets; if not all are teachers; then it follows that not all are pioneers. Paul is not talking about personal choices. He’s not saying that all are not apostles because some lack the faith or commitment to reach out. From the context, it is clear he is saying that each one is what he/she is because of the gift God has given him/her. The real sin, based on what Peter adds to the argument, is for one to fail to use his/her gift to minister to others.
So let’s look at what we said in the opening paragraph of our study keeping in mind the words of both Paul and Peter. It is true that Jehovah is telling us how he wants us to use our time, talents, and resources. He has given us gifts. These gifts in the modern-day take the form of our individual talents and resources and abilities. He does not want us all to be pioneers any more than he wanted all the first century Christians to be apostles or prophets or teachers. What he does want is for us to use the gifts he has given each of us to the best of our ability and to put the interests of the Kingdom first in our lives. What that means is something that each of us must work out for ourselves. (…keep working out YOUR own salvation with fear and trembling…” – Philippians 2:12)
It is true that all of us should be as active as we can be in the preaching work. Some of us have a gift for preaching. Others do it because it is a requirement, but their talents or gifts lie elsewhere. In the first century, not all were teachers, but all taught; not all had the gifts of healing, but all ministered to those in need.
We should not be making our brothers feel guilty because they choose not make a career of pioneering. Where does this come from? Is there a basis for it in the Bible? When you read God’s holy Word in the Greek Scriptures, do you feel guilty? It is likely that you will feel motivated to do more after reading the Scriptures, but it will be a motivation born out of love, not guilt. In Paul’s many writings to the Christian congregations of his day, where do we find exhortations to put in more hours in the door-to-door preaching work? Is he extolling all the brothers to be missionaries, apostles, full-time evangelizes? He does encourage Christians to do their utmost, but the specifics are left up to the individual to work out. From Paul’s writings, it is clear that a cross section of the first century Christians in any town or city was similar to what we would see today, with some being extremely zealous in the preaching work while others were less so, but ministered more in other ways. These same ones all shared the hope of ruling with Christ in the heavens.
Can we not write these articles in a way that minimizes feelings of guilt without losing the force of the motivation to always strive to reach out for more service? Can we not incite to fine works through love rather than guilt. The means does not justify the end in Jehovah’s organization. Love must be our only motivator.