[From ws2/16 p. 13 for April 11-17]
“Close friendship with Jehovah belongs to those who fear him.”—Ps. 25:14
Can you be your father’s son without being your father’s friend?
At its core, the father-child relationship is biological. Emotions and feelings don’t play a role in establishing and maintaining that relationship. For instance, a child might detest his father—many children do—yet he continues to be his father. Nor is friendship with a parent required. It is desirable to be sure, but its absence does not break the familial relationship. Even when family relations are ideal, individuals often find that they are much closer to their friends than to any of their family members. (Pr 17:17; 18:24) We’ve all heard the adage, often said with wry regret, that “you can choose your friends, but not your family.”
Despite all this, the Bible uses human relationship types as metaphors to help us understand aspects of the type of relationship we should and can have with God. Still, we have to be careful not to turn such metaphors into more than they are intended to be. We cannot understand the breadth, width, and height of being a child of God simply by looking at the father-child relationship in humans. For example, while I can continue as my earthly father’s son, even if we hate each other, can I expect Jehovah to adopt me if I hate him? And if my conduct repels God, can I still become His son? (Pr 15:29)
Adam was God’s son, but when he sinned, he lost that relationship. We might suggest that by virtue of being God’s creation he remained God’s son, but we are imposing a human view on things. If such were the case, then we are all God’s children by virtue of our biological heritage. Given that, we should all expect to be God’s heirs and gain everlasting life. After all, biological parentage is viewed in many countries as grounds for a claim on the estate of the parent. Yet, this is not so in our relationship with Jehovah. To become his heirs, we must be adopted. (Ro 8:15) A man does not need to adopt his own children. He adopts the children of another or he adopts children who have no father. The fact that God offers us the honor of becoming his adopted children indicates that we have all started out as orphans.[i]
Whom does Jehovah adopt as children?
He adopts those he loves and those who love him in return. It could be argued, therefore, that friendship (a relationship based on mutual love) is intrinsic to the whole process of becoming a child of God. But friendship is not the sum total of the process as this WT article implies. Our relationship with God doesn’t stop at friendship. Why not? Because we started out as children of God and that is the state to which we naturally wish to return. We want to belong to a family—God’s family. Or are we to believe that any human yearns to be an orphan, even if beloved?
To be fair, the teaching of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is not really denying us a place in God’s family as children. What they are saying is that to get there, we have to be patient; we have to wait a thousand years. In the meantime, we can still be friends with God.
Is that what the Scriptures actually teach?
What Is Friendship with God?
Before going further, let us examine the whole idea of being God’s friend. While on the surface, it seems like a good thing, we have to bear in mind that friendship describes a human relationship. Using it to describe our relationship with God could lead us to conclusions which are not altogether accurate. For example, consider those you call friend. Do you worship any of them? Do you submit your will to any one of them, granting him or her absolute obedience? Do you have a friend whom you address as Lord and Master?
The Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is trying to turn “friend” into an all-encompassing term not only to replace “adopted child”, but to describe the whole of our relationship with God. Is there a Scriptural basis for this? Is the word ‘friend’ up to the task?
The Article’s Reasoning Examined
Paragraph 1 opens with this statement:
The word in 2 Chronicles 20:7 is aheb which means, “to love” and which can be translated as friend, but also as “loved one” or “beloved”. (Incidentally, the English word for friend is derived from Dutch vriend and German Freund, both coming from an Indo-European root meaning ‘to love,’)
The Hebrew word in this verse that many translations of the Bible render as ‘friend’ is O’hav’i. It comes from the root word aw-hav meaning ‘to have an affection.’
James 2:23 is a quote from the Hebrew Scriptures, but if we look at the Greek, the word translated as ‘friend’ is philos which is related to phileó, one of the four Greek words for love.
In conclusion, we must acknowledge that any one of these verses could also be translated accurately as ‘beloved’ or ‘loved one.’
Daniel was referred to as someone “greatly beloved.” So we could consider him a friend of God, could we not? Romans 1:7 uses the phrase “beloved ones” (Gr. agapétos) to refer to the children of God. Would that not also enable us to call them friends of God? If being God’s beloved is the same as being his friend, then why aren’t Bible translations littered with countless references to God’s faithful servants as his ‘friends’? Could it be because the English word lacks the full range of meaning needed to adequately describe the loving relationship which the faithful men and women of old had with the Creator?
We do not describe our friends as our “beloved ones” in English. Would you call your BFF, your beloved? When I was a young man, I wouldn’t even tell a friend that I loved him. The best society allowed us back then was “I like you, man”, or “You’re cool”, at which point, we’d give each other a punch on the shoulder. The fact is that ‘friend’ just doesn’t cut it in describing the depth of love God has for his faithful ones.
When Jesus wanted to describe a type of love that was foreign to the cultural mindset of his day, he seized on agapé, a rarely used word, to express new concepts. Perhaps we should show similar boldness and make freer use of ‘beloved’ or similar terms to better encompass what the love of God means to us.
Nevertheless, the problem we should have with the Organization’s use of ‘friend’ in this article (and elsewhere throughout the publications) isn’t that it’s a poor word choice. The real problem is that they are using it as a substitute for another relationship—the intimate and special relationship the Divine Father has with His children.
If you are truly a child of God, you are also a beloved of God (a friend of God, if you prefer). A child of God is someone God loves and who loves Him in return. Jehovah doesn’t adopt his enemies. Yet, with Him there are only two options: friend or foe. (Mt 12:30) There is no third category; no beloved ones who are unworthy of adoption.
The Organization would have us believe that we can be God’s friends without being his children. They make friendship into a stand-alone relationship. They point to Abraham as proof, claiming that he was not a child of God, because according to WT teaching, the benefits of Jesus’ ransom—as it applies to the adoption as children of God—cannot apply retroactively. Yet, when this article in its closing paragraph refers to the “great cloud of witnesses” as friends of God, it overlooks the fact that the reason for their faith was that they were reaching out for a “better resurrection”. (He 11:35) There are only two resurrections, and the better of the two is that reserved for the children of God. (John 5:28; Re 20:4-6) This implies that Jehovah will grant such ones a retroactive adoption as his children.
The evidence is that the Watchtower isn’t using the word ‘friend’ as a way of describing a loving relationship so much as a category designation. On the left we have the ‘children of God’, and on the right, the ‘friends of God’.
Given that, there is something paradoxical about the writer’s choice of Psalm 25:14 as a theme text.
“Close friendship with Jehovah belongs to those who fear him.”—Ps. 25:14 NWT
“The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.” (Ps 25:14 AKJB)
In an article obviously targeting a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses who, according to JW theology, are not in a covenant relationship with God, how odd to select a theme text that cannot apply to them. If anything, this Psalm must apply to the anointed of God, those who were shown the New Covenant by Jesus Christ.
Sitting in the Seat of God
There is always an agenda behind the articles these days. Consider the penultimate paragraph of this week’s study:
“Like Mary, we may at times find that we receive assignments from Jehovah that seem challenging. Like her, let us humbly put ourselves in Jehovah’s hands, trusting in him to act in our best interests. We can imitate Mary’s faith by listening carefully to what we are learning about Jehovah and his purposes, by meditating on spiritual truths, and by joyously telling others about what we have learned.”
I have a good friend who received one of these challenging “assignments from Jehovah”. He served as a special pioneer in a remote region of northern Canada. After years of slugging it out in that isolated environment with inadequate nutrition, he had a nervous breakdown. Since he viewed the assignment as from God and given that Jehovah does not test us beyond what we can bear, his failure had to be his own fault. (Ja 1:13; 1Co 10:13) This has tormented him for years. Yet his story is not an isolated one. How many thousands have been burdened with guilt thinking that they let God down. And all for nothing.
On the rare occasions that Jehovah handed out assignments in the Bible, he spoke directly to the man or women involved. Mary received an angelic messenger, for instance.
The Governing Body would have us believe that Jehovah is speaking through them; that when we get an assignment to serve the Organization in some way, it comes from Jehovah and is communicated to us through his appointed channel—those who claim to be his “faithful and discreet slave”.
We can therefore see that the obedience and eager compliance the article is getting us to imitate through its use of examples such as Hezekiah, Ruth and Mary, is really not to God, but to those who would sit in His seat and rule in His stead.
While reading John 11 today, I came across this relevant passage:
“So his sisters sent a message to him, saying: “Lord, see! the one you have affection for is sick.”” (Joh 11:3)
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazʹa·rus.” (Joh 11:5)
“After he said these things, he added: “Lazʹa·rus our friend has fallen asleep, but I am traveling there to awaken him.”” (Joh 11:11)
When expressing the relationship which Lazarus had with the entire group of disciples, Jesus referred to him as “our friend”. However, John described the personal relationship Jesus had with Lazarus and his two sisters as one of love, using the Greek agapaó. He also records the sister’s plea which uses a different Greek word for love, phileó. Why didn’t the sister’s just say, ‘Lord, see! you friend is sick’? Why didn’t John just say, ‘Now Jesus was a friend of Martha and her sister and Lazarus’? Philos is the Greek for friend and that is clearly what the sisters had in mind, but John shows that the love Jesus had for Lazarus, while including phileó, went beyond it. Really, only by combining phileó with agapaó can we understand Jesus’ special relationship with Lazarus. The word friend, as we use it in our modern tongue is not encompassing enough to express this level of love.
Menrov in his comment gives us the view that the Hebrew term translated as ‘friend’ with regard to Abraham denotes something special, more than simple friendship. If ” covenantal partner” is what is indicated, then this helps us understand why Abraham alone is referred to as “friend of God” even though countless others were also beloved by God. Indeed, if this is what is being expressed, and Ps 25:14 seems to support that, then anointed Christians who are in a covenantal partnership with Jehovah are truly God’s friends. This really rules out the JW Other Sheep as God’s friends since they are viewed by the Governing Body as a class of Christian outside of the New Covenant arrangement.
[i] Paul used the fact that God gave us all life to appeal to unbelievers by quoting one of their poets who said, “For we are also his progeny.” (Acts 17:28) By that he was not undoing the truth he came to teach those pagans. Instead he was establishing a common ground on which to teach them about the adoption as God’s children.