[From ws8/16 p. 13 for October 3-9]
“Each one of you must love his wife as he does himself; . . .
the wife should have deep respect for her husband.”—Eph. 5:33
The theme text of Ephesians 5:33 is one of the hidden gems of wisdom to be found in God’s word. I say hidden, because at first glance it might be viewed as an example of a male-dominated societal mentality that demands respect for the man from the woman, without requiring the same in return.
However, both the man and the woman were made in the image of God, and Jehovah does not put down those who are fashioned after him. He loves them. Even in our flawed, sinful state, He still loves us and wants the best for us. Nevertheless, though each sex is made in God’s image, each is different, and it is that difference which is addressed at Ephesians 5:33.
There it counsels the man to love his wife as he does himself. Yet it gives no such counsel to the women, so it would seem. Instead, it requires deep respect from her. While seemingly different, we will see that actually God is giving the same counsel to each sex.
First, why does the man get this counsel?
How often have you heard a man say, “My wife never says she loves me anymore”? This isn’t the type of complaint one expects to hear from a man. On the other hand, women appreciate regular demonstrations of a husband’s continuing affection for them. Thus, while we might find the idea of a man giving his wife a bouquet of flowers as romantic, the reverse will seem odd to us. A man may love his wife, but he needs to demonstrate it regularly by words and deeds that let her know he is thinking of her, that he is considering her wants and needs.
I am speaking in generalities, I know, but they are garnered from a lifetime of experience and observation. Generally speaking women are more mindful of the needs of their man than the reverse. Therefore, if asked, most will say that they do already love their husband as they do themselves. Ah, but are they communicating that love to him in a way he understands?
This has much to do with the way men perceive love, not just from a woman, but from anyone. In most societies, there can be no greater insult than for one man to disrespect another. A woman can tell her husband she loves him, but if she shows him respect in some way, that action will speak louder to the male ear than a dozen words of devotion.
For example, say a wife comes home to find her mate working away under the kitchen sink. What she should say is, “I see you’re fixing that leak. You’re so handy. Thank you so much.” What she shouldn’t say, with a tremor in her voice, is, “Ah, honey, do you think maybe we should just call a plumber?”
So the counsel of Ephesians 5:33 is even-handed. It is saying the same thing to both sexes, but in a way that addresses the differences and needs of each. This is the wisdom of God.
Paragraph 13 demonstrates a common Watchtower method for converting opinion into doctrine. It states in the paragraph that “some have viewed” such things as “willful non-support, extreme physical abuse, and absolute endangerment of one’s spiritual life” as “exceptional situations” which give reason for separation. Yet, the question asks: “What are valid reasons for separation?” The “some have viewed” is removed from the equation and the audience members are expected to give “valid reasons” for separation. So the publishers appear to be merely expressing an opinion, one that is not necessarily even theirs, while simultaneously laying down the law.
This is also another example of the rampant Pharisaism of the 21st Century Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Bible doesn’t list “valid reasons” for separation. First Corinthians 7:10-17 acknowledges that marital separation may occur, but doesn’t give rules to determine who may or may not separate. It leaves it up to the conscience of each one based on the principles expressed elsewhere in Scripture. No need for men to come in and say that a woman can only separate when there is “extreme physical abuse”. What constitutes extreme physical abuse in any case and who determines when the line has been crossed from moderate to severe to extreme in any case? If a husband slaps his wife around once a month, would that be considered “extreme physical abuse”? Are we telling a sister that she cannot leave her husband unless he puts her in the hospital ward?
The moment one starts to make rules, things get silly—and harmful.
A final thought on the message behind paragraph 17.
“Because we are living deep in “the last days,” we are experiencing “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5) Yet, keeping spiritually strong will do much to offset this world’s negative influences. “The time left is reduced,” wrote Paul. “From now on, let those who have wives be as though they had none, . . . and those making use of the world as those not using it to the full.” (1 Cor. 7:29-31) Paul was not telling married couples to neglect their marital duties. In view of the reduced time, however, they needed to give priority to spiritual matters.—Matt. 6:33.” – par 17
The graphic which accompanies this paragraph indicates what The Watchtower means when it says that married couples should “give priority to spiritual matters”. It means they should get out in the door-to-door work of preaching the good news as taught by the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nowadays, this means featuring the colorful printed publications and on-line videos of JW.org. Additionally, any work supporting the Organization itself is seen as seeking first the Kingdom.
While preaching the good news—the actual good news as taught in the Bible—is part of our Kingdom work, it is hardly the be-all-and-end-all of it. In fact, over-emphasis on so-called “kingdom activities” has resulted in marriage break-ups when one mate devotes too much time to supporting activities which JW.org promotes as ways to please God and gain his favor. What did Jesus really mean when he gave us the counsel found at Matthew 6:33?
Let’s break down the logic advanced in paragraph 17.
First, we are told we are deep in the last days and have critical times to deal with. (Note, not “difficult”, but “critical”) For support, 2 Timothy 3:1-5 is cited. However, the magazine fails to include verses 6 thru 9 which show that these features of the last days appear within the Christian congregation. Indeed, they have been appearing since the first century. (Compare Romans 1:28-32.) Witnesses believe 2 Timothy has only been fulfilled since 1914, but that is not the case. Thus we need to modify our thinking. The urgency expressed in the second scripture quoted—1 Co 7:29-31—has to fit into a framework that encompasses 2,000 years of Christian history. Paul’s words to the Corinthians and to Timothy had their fulfillment in the early years of Christianity and continue to be fulfilled down to our day. So the urgency isn’t that the end is upon us, for we cannot know when the end will come. Rather, the urgency has to do with the brevity of our life span and the fact that we have to take advantage of the time we have left individually.
The NWT likes to use the phrase “critical times” rather than the more accurate “difficult times”, because it ramps the stress level up a notch. If a family member is in the hospital and the doctor says that his situation is “critical,” you know that is much more serious than simply “difficult.” So, if the situation in the last days is no longer just difficult, but critical, one wonders what comes after critical. Fatal?
What was Jesus really saying when he told his disciples to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and not worry about accumulating wealth beyond the day’s needs? He was grooming his disciples to become kings and priests, to rule over, heal, judge and reconcile countless millions who would be resurrected to life on earth under the kingdom of God. To do so, these would have to be declared righteous by God. But that declaration doesn’t come automatically. We have to maintain faith in the name of Jesus and follow in his footsteps, carrying a metaphorical cross or stake denoting our willingness to abandon all things and even suffer shame for the sake of his name. (He 12:1-3; Lu 9:23)
Unfortunately, in their desire to present a fine front to the elders by turning in a good field service report, Witnesses often forget the more important things such as caring for the weak and needy in their tribulation. Being there for one who is suffering might mean taking precious time away from the preaching work, thus not making one’s time. So the weak, needy, depressed and suffering ones are overlooked in favor of the preaching work. I have seen this occur far too often for it to be the exception to the rule. Such an attitude may present a form of Godly devotion, but it is not in fact seeking God’s righteousness, nor does it advance the true interests of God’s kingdom. (2Ti 3:5) It may advance the interests of the Organization, which in the eye of many is synonymous with the Kingdom of God, but is Jehovah such a hard taskmaster that he cares little for those who fall by the wayside just so the statistical report looks better at year end?
When Paul gave his excellent counsel to married couples, he started off by saying, “Be in subjection to one another.” (Eph 5:21) That means that we put the interests of our mate as well as our brothers and sisters in the congregation above our own. However, subjecting ourselves to artificial requirements like hourly quotas…not so much? In fact, you’ll find nothing in Scripture to support the idea. It is from men.
We all do well to ponder these passages and see how they might apply in our own lives:
“. . .And this is what I continue praying, that YOUR love may abound yet more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment; 10 that YOU may make sure of the more important things, so that YOU may be flawless and not be stumbling others up to the day of Christ, 11 and may be filled with righteous fruit, which is through Jesus Christ, to God’s glory and praise.” (Php 1:9-11)
“. . .The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.” (Jas 1:27)
“. . .yes, when they came to know the undeserved kindness that was given me, James and Ceʹphas and John, the ones who seemed to be pillars, gave me and Barʹna·bas the right hand of sharing together, that we should go to the nations, but they to those who are circumcised. Only we should keep the poor in mind. This very thing I have also earnestly endeavored to do.” (Ga 2:9, 10)