Even after 3 ½ years of preaching, Jesus still hadn’t revealed all the truth to his disciples. Is there a lesson in this for us in our preaching activity?
John 16:12-13 “I still have many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear them now. However, when that one comes, the spirit of the truth, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own initiative, but what he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things to come.”
He held some things back, because he knew his followers couldn’t handle them at that time. Is it any different for us when preaching to our Jehovah’s Witness (JW) brethren? This is something many of us on our spiritual journey of Bible study have experienced. Wisdom and discernment are developed with patience, endurance and time.
In the historic context, Jesus died and came back to life. Upon his resurrection, he gave his disciples very specific directions at Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8.
“Jesus approached and spoke to them, saying: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”” (Mt 28:18-20)
“But you will receive power when the holy spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, in all Ju·deʹa and Sa·marʹi·a, and to the most distant part of the earth.”” (Ac 1:8)
These passages show that he has power to support his servants on earth.
Our challenge is to share the scriptural truths that we are acquiring through personal bible reading, research, and meditation with those who are in the JW community, whilst avoiding the accusation of apostasy with its potential consequences.
One approach might be to show the clear evidence of the UN membership debacle; the Australian Royal Commission’s (ARC) scandalous revelations; problems of the New World Translation and so forth. Yet, often these clear lines of evidence seem to create further obstacles in the minds of JWs. Let me give you a personal example of where my own approach hit a brick wall. This incident happened about 4 months ago.
A conversation with a brother who enquired about my health, lead to an impasse. I expressed my unhappiness regarding the ARC hearings. The previous day the brother had visited Bethel in London. During lunch, he had met an Elder from the Australian Branch who stated that apostates were causing problems in Australia and that the ARC was victimising Brother Geoffrey Jackson. I asked him if he knew what is the role and function of the ARC. He said no, so I gave a brief overview of the ARC. I explained that apostates have nothing to do with the work of the ARC, and if they did, then all these other institutions reviewed were also being attacked by apostates. I inquired if he had seen the hearings or read the report. The answer was no. I suggested that he should watch the hearings and see how professionally and mildly Brother Jackson was treated, and mentioned some of his eye-brow-raising comments. The brother was flustered and finished the conversation by saying that Jehovah would sort out all problems as this is his organisation.
I wondered what had gone wrong and why I had hit a brick wall. On consideration, I believe it had to do with authority. I had bombarded a brother who was not willing to be open and no scriptures were used.
Authoritative Reference Points
It is important at this stage to try and understand the JW mindset and what it is conditioned to accept as truth. In my years as a zealous JW, I loved the ministry (still do even though I do not join the congregation arrangements) and always had association and hospitality for the brothers. The majority of elders and congregants that I have known over the years do a lot of meeting preparation and could give answers for that week’s meetings. However, very few seem to meditate on personal application. If there was a point that they did not understand, the JW CD-ROM Library would be the only port of call for further research. (Don’t get me wrong, there are a significant minority that I have encountered, elders and congregants, who do serious research outside these parameters.)
This means that to engage JWs in ‘thinking’, we need to learn from our Lord Jesus. Let us consider two accounts of his teachings. The first is Matthew 16:13-17 and the other in Matthew 17:24-27.
Let us start with Matthew 16:13-17
“When he had come into the region of Caes·a·reʹa Phi·lipʹpi, Jesus asked his disciples: “Who are men saying the Son of man is?” 14 They said: “Some say John the Baptist, others E·liʹjah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them: “You, though, who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 In response Jesus said to him: “Happy you are, Simon son of Joʹnah, because flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but my Father in the heavens did.” (Mt 16:13-17)
In verse 13 Jesus throws out a question. This question is open and neutral. Jesus is asking about what they have heard. Immediately, we can picture everyone wanting to share, and hence a variety of answers in verse 14. This also gets people engaged in the discussion as it is easy and neutral.
Then we shift to verse 15. Here the question involves personal perspective. The person has to think, reason and possibly take a risk. There could have been a period of silence that might have felt like an age. Interestingly in verse 16, Simon Peter, after spending 18 months with Jesus, has concluded that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. In verse 17, Jesus commends Peter for his spiritual mindset and that he is blessed by the Father.
The key lessons are as follows:
- Try to ask a question that is neutral to engage people in discussion.
- Once engaged, then ask a personal question to elicit the individual’s perspective. This involves thinking and reasoning.
- Finally, everyone loves sincere commendation that is specific and targeted.
Now let us consider Matthew 17:24-27
“After they arrived in Ca·perʹna·um, the men collecting the two drachmas tax approached Peter and said: “Does your teacher not pay the two drachmas tax?” 25 He said: “Yes.” However, when he entered the house, Jesus spoke to him first and said: “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth receive duties or head tax? From their sons or from the strangers?” 26 When he said: “From the strangers,” Jesus said to him: “Really, then, the sons are tax-free. 27 But that we do not cause them to stumble, go to the sea, cast a fishhook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth, you will find a silver coin. Take that and give it to them for me and you.”” (Mt 17:24-27)
Here the issue is the temple tax. All Israelites over the age of 20 were expected to pay a tax for the upkeep of the tabernacle and later the temple. We can see Peter being put under pressure by the question on whether his master, Jesus, pays it or not. Peter answers ‘yes’, and Jesus notices this as we can see in verse 25. He decides to teach Peter and asks for his thoughts. He gives him a further two questions with a choice of two possible answers. The answer is so obvious, as shown in verse 26 where Jesus points out that the sons are tax-free. In Matthew 16:13-17, Peter has stated that Jesus is the Son of the Living God. The temple belongs to the Living God and if Jesus is the Son, then he is exempt from paying that tax. In verse 27, Jesus says that he will forego this right, so as not to cause offense.
The key lessons are as follows:
- Use questions that are personalised.
- Give choices to help in thinking.
- Build on a person’s previous knowledge and expression of faith.
I have used the above principles in various settings and not received a negative response to date. There are two topics that I normally share and the results to date have been surprisingly positive. One is about Jehovah being our Father and the other is regarding the “Great Crowd”. I will consider the topic of our Father and being part of the family. The subject of the “Great Crowd” will be discussed in a further article.
What Is Our Relationship?
When brothers and sisters visit me, they ask if my missing meetings is due to my health problems or to spiritual issues. I begin by explaining that health has played a major part but that we could also consider the Bible. They are very happy at this stage as it demonstrates that I am the same zealous person they have always known who is passionate about the Bible.
As everyone seems to have an electronic device, I ask them to open the Bible in their JW Library App. I get them to do a search for the word “organisation”. They do so and then look perplexed. I ask if anything is wrong as they are checking to see if there is a mistake. I suggest that they use the American spelling “organization”. Again nothing. The look on their faces is incredible.
I then suggest “let us try the word congregation” and immediately it will show 51 occurrences under ‘top verses’ and 177 under ‘all verses’ tabs. Every person who has followed this process is stunned. I tend to say, “you might want to consider the difference between ‘organisation’ and ‘congregation’ from a biblical perspective.”
I then move them onto 1 Timothy 3:15 where it reads “but in case I am delayed, that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in God’s household, which is the congregation of [the] living God,” I get them to read it a second time and then ask the following questions:
- What is the purpose of the congregation?
- What is the functional arrangement?
The first question they answer pretty quickly, as a pillar and support of truth. I ask where do we normally find a pillar and they say in buildings.
The second question takes a bit longer for them to digest but they will get to God’s household and an additional question might be required on what that means i.e. we are in God’s family. In the Bible, houses often had visible pillars. So, we are all family members in God’s household. I thank them for seeing me as their family member, and ask if they would like to look at a seminal scripture which blew my mind. Everyone has said ‘yes’ to date.
Now I get them to read Matthew 6:9 and ask them what do they see. Everyone says “let your name be sanctified”. I then say what have you missed. The response is “this is how you pray”. I ask them to keep going and we get to “Our Father”.
At this point I read Exodus 3:13 and ask did Moses know God’s name? The answer is always yes. I ask what was he asking about? They say it is about the person of Jehovah and his qualities. At this point we establish what Jehovah goes on to reveal about himself as per verse 14. We go through the Almighty, Law-Giver, Judge, King, Shepherd etc.
I then ask how many times is Jehovah called Father in the Hebrew Scriptures which comprise between 75-80% of the Bible? I show a table that I have created and it is about 15 times. It is never in prayer and mainly to Israel or to Solomon. Moreover, it is in a prophetic sense. I state that is why the 23rd Psalm is so intimate, as the Jews knew the roles of Shepherd and sheep.
Now I ask “what is the revelation that the prophet greater than Moses, that is Jesus, teaches about Jehovah?” I point out that the Jews all knew the name and how it is holy, but Jesus introduces him as not “my Father” but “Our Father”. What is he saying we can have? A Father-child relationship. I ask “is there any greater privilege than to call Jehovah Father?” The answer is always no.
Additionally, I point out that in the Christian Greek Scriptures, in all the extant manuscripts, the divine name is only used four times in the poetic form of ‘Jah’ (see at Revelation Chapter 19). In contrast, the term Father is used 262 times, 180 by Jesus and the rest by the writers of the various books. Finally, the name Jesus means ‘Jehovah is salvation’. In essence, his name is magnified whenever Jesus is mentioned (see Philippians 2:9-11). We can now approach him as ‘Father’ which is very intimate.
I then ask, would they like to know what this would have meant to first century Christians? They always say yes. I then explain the five points that benefit the believer who enters into this relationship with the Father. The five points are:
- Relationship in the ‘unseen’ world
The worship of gods in the ancient world was based on placating them with sacrifices and gifts. Now we know God is ‘our Father’, due to Jesus immense sacrifice for us for all time. This is such a relief. We no longer have to have a morbid fear of the Almighty as the way to intimacy is now established.
2. Relationship in the ‘seen’ world
We all face many difficult challenges in our lives. These can come at any moment and can be continuous. This could be ill health, uncertain employment, daunting financial problems, family issues, end of life challenges and bereavement. There are no easy answers but we know ‘our Father’ will be keenly interested in supporting and sometimes clearing up problems. A child loves a father who holds their hand and feels completely secure. Nothing is more comforting and reassuring. This is the same with ‘our Father’ figuratively holding our hand.
3. Relationship to each other
If God is ‘our Father’, then we are brothers and sisters, a family. We will have joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, ups and downs but we are united forever. How comforting! Also, those we meet on our ministry can get to know their Father. It is our privilege to introduce them. This is such a simple and sweet ministry.
4. We are elevated to royalty
Many suffer from issues of self-worth. If ‘our Father’ is the Sovereign Lord, then we are all princes and princesses of the greatest household in the universe. ‘Our Father’ wants each and every one to act like his Royal Son, our oldest brother. That is to be humble, meek, loving, merciful, kind and always willing to sacrifice for others. We are to always be ready to serve just like the Father and Son. Now each morning we can look in the mirror and see the royalty within us. That is a wonderful way to start any day!
5. Undiminished majesty, power, glory but accessible
In our territory, Muslims often state that by calling Allah, Father, we are bringing him down. This is incorrect. God has provided intimacy and that means we can access the Majesty of Israel, deal with the Almighty God, and be able to reflect his glory by imitating his only-begotten Son. We have intimacy and access but nothing is diminished. Our Father and his Son are not brought low but we are elevated by their action of giving us such intimacy.
At this point, some get emotional. It is overwhelming. I suggest that we finish the discussion for the time being and meditate on these points. Quite a few have taken notes. I then ask if they would like to learn about getting closer to Jesus as seen in Rev 3:20 and/or Ephesians 1:16 by improving our prayers.
The answer is always ‘yes please’. The individuals normally request a follow-up session. I tell them that I appreciate their visits and personal interest in my situation.
In conclusion, this approach seems to work as we use only the points of authority JWs hold to; the NWT Bible, a publication by the “Faithful Slave”; the JW Library App; we do not have to oppose anything in the religion; we are revealing more about Jehovah and Jesus; we are imitating our Lord Jesus’ way of teaching to the best of our ability. The individual can research and meditate on ‘organisation vs. congregation’. No doors are closed and Hebrews 4:12 states “For the word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and [their] marrow, and [is] able to discern thoughts and intentions of [the] heart.” All our brothers and sisters love learning about the Bible and in particular something about Jehovah the Father and his Son that they can apply immediately. Only the Word of God, the Bible and his Son the Living Word, can reach the deepest part of any human being. Let us do our bit and leave the rest to the Son who has all authority and the necessary power.
 All Bible quotes are from NWT 2013 edition unless otherwise stated.
 Exodus 30:13-15: This is what all those will give who pass over to those numbered: a half shekel by the shekel of the holy place. Twenty gerahs equal a shekel. A half shekel is the contribution to Jehovah. Everyone passing over to those registered from twenty years old and upward will give Jehovah’s contribution. The rich should not give more, and the lowly must not give less than the half shekel, in order to give Jehovah’s contribution so as to make atonement for YOUR souls
 For this very reason, God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend—of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground— and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.