[From ws17/7 p. 7 – August 28-September 3]
“Make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous riches.”— Lu 16:9
(Occurrences: Jehovah=15; Jesus=21)
This week’s Watchtower study opens by demonstrating that there are many poor on earth, “even in affluent lands”,[i] but that by the use of what Jesus called “the unrighteous riches” we can make friends with Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. (Luke 16:9)
We’ll begin with paragraph 7 of the study article:
“The verses that follow the illustration connect the use of “unrighteous riches” with faithfulness to God. Jesus’ point was that we can ‘prove ourselves faithful’ with, or control,[ii] those riches once we obtain them. How so?” – par. 7
“How so”, indeed? The Bible say:
“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)
So support for the needy is an approve part of our worship. Even in the matter of preaching the good news, this aspect of support for the poor is not to be overlooked:
“. . ., 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. 10 Only we should keep the poor in mind. This very thing I have also earnestly endeavored to do.” (Ga 2:9, 10)
Paul’s earnest endeavor was not just to preach to the nations, but to “keep the poor in mind.”
Notice that the pillars in the Jerusalem congregation—the alleged governing body[iii] of the first century—didn’t ask Paul to make sure some funds were sent back to them. They only asked that he keep the poor in mind.
Did the first century Christians live up to this standard? It seems so. For instance, they organized lists of needy ones so that none would be overlooked and go wanting.
“A widow is to be put on the list if she is not less than 60 years old, was the wife of one husband,” (1Ti 5:9)
Things didn’t always work out right the first time, but adjustments were made because love was the motivating force behind such charitable works as demonstrated by this account from the very start of the Christian congregation:
“Now in those days when the disciples were increasing, the Greek-speaking Jews began complaining against the Hebrew-speaking Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution. 2 So the Twelve called the multitude of the disciples together and said: “It is not right for us to leave the word of God to distribute food to tables. 3 So, brothers, select for yourselves seven reputable men from among you, full of spirit and wisdom, that we may appoint them over this necessary matter; 4 but we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 What they said was pleasing to the whole multitude, and they selected Stephen, a man full of faith and holy spirit, as well as Philip, Prochʹo·rus, Ni·caʹnor, Tiʹmon, Parʹme·nas, and Nic·o·laʹus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 They brought them to the apostles, and after praying, they laid their hands on them. 7 Consequently, the word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples kept multiplying very much in Jerusalem; and a large crowd of priests began to be obedient to the faith.” (Ac 6:1-7)
Can there be any doubt that these early Christians were making friends of Jehovah and Jesus with the unrighteous riches? In fact, acts of mercy are recorded in God’s great ledger and when our own judgment is due, the accounts in our favor are read out. (Mt 6:1-4) That is why the Bible says that “mercy exults triumphantly over judgment.” (James 2:13)
So with all this Bible evidence to fall back on, what is the only way the article promotes by which we can use our funds to make friends of God and Christ?
“An obvious way to prove ourselves faithful with our material things is by contributing financially to the worldwide preaching work that Jesus foretold would take place.” – par. 8
In other words, as the box at the end of this article demonstrates, we make friends with God and Christ by sending money into JW.org. We can even do this online for our convenience, or by using one of the credit card kiosks now found at Assembly Halls.
This is touted as financial support of the “worldwide preaching work”. Now, spreading the good news is a noble task, but only if we are spreading the Good News of the Christ, not some human distortion of that message. Doing the latter would be very bad for us. (Gal 1:6-9) Providing some monetary assistance to those who are preaching the actual good news as defined in Scripture is laudable. Paul said that the worker is worthy of his wages. (1Ti 5:18) So there is a Bible basis for such support at the local level. He even accepted funds from some congregations so that he could continue ministering to others; yet he also worked for a living so as not to be a burden to the local brothers. (2Co 11:7-9) Therefore, an argument can be made for contributing funds to support the preaching of the good news, but is that what Jesus had in mind when speaking of using our money to make friends in heavenly places? If so, then we should be able to find evidence that funds were sent to Jerusalem on a regular basis since the Organization teaches that there was a first century governing body directing the work from there.
Alas, no such evidence exists. The only reference to monies sent to Jerusalem pertains to famine relief on one occasion. (Ac 11:27-30)
Clearly, this falls into the category of helping the needy and the poor, not in supporting the work of an organization.
Given the preponderance of Bible evidence that friends in heavenly places are made when we use our unrighteous riches to help the needy, we would expect the Organization publishing this article to at least draw our attention to that optional use of our resource. They may feel that an obvious way to prove ourselves faithful is to contribute money to the organization, but surely an even more obvious way would be to do good to those poor and needy in our vicinity and “especially toward those related to us in the faith”. (Gal 6:10)
Yet, no mention is made in this article of any other way of using the unrighteous riches other than to donate funds to JW.org.
Sometimes we speak volumes by what we do not say, and our true heart motivation is shown by what we do not endorse.
Robbing the Children
When Paul accepted donations from some congregations, he viewed it as robbing them. Apparently, he did it out of necessity because the Corinthians needed his help and that overrode his own reluctance to take money from others.
“. . .Other congregations I robbed by accepting provisions in order to minister to YOU; 9 and yet when I was present with YOU and I fell in need, I did not become a burden to a single one, for the brothers that came from Mac·e·doʹni·a abundantly supplied my deficiency. . . .” (2Co 11:8, 9)
From this we can see that he preferred to pay his own way, even though he was slaving for others. We can also see that brothers from Macedonia willingly helped out to keep him in the ministry. But there is no evidence that he guilted anyone into giving him money, nor that he took from the needy nor from little children.
What a contrast we paint today. You may remember the infamous video where little Sophia considers using her meager allowance to treat herself to an ice cream cone, but instead donates all she has to support JW.org. Paragraph 8 treats us to another young girl—this time a real one—who denied herself toys so that she could donate money to the organization. Would Paul have approved? He had the mind of Christ, so let’s look at how Christ viewed taking funds from those who had none.
“And he sat down with the treasury chests in view and began observing how the crowd was dropping money into the treasury chests, and many rich people were dropping in many coins. 42 Now a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins of very little value. 43 So he called his disciples to him and said to them: “Truly I say to you that this poor widow put in more than all the others who put money into the treasury chests. 44 For they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her want, put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”” (Mr 12:41-44)
Aha! Some would say. See! Jesus approved of and praised those giving their last cent to the temple. These verses are often quoted in the publications not only of JW.org, but of other churches, whenever there is an appeal for donations. However, we always overlook the context. Let’s go back to the verses leading up to this account.
“. . .And in his teaching he went on to say: “Beware of the scribes who want to walk around in robes and want greetings in the marketplaces 39 and front seats in the synagogues and the most prominent places at evening meals. 40 They devour the houses of the widows, and for show they make long prayers. These will receive a more severe judgment.”” (Mr 12:38-40)
He is using what he has observed as a real-life example of the very thing for which he has just condemned the religious leaders. This women, likely believing that by giving money she will be blessed, has given all she had to live on. Is that not a prime example of ‘devouring the houses of the widows’?
The organization’s shameless, guilt-driven appeal for money, even from little children, does not reflect the view the Apostle Paul had, but is more akin with the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees Jesus condemned.
Give, but Willingly and without Compulsion
Of course, we are not criticising the spirit of generosity which moves sincere Christians to lovingly support those more active in the preaching of the real good news. Nevertheless, it is so easy for hypocritical individuals to exploit the generosity of others. For example:
“Those who have this world’s means but cannot share in the full-time ministry or move abroad have the satisfaction of knowing that their donated funds support the ministry of others.” – par. 11
Sounds good, does it not? But the reality appears to be very different. While completing their multimillion-dollar lakeside home in the countryside near Warwick, New York, the Governing Body slashed the ranks of Special Pioneers around the world. So were ‘donated funds supporting the ministry of others’? Really, which is more important: A resort-like headquarters, or funding pioneers who can go to untouched territories were few can afford to live and find work?
Perhaps the members of the Governing Body and the other members of headquarters staff should prayerfully ponder what they have written in paragraph 12:
“Another way to gain friendship with Jehovah is by minimizing our involvement with the commercial world and using our circumstances to seek “true” riches. Abraham, a man of faith in ancient times, obediently left prosperous Ur in order to live in tents and pursue his friendship with Jehovah. (Heb. 11:8-10) He always looked to God as the Source of true wealth, never seeking material advantages that would indicate a lack of trust. (Gen. 14:22, 23) Jesus encouraged this sort of faith, telling a rich young man: “If you want to be perfect, go sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come be my follower.” (Matt. 19:21) That man lacked faith like that of Abraham, but others have shown implicit trust in God.” – par. 12
Jesus said this about the scribes and Pharisees:
“They bind up heavy loads and put them upon the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger.” (Mt 23:4)
Ponder those words as you consider this statement:
“Jesus’ followers today, including an army of over one million full-time ministers, apply Paul’s counsel to the extent that their circumstances allow.” – par. 13
From the convention platform, in the weekly meetings, and in the publications, Witnesses are constantly pressured to do more and more. This article is no different. Paragraph 14 encourages witnesses to sell their businesses by citing the example of one couple who sold all they owned to help in the construction of the Warwick construction project. While the organization is no longer willing to fund special pioneers, it is more than willing to encourage others to sell their belongings and self-fund their volunteer work in constructing the JW.org real estate empire and in pioneering to grow the ranks of the Organization. Do the leaders of the Organization share in carrying this burden?
A good friend was the congregation secretary for the Bethel congregation in my country. He was shocked to find that members of the branch committee routinely put in field service reports showing hours in the single digits. These men with their wives had regular return visits but rarely, if ever, worked from house to house.
Again, let us emphasize that we are not encouraging people to pursue materialistic goals. Were that the case, we would not be spending time writing articles and supporting these web sites. We’d be out making money. What we are saying is that if you are going to use your funds to make friends with God and Jesus, you need to make sure you’re supporting work that God and Jesus approve of. If your money goes to supporting a system that does not bring honor to our Lord Jesus Christ, will he be your friend?
For instance, in paragraph 15 we learn of a sister who sacrificed greatly to preach in Albania. According to the article, Jehovah blessed her fine works and she “has helped over 60 individuals to the point of dedication.” What is “the point of dedication”? Did Jesus say, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations, helping them to the point of dedication in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit,” (Mt 28:19) The vow of dedication is not a Bible teaching.[iv] In fact, Jesus condemns the making of vows. (Mt 5:33-37)
Imagine sacrificing your livelihood to proselytize only to learn one day that you were just helping people to convert from one false religion to another.
The article finishes by misapplying one last Scripture.
“This is just part of the priceless inheritance for those who make friends in heaven. The rejoicing of Jehovah’s earthly worshippers will know no bounds when they hear Jesus’ words: “Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.”—Matt. 25:34.” – par. 18
Friends don’t inherit. Children inherit. Matthew 25:34 applies to the children of God, so if you are of the “Other Sheep” as defined by the Governing Body and thus accept that you not one of God’s children, but only his friend, you have to accept that this verse does not apply to you. Friends don’t inherit from a Father they don’t have. However, if you’re willing to accept the kindly offer Jehovah has made to adopt you as a child, then rejoice. Come and inherit the Kingdom prepared for you.
[i] See par. 1
[ii] This sentence seems poorly constructed, such that it is unclear what is meant by “or control” in this context. Are we to use funds not our own, but which we control (such as estate funds) to make friends with God and Christ?
[iii] There is no evidence to support this understanding of a first century governing body. For more information, see A First Century Governing Body – Examining the Scriptural Basis.