[This post includes an audio file which will allow you to listen to a reading of the Watchtower review. Some have asked for this since they want to use the time they spend driving to and from work more effectively. We are also exploring the possibility of setting up a podcast for the content of our articles.]
[From ws9/17 p. 23 –November 13-19]
“The word of God is alive and exerts power.”—He 4:12
(Occurrences: Jehovah=24; Jesus=1)
It is undeniable that God’s Word exerts power and can transform lives. However, let us pause for a moment and think about what this article is implying. Are we suggesting that our particular understanding of God’s Word is what transforms lives? Are we saying that the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is what transforms lives? Let us consider the question for the first paragraph to answer these questions:
- “Why can there be no doubt that God’s Word exerts power? (See opening picture.)”
Now let us look at the opening picture:
Is God’s word the only thing that is transforming this man’s life? Let’s have a look at the first paragraph:
AS Jehovah’s people, we have no doubt that God’s word, his message to humans, “is alive and exerts power.” (Heb. 4:12) Many of us are living proof of the Bible’s power to change lives. Some of our brothers and sisters were formerly thieves, drug addicts, or sexually immoral. Others enjoyed a measure of success in this system of things but felt that something was missing in their life. (Eccl. 2:3-11) Time and again, individuals who seemed hopelessly lost found their way to the path of life by means of the Bible’s transforming power. You have likely read and greatly enjoyed a number of these experiences as published in The Watchtower in the series “The Bible Changes Lives.” And you have seen that even after accepting the truth, Christians continue to make spiritual progress with the help of the Scriptures. – par. 1
If you are reading this for the first time, would you not draw the conclusion that these transformations are really only possible when the Word of God is wielded by Jehovah’s Witnesses? Is it the Word of God that exerts power and transforms lives, or is it the Word of God in the hands of one particular religious affiliation that has the power to change lives?
Try a little experiment: do a Google search on “Baptists transform lives”. (Drop the quotes when entering the search criteria.) Now try it again substituting “Pentecostals” for “Baptists”. You can run the search with “Catholics”, “Mormons”, or pretty much any religious denomination you care to try. What you get are inspiring stories of people whose lives have been transformed for the better by their association with a particular religious organization.
The fact is, one does not need the truth from God’s Word to be free from harmful practices such as a life of crime, promiscuity, or drug addiction. Certainly, God’s Word has great power to affect change in a person by freeing him from detrimental habits, but that is not the message of the writer of Hebrews. The transformation he speaks of goes far beyond “cleaning up one’s act”. In fact, the real message of Hebrews chapter 4 might prove very distressing for people in any denomination of Christendom. However, before we get into that, let us consider the message under the next subtitle.
In Our Personal Life
The following counsel is good, but something is missing. Consider:
If God’s Word is to have an effect on us, we need to read it regularly—daily if possible. – par. 4
In addition to reading the Bible, it is important for us to meditate on what we read. (Ps. 1:1-3) Only then will we be able to make the best personal application of its timeless wisdom. Whether reading God’s Word in printed or electronic form, our goal should be to get it off the page and into our heart. – par. 5
As we prayerfully meditate on God’s Word, we will feel motivated to apply its counsel even more fully. Indeed, we will to a greater extent unleash its power in our own life. – par. 6
Many fundamentalist Christians—Baptists, Pentecostals, Adventists, etc.—read the Bible regularly and meditate on it, yet continue to believe in Hellfire, the immortal soul, and the Trinity to name a few doctrines which Jehovah’s Witnesses firmly believe are false. Could it be that Jehovah’s Witnesses are doing the same thing? Reading, but not seeing how the Bible might contradict some of their own cherished teachings?
Consider this warning from James:
“. . .However, become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, this one is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself, and off he goes and immediately forgets what sort of man he is. 25 But he who peers into the perfect law that belongs to freedom and who persists in [it], this [man], because he has become, not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, will be happy in his doing [it].” (Jas 1:22-25)
In our Bible reading, are we like the man who looks in the mirror, and then goes off and immediately forgets what sort of man he is?
Over the past few years, I have had discussions with friends who have had decades of experience studying God’s Word as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some served as special pioneers, others as circuit overseers, district overseers, one even served as a branch committee member. There was a very notable similarity in every discussion I had. When I challenged some fundamental Bible teaching unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses, such as 1914 or the doctrine of the Other Sheep as friends of God, they were unwilling to engage in a Bible discussion. They made no attempt to prove me wrong using the Bible. Instead, they relapsed into the age-old “Argument from Authority.” This was Jehovah’s Organization, and as such was beyond being questioned or doubted.
Their belief in the divinely-ordained authority of the Governing Body eliminates the need to defend any GB teaching from Scripture. “Who are we to question them?”, they reason? Who are we to think we know more than they do? This was the argument that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day used when the man cured of blindness challenged their reasoning.
“You were altogether born in sin, and yet are you teaching us?” (John 9:34)
They clearly thought they were above being instructed by the ‘little people’, ones they viewed as ‘accursed ones’. (John 7:49) This kind of reasoning causes normally rational, calm people to get very upset and even angry. Instead of acting out of love to show me the error in my reasoning, they reply only with strong affirmations of love for Jehovah and love for the Governing Body and/or the Organization. They view the Organization and Jehovah as interchangeable in this regard. Worthy of not is the fact that never once—let me emphasize that—never once did any of these friends express love for Jesus Christ. His name and his authority just never came up.
After these affirmations of love, I was asked to affirm my own love for and faith in the Governing Body. If I didn’t give them an unconditional affirmation of loyalty, all discussion ceased. They would ignore all further e-mails, texts, and phone calls. They clearly felt no need to defend their faith using God’s Word.
Well, if a Witness were truly going to follow the counsel from paragraphs 4 thru 6, then he would realize what the theme text of this Watchtower study is really speaking about. This goes back to our earlier point that the real theme will make Witnesses uncomfortable.
Let’s consider the whole of chapter 4 of Hebrews.
The writer is not talking only about transforming lives by abandoning harmful practices or old works (vs. 10). He is speaking about salvation. To do this, he draws some antitypical parallels from Moses, the Israelite priesthood, and the entry of that nation into the Promised Land—into God’s rest or Sabbath.
“Therefore, since a promise of entering into his rest remains, let us be on guard for fear someone among you seems to fall short of it. 2 For we have also had the good news declared to us, just as they had; but the word that they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have exercised faith do enter into the rest, just as he has said: “So I swore in my anger, ‘They will not enter into my rest,’” although his works were finished from the founding of the world. 4 For in one place he has said of the seventh day as follows: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works,” 5 and here again he says: “They will not enter into my rest.” 6 Therefore, since it remains for some to enter into it, and those to whom the good news was first declared did not enter in because of disobedience, 7 he again marks off a certain day by saying long afterward in David’s psalm, “Today”; just as it has been said above, “Today if you listen to his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had led them into a place of rest, God would not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 So there remains a sabbath-rest for the people of God. 10 For the man who has entered into God’s rest has also rested from his own works, just as God did from his own. 11 Let us therefore do our utmost to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall into the same pattern of disobedience. 12 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 from the marrow, and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is not a creation that is hidden from his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of the one to whom we must give an account. 14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold on to our public declaration of him. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tested in all respects as we have, but without sin. 16 Let us, then, approach the throne of undeserved kindness with freeness of speech, so that we may receive mercy and find undeserved kindness to help us at the right time.” (Heb 4:1-16)
The power that the Word of God exerts is compared to a two-edged sword that can discern thoughts and intentions of the heart. Paul is making reference to the Roman short sword seen here:
When attacking, Romans would link shields and move forward against an enemy force, stabbing between the shields with their short sword. The idea was not to slash, but to piece deep. One stab, the enemy fell, and they advanced forward over the bodies of the fallen. One of the very effective techniques the Roman’s used to conquer the then-known world. Of course, a dull sword would not piece deeply and might not vanquish the enemy with a single thrust, to the Roman soldiers kept these weapons razor-sharp for their own salvation in times of conflict.
Likening the Word of God to something sharper than the sharpest of such swords allows Paul to show just have effective God’s Word is in vanquishing falsehood and deception and in discerning the true intentions of the heart. It will pierce right through even the toughest armor plating that men wear to hide their true selves. All things are exposed by God’s Word when used effectively. All things are left naked for all to see. We are not talking simply about the Bible, but the spirit of Jesus who is the Word of God. He sees everything. Our public declaration of Jesus to our JW brethren will reveal what is in the heart and mind of each one. When we use God’s Word, guided by the spirit of our Lord in our heart, we will find that friends and family oppose us, reproach us, and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against us, just as Christ foretold. They are revealing their own heart condition. They are being put to the test. While the initial reaction may be very negative, we persist, hoping to gain them in time. Unlike the Roman soldier, we use our sword not with the goal of killing, but of saving; by revealing both truth and heart condition. (Mt 5:11, 12)
The writer of Hebrews also draws a comparison with the Israelites in the wilderness who disobeyed the Word of God handed down through Moses. Now something greater than Moses is here—not the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the glorified Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 3:19-23) When our friends and family refuse to accept what God’s Word says, but instead cleave to men and swear loyalty and obedience to them, they are being disobedient to the Greater Moses, Jesus Christ. We must be patient, as Jehovah is patient, for it is very difficult to overcome years of indoctrination. It takes time—years, even—but there is always hope.
“Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with YOU because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (2Pe 3:9)