[From ws4/18 p. 20 – June 25 – July 1]
“Let us consider one another…encouraging one another, and all the more so as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24, 25
The opening paragraph quotes Hebrews 10:24, 25 as:
“Let us consider one another so as to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking our meeting together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you see the day drawing near.”
As regular readers will be aware, the Greek word translated “meeting” means ‘grouping together’ and is commonly translated as ‘gathering’. The word episynagōgḗ will be recognised as the origin of the word and place ‘synagogue’. However, the word does not imply a formal or regular arrangement. Grouping together or gathering can equally or more likely be informal.
The choice of ‘meeting’ in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures – 2013 Edition (NWT) could easily be interpreted as being designed to push the importance of the ritual, formalistic and highly controlled meetings of the Organization. Yet the stated aim of the exhortation in Hebrews was to encourage Christians to seek out each other’s company with a view to encouraging one another to love and fine works. This is obviously difficult to do when nearly two hours is spent sitting mute while listening to a select few sounding down instructions from on high. Even those parts where commenting is encouraged offer little opportunity to encourage one another as personal views are discouraged, comments must be brief, and these must conform strictly to what is contained in the publications being studied.
It is very doubtful that this is what the writer of Hebrews had in mind. For instance, the phrase, “Let us consider one another”, in Greek is literally translated “and we should think towards one another.” This clearly shows that we should take time to think as to how we can be helping others on an individual basis, “stirring up to love and to good works”. Being so familiar with the emphasis the Organization has placed on the latter part of these verses, I know I for one have missed the full import of this opening phrase. Thinking about others as individuals and how we can help them takes considerable time and effort. We first need to know them better, so that then we can become aware of a particular way in which we can help them. Understanding the individual needs of our fellow Christians is the only way to truly provide help that is beneficial to each one. Even if there is not a cure for their need or problem, simply listening and lending a caring ear can do much to build up the faith and endurance of another.
A kind greeting, a genuine enquiry into the well-being of another, a warm smile, a reassuring hand or a hug can do wonders. Sometimes a letter or a card may help one to express one’s feelings better or perhaps insisting on giving some practical help. Or maybe a well chosen scripture. We are all individuals and have different skills and abilities, and we all have different circumstances and diverse needs. When we gather together in a family-like setting, we can do much to fulfill the exhortation found at Hebrews 10:24, 25. But this is difficult given the constraints placed upon us by the formalistic meeting arrangement imposed by the Organization.
Sadly, though we can all fail, both through our own imperfections or due to circumstances, yet we still need to keep on trying. It may take effort but we should keep in mind what Jesus said “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) This principle is very applicable to giving encouragement. It is beneficial to us, because as we give out, we also receive back.
What does “to incite” mean? It conveys the meaning of stimulating one to action; hence to stimulate within others the desire to continue gathering together. We should always endeavour to make sure our words and deeds can contribute to that, rather than a drawing away from one another.
Paragraph 2 says:
“Today, we have every reason to believe that the “great and very awe-inspiring” day of Jehovah is near. (Joel 2:11) The prophet Zephaniah said: “The great day of Jehovah is near! It is near and it is approaching very quickly!” (Zephaniah 1:14) That prophetic warning also applies to our time.”
The Organization acknowledged in the opening paragraph that Hebrews 10 applied to the approaching day of Jehovah in the 1st century. But then it completely ignored the fact that Joel 2 and Zephaniah 1 also applied to the 1st century destruction of the Jewish nation. Presumably, this is because these are key scriptures used in types and anti-types previously created by the Organization.[i] However, it is clear that the article’s writer is not applying the new light on antitypes; specifically, that these do not apply where not direct application is made in Scripture. As we have seen in other articles, the Organization ignores its own rule on types and antitypes whenever this is inconvenient. The reason for misapply these texts here is apparently to perpetuate the teaching that Armageddon is “imminent”. That this kind of misapplication has the effect of gaining ‘fear’ Christians instead of real ones can be seen in the big dip in Witnesses after each prophesied date has failed (e.g., 1914, 1925, 1975).[ii]
Paragraph 2 continues:
“In view of the proximity of Jehovah’s day, Paul tells us to “be concerned about one another so as to incite to love and fine works.” (Hebrews 10:24, ftn.) We should, therefore, be increasingly interested in our brothers, so that we can encourage them whenever needed.”
While we should always incite one another to love and fine works, and we should be interested in our brothers so as to “encourage them whenever needed”, our motivation should be love, and not concern that Armageddon may be near.
“Who need encouragement?”
Simply put, we all do. We endeavour to give encouragement in these reviews even while casting a critical eye on the Watchtower articles, and we appreciate very much the many comments of thanks that are posted. We may not always succeed but it is our earnest desire to do so.
As paragraph 3 brings out “[Paul] wrote: “I am longing to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to you for you to be made firm; or, rather, that we may have an interchange of encouragement by one another’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Romans 1:11, 12)
Yes, it is the interchange between one another that is important. It is not the responsibility of the elders alone to provide encouragement. Surely less focus on just being in attendance and more on spending time with the brothers and sisters would be beneficial. It would be enormously beneficial were the focus to shift from a lengthy formalistic meeting, to a shorter, free-form format. Perhaps the repetitive demonstrations of first call, return visits, and Bible studies could be removed.
Paragraph 4 then brings in the almost obligatory Organizational slant:
“Many have made great sacrifices in order to make room in their lives for the pioneer service. The same is true of missionaries, Bethelites, circuit overseers and their wives, and those who work in remote translation offices. All of these make sacrifices in their lives in order to devote more time to sacred service. They, therefore, ought to receive encouragement.”
Jesus did not speak of making sacrifices, at least not in a positive light, as the Organization does continually. He warned as:
“However, if YOU had understood what this means, ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice,’ YOU would not have condemned the guiltless ones.” (Matthew 12:7)
How often we are made to feel guilty and condemned at meeting, assembly and convention parts because we are not making sufficient “sacrifices” to gain God’s approval! Any sacrifice for a wrong cause is a wasted sacrifice.
No witness would attempt to say there are scriptures that directly support pioneering, and neither is there support for Bethel service nor for formal circuit work.
“Elders strive to be encouraging”
Paragraph 6 trots out the well-worn and misapplied scripture of Isaiah 32:1, 2 and says
“Jesus Christ, through his anointed brothers and supportive “princes” of the other sheep, provides encouragement and guidance to despondent and discouraged ones in this time of need.”
Now while it seems that according to scripture Jesus became King back in the first century[iii], and according to 1 Peter 3:22, “He is at God’s right hand, for he went his way to heaven; and angels and authorities and powers were made subject to him”, he has not yet exercised that power, certainly not in the manner described in Revelation 6. Also, he has not yet set up his chosen ones as Kings and priests or princes over the earth.
How do we know this? Isaiah 32:1, 2 itself helps us understand this when it says: “they will rule as princes for justice itself. And each one must prove to be like a hiding place”.
Where do the Scriptures speak of older men in the congregation ruling? A ruler is a leader, yet we are prohibited from being leaders and rulers. Only Jesus is our leader and ruler in this system of things. Additionally, Isaiah says “each one” will be a hiding place. This requires a level of perfection that is impossible for humans to obtain in our current sinful state.
The paragraph continues
“That is as it should be, for these elders are not “masters” over the faith of others but “are fellow workers” for the joy of their brothers.—2 Corinthians 1:24”.
That is certainly how it should be, but does that statement reflect reality? Only 4 weeks ago there were two study articles on discipline where the Organization claimed the elders have authority over us to discipline us.[iv]
Do fellow workers have authority to discipline one another? No.
Do masters? Yes.
So are elders fellow workers? Or masters? They cannot have it both ways.
If we were to anonymously survey the congregation we attend (or attended), how many publishers would say they look forward to a visit from the elders? It is my experience that very few do. Yet the full text of 2 Corinthians 1:24 says
“Not that we are the masters over YOUR faith, but we are fellow workers for YOUR joy, for it is by [YOUR] faith that YOU are standing.”
Therefore it is clear that even the Apostle Paul directly commissioned by Jesus himself did not claim or assume any authority over his fellow Christians. Rather, he stated he was a fellow worker to help others stand in their faith; not dictate to them what that faith should be and how it should be manifested.
Paragraph 8 reminds us
“Paul told the elders from Ephesus: “You must assist those who are weak and must keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, when he himself said: ‘There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.’” (Acts 20:35)”
Acts 20:28 talks about overseers to shepherd the flock of God. The Greek word translated ‘overseers’ is episkopos which carries the meaning:
“properly, an overseer; a man called by God to literally “keep an eye on” His flock (the Church, the body of Christ), i.e. to provide personalized (first hand) care and protection (note the epi, “on”).”Though in some contexts (epískopos) has been regarded traditionally as a position of authority, in reality the focus is upon the responsibility for caring for others” (L & N, 1, 35.40).”[v]
These insights show that the true role of ‘elders’ should be helping and giving rather than the ruling or asserting authority that is their primary role within the structure of the Organization.
This structure is asserted in the very next paragraph (9) which starts by saying:
“Building one another up may involve giving counsel, but here again, elders should follow the example given in the Bible about how to give counsel in an encouraging way.”
As discussed in the recent Watchtower review on ‘Discipline – Evidence of Gods Love’, there is no scriptural authority for elders to give counsel. As for being able to “give counsel in an encouraging way”, Hebrews 12:11 shows that to be impossible as it says:
“True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous;”
It is true that Jesus gave counsel or discipline to the early Christian congregations through the Revelation to John, as highlighted in the same paragraph, but that does not authorise elders to do the same. After all, Jesus was given all authority after his resurrection, but the disciples were not,[vi] nor are those today who claim to effectively be their successors. (Please see: Should We Obey the Governing Body)
“Not the Exclusive Responsibility of the Elders”
Paragraph 10 opens with:
“Being encouraging is not the exclusive responsibility of the elders. Paul exhorted all Christians to speak “what is good for building up as the need may be, to impart what is beneficial” to others. (Ephesians 4:29)”
This is a true statement. We all have the responsibility to be encouraging to others. As Philippians 2:1-4 reminds us, “Do nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with humility consider others superior to you, as you look out not only for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
This would be made easier if we did not have the pressures the Organization puts upon us to achieve so many goals.
“Sources of Encouragement”
The article even manages to discourage. Paragraph 14 says:
“News of faithfulness on the part of those we have helped in the past can be a real source of encouragement”.
How so? Well, it seems that only “Many pioneers can attest to how encouraging” this is. The lowly publisher, the vast majority of the brothers and sisters, are ignored. Paragraph 15 then mentions “circuit overseers”, “elders, missionaries, pioneers, and Bethel family members” and how they benefit from encouragement, but of the lowly publisher, like a faithful elderly sister, there is no mention. This helps lead to situations like the following experience:
A sister is now 88 years old, and has spent most of her life auxiliary pioneering whenever she could, regular at the meetings, kind and generous to all her fellow congregation members—much like Dorcas (Tabitha) of the book of Acts. However, due to failing health, she has been unable to attend meetings, and has become housebound. Does she receive an outpouring of love and encouragement? No, she has not even received regular visits by the shepherds. She only receives visits from just one individual who has to care for her own ailing parent as well. What is the result? This sister is now in the mental health unit of a hospital with severe depression, wanting to die, saying, “There is no solution to my problems except to die, Armageddon has not come”. “It’s not coming soon and almost no one cares about me”.
She has only had regular visits from her son and daughter-in-law while in hospital. (Perhaps the brothers and sisters want to visit her, but they have to get their time in.)
Another experience is that of an 80-year-old sister who had a bad fall and became housebound as a result. In slightly over a year before she passed away, she had literally only a handful of visits from elders and other congregation members despite having served there faithfully for more than 60 years. It was only her own family that encouraged her on a regular basis. Yet those same elders were busy regular pioneering, working on LDC projects and the like.
Sadly, this Watchtower article will likely do little to change this common mindset among Jehovah’s Witnesses who put Organization interests above all other things, thinking that in doing so they are pleasing Jehovah God.
“How all of us can be Encouraging”
In paragraphs 16 to 19, the article briefly covers ways to be encouraging suggesting:
“perhaps no more than a warm smile when greeting someone. If there is no smile in return, it could mean that there is a problem, and just listening to the other person may bring comfort.—James 1:19.” (par. 16)
Paragraph 17 discusses the (perhaps hypothetical) experience of Henri, who had many relatives “leave the truth”. Why they left isn’t mentioned, but—likely convinced by the circuit overseer to whom he spoke—“Henri realized that the only way to help his family come back to the truth was for him to persevere faithfully. He found great comfort in reading Psalm 46; Zephaniah 3:17; and Mark 10:29-30”.
This is a common platitude which ignores reality. Why did they “leave the truth” (a phrase that really means, “leave the Organization”)? Was it because they gave way to sin? When simply continuing to persevere as a witness would not be enough. He would have to seek them out like the one sheep out of one hundred that Jesus spoke of. (Matthew 18:12-17) Or if they “left the truth” because they realized that it wasn’t “the truth”, but was just like other religions with its own set of false doctrines, then the advise given by the Watchtower isn’t so much to bring them back, but to keep them from being affected by the real truth.
So what other suggestions are we given? Sharing an upbuilding scripture with someone inspired by the God of compassion and love? No, that option is also noticeable by its absence.
So by now regular readers may be able to guess the suggestions that follow in paragraph 18.
- “reading from The Watchtower or our website can invigorate someone who is downcast”!!
- “singing a Kingdom song together can be a source of encouragement.”
And “That’s all folks!!!”.
The main points of the whole article boil down to:
- We all should be encouraging, particularly to the important ones like pioneers, Bethelites, elders, and circuit overseers, especially as Armageddon is so near.
- If we are not pioneers or elders, we will likely not have brought anyone into the Organization so we will not be able to reflect on how well we did.
- To encourage we can:
- Smile at people;
- Persevere faithfully in the Organization;
- Read from the Watchtower or the JW.org site to someone;
- Sing a Kingdom song together.
- What would be more effective but the Organization doesn’t suggest you contemplate doing includes:
- Really taking time to think about the needs of others;
- A kind greeting;
- A warm smile;
- A kiss in the cheek, a warm handshake or a warm embrace;
- Sending a personal handwritten card;
- Insisting on giving practical help for an identified need;
- Sharing an upbuilding scripture with someone;
- Praying with someone;
- Talking to those who leave the Organization;
- And finally we need to keep on trying, not giving up in our endeavours to encourage someone.
It would truly be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. But you may say, wait a minute, Tadua, are you not just exaggerating a little, being a bit extreme with your criticism? It doesn’t really happen like that, does it? As the sister mentioned above in her early 80’s lay dying, she was given the little encouragement highlighted by the article and little to none of the latter. Yes, even though she could barely speak she was coerced into singing a Kingdom Song and reading something from The Watchtower. So yes, it happens.
One of the best ways to encourage others is to read the Bible together. What could be more powerful than the word of God?
[i] For Zephaniah 1 see w01 2/15 p12-17, and for Joel 2 see w98 5/1 p13-19
[ii] See https://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/statistics-historical-data.php
[iii] See the article How can we prove when Jesus became King?
[iv] See the article Listen to Discipline and become Wise and Discipline Evidence of Gods Love
[v] See http://biblehub.com/greek/1985.htm
[vi] Only Peter who raised up Tabitha/Dorcas and Paul who raised Eutychus had authority to perform resurrections. Paul went where directed by the Holy Spirit not by a central body of elders. (Acts 13:2-4)