[From ws 6/18 p. 21 – August 27 – September 2]
“Let your light shine before men, so that they may … give glory to your Father.”—Matthew 5:16.
Before beginning our review, I would just like to draw attention to the non-study article that follows this study article in the Watchtower. It is entitled, “The Power of a Greeting”, discussing how greeting others can be beneficial for both them and us. It is unusually free of any hidden agenda or tailoring to the desires of the Organization, and therefore its contents are beneficial to us all.
The article opens with an attempt to show the Organization is growing and advancing. The first paragraph states “HOW thrilling it is to hear of increases that Jehovah’s people are experiencing.” It then goes on to give a couple of examples, that of Bible Studies and Memorial attendance.
However, this claim should raise questions in the minds of the brothers and sisters, because for the majority that is not what they experience locally. In many western lands Kingdom Halls are being sold off and congregations merged. Additionally how do we reconcile this claim with the following information?
The 2017 Service Year Report states:
“During the 2017 service year, Jehovah’s Witnesses spent over $202 million in caring for special pioneers, missionaries, and circuit overseers in their field service assignments. Worldwide, a total of 19,730 ordained ministers staff the branch facilities”.
The 2016 Yearbook p. 176 shows:
“During the 2015 service year, Jehovah’s Witnesses spent over $236 million in caring for special pioneers, missionaries, and traveling overseers in their field service assignments. Worldwide, a total of 26,011 ordained ministers staff the branch facilities.”
You will notice the great reductions. The monies used to care for those in assignments was reduced by $34 million, some 15% reduction. Additionally the branch staff reduced by over 6,250, some 24% reduction. If the Organization is growing at such a pace, why such dramatic reductions? Even if the suggestion of automation efficiencies is offered, surely they would need to maintain the staff and expenditures just to cope with anticipated increases.
The other question for consideration is: What brought this about? Most organization’s automated their processes a long time ago, along with the resulting downsizing. Why is the Organization so far behind? Something does not add up in the picture that is being portrayed. We are clearly not being told the whole story.
At the end of the paragraph we are told:
“Think of the millions of interested ones whom we welcomed at the Memorial.They could thus learn of the love that God expressed when he provided the ransom.—1 John 4:9” (Par.1)
What did those who attended the Memorial learn? According to the paragraph it was all about God’s Love for providing someone to die as a ransom. But let us stop and think for one moment. Was it the memorial of God’s love? No, that was not the instruction Jesus gave. Jesus said “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19). Jesus instituted it as the memorial of his death. Why not mention what love Jesus showed in making the sacrifice which was manifested by his willingness to give his life on behalf of the world? This appears to be part of a pattern in the majority of the Organization’s publications to marginalize Jesus. The cited scripture, 1 John 4:9 (which many Witnesses preparing this material sadly will not read), says:
“God sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we might gain life through him.” (1 John 4:9)
Clearly, if Jesus had not been prepared to go through that harrowing and painful ordeal, then there would be no memorial, and no hope of everlasting life through him.
The theme scripture of the article is Matthew 5:16. So the best place to start in an examination of what Jesus meant is in the context of that verse. The immediate context, Matthew 5:14-16 reads:
“You are the light of the world. A city cannot be hid when located on a mountain. 15 People light a lamp and set it, not under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it shines on all those in the house. 16 Likewise, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
What kind of illumination was Jesus referring to? Philippians 2:14-15 helps us when it mentions:
“Keep doing all things free from murmurings and arguments, 15 that YOU may come to be blameless and innocent, children of God without a blemish in among a crooked and twisted generation, among whom YOU are shining as illuminators in the world”. These verses are clearly talking about how one acts in a Christ-like manner, being “blameless and innocent …. among a crooked … generation.” (Phil 2:14, 15)
Strange that these verses from Philippians are not mentioned in the article.
In Matthew 5:3-11, the verses immediately prior to the passage we are discussing, every verse starts “Happy are …”
Jesus said “Happy are …“:
- those conscious of their spiritual need.
- those who mourn as they will be comforted.
- the mild tempered.
- those hungering for righteousness.
- the merciful.
- the pure in heart.
- the peaceable.
- those who are persecuted.
- those reproached for Jesus’ sake.
So like Philippians 2, Matthew 5 is clearly talking about our Christ-like actions that would stand out and show as a light to others that we are following Christ, to attract them to also follow him.
A similar passage to Matthew 5 is found in Luke 8:5-18. It is a parable about sowing seed on different grounds. The seed that falls on soil that is fine prospers as verse 15 states “after hearing the word with a fine and good heart, retain it and bear fruit with endurance.” Notice how a good heart is the key, and such ones retain the message from the word of God. Because they have a good heart and remember the message they go on to bear fruit with endurance. The message helps them practice the qualities that come from a worthy—attractively good and intrinsically good—heart.
Therefore, you would expect that the Watchtower article would be about at least one of these aspects, right? Sadly, no. The first heading is “Extend the Invitation.”
Extend the Invitation
This section sets the tone for most of the remainder of the article. We showed above that between Philippians and Matthew 5 we have 11 vital attributes to choose from to discuss as a fine work that would give glory to our Father in the heavens.
Which of these attributes did the article choose? Of the 13 attributes mentioned in these two scriptures which one is the theme of this WT article? None of them. It is ‘telling the good news’. Not only that, but they spend most of the paragraph (90 words plus) to highlight why we should view this as the most important of fine works, by referring to a 1925 Watchtower article (which does not cite a single scripture). On the basis of the quote from this 1925 WT article alone they present the conclusion:
“Clearly, one way we let our light shine is by preaching the good news and making disciples. (Matthew 28:19-20)” and as an afterthought, the way “In addition, we can glorify Jehovah by our Christian conduct” is limited to “our friendly smile and warm greeting” as we preach, and this says “much about who we are and what kind of God we worship.” (Par.4)
It certainly does tell us much about who the Organization is. It tells us a lot about the Organization that is teaching the following:
- The understanding of Matthew 5:16 is based on a 1925 Watchtower article
- The WT article quote contains no scriptures (cited, or quoted)
- Our fine works are ‘behaving well in the ministry’
- And having a “friendly smile and a warm greeting.”
Sorry, but that really is digging the bottom of the barrel in order to support the Organization’s view that preaching is the only thing that matters. ‘Desperate’ is a word that comes to mind followed by ‘unhelpful’.
Paragraph 5 opens with the reminder that “When you enter the house,” Jesus told his disciples, “greet the household.” (Matthew 10:12)”. This is good advice but it lacks any expansion on what to greet someone really meant.[i] That would have definitely been a helpful point to understand the full import of Jesus instruction.
We are then treated to reminders that Witnesses should know. Perhaps many are failing in this regard hence the reminders.
“Your positive, friendly manner as you explain why you are there can often allay a householder’s concern or ease his irritation. A pleasant smile is often the best introduction.” (Par.5)
Surely, if we are bringing the true good news, it would, by its nature, be positive, and we would be endeavouring to be friendly. Perhaps the problem is that Witnesses in general do not feel positive about preaching about Armageddon; or feel confident in proving Jesus began ruling in 1914; or feel able to explain the doctrine of the overlapping generations that allegedly means Armageddon is imminent.
Is it not the case that a false smile can be seen through by most householders? True smiles are the result of people inwardly happy at their lot in life and their outlook for the future. If there are no smiles then there are problems here too. Perhaps the problems are caused by
- low income jobs due to obeying the Governing Body’s direction on no university education,
- worries of failing health they did not expect to face in this system of things,
- or lack of a retirement pension owing to a poor decision again based on the promise of the Organization that Armageddon would be here by 1975, then the end of the century, then imminent due to the GB members becoming elderly and hence near the end of the overlapping generation and so forth.
Any number of these factors and more could affect their desire to smile.
“A pleasant smile is often the best introduction. That has also proved true when brothers and sisters engage in public witnessing using a literature cart”.
Now this is definitely valid counsel. In the course of my travel to work I pass brothers and sisters engaged in cart work almost daily. So many times I have been tempted to ask them if they left their Kingdom smile at home. So many look as if standing next to a trolley of Organization literature is the last thing they want to do.
Paragraph 6 then peddles the non-scripturally supported idea that letting ones light shine can be fulfilled by putting Bible literature on a table for people to see. Talking about an elderly couple it says, “They decided to let their light shine right outside their home.”
Booksellers can do exactly the same thing, but I am sure the Organization would not want to put them in the category of ‘illuminators’, despite the fact that the brothers and sisters are expected to pay, (sorry, donate) to cover the expense of the literature they generously gave away. This is not what Jesus had in mind when he spoke the words recorded in Matthew chapter 5.
At least paragraph 7 cites Deuteronomy 10:19 which is a good reminder to accept and show care and concern for foreign residents, or immigrants as they would be called today. However, are we not trivializing Moses’ words by suggesting this applies to learning a few words of greeting in a foreign language so we could direct such foreign residents to a website.
Paragraph 8 contains the long awaited admission that the midweek “Life and Ministry meeting” out of which they have dropped the term ‘Christian’, is solely about ministry rather than ministry and Christian life when they say “Jehovah lovingly provides the Life and Ministry Meeting so that we can become more effective in the field ministry.” That is insulting Jehovah and what he is able to do. The quality of the current CLAM meeting is far inferior to its predecessor the Theocratic Ministry School. It is difficult to see any potential public speakers becoming trained by the current CLAM meeting. At least under the TMS brothers benefited from that training and even the sisters had to use ingenuity to keep their assignments fresh and interesting. Now it is the same format week in, week out.
Discussing meetings, paragraph 9 says:
“Parents, help your children to let their light shine by teaching them to comment in their own words”.
That is a definitely needed reminder, but one that sadly applies to most adults as well. The goal put before them is made all the more difficult by the very prescriptive wording of the questions of the Watchtower and other publications which mean it is difficult to do anything but regurgitate part of the paragraph. Hardly conducive to answering in one’s own words. But then with less prescriptive questions undoubtedly the answers given may not support and agree with what the Organization is trying to teach in the Watchtower (as they might actually be solely based on the Bible) and they don’t want to allow that to happen. True Christian freedom of expression is not allowed.
Paragraph 10 suggests “Another way to let your light shine is by promoting unity in your family and in your congregation. One way parents can do so is by arranging for a regular Family Worship program.”
Promoting unity is another thing that was not in the list of fine works mentioned in Matthew. However promoting unity to a good extent is a commendable course of action. How arranging for a regular Family Worship program would promote unity other than that all the family is doing it, is not clear. Especially when the main suggestion for material is watching yet more TV this time in the form of JW Broadcasting as the next sentence in the article suggests: “Many include watching JW Broadcasting sometime during the month”.
Paragraph 11 suggests taking an interest in older ones, but it should extend to much more than asking them for an experience.
Paragraph 12 suggests “You can also show understanding to those whose health and circumstances limit what they can do.” This too is a good suggestion but it should be applied to far more than the suggested helping them to preach. What about jobs around their house and garden they are no longer able to do?
Paragraph 14 says “Ask yourself: ‘How do my neighbors view me? Do I keep my home and property tidy, thus reflecting well on the neighborhood?” Again this seems to be a regular suggestion which would indicate it may be a problem. How can we keep our home and property neat and tidy when the vast majority of our time is spent in secular work, meeting assignments, preparation and attendance and field service and getting food for the household? When all this has been completed, then there is little time to do anything to the house and property, and no energy left to do it with. Such is the treadmill we end up on when striving to be Witnesses and carrying all the extra imposes burdens.
Keep on the Watch
Paragraph 15 addresses yet another so-called aspect of letting our light shine that is not mentioned in Matthew 5. That of continuing to preach. It states:
“Jesus repeatedly exhorted his disciples: “Keep on the watch.” (Matthew 24:42; Matthew 25:13; Matthew 26:41) Obviously, if we believe that the “great tribulation” is a long way off, that it will come sometime but not in our lifetime, we will lack a sense of urgency with regard to the preaching work. (Matthew 24:21)”
Here, we have the result of continually crying wolf when there is no wolf.[ii] Eventually, those who without the continued false calls would have continued staying alert, have now become so tired with all the ‘high alerts’ that they have lost their drive when alerted once again. In each of these scriptures cited “(Matthew 24:42; Matthew 25:13; Matthew 26:41)” Jesus not only exhorted us to stay on the watch but also told us the reason why, “because you know neither the day nor the hour.” However the Governing Body make it clear that they know better than Jesus Christ, as they have been telling us for a lifetime that Armageddon is imminent as a brief search of Watchtower online library will reveal.
- “we know that we face the imminent end of the present world system.” w52 12/1 pp. 709-712 – The Watchtower—1952 (66 years ago!)
- it is warnings, now being broadcast earth wide, of an imminent world destruction—Armageddon—that we are talking about. w80 12/1 pp. 3-7 – The Watchtower—1980 (38 years ago)
- It is similar with God’s warning message about the imminent “storm wind” of Armageddon. (Proverbs 10:25) g05 7/8 pp. 12-13 – Awake!—2005 (13 years ago)
- Soon, God’s Kingdom will bring an end to these last days with the war of Armageddon. w15 11/1 pp. 7-8 – The Watchtower—2015 (3 years ago)
We could go on, but the above selection will suffice to highlight the continual cry of ‘wolf’ or Armageddon over the past 70 years alone which is a lifetime for most people.
When paragraph 17 claims “We are letting our light shine to an extent that could not have been imagined previously” then we wonder how exactly?
- By preaching? When we are not preaching truth?
- By Christian actions? Questionable. How so, when we hear more and more reports in the newspapers of mishandling of child sexual abuse problems? How so, when we hear of the sale of LDC equipment which can be and is used for flood and storm relief? Need we go on?
The final paragraph (20) starts:
”Happy is everyone who fears Jehovah, who walks in His ways” sang the psalmist. (Psalm 128:1)” It appears God’s ways, letting our light shine solely consist of “let your light shine – by inviting others to serve God, by conducting yourself in a way that promotes unity, and by maintaining a watchful attitude …Others will see your fine works, and many will be moved to give glory to our Father. – Matthew 5:16).”
What a contrast to Jesus encouragement. He said in Matthew 5:3-10
3 “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need, since the Kingdom of the heavens belongs to them.
4 “Happy are those who mourn, since they will be comforted.
5 “Happy are the mild-tempered, since they will inherit the earth.
6 “Happy are those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, since they will be filled.
7 “Happy are the merciful, since they will be shown mercy.
8 “Happy are the pure in heart, since they will see God.
9 “Happy are the peacemakers, since they will be called sons of God.
10 “Happy are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, since the Kingdom of the heavens belongs to them.”
These were the fine works he was referring to in Matthew 5:16. Let us earnestly make every effort to manifest these qualities instead, as these are the ones that will cause others to “give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.”
[i] Please see the article on this site entitled “The Peace of God that excels all” for a fuller explanation of what greeting meant in the 1st Century AD.