[From ws 7/18 p. 7 – September 03 – September 08]
“God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name.”—Hebrews 6:10.
Paragraph 3 opens with the comment: “In Jesus’ day, some religious leaders had the wrong view of recognition. Jesus warned his followers: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in robes and who love greetings in the marketplaces and front [“best,” ftn.] seats in the synagogues and the most prominent places at evening meals.” He went on to say: “These will receive a more severe judgment.” (Luke 20:46-47)”
What would this comment and scripture sound like if Jesus were on earth today? “In our day, some religious leaders have the wrong view of recognition. Jesus has warned his followers: “Beware of the older men who like to walk around in designer suits and who love greetings in the public Assemblies and other public meetings and best seats[i] in the places of worship (Kingdom Halls) and the most prominent places at Bethel evening meals.” Jesus says about these kinds of people: “These will receive a more severe judgment.” (Luke 20:46-47).
Now does that sound unrealistic? If you are in any doubt why not do the following:
- View a few Monthly Broadcasts at random, especially those featuring a member of the Governing Body and see those suits and watches and rings.
- Listen carefully to the introductions to speakers from the Governing Body, or Bethel, etc., given at regional and circuit assemblies. Note they do not just announce Bro X but also his position: Governing Body member, Circuit overseer or Travelling Elder, etc.
- At an Assembly at which a Governing Body member attends, see if you can even get close enough to say hello to him let alone greet him properly and speak to him at all.
- At these same regional assemblies, see where the Circuit Overseers and Governing Body members and Bethel committee members sit. It is usually in the Directors box (if using a soccer or some other sports stadium) or the like.
- Ask any Bethelite or visitors to Bethel homes who have stayed for meals, where the Governing Body members, or Branch committee members sit and whose families have priority for the few guest places. In general, it will be at the head of the tables, and those same ones whose families have priority (in reality, even if not in policy).
The Greatest form of recognition (Par.4-7)
Based on Galatians 4:9 paragraph 4 reminds us that after coming “to be known by God” we should not return to the “elementary things and want to slave for them over again”. This is indeed a good reminder; however, the remainder of the paragraph gives a statement from an unknown scholar, which without a reference as to who the scholar was and where he said this, it is impossible to check the accuracy and context of the statement and so the statement becomes unverifiable and is frankly useless. No chance of a Beroean-like check on the scholar’s reasons or basis for the statement.
It is then followed by the final sentence in the paragraph which makes yet another much repeated unsupportable claim, saying “When Jehovah acknowledges us as his friends, we achieve the very reason for our existence. —Ecclesiastes 12:13-14” (Par.4). As stated on previous occasions, we can be Jesus’ friends according to John 15:13-15, but the only one who came to be called “Jehovah’s friend” was Abraham. (James 2:22-23). We do have scriptural support for understanding that in harmony with Jesus’ request that we pray “Our father in heaven …” we can come to be called “sons of God”. (Matthew 5:9, Romans 8:19, Galatians 3:26). Indeed Romans 8:19 talks about how creation is eagerly “waiting for the revealing of the sons of God.”
Paragraph 5 raises the question “But how can we put ourselves in a position to be known by Jehovah?” The answer supplied is “We do that when we come to love him and dedicate our life to him. – Read 1 Corinthians 8:3”. Now, the term ‘dedicate’ has a meaning within the Organization. It is an Organizational requirement that we ‘dedicate’ ourselves to God in prayer before being able to present ourselves for baptism. However, that teaching and requirement of dedication has no scriptural support. In 1 Peter 3:21 did the Apostle Peter remind us “That which corresponds to this [Noah’s Ark which meant their salvation instead of destruction] is also now saving you, namely” dedication? No, it says “baptism, (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh [for we are imperfect and will sin], but the request made to God for a good conscience) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Look as you may, you will not find (at least in the NWT) any scripture suggesting that we need to formally dedicate ourselves, or make a formal dedication to God. However, that does not mean that we should not serve him. Rather it means that a formal dedication is not a scriptural requirement for salvation. If it was, then the scriptures would clearly state this.
Paragraph 6 states “Like the Galatian Christians to whom Paul wrote, we too need to avoid slaving for ‘the weak and beggarly elementary things’ of this world including seeking its acclaim (Galatians 4:9)”. So, what were “the weak and beggarly elementary things” the Galatians were turning back too? The context as always helps us understand what these things were. Galatians 4:8 talks about when the early Christians did not know God, “then it was that you [the early Christians] slaved for those who by nature are not gods”. The Greek word translated “slaved” carries the meaning of having all personal ownership rights assigned to the owner, and (figuratively) willingly giving up one’s rights to be self-governing, giving up the right to be making one’s own decisions.
What sort of things did they willingly follow? Galatians 4:10 shows it was “scrupulously observing days [Romans 14:5] and months [Colossians 2:16] and seasons and years.” In other words, they had missed the whole point of Christian freedom and were scrupulously fasting on certain days and celebrating the new moon and the Sabbath as if those works would gain them salvation. The Apostle Paul was making the point that it would do no such thing. They were handing over their ownership rights to the Mosaic Law, and to those who decided that such fasting and celebrations were necessary. Yet such things were no longer necessary as the Apostle Paul went on to state in Galatians 5:1 “For such freedom Christ set us free. Therefore, stand fast, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery.”
Now it has to be acknowledged that there may have been an element of seeking acclaim, because the fulfilling of these fasts and celebrations was often for an outward show of righteousness to others. However, some may have been genuine in their view that these things were still required by God. The key point was that it was the attitude and reason for practicing these things that was far more important than the action itself.
According to paragraph 7 we could find ourselves in a similar position today. How? “When we first came to know Jehovah, we, like Paul, may have given up prominence in Satan’s world. (Read Philippians 3:7-8.) Perhaps we gave up opportunities to receive higher education, or we may have turned down promotions or the possibility for making more money in the business world.”
We need to ask a number of questions here before moving on.
- Is higher education or promotions what Galatians 4:8-10 was discussing? No.
- Was the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:7-8 discussing the principle that we all should give up the opportunity for higher education, or promotions or making money in the business world? No. How so? He considered the prominence as a Pharisee and wealth as a business loss. Something he had written off. In other words, because of his acceptance of Jesus’ appointment of him as the apostle to the nations, he considered these things no longer part of his life, as rubbish which had no benefit to him with his new purpose in life. If he had not been chosen as an apostle he would have still considered some of these things as valuable assets. The Greek word translated “loss” or “rubbish” means to accept something as a loss, damaged, unusable, unsaleable goods. The goods may be of value to someone else but not to the owner. What does the context of Philippians 3 talk about? The very same type of things mentioned in Galatians 4:8-10 (including reference notes), namely the Apostle Paul being:
- Circumcised on the correct day (8th) according to the Mosaic Law.
- Of impeccable genealogical descent.
- Acknowledged as a zealous Pharisee.
- Followed the Mosaic Law flawlessly.
These are the things Apostle Paul no longer had any use for as they were of no benefit to a Christian who had to show love and have faith in Jesus, rather than meticulous ticking the boxes of the requirements of the Mosaic Law and the oral law added to it by men.
These two scriptures clearly have no relation to anything to do with making a statement of principle as to our attitude to higher education, accepting promotions, or making more money in business, or cultivating musical talents or sporting prowess.
Despite this, in the same paragraph the article goes on to state “Our musical talents or athletic abilities could have potentially led us to fame and wealth, but we turned our backs on all of that. (Hebrews 11:24-27)”. Now you will note that Hebrews 11 is used to support the command (of men) that we should have (without question) turned our backs on musical talents or athletic abilities, especially if they could potentially lead us to fame and wealth.
What does an examination of Hebrews 11:24-25 show us? It says “By faith Moses, when grown up, refused to be called the son of the daughter of Pharʹaoh, choosing to be ill-treated with the people of God rather than to have the temporary enjoyment of sin”. Nowhere in the Bible does it suggest that doing well at music or sports is sinful. However, what is sinful is “being lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God”. (2 Timothy 3:1-5). 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 reminds us that fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexual acts, drunkenness and extortion, amongst other things, are unacceptable to God. Yet a life of debauchery like that was often the daily routine for the Pharaohs and their families. That was what Moses rejected, the emphasis on sinful pleasures that came with being a Prince of Egypt, which would leave him little or no time for God and his fellow Israelites and which actions would displease God. However, Moses used his own God-trained conscience to decide what was right and what was wrong, rather than following the consciences of those around him.
Of course, it would be righteous in God’s eyes for us also to reject such sinful lifestyles today. But to do so, like Moses we need to train and follow our own God- and Bible-trained conscience. It would be foolish to accept being told by other men what they consider sinful as they might not have properly trained their own conscience. Romans 14:10 reminds us that “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God” and Galatians 6:5 adds “For each one will carry his own load”. We should be all the more careful, especially when these ones go above and beyond what God and Jesus saw fit to be recorded in the Bible.
Strengthen your resolve (Par.8-10)
Paragraph 8, quoting the NWT, states “Jehovah always “knows those who belong to him.” (2 Tim. 2:19)”
Now, as the Almighty creator, he certainly can know “those who belong to him”. However, a close reading of this verse in an interlinear Bible and also the context would indicate this is yet another occasion of the overzealous replacement of ‘Lord / Kyriou’ by ‘Jehovah’ on the part of the NWT translation committee. The context of 2 Timothy 2 is clearly talking about Jesus Christ:
- Verse 1 “keep on acquiring power in the undeserved kindness that is in connection with Christ Jesus”
- Verse 3 “As a fine soldier of Christ Jesus take your part in suffering evil.”
- Verse 7 “Give constant thought to what I am saying; the Lord [Jesus] will really give you discernment in all things.”
- Verse 8 “Remember that Jesus Christ was raised up from the dead”
- Verse 10 “they too may obtain the salvation that is in union with Christ Jesus along with everlasting glory”
- Verse 18 “These very [men] have deviated from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already occurred; and they are subverting the faith of some” with obvious reference to verse 8 and 10.
- Then verse 19, which should read “For all that, the solid foundation of God stays standing, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who belong to him,” and: “Let everyone naming the name of the Lord [Jesus Christ] renounce unrighteousness.”” (See John 10:14, Romans 10:9)
- Verse 24 “But a slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil”
- Given that neither of the quotations in verse 19 are actually word for word quotations from scriptures in the Bible but rather seem to be a summarized comment on Bible verses, then there is no basis even for the justification usually used, which is that the divine name is in the original quotation.
Paragraph 9 says “How encouraging it is for us to remember such displays of Jehovah’s love and power as we face the long-foretold attack by Gog of Magog! (Ezekiel 38:8-12)”. The displays of power and love by Jehovah were towards those clearly identifiable as his people, whereas today there is no clearly identifiable people. Furthermore, there is no scriptural basis for applying the prophecy of Gog of Magog to our day. (For a fuller discussion on this subject please see this previous article.) Finally, the implication “as we face the long-foretold attack” is that this attack is very close. Yet there are not even any signs in this account that could be misinterpreted to give a clear indication as to when this occurs and how it relates to the Organization’s conception of Armageddon.
Paragraph 10 highlights that “Those who do good deeds purely to be seen by men are told that they will have no reward at all from Jehovah. Why? Their reward has already been paid in full when they receive praise from others. (Read Matthew 6:1-5.) However, Jesus said that his Father “looks on in secret” at those who do not receive due credit for the good they do to others. He notices those acts and repays each person accordingly”.
How does this statement agree with the way participation in the field service is controlled? The whole push is for Brothers and Sisters to go out on congregation field service arrangements and to be ‘seen’ to be with the other congregation members. Only in this way, with a very public show can the so-called ‘good deeds’ be rewarded by appointments to serve the congregation for Brothers and congregation members be considered as in good standing. Pioneer appointments (regular and temporary) are announced to draw attention to them, and many Witnesses pioneer solely to be seen by the Circuit Overseer during his visit. Sadly however, very little attention is paid to encouraging true “good deeds” such as caring for others and encouraging them on a personal level.
However, we can be reassured that true good deeds done in secret will be rewarded by Jehovah and Jesus. As part of the “read” scripture, Matthew 6:3-4 says “But you, when making gifts of mercy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gifts of mercy may be in secret.”
A Humble young woman receives recognition (Par.11-14)
Discussing Mary and how Jehovah recognised her qualities, in paragraph 13 we enter the land of speculation once again, when it says: “As Mary travelled with Joseph and Jesus, she may have wondered if the officiating priest would make some special acknowledgement of Jesus’ future role.” How likely was it that she wondered? If she was humble (which the Bible account indicates she was) then why would she proudly think or speculate that this would happen? The far more important point to dwell on is that a “righteous and devout” man called Simeon, along with the 84-year-old prophetess Anna were used to acknowledge the infant Jesus as the Messiah or Christ. (Luke 2:25-38). Furthermore, this would be recognition of Jesus, not of Mary.
We get more speculation in the following paragraph (14). “Apparently, Mary was not in a position to travel with Jesus during the three and a half years of his ministry. Perhaps as a widow, Mary had to stay in Nazareth. But even though she missed out on many privileges [an assumption], she was able to be with Jesus at the time of his death. (John 19:26)”
The scriptures are totally silent on whether Mary did or did not travel with Jesus. She could have done all the time, some of the time or none of the time. Either of these three options is possible. The scriptures are also silent on when Joseph, her husband died although we can deduce he had died by the time of Jesus execution, otherwise there would have been no need for Jesus to entrust the care of his mother to the Apostle John. (John 19:26-27). Did she miss out on many privileges? Who can say? We cannot assume that.
One point from the scriptures that actually argues against these speculative statements being accurate, is the scripture cited John 19:26, as this scripture shows Mary was at the execution of Jesus. It is a fact, not speculation, that even if a message had been sent to her the minute Jesus was arrested, there was not sufficient time for it to arrive in Nazareth and for her to travel down to Jerusalem within the space of less than 12 hours. He was arrested late at night, and was condemned close to the sixth hour (midday, John 19:14) and shortly thereafter put on the torture stake. The distance between Jerusalem and Nazareth is 145 kilometres or so. Even today by car it would take at least two and a half hours each way, totalling a minimum of 5 hours. Mary would have to have been in Jerusalem or in a very nearby village to be able to attend his execution, such was the speed of the events. This is not speculation, it is drawing conclusions based on known facts. (Some estimates give the timing required in the 1st century of 5 days to walk from Nazareth to Jerusalem.) We know it was definitely more than a day from Luke 2:41-46. So at least in this last period of Jesus’ life, we cannot assert that his mother had not travelled with him.
The speculation continues when it goes on to say “She was likely anointed along with the others present. If so, this would mean that she was given the opportunity to be in heaven with Jesus for all eternity.”
- Now it is reasonable to suggest that Mary was anointed by Holy Spirit as all of the disciples were, as chosen ones, especially as she kept close company with them according to Acts 1:13-14 (See also Acts 2:1-4).
- It would also be unreasonable to suggest that she was excluded from the fulfilment of Jesus promise in Acts 1:8 and the prophecy of Joel 2:28 which applied to men and women disciples of Jesus at that time in Pentecost 33 CE.
- What is speculation is that she was given the opportunity to be in heaven for all eternity with Jesus. The Bible does not contain any clear teaching that any humans will go to heaven (heaven as in the spirit realm with the angels).[ii]
- Was she given the opportunity to be a chosen one? Undoubtedly.
Jehovah’s recognition of his son (Par.15-18)
Paragraph 17 correctly highlights the humble attitude of Jesus while on earth. “While on earth, Jesus expressed his desire to return to the glory he once had in heaven with his Father. (John 17:5)”. However, because of pleasing his father, Jehovah “honored Jesus in an unexpected way by resurrecting him to “a superior position” and giving him what no one else had received up until that time—immortal spirit life! (Philippians 2:9; 1 Timothy 6:16)”.
Jesus thus set a fine, humble, loving example for us to follow. 1 Corinthians 15:50-53 shows us the hope that all faithful humans will have, that of immortality like Christ, when it says “but we shall all be changed … and this [body] which is mortal must put on immortality”. It would be wrong, though, to imply that this means a spirit body, rather than a perfect human body.
The final paragraph suggests that we “Keep close in mind that Jehovah always gives recognition to his faithful servants and that he often rewards them in unexpected ways. Who knows what unexpected blessings await us in the future?” Indeed, “who knows what unexpected blessings await us in the future?” That would be speculation to think about, and could lead to disappointment.
However, there is one blessing that we already know about. That of becoming immortal, perfect human sons (and daughters) of God through our faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26, 1 Corinthians 15, Romans 6:23, 1 John 2:25). Surely that is sufficient recognition for our faithfulness, and obviates any need for baseless speculation. Let us not seek recognition from any organization on earth, whether secular, political or religious. Rather, like Moses, let us seek the approval of Jehovah and his son Christ Jesus and trust that, as the Psalmist said in Psalm 145:16, he will open his hand and satisfy “the desire of every living thing.”
[i] In 1st Century Synagogues there were front seats facing the rest of the audience on which prominent men sat. For example, Capernaum (2nd century ruin built on top of 1st century foundations). The equivalent today would be like a row of seats at the back of the platform in the Kingdom Hall or Assembly Hall facing the audience.
[ii] This is the subject of a series of upcoming articles entitled “Mankind’s Hope for the Future”.