[From ws 8/18 p. 18 – October 15 – October 21]
“There is … happiness in giving.”—Acts 20:35
The first point to notice is the deliberate omission of part of the scripture. In the Organization’s literature, it is commonly used as a means of avoiding the context that may lead the reader to a different conclusion. Partial omissions have their place, when brevity is called for, but should never be used in the service of textual bias.
The full scripture reads, “I have exhibited to YOU in all things that by thus laboring YOU must assist those who are weak, and must bear in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, when he himself said, ‘There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.’” Thus, the Apostle Paul was reminding his audience that the generosity he was talking about was that of aiding and helping others who were physically weak or ill.
The word translated “assist” in the NWT is translated “aid” in other Bibles and conveys the meaning of “providing (receiving) support that directly corresponds to the real need.”
The Greek word translated “giving” is also never used in relation to telling someone something as in preaching, but to giving physical assistance or help in some form. In addition, that one giving would get satisfaction from doing so. It therefore makes sense that this is what the article should be about when taking the scripture in context, rather than using it to service some organization agenda.
A final point to consider is that the dictionary definition of “giving” is “providing love or other emotional support; caring.”[i] This definition matches what we have discussed above.
It is therefore important to ascertain the answer to the following question: Does The Watchtower study article discuss the subject according to its context?
Paragraph 3 sets out the aim of the article saying it will cover the following points. (Separation into points, ours)
“The Bible tells us how we can be generous givers. Let us review some of the lessons that the Scriptures teach on this topic.
- We will see how being generous leads to God’s favor and
- how cultivating this quality helps us to fulfill the role God has given us.
- We will also examine how our generosity is connected with our happiness and
- why we need to keep on cultivating this quality”.
We will see how well these points are covered. However, have you already noticed how giving aid to ill persons has been migrated to generosity? Generosity can be to anyone, ill or healthy, rich or poor. It is not the same as assistance to those ill, or even to those in need.
How can we enjoy God’s favour? (Par.4-7)
Paragraph 5 asks the question: “‘Can I follow Jesus’ example even more closely than I am already doing?’—Read 1 Peter 2:21.”
Before we evaluate the suggestions of the Organization, what was the Apostle Peter suggesting? 1 Peter 2:21 states “In fact, to this [course] YOU were called, because even Christ suffered for YOU, leaving YOU a model for YOU to follow his steps closely”.
Then, as is usually the case, the Bible writer also explained what he meant in the surrounding context so we do not have to guess nor speculate at things he did not mean. We find the following:
- Verse 12: maintain fine conduct, as a result of your fine works glorify God,
- Verse 13-14: subject yourselves to the superior authorities,
- Verse 15: by doing good you muzzle the talk of ignorant people,
- Verse 16: use your Christian freedom to serve God,
- Verse 17: have love for all the brothers,
- Verse 18: house servants (slaves then, employees today) obey your masters even if difficult to please,
- Verse 20: do good, even if you suffer God will be pleased with you,
- Verse 21: follow Christ’s model,
- Verse 22: commit no sin, no deceptive speech,
- Verse 23: when reviled, do not revile in return,
- Verse 24: when suffering did not threaten others.
Bearing these points in mind, let us examine the rest of the article.
Paragraph 6 briefly highlights the Parable of the Good Samaritan. However, while stating, “like the Samaritan we must be willing to give generously if we are to enjoy God’s favor”, the paragraph does nothing to stipulate how we can go about this.
What does the Parable teach us?
- Luke 10:33 – generous with the emotion of pity that moved the Samaritan to help initially.
- Luke 10:34 – used his own possessions without thought of recompense.
- Material to bind up the wounds
- Oil and Wine to clean, disinfect and soothe and protect the wounds.
- Put the injured man on his donkey and walked himself.
- Used his own time to care for the injured man.
- Luke 10:35 – once the injured man seemed to be recovering, he left him in someone else’s care, paying 2 days wages for the man’s care, and promising more as required.
- Luke 10:36-37 – the main thrust of this parable was whom the true neighbor was and who acted mercifully.
In paragraph 7 things really start to go away from the real theme of Acts 20:35 when it says, “Eve acted out of a selfish desire to be like God. Adam manifested a selfish desire to please Eve. (Gen. 3:4-6) The results of their decisions are plain to see. Selfishness does not lead to happiness; quite the opposite. By being generous, we demonstrate our conviction that God’s way of doing things is the best.”
Selfishness, happiness, and generosity, while related on the periphery to the thrust of Acts 20:35, are not the key thought conveyed by that passage of Scripture.
Fulfilling the role God has given to his people (Par.8-14)
Paragraphs 8 and 9 discuss how Adam and Eve “should have been interested in the happiness of their unborn children” (Par.8) and that “giving of themselves for the welfare of others would have brought them great blessings and immense satisfaction.” (Par.9) Both of these points focus on selfishness rather than the desire to benefit others.
At this point you could be thinking, how about positive examples of how to aid those ill and weak? Will the article now get into that?
So, what do you think the next five paragraphs are all about? Would you be surprised to learn they are all about preaching? It is unlikely they mean that we should preach to the physically ill or weak. Rather they are interpreting the scripture of Acts 20:35 as those who, in the Organization’s opinion, are spiritually ill or weak.
Could Jesus have meant there is more happiness to give out spiritually than to receive? There is a slim chance of course, but realistically that does not appear to be what he was saying. The natural meaning of the scripture is as described above. Furthermore, preaching and teaching the Bible to people is about sharing what we have learnt. The only way care is shown is by being careful about how one presents one’s beliefs, or possibly about when one calls, so as not to inconvenience the listener unnecessarily.
Luke 6:34-36 additionally records Jesus as saying “Continue becoming merciful, just as YOUR Father is merciful. 37 “Moreover, stop judging, and YOU will by no means be judged; and stop condemning, and YOU will by no means be condemned. Keep on releasing, and YOU will be released. 38 Practice giving, and people will give to YOU. They will pour into YOUR laps a fine measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing. For with the measure that YOU are measuring out, they will measure out to YOU in return.””
Paragraph 10 claims “Today, Jehovah has given his people the work of preaching and making disciples”. It does not cite or quote any scripture or inspired revelation to support this. While it would be correct to say Jesus gave this work to his first century disciples, there is no evidence to support the claim that in this 21st century Jehovah (a) chose a people to represent him and (b) having done that commissioned them to preach. (C) Even if he had (a) chosen the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses and (b) told them to preach, they have been preaching an ever changing message. Firstly as to the timing of the return of Jesus, and the timing of Armageddon. Then as to whom are the faithful and discreet slave, (who didn’t know who they were until 5 years ago!) and so on. The early Christians preached one unchanging message until they started to be corrupted by false teachers.
It is true that “great happiness comes from seeing appreciative individuals light up when they grasp spiritual truths, grow in faith, make changes, and start sharing the truth with others” (Par.12). However, as already mentioned that is not what Acts 20:35 is discussing. We would also have to be sure we are really teaching them, the core unchanging spiritual truths of God’s word, rather than ‘spiritual truths’ based on man’s interpretation which change with the weather.
How to be Happy (Par.15-18)
This section abruptly changes tack. After a third of the article concentrating on being happy preaching, it admits Jesus wanted us to be generous in ways that do not involve preaching. It highlights that we can find happiness by giving to others by saying, “Jesus wants us to find happiness by being generous. Many people react favorably to generosity. “Practice giving, and people will give to you,” he urged. “They will pour into your laps a fine measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing. For with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you in return.” (Luke 6:38)” (Par.15). It is sad though that it does not give practical suggestions. Such as:
- Giving a meal to those we know who are not well off and maybe struggle to pay the necessary bills.
- Join with others in spending a day feeding the homeless.
- Visiting elderly ones in need to do gardening or house cleaning, or perhaps help with paying bills or filling in paperwork.
- Offering assistance to those who are ill, especially if they have to care for a young family, by perhaps cooking a meal for them, doing some shopping, or collecting a medical prescription.
- Assisting disabled ones to go to appointments, shopping, or even a day out, or other errands and tasks which their disability makes very difficult or impossible.
In quoting Luke 14:13-14, it accurately conveys the principle Jesus encourages us to practice when we are giving to others. That of giving without strings, not wanting anything in return. Luke records Jesus as saying, “When you spread a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; and you will be happy, because they have nothing with which to repay you.” (Luke 14:13, 14).
Finally, after the majority of the article being focused on giving time and resources to preaching, it admits: “When Paul quoted Jesus’ words “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving,” Paul was referring not only to sharing material things but also to giving encouragement, guidance, and assistance to those in need of these. (Acts 20:31-35)” (Par.17).
Paragraph 18 gives claims which while likely true, are unverifiable as they give no references. They are as follows: (separated into points)
- Researchers in the field of social sciences have also observed that giving makes people happy. According to one article, “people report a significant happiness boost after doing kind deeds for others.”[ii]
- Helping others, researchers say, is important to developing “a greater sense of purpose and meaning” [iii]in life “because it fulfills basic human needs.”[iv]
- Hence, experts often recommend that people volunteer for public service to enhance their own health and happiness.
(The author spent 15 minutes researching the internet for the phrases and has added the references that the WT article fails to provide, to verify the source and for those interested in reading the context. Any University student will know that any paper containing quotes to any other source without giving a verifiable reference would be rejected or returned for corrections. Persistent omission would lead to charges of plagiarism or attempting plagiarism with serious repercussions.)
Keep Cultivating Generosity (Par. 19-20)
Paragraph 19 finally gets around to mentioning that “However, Jesus stated that the two greatest commandments are to love Jehovah with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Mark 12:28-31)”. A point that should have been mentioned earlier and expanded upon is that true love for our neighbors would motivate us to be generous and helpful to those in need, especially through no fault of their own.
It also says “If we strive to manifest this generous spirit in our dealings with both God and neighbor, we will bring honor to Jehovah and benefit ourselves and others.” While this is an admirable goal, if most of us try to live up to the Organization’s expectations, especially of preaching, study, and meeting preparation and attendance, we are left with no time to visit and care for those members in our own congregations who may be ill or dying, let alone any others who would appreciate assistance.
It is all pointing towards a very Organization-slanted view of giving. This is confirmed in the final paragraph as it mentions next week’s article. It says “Of course, selfless giving, kindness, and generosity can be shown in many ways and in many areas of your Christian life and ministry, with rewarding results. The following article will explore some of these ways and areas.”
A short summary of this article would be as follows. A fine theme based on an important scripture which holds a vital Christian principle. Sadly, however the real import of Jesus and Paul’s words have been lost by the Organization’s misapplication to preaching in preparation for next week’s article which goes further in the direction of helping the Organization and its goals. A real opportunity to encourage the flock to display and practice of true Christian qualities has again been missed.
All those who love God and truth will no doubt take time to reflect on the real meaning of Acts 20:35, and see how they can give of themselves to others in less fortunate situations.
[i] Oxford Dictionary https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/giving
[ii] University of California, Berkeley on “Greater Good- the Science of a Meaningful Life”- https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/altruism/definition#why-practice paragraph 2