“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” – John 4:34.
[From ws 9/18 p. 3 – October 29 – November 4]
The title of the article is taken from John 13:17, but as per usual, very little attention is paid to the context of the scripture. The context shows that Jesus had just been washing the feet of the disciples and teaching all a lesson in humility. He finished the lesson by encouraging them to show the same humble attitude towards one another and to others. He then concluded by saying “If YOU know these things, happy YOU are if YOU do them”.
We can therefore reasonably conclude that what would make us happy is as Paul wrote in Romans 12:3 to “not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think; but to think so as to have a sound mind, each one as God has distributed to him a measure of faith”.
Paragraph 2 opens by saying:
If we want to make faithful ones our role models, we need to investigate what they did that brought the desired results. How did they achieve friendship with God, enjoy his approval, and acquire power to accomplish his will? This kind of study is an essential part of our spiritual feeding.
The final sentence of this paragraph draws attention not to those role models and not to Jesus Christ, but rather to the organization. Should you doubt that they want us to view their words and writings as an “essential part of our feeding”, you have only to consider their next words.
Spiritual food, more than just information (Par.3-7)
In paragraph 3 the claim is made that “We receive much good counsel and training through
- the Bible,
- our Christian publications,
- our websites,
- JW Broadcasting,
- and our meetings and assemblies.”
Yes, to the Bible being a source of good counsel, training and spiritual food, but to include the other four sources, we would have to ensure that they never contradict the Bible; otherwise, their “food” might actually be poisonous. How can we evaluate such things?
As an example, at the time of writing this article I am researching evidence for the events that occurred at the time of Jesus’ impalement and death. Focusing on the account of the earthquake, the amount of material available outside the Organization’s publications has more than surpassed any expectations that I had. By contrast, all I found in the WT Library going back to 1950 on this subject amounted to one “Questions From Readers” article where they explain away the possible resurrection of the holy ones; and in another article, a passing mention of Phlegon’s record of the earthquake.
The claim of the Organization that they provide spiritual food (information) at the proper time and in abundance, therefore rings rather hollow on not only this example, but on almost all articles. Yet the Governing Body would have us reject all other sources of Bible research as tainted by false religion, while expecting us to accept whatever they write as trustworthy and true. The evidence of Organization history simply does not support such a conclusion.
Paragraph 3 then quotes the theme scripture of John 4:34 saying “What more is involved? Jesus said: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work”. Did Jesus finish that work? According to the scriptures John 19:30 records: “Jesus said: “It has been accomplished!” and, bowing his head, he delivered up [his] spirit”. The desire to do His Father’s will motivated or fed him, giving him the energy to continue, but can that be truly called spiritual food? We usually view spiritual food as relating to our religious beliefs. Here the WT article is using it in the sense of Jesus filling a psychological need.
Furthermore Jesus accomplished his work. Therefore, how can those personal feelings of Jesus be applied to us today?
The Organization finds a way, when it says in the next paragraph “How many times have you gone to a meeting for field service not feeling your best—only to finish preaching that day refreshed and invigorated?” (Par.4). It is logically therefore referring to filling a psychological need, not reinforcing a religious belief. Yet do the majority of Witnesses have a psychological need to go witnessing. Not in my experience, certainly unless it is one due to the FOG factor (Fear Obligation Guilt).
The whole wording of paragraph 5 is then designed to suggest to the reader that the preaching in paragraph 4 is what Jesus was referring to in John 13:17. That is, that if we preach, preach, preach, we will be “Putting divine instruction into practice [which] is essentially what wisdom means”, and we will therefore be happy because we are doing what God wants.
However, as we showed scripturally in our introduction this is a misapplication of this scripture. So when the next sentence says “The disciples’ happiness would last if they kept doing what Jesus instructed them to do”, we can see that their happiness would result from the benefits of acting with humility. Humility was the subject Jesus had been discussing and demonstrated, not the preaching which this article is stressing.
Just to confuse us more, after applying the scriptures mentioned to a psychological need to preach, then in paragraph 7 it suddenly changes tack to actually discuss humility, which we highlighted was the true message of the scriptures in John 13:17. It says “Let us consider some different situations in which our humility might be put to the test and see how similar challenges were met by faithful ones of old”. The article suggests we think of how we can apply the following points and then personally do so. Let us do that.
View them as equals (Par.8-11)
We are next reminded of 1 Timothy 2:4 where it says “all sorts of people should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” Then paragraph 8 states that Paul did “not restrict his efforts to Jewish people” who already knew God, but also talked to “those who worshipped other deities”. That is a bit of an understatement. He was chosen by Christ to witness specifically to the Gentiles as Acts 9:15 shows. Talking about Paul, Jesus told Ananias in a vision “this man is a chosen vessel to me to bear my name to the nations as well as to kings and the sons of Israel”. (See also Romans 15:15-16) Furthermore when the paragraph (8) claims “The responses he received from those who worshipped other deities would test the depth of his humility” it is being disingenuous. Test his patience perhaps, or faith and courage, but his humility? There is no evidence of this in the Biblical record such as the book of Acts. He is never recorded as asking to be reassigned from preaching to Gentiles back to preaching to just Jews. Neither does he ever elevate the Jewish Christians over the Gentile converts.
To the contrary, he gave a lot of counsel to Jewish Christians about accepting Gentiles as fellow Christians and not requiring them to follow many of the requirements of the Mosaic Law. In Romans 2:11, for example, he wrote: “For there is no partiality with God.” In Ephesians 3:6, he reminded the early Christians “namely, that people of the nations should be joint heirs and fellow members of the body and partakers with us of the promise in union with Christ Jesus through the good news”
Does any of this scriptural record sound like Paul was frustrated and needed humility to preach to the Gentiles? If anything, he more likely required humility to handle his fellow Jewish Christians who frequently tried to reimpose on the Gentile Christians the now unnecessary requirements of the Mosaic Law from which they had been freed. (For example circumcision, and the various fasts , celebrations, and diet) (See 1 Corinthians 7:19-20, Romans 14:1-6.)
Paragraphs 9 & 10 then indulge in a favourite pastime of the Organization: Speculation on the motives and thinking of Bible characters to try to make some dubious point. This week’s speculation involves why Paul and Barnabas corrected the Lycaonian view that they were Zeus and Hermes as recorded in Acts 14:14-15. The question asked on Paragraph 10 is “In what sense could Paul and Barnabas consider themselves the equals of the Lycaonian people?” Why make up such a question? The truth of the matter is surely much simpler. Paul himself gave an accurate answer to the question of ‘why did Paul tell the Lycaonians that they were imperfect men like them’. In Hebrews 13:18 he wrote “Carry on prayer for us, for we trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things”. To allow the Lycaonians to believe that he (Paul) and Barnabas were Gods rather than imperfect humans like the crowd would have been seriously dishonest. It would have therefore not only have been wrong, but later would have badly affected the Christian reputation once people realised the truth of the matter. It would have led to a lack of trust in the rest of Paul’s message.
Likewise today, a lack of truth and honesty and openness on the part of the Governing Body and the Organization on problems such as child sexual abuse, or the financial woes occasioning the sale of Kingdom Halls, all creates a breakdown in trust in the rest of their message. Since we are discussing role models, how about the Governing Body imitating the example here of Paul and Barnabas.
A much better application of this theme “view others as equals” would be to not give the Governing Body, Circuit Overseers, Elders and Pioneers, the plaudits and special recognition many crave (and sometimes demand). Also as they “too are humans having the same infirmities as you have” (Acts 14:15) then we should definitely not take anything they say as truth without first following the example of the Beroeans who were “carefully examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so”. (Acts 17:11)
Pray for others by Name (Par.12-13)
This section is a rare topic in Watchtower publications: That of being encouraged to pray privately for others. Philippians 2:3-4 clearly shows we should always have the right motives to engage in any action, such as praying for others, saying “doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to YOU, keeping an eye, not in personal interest upon just YOUR own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.”
To pray for someone like Epaphras did in Colossians 4:12, one has to be like the paragraph suggests Epaphras was. “Epaphras knew the brothers well, and he cared for them deeply”. That is the key. Unless we know someone personally and care for them it is difficult to have sufficient feelings for them to pray for them. So the suggestion of paragraph 12 that we pray for those mentioned on the JW.org website doesn’t match those key points about Epaphras and why he was moved to pray. In summary we must say, act as Epaphras did, but not as paragraph 12 suggests.
Moreover to complicate matters, an area not discussed under this topic is the exhortation Jesus gave to “Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you” (Matthew 5:44). This passage indicates that showing true love for others goes beyond those we like, associate with or hold the same beliefs as ourselves.
Be quick to listen (Par.14-15)
Paragraph 14 encourages “Another area that reveals the depth of our humility is our willingness to hear people out. James 1:19 says that we should “be quick to listen.” If we view others as superior then we will be prepared to listen when others are trying to help us or share something with us. However, if we “hear people out” it doesn’t necessarily mean we are being humble or view others as superior. Rather we could be impatient, or hearing, but not truly listening, as we want them to finish so we can have our say. This would display a lack of humility, the opposite of the correct attitude.
James 1:19 says in full “Know this, my beloved brothers. Every man must be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath;” This makes it clear it is our attitude that is important to successfully show the quality of humility. It is not about “hearing someone out”, but rather genuinely wanting to hear what someone has to say or suggest, which would help us be slow about speaking or wrath, because we want to understand them.
Perhaps Jehovah will see my affliction (Par.16-17)
These paragraphs discuss how the humility of David enabled him to show self-control when under physical or verbal attacks. As the article states “We too can pray when under attack. In response, Jehovah provides his holy spirit, which can help us to endure” (Par.16). It then goes on to ask “Can you think of a situation in which you need to exercise self-restraint or freely forgive unwarranted animosity?”
Discussing this point in a more serious manner, we do need to exercise self restraint and / or freely forgive unwarranted animosity, or even unscriptural shunning. However, it would be in a balanced manner. There is no scriptural requirement to keep restrained from speaking if someone is abusing us or a family member of ours, or committing criminal acts or painful physical or psychological attacks on us or our loved ones.
Wisdom is the most important thing (Par.18)
Proverbs 4:7 reminds us “Wisdom is the prime thing. Acquire wisdom; and with all that you acquire, acquire understanding”. When we understand something well we are better able to use and apply it better using wisdom. That being the case, we need to not only apply the scriptures, buy also understand them to be able to apply them correctly. This takes time and hard work, but in the end is worth it.
As the application of the read scripture of Matthew 7:21-23 can make clear to us, it is no use having powerful works of websites and millions of pieces of literature, if the content of those items are part-falsehood. We all need to ensure we understand clearly and correctly the scriptures so that any material gathered and published is also truthful to the best of our knowledge.
“Applying what we know to be true takes time and requires patience, but it is a mark of humility that leads to happiness now and forever”.
In conclusion let us do our best to display humility according to the context of John 13:17, and not according to this WT article.