“I have called you friends, because I have made known to you all the things I have heard from my Father.”—JOHN 15:15
[From ws 04/20 p.20 June 22 – June 28]
Why use this theme scripture? Who was Jesus talking too?
In John 15 Jesus was talking to his disciples, specifically the 11 faithful apostles, as Judas had just left to betray Jesus. In John 15:10 Jesus said, “If you observe my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have observed the commandments of the Father, and remain in his love.” He also went on to say in John 15:14 “You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you”.
So why pick out the phrase “I have called you friends”? Before answering that question let us look at how Jesus addressed the apostles and disciples.
Earlier in Jesus’ ministry the following event took place which is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus’ fleshly mother and brothers were trying to get near him. Luke 8:20-21 describes what happened, “it was reported to him [Jesus] “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside wanting to see you”. In reply he [Jesus] said to them: “My mother and my brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it”. So, any disciples who listened to Jesus teaching and applied it were considered his brothers.
When speaking to Peter before Jesus was arrested, Jesus said regarding the future, “when once you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32). In Matthew 28:10, shortly after Jesus death and resurrection Jesus said the following to the women [Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary] “Have no fear! Go report to my brothers, that they may go off into Galilee; and there they will see me”.
As a summary, Jesus called the disciples in general and also the apostles, his brothers. He also stated that those who listened to him and applied it where his brothers. However, when Jesus said “I have called you friends” he was only speaking to the 11 faithful apostles. He spoke to them this way because he had grown close to them. As Jesus said in Luke 22:28 “you are the ones that have stuck with me in my trials”. As Jesus was dying “seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing by, said to his mother ‘Woman, see! Your son!’ Next, he said to the disciple; ‘See! Your mother!’ And from that hour on the disciple took her to his home” (John 19:26-27).
The book of Acts has the early disciples calling one another “brothers”, rather than just “friends”.
Therefore, it is clear that taking the phrase “I have called you friends”, as the theme and applying it as the study article does, is taking it out of context as it was specifically applied by Jesus to his faithful apostles. However, the phrase “my brothers” applying to all his disciples would not be out of context.
Then why has the Organization done this? An oversight? Artistic license? Or more sinister?
A box on page 21 gives the game away when it says “Thus, friendship with Jesus leads to friendship with Jehovah”. Yes, the Organization is subtly still pushing its agenda that the vast majority of Witnesses can only become friends of God, rather than sons of God. This is confirmed in paragraph 12 when the paragraph heading is “(3) Support Christ’s brothers”, and continues with “Jesus views what we do for his anointed brothers as if we were doing it for him” and “The primary way that we support the anointed is by sharing fully in the kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work that Jesus directed his followers to carry out.”
Surely, if we preach about the kingdom and make disciples of Christ as Jesus directed his followers to do then we are, or should be, doing it directly for Jesus, not for “Christ’s brothers”. After all, does not Galatians 6:5 tell us that “For each one will carry his own load”. Sadly, the reality is that anything done for the Organization is being done for those claiming to be “Christ’s brothers”, rather than for Christ. The study article is also trying to reinforce the artificial division the Organization has created between Christians of ‘anointed’ and ‘non-anointed’, a division that never existed in Jesus teachings.
The Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:26 said “You are all, in fact sons of God through your faith in Christ Jesus” and went on to say in Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman; for you are all one in union with Christ Jesus” and to that we could add ‘There is neither anointed and non-anointed, there is neither brothers and friends; for you are all one in union with Christ’. All “sons of God”, would be brothers of Christ, who is the firstborn Son of God. (1 John 4:15, Colossians 1:15).
Paragraphs 1-4 mentions 3 challenges in making friends of Jesus. They are:
- We have not met Jesus personally.
- We are not able to speak to Jesus.
- Jesus lives in heaven.
Now, having these three points together highlighted in bold caused me to pause and think hard about the implications. How can we make friends of someone we have not met and cannot meet, without speaking to them? It is impossible.
Paragraphs 10-14 suggested the following:
- Get to know Jesus by reading the Bible accounts of Jesus.
- Imitate Jesus’ way of thinking and acting.
- Support Christ’s brothers. (This includes a full paragraph requesting financial support, for uses for which we are never given an account of how it has been spent)
- Support the arrangements of the Christian congregation. (This is used to justify the closure and selling of Kingdom Halls).
Points 1 and 2 are vital. However, that is all one-sided and impersonal. In addition, to which (3) has already been discounted based on the scriptural evidence discussed earlier above and (4) is only relevant if the Organization is truly being used by Christ.
So why can we not speak to Jesus, after all, that would solve the problem? We can speak to God, but does it not seem strange for him to forbid us to speak to his son? The Bible does not contain any command by God that does forbid us to do so. By the same token, it does not contain any suggestion by Jesus that we do pray to him.
However, according to paragraph 3 of the study article Jesus does not want us to pray to him. It tells us “In fact, Jesus does not want us to pray to him. Why not? Because prayer is a form of worship, and only Jehovah should be worshipped. (Matthew 4:10)”.
What does Matthew 4:10 tell us? “Then Jesus said to him: “Go away Satan! For it is written, ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service”. That clearly states we should only worship God, there is no question about that, but where does it say Jesus does not want us to pray to him, because prayer is a form of worship? Is that really true?
Prayer is a form of communication, like speaking, to call upon God or a person to ask for something or to thank for something (see also Genesis 32:11, Genesis 44:18).
To Worship means to show reverence and adoration for a deity, or honor with religious rites, to take part in a religious ceremony. In the Christian Greek scriptures, the word “proskuneo” to worship – means to bow down to gods or kings (see Revelation 19:10, 22:8-9). In Matthew 4:8-9 what did Satan want Jesus to do? Satan wanted Jesus to “fall down and do an act of worship to me”.
It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that while some prayers may be done in a worshipful way or included in our worship, prayers are not exclusively worshiping. So, when the Watchtower Study article says, “prayer is a form of worship”, that is misleading. Yes, prayer can be a form of worship, but it is not exclusively a form of worship, which is a fine but important distinction. In other words, prayer is possible if done in a way not implying worship.
How do the scriptures say we worship God? Jesus said, “the hour is coming, and it is now, when the true worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
The conclusion we can draw from this is, while Jehovah God as our Father is clearly the main destination of our prayers, and the only object of our worship, the Bible record does not forbid us from communicating with Jesus in a respectful way via the medium of prayer, but neither does it encourage it. That is a thought that will leave most Witnesses, including the author, with some thinking to do.
Finally, to keep this point for thought in context, John 15:14 reminds us that Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you” and Luke 8:21 “my brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it”. Perhaps, at the end of the day in God’s and Jesus’ eyes, works speak louder than words, after all, James 2:17 says “faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself”.