A Warm Welcome for Those Who Return
1. What kind of persons are being discussed in this chapter?
THERE are many persons who at some time have had enough contact with Bible truth to know that Jehovah is the true God and to understand something about his purposes. Although they are not Jehovah’s Witnesses, they may have studied the Bible with the Witnesses. Or perhaps their parents were Witnesses. Many of these have attended some meetings at a Kingdom Hall. They may even have had some part in sharing the Kingdom message with others. But they have not devoted their lives to the doing of God’s will. Why not?
2. (a) Why did they wander away from Jehovah’s organization? (b) Why do they begin to wish they were back again?
2 The world offers attractions that they think they want, things that they feel will add to their enjoyment of life, and they wander away from Jehovah’s organization in their quest for such things. In time, however, some of these realize that they have not found the kind of life they expected. They wake up to the fact that if they continue as they are, they are going to perish with the world. They have not forgotten the security and spiritual abundance in Jehovah’s “house,” and they want to be there again. But will Jehovah accept them?
A PRODIGAL SON RETURNS
3. (a) In the parable of the prodigal son, what description did Jesus give of a similar situation? (b) Whom does the father picture?
3 The answer is indicated in Jesus’ well-known parable of the prodigal son. As an illustration, Jesus told about a man who had two sons. The younger son asked his father for his share of the property. Having obtained this, he went to a distant country, where he recklessly squandered everything in a life of debauchery. He thus acted prodigally. When famine hit that country, the young man, in desperate need, was forced to herd swine, but he was not even permitted to eat their fodder. Shaken by the problems that overwhelmed him, he came to his senses. He called to mind how good life was for even hired men in his father’s house, and he determined to return. He would acknowledge his sinful course and ask to be received back, not as a son, but as a hired servant. (Luke 15:11-19) But after all the things he had done, would his father let him return? How would Jehovah, who was represented by the father in this parable, view the return of such a person?
4. How did the father receive his son when he returned?
4 Vividly portraying Jehovah’s feelings in the matter, Jesus continued: “While [the younger son] was yet a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was moved with pity, and he ran and fell upon his neck and tenderly kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Make me as one of your hired men.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quick! bring out a robe, the best one, and clothe him with it, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fattened young bull, slaughter it and let us eat and enjoy ourselves, because this my son was dead and came to life again; he was lost and was found.’ And they started to enjoy themselves.”—Luke 15:20-24.
HOW DOES THE PARABLE APPLY TODAY?
5. (a) Who was pictured by the elder son in Jesus’ parable? (b) Who, then, was represented by the younger son, the prodigal?
5 In this illustration the elder son, the firstborn, appropriately corresponds to “the congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens.” (Hebrews 12:23) What about the younger son? He must represent a group other than the “little flock” who have the heavenly hope. Not all of the Lord’s “other sheep” fit the description of the younger son, but some do. Even before the ingathering of the “other sheep” became especially noteworthy, starting in 1935, there were persons who knew that Jehovah is the only true God. They knew of the hope of earthly life under his Kingdom, and they did not entertain for themselves any thought of being of “the congregation of the firstborn” with heavenly hopes. But instead of devoting themselves to Jehovah’s service, they became immersed in worldly pursuits. They took the “means of living” that God granted them, the time and the life that he allowed them to have, and used these for selfish personal gratification. But in 1935 when Jehovah’s servants first clearly understood the identity of the “great crowd,” many who corresponded to the younger son wholeheartedly offered themselves for service in the Father’s house. It was a time of rejoicing such as Jesus described in his parable.
6. In the fulfillment, how did some persons manifest the attitude of the older son, but was that true of all the remnant?
6 It is true that, at that time, not everyone shared in this rejoicing over the arrival of the class represented by the younger son. In his parable Jesus indicated that this would be the case. But not all the remaining ones of the “little flock” manifested such a spirit, and in his illustration Jesus left the way open for even those who were at first displeased, to share in the joy that Jehovah himself has when such sinners truly repent.—Luke 15:7, 10, 25-32.
7, 8. (a) In more recent years, what has caused others to get far away from Jehovah’s household? (b) In what ways have some felt like the prodigal son? (c) Why should they return?
7 Since those events of the mid-1930’s, however, others have realized that they, too, are in certain respects like that prodigal son. They are well acquainted with Jehovah’s spiritual household, his visible organization, but their way of life has taken them far from it, as if to “a distant country.” They have not opposed Jehovah’s servants, but their own way of life has not been in accord with the standards of God’s Word. They may have built their entire life around their secular work and themselves but failed to give proper weight to their obligations before God and to the seriousness of the times in which we live. Some were offended by the imperfections of others then associated with the congregation and they did not patiently wait for Jehovah to correct matters. But into what conditions have all of these come when they isolated themselves from the household of faith?
8 In time, some have realized that they have become spiritually impoverished. They can see that whatever brief periods of pleasure they have are not bringing them lasting happiness. They may also find that their way of life is taking its toll physically, emotionally and spiritually. Inside they feel empty, as do all who are without God and have no hope. (Ephesians 2:12) They realize that the only time they were really happy was in Jehovah’s “house.” They want to return. Should they? What possible benefit can there be from continuing in their impoverished condition? Delay could be disastrous. If they keep clinging to the world, when it is destroyed they are going to lose their life.
9. (a) Why does Jehovah want such persons to return? (Ezekiel 18:23) (b) What is required on their part?
9 But can such persons return? Warmly Jehovah invites them to come back, and his visible organization extends loving help to those who do. (Zechariah 1:3, 4) What is required? As shown in Jesus’ parable, they must come to their senses, take the initiative to return and acknowledge that they have sinned against God. If they engaged in grossly unchristian conduct, they must give convincing evidence to the elders that they have now abandoned that way of life and are genuinely repentant. Their earnest desire must now be to serve Jehovah as part of his visible organization. (Luke 15:18-21; Proverbs 28:13) If that truly is what is in their heart, they can be sure that their leaving their bad ways and thoughts and returning to Jehovah will bring great joy. (Isaiah 55:7) However, for their own joy to extend beyond the pleasure of being warmly welcomed again at the Kingdom Hall, sound spiritual rebuilding is needed.
BUILDING ON A SOUND FOUNDATION
10. (a) What attitude toward Jehovah’s requirements do repentant ones need to develop? (b) How can they cultivate a close personal relationship with Jehovah?
10 Especially is it important for any who return to Jehovah’s household to become well acquainted with the various features of Jehovah’s personality and to cultivate a close personal relationship with him. They need to realize that all that Jehovah requires of us is really for our own benefit. His commandments do not take the joy out of life but, instead, safeguard us against doing things that might bring a momentary thrill but lead to a bitter harvest. (Isaiah 48:17; Galatians 6:7, 8) When he disciplines us, it is because of his love for us. (Proverbs 3:11, 12) Personal study followed by meditation on what is learned, earnest prayer and regular meeting attendance will help us to learn to put our full trust in Jehovah, to look to him for direction in everything we do.—Proverbs 3:5, 6.
11. How will those who had strayed be helped by (a) developing hatred for badness? (b) seeking understanding? (c) being consistent in applying godly standards? (d) learning to consider the outcome of anything they plan to do? (e) showing loving concern for others?
11 Those who strayed may have known what was right and what was wrong. But now they must also develop hatred for badness and they must continue to do so as long as it surrounds them. (Psalm 97:10) They will be helped in this if they seek not only knowledge but also understanding. First of all, this involves seeing things in relation to God. We need to recognize the various means by which he instructs us and how our reaction to his counsel affects our relationship with him. (Proverbs 4:7; 9:10) We must appreciate the importance of being consistent, applying Jehovah’s standards all the time, in everything we do. (Titus 2:11, 12; 1 Thessalonians 4:7) Care should also be exercised to consider not just momentary pleasure but what the outcome of our decisions may prove to be. (Compare Proverbs 20:21; 23:17, 18; Hebrews 11:24-26.) We should also be lovingly concerned about the effect on others of things we say and do.—Romans 15:1, 2.
12. (a) Awareness of what as to Satan and his methods will help to safeguard us? (b) What is needed to win in this fight?
12 As Christians we will be greatly strengthened by realizing that we are in the midst of a spiritual warfare. Our principal adversary is Satan the Devil, along with his demons. By every means possible he seeks to divert us from the vital Kingdom work that Jehovah has given us to do. His objective is to entice us to set aside Jehovah’s standards, to become part of the world of which he is ruler. His snares often appeal to normal desires (for happiness, physical comfort, love and affection), but he urges us to give such desires a prominence that distorts their purpose or to satisfy them in improper ways. Only by making full use of the spiritual armor that God provides can we come off winners in this fight for our spiritual lives.—Ephesians 6:11-18.
13. (a) How can we find refreshment for our souls? (b) Why does serving Jehovah in imitation of Christ really bring us happiness?
13 Jesus said that if we would come to him and take his “yoke,” we would find refreshment for our souls. (Matthew 11:29, 30) Taking a “yoke” upon oneself means serving. But serving Jehovah in imitation of his Son brings true refreshment. How so? Because it brings real freedom. We no longer are slaves of sin, in bondage to it, doing things we know we should not do and perhaps wish we were not doing. (John 8:32, 34-36) If our Christian personality is built on Jesus Christ as the foundation, we will appreciate his role in Jehovah’s purpose, we will listen to him and learn from him. He delighted to do his Father’s will. We will learn to do that too. (John 4:34; Psalm 40:8) Because of adhering to God’s moral standards we will be able to enjoy a clean conscience. Instead of living only for self, we will experience the happiness that comes from giving. (Acts 20:35) Life will come to have real purpose for us. Above all, we will have the joy of knowing that we have the approval of Jehovah himself, the Father of all who become his sons.—Proverbs 10:22.