1-3. (a) Why are we indebted to Jehovah? (b) What does our loving Rescuer ask back from us?
IMAGINE being trapped on a sinking ship. Just when you think that there is no hope, a rescuer arrives and pulls you to safety. How relieved you feel as your rescuer takes you away from the danger and says: “You are safe now”! Would you not feel indebted to that person? In a very real sense, you would owe him your life.
2 In some respects, this illustrates what Jehovah has done for us. Surely we are indebted to him. After all, he has provided the ransom, making it possible for us to be rescued from the clutches of sin and death. We feel safe knowing that as long as we exercise faith in that precious sacrifice, our sins are forgiven, and our eternal future is secure. (1 John 1:7; 4:9) As we saw in Chapter 14, the ransom is a supreme expression of Jehovah’s love and justice. How should we respond?
3 It is fitting to consider what our loving Rescuer himself asks back from us. Jehovah says by means of the prophet Micah: “He has told you, O earthling man, what is good. And what is Jehovah asking back from you but to exercise justice and to love kindness and to be modest in walking with your God?” (Micah 6:8) Notice that one of the things Jehovah asks back from us is that we “exercise justice.” How can we do so?
Pursuing “True Righteousness”
4. How do we know that Jehovah expects us to live in harmony with his righteous standards?
4 Jehovah expects us to live by his standards of right and wrong. Since his standards are just and righteous, we are pursuing justice and righteousness when we conform to them. “Learn to do good; search for justice,” says Isaiah 1:17. God’s Word exhorts us to “seek righteousness.” (Zephaniah 2:3) It also urges us to “put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness.” (Ephesians 4:24) True righteousness—true justice—shuns violence, uncleanness, and immorality, for these violate what is holy.—Psalm 11:5; Ephesians 5:3-5.
5, 6. (a) Why is it not a burden for us to conform to Jehovah’s standards? (b) How does the Bible show that pursuing righteousness is a continuing process?
5 Is it a burden for us to conform to Jehovah’s righteous standards? No. A heart that is drawn to Jehovah does not chafe at his requirements. Because we love our God and all that he stands for, we want to live in a way that pleases him. (1 John 5:3) Recall that Jehovah “does love righteous acts.” (Psalm 11:7) If we are truly to imitate divine justice, or righteousness, we must come to love what Jehovah loves and hate what he hates.—Psalm 97:10.
6 It is not easy for imperfect humans to pursue righteousness. We must strip off the old personality with its sinful practices and put on the new one. The Bible says that the new personality is “being made new” through accurate knowledge. (Colossians 3:9, 10) The words “being made new” indicate that putting on the new personality is a continuing process, one that requires diligent effort. No matter how hard we try to do what is right, there are times when our sinful nature causes us to stumble in thought, word, or deed.—Romans 7:14-20; James 3:2.
7. In what way should we view setbacks in our efforts to pursue righteousness?
7 How should we view setbacks in our efforts to pursue righteousness? Of course, we would not want to minimize the seriousness of sin. At the same time, we must never give up, feeling that our shortcomings make us unfit to serve Jehovah. Our gracious God has made provision to restore sincerely repentant ones to his favor. Consider the reassuring words of the apostle John: “I am writing you these things that you may not commit a sin.” But then he realistically added: “Yet, if anyone does commit a sin [because of inherited imperfection], we have a helper with the Father, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 2:1) Yes, Jehovah has provided Jesus’ ransom sacrifice so that we might acceptably serve Him in spite of our sinful nature. Does that not move us to want to do our best to please Jehovah?
The Good News and Divine Justice
8, 9. How does the proclamation of the good news demonstrate Jehovah’s justice?
8 We can exercise justice—in fact, imitate divine justice—by having a full share in preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom to others. What connection is there between Jehovah’s justice and the good news?
9 Jehovah will not bring an end to this wicked system without first having the warning sounded. In his prophecy about what would take place during the time of the end, Jesus said: “In all the nations the good news has to be preached first.” (Mark 13:10; Matthew 24:3) The use of the word “first” implies that other events will follow the worldwide preaching work. Those events include the foretold great tribulation, which will mean destruction for the wicked and will pave the way for a righteous new world. (Matthew 24:14, 21, 22) Certainly, no one can rightly charge Jehovah with being unjust toward the wicked. By having the warning sounded, he is giving such ones ample opportunity to change their ways and therefore escape destruction.—Jonah 3:1-10.
10, 11. How does our having a share in preaching the good news reflect godly justice?
10 How does our preaching the good news reflect godly justice? First of all, it is only right that we do what we can to help others gain salvation. Consider again the illustration of being rescued from a sinking ship. Safe in a lifeboat, you would surely want to help others who are still in the water. Similarly, we have an obligation toward those who are still struggling in the “waters” of this wicked world. True, many reject our message. But as long as Jehovah continues to be patient, we have the responsibility to give them the opportunity to “attain to repentance” and thus come in line for salvation.—2 Peter 3:9.
11 By preaching the good news to all whom we meet, we display justice in another important way: We show impartiality. Recall that “God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34, 35) If we are to imitate His justice, we must not prejudge people. Instead, we should share the good news with others regardless of their race, social status, or financial standing. We thus give all who will listen an opportunity to hear and respond to the good news.—Romans 10:11-13.
How We Treat Others
12, 13. (a) Why should we not be quick to sit in judgment of others? (b) What is the meaning of Jesus’ counsel to “stop judging” and “stop condemning”? (See also footnote.)
12 We can also exercise justice by treating others the way Jehovah treats us. It is all too easy to sit in judgment of others, criticizing their faults and questioning their motives. But who of us would want Jehovah to scrutinize our motives and shortcomings in a merciless manner? That is not how Jehovah deals with us. The psalmist observed: “If errors were what you watch, O Jah, O Jehovah, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3) Are we not grateful that our just and merciful God chooses not to dwell on our failings? (Psalm 103:8-10) How, then, should we treat others?
13 If we appreciate the merciful nature of God’s justice, we will not be quick to judge others in matters that really do not concern us or that are of lesser importance. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned: “Stop judging that you may not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1) According to Luke’s account, Jesus added: “Stop condemning, and you will by no means be condemned.”* (Luke 6:37) Jesus showed his awareness that imperfect humans have a tendency to be judgmental. Any of his listeners who were in the habit of harshly judging others were to stop it.
14. For what reasons must we “stop judging” others?
14 Why must we “stop judging” others? For one thing, our authority is limited. The disciple James reminds us: “One there is that is lawgiver and judge”—Jehovah. So James pointedly asks: “Who are you to be judging your neighbor?” (James 4:12; Romans 14:1-4) In addition, our sinful nature can so easily render our judgments unfair. Many attitudes and motives—including prejudice, injured pride, jealousy, and self-righteousness—can distort the way we see fellow humans. We have further limitations, and reflecting on these should restrain us from being quick to find fault with others. We cannot read hearts; nor can we know all the personal circumstances of others. Who, then, are we to impute wrong motives to fellow believers or to criticize their efforts in God’s service? How much better it is to imitate Jehovah by looking for the good in our brothers and sisters rather than focusing on their failings!
15. What words and treatment have no place among God’s worshipers, and why?
15 What about our family members? Sadly, in today’s world some of the harshest judgments are handed down in what should be a haven of peace—the home. It is not uncommon to hear about abusive husbands, wives, or parents who “sentence” their family members to a constant barrage of verbal or physical abuse. But vicious words, bitter sarcasm, and abusive treatment have no place among God’s worshipers. (Ephesians 4:29, 31; 5:33; 6:4) Jesus’ counsel to “stop judging” and “stop condemning” does not cease to apply when we are at home. Recall that exercising justice involves treating others the way Jehovah treats us. And our God is never harsh or cruel in dealing with us. Rather, he “is very tender in affection” toward those who love him. (James 5:11) What a marvelous example for us to imitate!
Elders Serving “for Justice Itself”
16, 17. (a) What does Jehovah expect of elders? (b) What has to be done when a sinner fails to manifest genuine repentance, and why?
16 All of us have a responsibility to exercise justice, but elders in the Christian congregation especially have a responsibility in this regard. Notice the prophetic description of “princes,” or elders, recorded by Isaiah: “Look! A king will reign for righteousness itself; and as respects princes, they will rule as princes for justice itself.” (Isaiah 32:1) Yes, Jehovah expects elders to serve in the interests of justice. How can they do this?
17 These spiritually qualified men are well aware that justice, or righteousness, requires that the congregation be kept clean. At times, elders are obliged to judge cases of serious wrongdoing. When doing so, they remember that divine justice seeks to extend mercy if at all possible. They thus try to lead the sinner to repentance. But what if the sinner fails to manifest genuine repentance despite such efforts to help him? In perfect justice, Jehovah’s Word directs that a firm step be taken: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” That means expelling him from the congregation. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13; 2 John 9-11) It saddens the elders to have to take such action, but they recognize that it is necessary in order to protect the moral and spiritual cleanness of the congregation. Even then, they hope that someday the sinner will come to his senses and return to the congregation.—Luke 15:17, 18.
18. What do elders keep in mind when offering Bible-based counsel to others?
18 Serving in the interests of justice also involves offering Bible-based counsel when needed. Of course, elders do not look for flaws in others. Nor do they seize every opportunity to offer correction. But a fellow believer may take “some false step before he is aware of it.” Remembering that divine justice is neither cruel nor unfeeling will move elders to “try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.” (Galatians 6:1) Hence, elders would not scold an erring one or employ harsh words. Instead, counsel that is given lovingly encourages the one receiving it. Even when giving pointed reproof—straightforwardly outlining the consequences of an unwise course—elders keep in mind that a fellow believer who has erred is a sheep in Jehovah’s flock.* (Luke 15:7) When counsel or reproof is clearly motivated by and given in love, it is more likely to readjust the erring one.
19. What decisions are elders called upon to make, and on what must they base such decisions?
19 Elders are often called upon to make decisions that affect their fellow believers. For example, elders periodically meet to consider whether other brothers in the congregation qualify to be recommended as elders or ministerial servants. The elders know the importance of being impartial. They let God’s requirements for such appointments guide them in making decisions, not relying on mere personal feelings. They thus act “without prejudgment, doing nothing according to a biased leaning.”—1 Timothy 5:21.
20, 21. (a) What do elders strive to be, and why? (b) What can elders do to help “depressed souls”?
20 Elders administer divine justice in other ways as well. After foretelling that elders would serve “for justice itself,” Isaiah continued: “Each one must prove to be like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.” (Isaiah 32:2) Elders, then, strive to be sources of comfort and refreshment to their fellow worshipers.
21 Today, with all the problems that tend to dishearten, many need encouragement. Elders, what can you do to help “depressed souls”? (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Listen to them with empathy. (James 1:19) They may need to share the “anxious care” in their heart with someone they trust. (Proverbs 12:25) Reassure them that they are wanted, valued, and loved—yes, by Jehovah and also by their brothers and sisters. (1 Peter 1:22; 5:6, 7) In addition, you can pray with and for such ones. Hearing an elder say a heartfelt prayer in their behalf can be most comforting. (James 5:14, 15) Your loving efforts to help depressed ones will not go unnoticed by the God of justice.
Elders reflect Jehovah’s justice when they encourage downhearted ones
22. In what ways can we imitate Jehovah’s justice, and with what result?
22 Truly, we draw ever closer to Jehovah by imitating his justice! When we uphold his righteous standards, when we share the lifesaving good news with others, and when we choose to focus on the good in others rather than looking for their faults, we are displaying godly justice. Elders, when you protect the cleanness of the congregation, when you offer upbuilding Scriptural counsel, when you make impartial decisions, and when you encourage downhearted ones, you are reflecting godly justice. How it must delight Jehovah’s heart to look down from the heavens and see his people trying their best to “exercise justice” in walking with their God!
Some translations say “do not judge” and “do not condemn.” Such renderings imply “do not start judging” and “do not start condemning.” However, the Bible writers here use negative commands in the present (continuous) tense. So the actions described were currently going on but had to cease.
At 2 Timothy 4:2, the Bible says that elders must at times “reprove, reprimand, exhort.” The Greek word rendered “exhort” (pa·ra·ka·leʹo) can mean “to encourage.” A related Greek word, pa·raʹkle·tos, can refer to an advocate in a legal matter. Thus, even when elders give firm reproof, they are to be helpers of those needing spiritual assistance.