A Mature View of Dedication
1. If maturity is essential for all, what next calls for discussion?
PREVIOUSLY we expressed our intention to discuss the preliminary steps essential to setting our feet properly on the way to gain “the wisdom from above”. In this regard, too, God’s spirit is essential to maturity with respect to a Scriptural understanding in the matter of our dedication to God.
2. What is the first preliminary step, and does it apply in all cases?
2 The first necessary step toward dedicating ourselves is that there must be a “turning to Jehovah”. (2 Cor. 3:16, NW) That applies in the case of one who has formerly been a member of a religious system of Christendom, modern Babylon, like the Jews in the days of the early church who were bound to their system of Judaism. It applies also in the case of one who, like the Athenians, has made no profession of having belonged to God’s covenant people. The apostle Paul dealt with both cases, from which much can be learned.
3. How does Paul point to the root of the Jews’ trouble, and what important part does faith play in this regard?
3 Respecting the Jews, he explained that they were greatly favored in listening to Jehovah’s word contained in the writings of Moses, in that “old covenant” made with him. Yet as a nation they made no progress toward wisdom and understanding. Instead, as Paul says: “Their mental perceptions were dulled” and “a veil lies upon their hearts”. Ah, that was the root of their trouble. It was not that they lacked the mental ability, but they had not the proper heart desire, which would be manifested by a spirit of faith and humility. Elsewhere, the same apostle puts his finger on the root cause of the wrong heart attitude when warning his Hebrew brothers about “a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God”. So we cannot begin to make progress in the right direction unless we turn to Jehovah in faith. The rule stated by the apostle holds good for every person, without exception: “Without faith it is impossible to win his good pleasure, for he that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.”—2 Cor. 3:14-16; Heb. 3:12; 11:6, NW.
4. Are there great blessings and privileges in prospect for those who sincerely turn to Jehovah?
4 Now observe the glorious prospect that opens up to one who turns to Jehovah in sincerity and truth and, as we see the direction his pathway takes, you will recognize the familiar landmarks noted in what we have just studied. For in 2 Corinthians 3:16 to 4:6 (NW) the apostle goes on to explain that when the veil is removed we are freed from the darkness and bondage of error and come into that place (the Lord’s organization, Zion) and into that relationship “where the spirit of Jehovah is”, where there is freedom to search the deep things and be “transformed” by having our minds made over, so that we can reflect and radiate the glory of Jehovah, all of which is ‘exactly as done by Jehovah’s spirit’. All those thus favored in Zion have a glorious “ministry” to “let the light shine out of darkness” that other prisoners may yet be released from bondage to “the god of this system of things” by our “making the truth manifest . . . to every human conscience”.—Isa. 59:21; 60:1, AS.
5. Is a similar course prescribed for those who previously made no profession, and is there encouragement for all to seek Jehovah?
5 As for those who previously have made no profession of serving Jehovah God, observe that Paul, in substance, prescribed the same course for those men of Athens. They, too, must “seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him, although [for our encouragement], in fact, he is not far off from each one of us”, and though “God has overlooked the times of such ignorance, yet now he is telling mankind that they should all everywhere repent”. (Acts 17:27, 30, NW) Literally the Greek word for “repent” has the thought of a change of mind, “a turning to Jehovah.” There is every encouragement in God’s Word for all, whatever their previous course may have been, to take this initial step of repenting and come into the right heart attitude. Consider, for example, the following gracious expressions: “Seek ye Jehovah while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto Jehovah, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” For “to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word”.—Isa. 55:6, 7; 66:2, AS.
6. On first coming to a knowledge of the truth, what two important things are usually first realized?
6 Now what next? Let us take, for illustration, the case of one who has but recently come in touch with Jehovah’s witnesses and who, by their help, has come to an appreciation of the knowledge of the truth of Jehovah’s glorious purpose and gracious provision. He has turned away from his previous course and has turned to Jehovah, for he realizes he has been brought out of darkness into light. He now sees the paramount issue of God’s universal sovereignty and he knows according to God’s Word it will shortly be settled before all creation, once and for all time, at Armageddon, “the war of the great day of God the Almighty.” He knows it will be the triumph of God’s kingdom with its righteous armies fighting under Jehovah’s anointed “King of kings”, and that the foretold victory is absolutely certain because, ever since A.D. 1914, Jehovah has been taunting his enemies and laughing at them in derision, saying: “Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” He is thrilled with this enlightened vision, and he also sees in God’s Word that at this “time of the end” an urgent work of great importance must be done; God’s “strange work”, a work of bearing witness, delivering a message of warning, also a message of comfort and instruction to all who will heed.—Rev. 16:14; 19:11-16, NW; Ps. 2, AS.
7. Appreciation of the issue and of the Lord’s work leads to what line of reasoning and course of action?
7 ‘Yes,’ he says to himself, ‘I clearly see the issue and I appreciate that Jehovah’s witnesses are indeed doing the Lord’s work. And I determine, by God’s grace, to take my stand on the right side of the issue, in support of the righteous cause of God’s kingdom. Further, I see it is my privilege and responsibility to take an active part in the witness work to the fullest extent possible, putting it first in my life. Having taken my stand and having dedicated myself wholly to God’s service as carried forward under the direction of his theocratic organization, I realize that, according to the Scriptures, the next thing is to submit myself to water immersion as a symbol of my complete dedication and of the stand I have taken.’ He does so, believing there lies ahead of him a clear-cut course which, if maintained, will lead to lasting life and happiness on earth under God’s Kingdom rule and blessing.
8. Does the clear-cut course always work out as planned, or do various reasons crop up which make it appear impossible?
8 So far, so good. Or is it? That clear-cut course does not always work out that way, does it? Doubtless you have heard of instances, or been in personal touch with such, or perhaps are even undergoing such an experience yourself right now, where it seems as if it is going to be impossible to maintain the course on which you have started out. It may be one reason, or another. It may be that the rigors of the witness work itself are far more trying in actual experience than what you had imagined, based on the optimism and enthusiasm of your fellow witnesses. Not much actual opposition, perhaps, but a lot of apathy in the territory where you are working, and you feel it is wearing you down. Or, perhaps, nothing directly related to the Lord’s work, but some severe domestic problem which has arisen because of the stand you have taken, causing great mental strain and unhappiness; seemingly more than you can bear. Or, maybe, something quite the reverse; something, or someone, has come into your life with an appeal so strong that you feel you just cannot resist it. You know from all that you have heard, besides from examples in the Bible, such as Hebrews 11, that these experiences are common to all God’s people and that they hold on faithfully under such tests and temptations; but, in your case, you simply feel you have been thrown right off your balance and that you have taken on more than you can manage. The promises of God’s Word do not seem to apply in your case. You feel you cannot face the brothers, and you turn to old indulgences, or fly to new ones, in an attempt to drown your sorrows.
9. Is disappointment sometimes experienced with newly interested ones, and should we quickly conclude nothing more can be done to help them?
9 Perhaps, dear reader, you have never had such an experience, but you may have had the joy of helping some others to see the truth and you have seen them come along in the way described, and then, just when you thought they were safe within the fold, having taken their stand and been immersed, they commenced to waver and stumble somewhat as suggested. What has gone wrong? You recall how good their progress seemed to be while you were having a home Bible study with them. Yet now, though you are anxious to help them in any way possible, seeking divine guidance in the matter, they will not let you and perhaps even refuse to see you. You regretfully conclude nothing more can be done and that you had better turn your attention elsewhere to try to find and help fresh interest, comforting yourself with the reflection that these things were foretold in that illustration given by Jesus about the seed sown where there was no depth of soil, or where it was speedily choked by thorns. However, it was clearly pointed out in the Watchtower study on that parable (December 1, 1950) that these conditions causing nonfruitage are not necessarily automatic, something that cannot be altered; but, whether it is a question of helping ourselves, or someone else, we have a big responsibility. So let us look again at the question, What has gone wrong?
CAUSE OF RELAPSE
10. Is our dedication to be viewed as primarily to a work, or to a person, and what difference does this make?
10 You may say that immaturity is the cause. Yes, but in what particular respect? And we suggest it may very well be a lack of understanding as to all that is meant by the step of dedication. The point we wish to make is that it is not simply a matter of dedicating ourselves to a work, giving it first place in our lives; but it primarily means dedicating ourselves to a person, The Person, Jehovah. And what difference does that make? All the difference in the world. It helps us to avoid the mistake of viewing our dedication as an elementary step taken and done with, and then getting on with the work. Rather, it should be viewed as entering into a vital relationship which must at all times be maintained and jealously guarded.
11. (a) Where do we find information as to Jesus’ dedication? (b) How did he reveal a mature understanding of God’s law in relation to his dedication?
11 For Scriptural guidance respecting this, we could not do better than consider our Leader and Exemplar, Christ Jesus. For our profit, as well as his, Jehovah very kindly revealed in his Word precisely the reasoning of Jesus’ mind and attitude of heart which led him to be immersed at the hands of John. This was recorded in Psalm 40, written centuries before Jesus came to earth, and we can be positive as to its application because, speaking at Hebrews 10:5-10 about Jesus’ offering himself, the apostle quotes from Psalm 40:6-8. Reading these verses we learn that Jesus realized that, in place of the animal sacrifices and offerings made under the old Law covenant, it was now his privilege to offer himself as the “one sacrifice for sins perpetually”. (Heb. 10:12, NW) And so, expressing his heart attitude in dedicating himself, he said: “Lo, I come . . . I delight to do thy will, O my God.” But, you say, does not that last expression amply prove it is dedication to a work, to do God’s will? Wait a minute! Maturity means understanding not merely some truth on any one subject, but the whole truth, getting the complete picture in mind, each part in its proper place and proportion in relation to the whole. Let us, then, give due weight to the succeeding and closing expression of Jesus’ dedication: “Thy law is in my very heart.” (Ps. 40:7, 8, AT) How so? In what form? The Ten Commandments? Jesus pointed to a much more mature view of the essence of God’s law in his summary to the Jewish scribe, saying that Jehovah our God is one and there is no other (stressing his supremacy as the paramount issue), then we must be loving him with our whole heart, understanding and strength, and also loving our neighbor as ourselves. (Mark 12:28-34, NW) Ah, there we have the root of the matter! That was the underlying reason why Jesus could say, “I delight to do thy will,” and persevered and stuck to that course through the severest of sufferings and tests; not just because he saw it was a good work on which so much depended, but because of his relationship with his heavenly Father, acknowledging his supremacy and loving him with unbreakable attachment and devotion.
12. How does the marriage relationship show the need to put first things first?
12 To illustrate the relative importance between relationship and work, consider the marriage relationship. When a woman marries she knows that in the care of the home and rearing the children there is important work ahead of her and plenty of it, for “a woman’s work is never done”. But if she is a true and wise woman she appreciates that far more important still is the need to faithfully and constantly play her part in maintaining that precious marital relationship of mutual love and affection and devotion, jealously guarding against anything that might cause them to begin to lose confidence or respect and to start drifting apart. In these days when selfishness has gone to seed, it seems that marriage is often viewed as a step taken and done with, rather than a relationship entered into to be maintained and guarded. This, maybe, is the reason why so many drift so quickly onto the rocks.
13. Does a true appreciation of our dedication lead to a mature view of our responsibility toward the Lord’s work?
13 Let us guard well, at all costs and at all times, our complete and unselfish heart-devotion to Jehovah, which is the very essence of our dedication vows. Like Jesus, we have responded to the invitation: “My son, give me thy heart.” (Prov. 23:26, AS) From then onward, “guard your heart with all vigilance, for thence are the well-springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23, AT) Does this minimize the importance of the Lord’s work and our part therein? Not at all. It aids us to take a mature view of it, to zealously engage in it with the right motive, because we desire to exalt Jehovah’s name, because we love him with everything we have and because we love our neighbor and want him to share in the same blessings we enjoy. Engaging in Jehovah’s service is the essential and constant proof of our dedication maintained. (John 14:15; 1 John 5:2, 3, NW) Surely we can now appreciate more keenly that a mature understanding by the aid of God’s spirit leads to a mature worship “with spirit and truth”, and which finds its full expression in mature, sacred service. Did not Jesus inseparably link these two, worship and service, when he said: “It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service”?—Matt. 4:10, NW.
14. Above all else, what is essential to fulfillment of our dedication vows?
14 Will the foregoing help us to overcome the seemingly overpowering difficulties previously described? Surely. Love for Jehovah, surrendering our wills completely to his and being conscious of our relationship with him, is the one thing that will help us to meet the sharpest thrust from the adversary from whatever quarter; the one thing that will sustain us through the most grueling test of endurance; the one thing that will reveal and offset the most subtle and alluring temptation.
15. (a) To what degree is the operation of Jehovah’s spirit affected by our conception of what dedication means? (b) What will enable us to share the apostle’s conviction recorded at Romans 8:38, 39?
15 Besides, see how God’s spirit enters into this. Jehovah’s spirit operates freely only toward those who have fully dedicated themselves to him with all their heart. It is good to realize the importance of Jehovah’s righteous cause and work, but if our dedication stops short there, we have not gone far enough, we have not reached the source of our much-needed help. So do not make the mistake of saying when difficulties arise, ‘I will keep busy in the witness work and in close touch with the Lord’s people and his organization, and I can take it for granted these things will keep me in harmony with Jehovah and ensure his spirit’s operating on my behalf.’ Take nothing for granted. Concerning every fundamental doctrine and every step and relationship affecting our gaining and keeping Jehovah’s favor and gaining endless life in his kingdom, “let us press on to maturity” of understanding by the illumination of his spirit, so that each can say, as did the apostle: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor governments nor things here nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Heb. 6:1; Rom. 8:38, 39, NW.