“Not the Kind That Shrink Back”
THE atoms and molecules that go to make up matter are in constant motion. The faster they go the hotter they get; the slower they go the lower their temperature becomes. And the general rule is that as a substance heats up it expands, and as it cools off it contracts. Also, a hot body can share its heat with a cold one, the faster-moving molecules of the hot one imparting more speed to the molecules of the cold substance with which it comes in contact, which increased motion causes the cold one to heat up. All of which finds some analogy with Christians and Christian activity. Jesus referred to those claiming to follow him in terms of temperature: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or else hot. So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.”—Rev. 3:15, 16, NW.
Those Christians who are hot are zealously moving and bestirring themselves in Kingdom service, and are expanding their ministry. The cold ones have lost their motion and cooled off and shrunk back. They have no heat or zeal for themselves, and none to share with others. Those who are active and hot for God’s service can contact the less-active ones and impart warmth and zeal to them, bestirring them to activity and heating them up to accomplish an expansion of their ministry. The rendering of this assistance may be a drain on the energy of the one who helps and may cut down on his preaching time, but it does make for an over-all increase of activity by getting the cooled-off one warmed up and active again. Moreover, it is not a permanent loss to the helper, as might be the case with inanimate substances. Why not? Because Christians have a way of constantly replenishing their heat supplies. “Is not my word like as a fire?” inquires Jehovah. (Jer. 23:29) So by continual refueling from the inexhaustible Word of God the Christian’s zeal and energy for service can be maintained at a high level.
Some start out zealously in service. They study and soak up a supply of heat from God’s Word and progress rapidly for a time. But later they fall into a bad practice. They neglect their study of the Bible. They quit refueling, lose heat as knowledge slips from mind, and cool off as they mix in old-world surroundings that are cold to God. Losing their Christian heat and not replenishing it by study, they cool off and shrink back to their former smallness and inactivity, just as they were before ever hearing the truth. Paul warns against just such a shrinking back on the part of those who had started out using their freeness of speech to preach and who had endured suffering with God’s people: “However, keep on remembering the former days in which, after you were enlightened, you endured a great contest under sufferings, sometimes while you were being exposed as in a theater both to reproaches and tribulations, and sometimes while you became sharers with those who were having such an experience. For you both expressed sympathy for those in prison and joyfully took the plundering of your belongings, knowing you yourselves have a better and an abiding possession. Do not, therefore, throw away your freeness of speech, which has a great reward to be paid it. For you have need of endurance, . . . Now we are not the kind that shrink back to destruction, but the kind that have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.”—Heb. 10:32-39, NW.
Those who shrink back are the ones Peter said fit the true proverb: “The dog has turned back to its own vomit, and the sow that was bathed to rolling in the mire.” (2 Pet. 2:22, NW) They had been a part of the old world system of things, then came into association with the new world society and fed upon the clean spiritual food on Jehovah’s table, “a feast of fat things,” and thereafter turned back to Satan’s world, where “all tables are full of filthy vomit, no place is clean”. (Isa. 25:6; 28:8, AT) The Christian’s food is not just the nourishing truths in the Bible, but also the doing of God’s will, as Jesus said: “My food is for me to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34, NW) It is not just a matter of hearing God’s words, but a matter of doing them also. (Jas. 1:22) When one quits studying and doing God’s will, he returns to the hearing and practicing of the world’s wordy propagandas, rolling in its mire like the washed sow returning to her muddy wallow.
But perhaps the ones once hot do not turn cold, but only lukewarm. Then what? Jesus answered, “I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.” They may give the truth enough listless attention to keep from completely shrinking back, but not enough to expand into zealous service. Going neither one way nor the other, they drift. “That is why it is necessary for us to pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by us, that we may never drift away.” (Heb. 2:1, NW) If we allow ourselves to lazily drift with the current of humanity we gravitate toward the Dead sea of Armageddon. We must not drift with this babbling flow of humanity, being swept along with it unresistingly, but we must swim against it, which calls for strong effort. So we must not only refuse to shrink back but refuse to be idle and motionless, for such objects become like driftwood that moves with every changing wind and wave, unable to guide itself and without power to govern its destination. Some of the currents of Satan’s waters run deceptively smooth, seemingly still but running deep. In subtle ways he will make us drifters, moving slowly and apparently harmlessly at first, but as the current takes hold its grip on us strengthens and becomes harder and harder to break away from, until eventually we cannot swim against the increasing current that moves us ever swifter toward the Niagaralike plunge into the abyss. But we can avoid this peril by hearing and doing God’s words, which will strengthen our hope in the new world, and which hope will in turn serve as an anchor for our soul to keep it from drifting into destruction. (Heb. 6:19) Failing to do this, we shall become so sickening and obnoxious to Jehovah and Christ and God’s organization that we shall eventually be vomited from their midst, forcibly expelled as nauseating and polluting.
EXAMPLES, GOOD AND BAD
Moses shrank back from a special service assignment from Jehovah because it called for speaking, and Moses found that difficult. Jehovah provided a mouthpiece for Moses in the form of his brother Aaron, and together they served faithfully, Moses even doing some speaking himself. Whether he had a speech impediment of some kind, and whether he ever overcame it, are not disclosed by the record. The point is that his shrinking back was only momentary and due to what he considered an insurmountable obstacle, that later he did speak, whether flawlessly and eloquently or otherwise.—Ex. 4:10-16.
After the exodus from Egypt and while in the wilderness, the Israelites listened to the report given to Moses by the men who had spied out the land of Canaan: “We reached the land to which you sent us, and it surely does flow with milk and honey, and here is its fruit. The people, however, who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the Anakim [giants] there.” Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, were for entering the land, the latter saying, “We ought to go up and seize it; for we are quite able to do so.” But the ten defeatist spies remonstrated in terror: “We are not able to go up against the people; for they are too strong for us. The land through which we passed in spying it out is a land that destroys its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. We saw the Nephilim [titans] there (the Anakim belong to the Nephilim); to ourselves we looked like grasshoppers, and we must have looked the same to them.” (Num. 13:27, 28, 30-33, AT) In fright the Israelites shrank back to destruction in the wilderness, refusing to enter the Promised Land. The giants in the land scared them, but when Israel did enter the land some forty years later the giants were still there. (2 Sam. 21:15-22) So it is today. Shrinking back does not remove obstacles. They will still be there next week, next month or next year, to be faced eventually when we do press forward in service.
When the prophet Urijah declared an unpopular message against Jerusalem and Judah, King Jehoiakim sought to put him to death. Urijah shrank back, quit Jehovah’s service, and fled into Egypt. But Jehoiakim dispatched men to Egypt, who brought Urijah back, and the faithless prophet was slain. (Jer. 26:20-23) How different the course of Jeremiah! When a scroll written by Baruch at Jeremiah’s dictation and containing Jehovah’s judgments was read to King Jehoiakim, the king burned it and ordered the arrest of Baruch and Jeremiah. But Jeremiah did not flee the country as Urijah had done. Instead, he gave another scroll to Baruch, “who wrote on it at Jeremiah’s dictation all the words of the book which Jehoiakim, king of Judah, had burned in the fire; and many words of like nature were added to them.” (Jer. 36:32, AT) On another occasion the unpopular message of destruction from Jehovah brought so much suffering upon Jeremiah that he decided to speak no more in God’s name. But the prophet could not become cool to Jehovah’s work and shrink back in inactivity. Why not? Jeremiah himself gave the answer: “It is in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones; I am worn out with holding it in—I cannot endure it.” (Jer. 20:9, AT) God’s Word, like fire, kept the prophet hot and active in Jehovah’s service.
At the start of Jeremiah’s ministry, when Jehovah called him to be a prophet, Jeremiah’s first impulse was to shrink back: “I cannot speak; for I am only a youth.” But Jehovah countered with, “I put my words in your mouth.” (Jer. 1:4-10, AT) Those words Jeremiah thereafter faithfully spoke. We must likewise speak God’s words today, fearlessly. He puts them in our mouths, through our study of his Word the Bible and provisions he makes through his visible organization. If we are to get these words in our mouths and be able to fit them to our tongues in preaching, we must let them sink into our hearts and allow them to bend our minds, making over our minds so that they are filled with God’s thoughts and not man’s. (Isa. 55:8; Matt. 16:23; Rom. 12:2, NW) In short, we must study. Study not just the first principles of the truth, but the deeper things of God also, that we may press on to maturity to become teachers of God’s Word. “Solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.”—Heb. 5:12-14; 6:1, NW.
Are we among those “who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong”? It is through use that our mental capacities are expanded and trained. Are we training ours for idle chatter, for trivialities, for gossip, for complaining or murmuring? We are if that is how we use our lives. On the other hand, if we are using our minds to search out and digest all we possibly can from God’s Word and from provided Bible helps, if we are using that newly gained knowledge by commenting at congregational meetings, if we put it to further use in preaching in field service, then such use and practice will train our perceptive powers so that our mental capacities will increase. This world has coined the slogan that practice makes perfect. Slogans are easy to coin, but analysis often shows them counterfeit. Practice does not make perfect—only God makes things perfect. Practice does make better, either better at being good or better at being bad, depending upon what we are practicing. Practice gossip, and you will get better at that sin. Practice godliness, and you will improve with Jehovah’s help. Proper use of our perceptive powers will make us better students and ministers of God’s Word, will keep us hot and active for him.
The apostle Paul, who counseled against shrinking back, is a good example of one who avoided this pitfall. No territory was tough enough to make him shrink back from it. On one occasion the Jews “stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, imagining he was dead”. Soon thereafter he entered this same city again for the purpose of preaching. (Acts 14:19-22, NW) He did not shrink away from the door-to-door work: “I did not hold back from telling you any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house.” (Acts 20:20, NW) Persecutions did not daunt him: “Are they ministers of Christ? I reply like a mad man, I am more outstandingly one: in labors more plentifully, in prisons more plentifully, in stripes to an excess, in near-deaths often. By Jews I five times received forty strokes less one, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I experienced shipwreck, a night and a day I have spent in the deep; in travels often, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from highwaymen, in dangers from my own race, in dangers from the nations, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers among false brothers, in labor and toil, in sleepless nights often, in hunger and thirst, in abstinence from food many times, in cold and nakedness.”—2 Cor. 11:23-27, NW.
Christ Jesus resisted all endeavors to make him shrink back. At the outset of his ministry the Devil tempted him in various subtle ways, but Jesus never wavered and finally voiced this abrupt dismissal to the tempter: “Go away, Satan!” (Matt. 4:10, NW) Later on one of his own apostles sought to turn him aside from the course of suffering that lay ahead: “Peter took him aside and commenced raising strong objections to him, saying: ‘Be kind to yourself, Master; you will not have this destiny at all.’ But, turning his back, he said to Peter: ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumblingblock to me, because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.’” (Matt. 16:22, 23, NW) And even when his own flesh willed that the cup of ignominious death pass away, his zeal for the divine will took first place with him. Just before his betrayal and death on the torture stake he prayed three times, in substance: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me. Yet, not as I will, but as you will.”—Matt. 26:39-44, NW.
GOOD EXAMPLES OUR MODELS
We are surrounded by a cloud of exemplary witnesses who lived before the time of Christ Jesus. “They were stoned, they were tried, they were sawn asunder, they died by slaughter with the sword, they went about in sheep skins, in goat skins, while they were in want, in tribulation, under ill-treatment; and the world was not worthy of them. They wandered about in deserts and mountains and dens and caves of the earth.” But they did not shrink back. We have read of the trialsome experiences that befell Paul. Yet he did not shrink back. He advised: “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” And of the foremost model of integrity it is written: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.”—1 Cor. 11:1; Heb. 11:37, 38; 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:21, NW.
We know when we are shrinking back, and so does God. We know when we do something because we want to, and when we do something because God wants us to. We know when we follow our own will, and when we follow God’s will. That is, we can tell if we want to, but we seldom want to tell on ourselves. Many prefer to fool themselves, and think they fool others, and hope they fool God. But he is not mocked. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He sees us as we are, whether we do or not. We must try to see ourselves as God sees us. We can raise questions in a self-examination. We have dedicated our body to him, but do we give it over to his will, or ours? Do we serve ourselves, or him? Do we measure up to our dedication, or do we draw back or shrink from keeping it? Do we let him use us his way, or do we insist he use us our way? What do we give up? What do we forego? What do we say no to ourselves about, in order to expand our ministry? Or do we pamper ourselves first, then excuse the pampering? Do we cater to the flesh and grieve the spirit or rejoice the spirit and browbeat the flesh? We cannot please both. (Rom. 8:7-13) Rather than enslave the spirit, Paul enslaved the flesh, that the spirit might be free. (1 Cor. 9:27) Many other searching questions we can confront ourselves with.
So the conclusion of the matter is that we should study God’s Word and let it fire us to Kingdom activity, expand us to meet the ever-increasing demands that the field of witnessing makes upon us. Once started, we should keep up our warmth for God’s cause by refueling from the inexhaustible source of Christian zeal, the Bible. An unfed fire dies out. An unreplenished leaky vessel runs dry. So we must keep fired by God’s Word, filled with the waters of truth, use it to help others get active, use it at congregational meetings, use it in field service, use it in all possible ways and never allow it to cool off or shrink out of our lives. We must never freeze into a motionless state, but keep moving in service, expanding our ministry, hot for Jehovah and his cause. Then we can confidently take up the words: “We are not the kind that shrink back to destruction, but the kind that have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.”