In Union with Love
1. (a) To gain enlightenment of Bible truth, what must be avoided? (b) What question will aid us in understanding “God is love”?
OUR understanding of Jehovah is entirely dependent on the revelation he is pleased to give of himself. By far the greatest enlightenment is given in his Word, as the psalmist wrote: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and light unto my path.” (Ps. 119:105, AS) Accordingly, in our study of that inspired statement, “God is love,” we will not determine its meaning by our own conjectures and feelings. Still less will we pay heed to what worldly wisdom has said on the subject of love. Least of all will we be guided by the teachings of a false religion which preaches a God of love and, in the same breath, a God of eternal torment. Instead, the question we ask ourselves is this: In the Scriptures is there anything that is set forth pre-eminently as the fullest expression of God’s love? If there is, then by carefully learning all we can about that expression, we can be assured of being guided into a proper appreciation of the sublime truth that “God is love”. Not only so, but as we continually observe that expression, bringing ourselves into line with it more and more, we can confidently look forward to being brought ever closer in union with love. Let us see, then, what answer God’s Word gives to our question.
2. What word of Jesus points us to the answer, and how is this misapplied by Christendom?
2 It seems to us beyond a doubt that John himself points us to the answer in that record he was inspired to give of the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus, when he told him about that thing which God loved “so much that he gave his only-begotten Son”, the dearest treasure of his heart. What was that thing? Jesus said: “God loved the world so much.” (John 3:16, NW) Yes, the most popular scripture text in all Christendom, yet none more misunderstood. How so? “The world” that Christendom likes to think Jesus referred to is the world of which itself is a part, this “present wicked system of things”, ‘the heavens and the earth that are now, stored up for fire.’ (Gal. 1:4; 2 Pet. 3:7, NW) It is on the basis of this interpretation that Christendom loves to prattle about the “Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man”, as applying to this present generation and state of things. What a mockery and travesty of truth! The right understanding of any statement in the Bible must always harmonize with the context, also with all other scriptures relative thereto, without exception. Let us apply that rule in this instance.
3 Note that John’s comments at John 1:1-13 run parallel to those of Jesus at John 3:16-21 (NW), to show this: The true light came into the world that people of all kinds might exercise faith in his name. It was open to the people to accept the light and for the world to be saved. It was not God who prevented them, or influenced them, adversely. But what happened? The world took no note of him. Men loved darkness rather than the light. However, there were some exceptions who did exercise faith in him. And what happened to them? Why, by believing in him who became their sin-bearer, as Jesus had just previously explained to Nicodemus, they would escape the destruction ultimately to come on the world in its judgment day, and, instead, they were given authority to become God’s children with the promise of everlasting life in that new world order, that new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells.
4. (a) If referring to the new world, why did Jesus speak of God’s love for it as in the past? (b) How does Scripture reveal the extent of God’s love for “the world”?
4 But, you ask, if the world God loves so much was something far future from the day when Jesus spoke, why did he speak of God’s loving it in the past tense? The answer is, because God not only determined and set his mind on that new world order as soon as the need arose, away back at the time of the rebellion in Eden, but also set his heart upon it with unbreakable attachment and devotion. From the very commencement he loved it so much that he arranged and foretold long in advance the chief means by which it would become effective, the promised seed of his woman. (Gen. 3:15) His love was so great and unselfish that he gladly arranged and foretold concerning the bruising of the heel of that seed by the serpent. Not that God rejoices in the suffering of the seed for suffering’s sake; but, as beautifully explained: “It pleased Jehovah to bruise him . . . [to] make his soul an offering for sin, . . . He [Jesus] shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.” As an outcome of this “travail”, Jehovah says, “By the knowledge of himself shall my righteous servant justify many; and he shall bear their iniquities.”—Isa. 53:10, 11, AS.
5. What response should God’s great love call forth from us?
5 From the foregoing we can appreciate it is not an impersonal kind of love that God has for a certain arrangement. That new world order under God’s kingdom is made up of individuals, each of whom God dearly loves; first and foremost, the promised Seed himself, his own dear Son. Here is how Paul expressed it: “He [God] delivered us from the authority of the darkness [of this present world] and transplanted us into the kingdom of the Son of his love, by means of whom we have our release by ransom, the forgiveness of our sins.” (Col. 1:13, 14, NW) How ungrateful and unloving if we did not respond to such marvelous evidence of God’s love and undeserved kindness, and to such a glorious and appealing prospect as set before us in that most lovely of all things, God’s kingdom! Is your heart not moved and stirred? As we remind ourselves of these precious truths, do you not earnestly desire to become more and more in union with the God of love and with his kingdom under Christ, the full expression of his matchless love? As an aid toward satisfying that good desire, let us consider more closely the expression so frequently used by both Jesus and John, “in union with.”
6. (a) How are the words “union” and “organization” closely linked? (b) Are we justified in a free use of the latter?
6 The word “union” is closely tied in with another word, “organization.” You cannot have the one without the other. An organization is made up of parts, or members, all interdependent, in union with one another and at unity with the whole; a consolidated body. This raises an interesting question and also supplies the answer thereto. Some of our critics, who pose as our friends but are not “of our kind”, are not slow to point out that the word “organization”, which we use so much, is not found in any translation of the Scriptures. (1 John 2:19, NW) We do not argue the point, but, all the same, we do most strongly insist that it is a Scriptural teaching. Take three of the prominent illustrations used of God’s people which have particular application right now, “at the full limit of the appointed times,” when it is God’s “good pleasure” to “gather all things together again in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth”. These illustrations are (1) the human body “harmoniously joined together and being made to cooperate through every joint”, and (2) the temple built up of “living stones”, and (3) Jerusalem, or Zion, “a city that is compact together,” where all “dwell together in unity”. Who can deny that organization is the common theme throughout? Only those who, for reasons best known to themselves, no longer want to be organized and be in union with Jehovah’s witnesses.—Eph. 1:9, 10; 4:16; 1 Pet. 2:5, NW; Ps. 122:3; 133:1, AS.
7. (a) How is the depth of the union between Jesus and his Father revealed? (b) What provision brings us into the picture?
7 With these scriptures in mind, all telling of an organized unity, we shall be helped individually in gaining a correct estimation of the depth and closeness of the union with the God of light and love which is possible for each one of us. We must be careful to see that the estimation or picture of union which we form in our minds is not determined or limited by our own conception of things. May we recommend, therefore, that you read John’s glowing description of the glory of “the Word” who became flesh, “a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father, . . . full of undeserved kindness and truth.” Yes, this one who “is in the bosom position with the Father is the one that has explained him”. (John 1:14-18, NW) Then remember the saddening effect of the request Philip made at the close of Jesus’ ministry: “Master, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Can you not hear the grieved tone in Jesus’ voice as he replied: “Have I been with you men so long a time, and yet, Philip, you have not come to know me? He that has seen me has seen the Father also.” (John 14:8, 9, NW) Philip did not properly appreciate the union between God the Father and Jesus. So Jesus went on to give emphasis to the union which existed between the Father and himself and to the provision he made, through the promise of “the spirit of the truth”, whereby his followers could be brought into the same union, provided they prove true to the requirement: “He that has my commandments and observes them, that one is he who loves me.”—John 14:17, 21, NW.
8. By what illustration and prayer are we further helped to appreciate our part in the union?
8 We remind you, too, how Jesus took up the same theme of union, in John, chapter 15, under the figure of himself as “the true vine” under his Father’s cultivation, and his followers pictured as “the branches”. How forcefully is shown the purpose of being brought into such union, namely, that we may “keep bearing much fruit”, the fruit of bearing witness! (John 15:8, 27, NW) How true to nature, where much light and warmth are needed for the growth of a vine to maturity to give the maximum yield! Again, when Jesus turned his eyes and thoughts heavenward, note how earnestly and repeatedly he prayed that “they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in union with me and I am in union with you, that they also may be in union with us”.—John 17:21, NW.
9. How did John pursue that theme in his first letter?
9 On that last evening spent with his devoted followers, after Judas, the one who was not in union, had gone out into the night, Jesus unloaded his mind of these precious and vital truths. We can imagine John reclining there, so close to the one he loved, intently listening and taking it all in, even though he would not fully appreciate the significance of what he had heard until receiving the spirit at Pentecost. It is no surprise, therefore, that this one, so well qualified, should make this same theme of union the main burden of his first letter, stressing particularly the practical side of our responsibility. So John writes: “He that says he remains in union with him is under obligation himself also to go on walking just as that one walked.”—1 John 2:6, NW.
10. The manner and evidence of God’s love places us under what obligation?
10 Again, see how John uses the argument of God’s love for the new world, as expressed at John 3:16, to show our obligation in another respect: “By this the love of God was made manifest in our case, because God sent forth his only-begotten Son into the world that we might gain life through him. The love is in this respect, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins. Beloved ones, if this is how God loved us, then we are ourselves under obligation to love one another.”—1 John 4:9-11, NW.
11. To be in union with God and his kingdom means what?
11 Does not all this bring home to us that if we are to be in union with God we must be in union with that on which he has set his heart, the Kingdom under his dear Son? To be in union with it means more than just believing the Kingdom message and looking forward to its blessings. It means identifying ourselves with it and subjecting ourselves to it by our dedication to its Author and Creator, and then faithfully and zealously serving its interests and proclaiming its message, as commanded. (Matt. 24:14, NW) We each should have such a steady, burning love for that Kingdom, ever talking about it and living according to its righteous requirements and reflecting its spirit so much, that we can say to anyone in touch with us, as Jesus said to Philip, ‘Have you known me so long and yet you have not come to know and understand about God’s kingdom as our only hope?’
12. (a) How is love made perfect with us, and with what result? (b) On what basis can fear be completely vanquished?
12 Now let us turn to another part of John’s first letter. Unless the passage is fresh in your mind, we suggest you first read 1 John 4:16-19 (NW) so as to grasp more easily the following paraphrase and comments on the same. Our starting point is: “God is love.” As we remain in union with God and he with us, so we learn in time to have perfect love, like God, in exercising unbreakable attachment and unselfish love and devotion for his kingdom, with complete confidence in it. Yes, “this is how love has been made perfect with us.” As a result, our love gives us “freeness of speech”, “boldness” (margin), now when most needed, “in the day of judgment.” The reason is that just as God is love, seen in the fact that his mind and heart are fully set on that new world and he is supremely confident concerning it, so we, too, learn to have that same love and confidence while in this present world. This world is passing away, and on no account must we love either it or the things of which it consists. (1 John 2:15-17) Realizing, then, that love and confidence go hand in hand (you cannot increase in the one without the other), so we appreciate that the outcome of perfect love and confidence in God and his new world, with all its blessings of enlightenment and protection, means that every vestige of fear is thrown to the winds concerning the evil forces and pressure arising from this doomed and wicked world. Indeed, if you are at all suffering any restraint through fear and are tongue-tied, when you should be exercising “freeness of speech” regarding the Kingdom message, then you can be quite sure your love has not yet been brought to maturity. Finally, never forget that whatever progress we make in respect to love comes about only “because he first loved us”.
13. Why is “freeness or speech” toward God so essential?
13 Here is another important point: This “freeness of speech” is essential not only in proclaiming the Kingdom message in this judgment day, but also in regard to making our petitions to God for those vital spiritual necessities in meeting the divine requirements and in gaining the victory over all the persecution and pressure brought to bear on us. Writes John: “This is the freeness of speech which we have toward him, that, no matter what it is that we ask according to his will, he hears us. Further, if [speaking out of perfect love and confidence] we know he hears us respecting whatever we are asking, we know we are to have the things asked since we have asked them of him.” What more could you want?—1 John 5:14, 15, NW.
14. On what issue and in what way can faith conquer the world?
14 With these thoughts in mind, we can more readily appreciate the full import of that grand word: “This is the conquest that has conquered the world, our faith.” (1 John 5:4, NW) The issue is between the forces and personnel of light against those of darkness. It is the purpose of the latter, by causing us suffering and persecution and temptation, to break down our integrity. Why did Jesus suffer? Because he persisted in letting his light shine amid the darkness and, testified John, “the darkness has not overpowered it.” He conquered the world and gained the victory because, out of love for his Father and the honor of his name, he refused to submit to the temptations and pressure of darkness. At the end of his course he said for our encouragement: “In the world you will have tribulation, but cheer up! I have conquered the world.” Are we, therefore, going to let ‘tribulation or distress or persecution separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus’? “To the contrary, in all these things we are coming off completely victorious through him that loved us.”—John 1:5; 16:33; Rom. 8:35-39, NW.
15. To what extent do we enjoy an advantage over this world, and by observing what conditions?
15 In the preceding article (¶15) we spoke of the immeasurable advantage enjoyed by Jehovah, “the Victory of Israel.” But do we not also enjoy a very measurable advantage over this world by being in full union with the God of light and love? Are we not enlightened as to the exact significance of the present world situation and its outcome? Are we not warned and kept on guard respecting the enemy’s movements and foul purpose, so that we do not get caught by surprise? Can we not be absolutely fearless? We can, if we exercise perfect faith in the source of light and love: “God is our refuge and strength, . . . Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed.” Provided, too, that we ever ‘walk in the light’, always grateful that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin”. We must do as expressed particularly for our day: “They conquered him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their witnessing, and they did not love their souls even despite the danger of death.”—Ps. 46:1, 2; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 12:11, NW.
16, 17. How do the Scriptures highlight the union possible in our day for all who enter Zion?
16 On the authority of God’s Word, therefore, we can well afford to bring our study of union to a close on the note of triumph, namely:
IN UNION WITH ZION’S KING
17 “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee. And nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” (Isa. 60:1, 3, AS) Ah! Zion, glorious city of light, the only city of its kind, built on the pattern of love! What an unspeakable privilege to be in union with Zion’s “superior authorities”, who themselves are the source of its light! What a joy to be in union with its King Christ Jesus, who has the victor’s title, “King of kings and Lord of lords”! (Rom. 13:1; Rev. 21:23; 19:16, NW) And how appropriate that it should be our same writer, John, who experienced the ecstasy of seeing and recording that vision of Zion in its full splendor, the capital city of Jehovah’s beloved new world! Jehovah says of Zion: “This is my resting-place for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.” And think of it! We have been graciously invited to dwell there at that royal theocratic organization in union with him, under his love and protection, with the delightful prospect of obedient humankind’s enjoying like blessings when God will “reside with them, and they will be his peoples”. That will be the real “Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man”.—Ps. 132:14, AS; Rev. 21:3, NW.
18. On what note of warning did John end his first letter, and does this have a particular lesson for our time?
18 Did we not say that our study of this subject would bring the richest blessings, coupled with searching responsibilities? Just a final warning in line with responsibilities, as John similarly ends his letter. His word seems a disjointed note, a subject not previously mentioned by him, namely: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” When an individual puts his own ideas and ways before those which the Lord God provides for his people through his organization, that is a very subtle form of idolatry. That is what is happening with some now and again right down to this late day. Oh yes, these still acknowledge the one Word, the Bible, but they do not acknowledge the one table, “the table of Jehovah.” They invite any whom they can get to listen to them to turn away from feeding in unity at the one table and to their own individual side tables, where they provide dishes of their own concoction. To them, feeding at the one table spells bondage and loss of individual freedom. But we are glad to be Jehovah’s “slaves”, mentally and entirely. Our heads were not left out of the water at our water immersion, were they? (Rev. 22:3, NW) Those independent ones, as “ministers of righteousness”, seek to entice you with the promise of getting your eyes opened to real light and liberty. But it would be in exactly the same way as Eve got her eyes opened, and with the same result. “Little children [yes, this warning is specially needed by those young in the truth and not yet mature], guard yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21; 2 Cor. 11:15, NW; Gen. 3:5-7; Isa. 1:3, AS) Note also the contrast between idolatry and Jehovah’s table at 1 Corinthians 10:18-22, NW.
19. Why is there special need to keep “practicing the truth”?
19 Let us keep “practicing the truth”, for “faith without works is dead”. Love unexpressed “will cool off”. Light hid under the “basket” of self and fear will get squelched, and “how great that darkness is!” To keep practicing the truth is the best antidote to any tendency to indulge in the world’s spirit of apathy and indifference, with a consequent withholding of Jehovah’s blessing and a lack of increase. Keeping in union now with the God of light and of love is essential to our life in the new world society, whether we live now as members of a local company of Jehovah’s witnesses or of a missionary home or of a Bethel home.—Jas. 2:26; Matt. 24:12; 5:15; 6:23, NW.
20. (a) Are we in any way in a more favored position as compared with John? (b) To those in Zion, what words of encouragement and guidance are given?
20 John was greatly privileged to live in the days of the first advent and enjoy being personally present with his beloved Master. Are we less privileged? Are we not, rather, far more highly favored to be living in the days of the establishment of God’s kingdom, serving him under the direction of his organization, Zion, in union with its worthy King, Christ Jesus? We, too, can live today in union with light and with love, no less than John did. There is no need to hold back from desiring and entering into a close friendship now, as far as you personally are concerned. For your encouragement and guidance and that your joy may be full, consider the following gracious expressions: “The LORD [Jehovah] loves the pure in heart; and he who is gracious in speech—the king is his friend.” “A capable servant will enjoy the king’s favor.” Finally, in line with our hope of victory, listen to that fearless 149th psalm entitled “Praise to the Conquering God”: “Let the sons of Zion triumph in their king. . . . For the LORD [Jehovah] is pleased with his people; he adorns the humble with victory.” (Prov. 22:11; 14:35; Ps. 149:2-4, AT) So keep your union with Jehovah God, who is light and love, unbreakable!