Christian Worship and Preservation of Virtue
“Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.”—Phil. 4:8, NW.
1. In what do lovers of righteousness now find assurance?
ON EVERY side men are confronted with evidences of Jehovah God that they cannot escape. Even though he is denied, questioned and belittled, his supremacy and righteousness stand unshaken, and constitute complete assurance for those who worship him. (Ps. 14:1; 53:1-4) Is this true even today, when the times are so critical and when men in general do not love God? Yes, this is especially true now, because the extremes of unrighteousness on every hand not only constitute a great sign of deliverance of lovers of Jehovah’s righteousness, but, additionally, make the righteousness of Jehovah stand out by wonderful contrast.—Luke 21:28-33; Psalm 36.
2. Who appreciate virtue, and what must these do?
2 Men find it hard to deal with these critical times, but not because they keep their thoughts on things that are virtuous. Rather, it is because they do not obey the injunction, “Whatever virtue there is and whatever praiseworthy thing there is, continue considering these things.” (Phil. 4:8, NW) The fact is that today virtue is truly appreciated by but a minority. How about you? Do you wish to turn away from those who are without virtue? Significant is the prophetic passage, so well known: “But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, without gratitude, with no loving-kindness, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with self-esteem, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5, NW) The foregoing describes men lacking virtue, from whom Christians must turn. It shows contrast and controversy between that which is virtuous and that which is not.
3. What proves that the qualities of virtue do exist?
3 If there were no such things as the elements that constitute virtue, this scripture would have no force. Virtue does exist, however. The very fact that there are vital issues and controversies between righteousness and unrighteousness is proof that such good qualities of virtue do exist. This issue or controversy involving virtue is also shown at Titus 1:16 (NW), which states: “They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any kind.” Consistently, God’s Word reveals wrongdoing in contrast with Jehovah God and his righteousness, so in spite of claims to godliness, the words of the old world prove that it is not in harmony with Jehovah God.
4. How do virtue and issues involving it prove the existence of the righteous God, Jehovah?
4 Materialistic Bible-haters cannot deny that the principles of virtue are in existence. By their claim of materialism and efforts to rule out Jehovah’s Creatorship and Godship they attempt to rule out virtue as well. In order to deny God they must deny high moral values; or, in order to deny high moral values they must deny the existence of Jehovah. Such denial is an impossibility. Virtue and high moral values do not originate with inanimate things nor do they originate with the lower animate creation, which are not in the image and likeness of God. Man it is who was created in Jehovah’s image and likeness. (Gen. 1:26, 27) Were man not so created but were he like the lower animate or inanimate creation, he would not find himself in a controversy involving virtue. The very fact that he does so find himself proves the existence of a virtuous God; otherwise virtues and the controversy involving them would never be.
5. Show a distinction between man and lower creation, and point out the result this makes possible for you.
5 If man is the same as fish, flying creatures, domestic animals, creeping animals, why does he have a vocabulary expressing thoughts of virtue, morality, integrity, faith, hope, loyalty, honesty and other qualities of worship? Lower animals do not profess or practice such qualities. These qualities are exclusive upon earth with men, and their existence is proof that Jehovah God exists and is righteous and that materialistic-minded men are wrong. From those who are going contrary to God, defaming Jehovah’s name, denying virtue, from such individuals and organizations turn away, if you would have God’s approval and if you would have life!
6. What kind of God is Jehovah, and what has he preserved?
6 Jehovah is a God of love, justice, wisdom and power. He is the God of integrity, is dependable, loyal, honest, moral. In fact, the words we use to express men’s noble thoughts and their understanding and appreciation of these good and high qualities are inadequate to describe fully the righteousness of Jehovah. Not only do these high qualities exist, but the fact that they are possible of attainment by men is a wonderful assurance to those who love righteousness. The Almighty has always been seeing to it that his worship is preserved in the earth. The preservation of Jehovah’s worship has meant the preservation of human life upon the earth. It has also meant the preservation upon earth of virtue, so that in our day it is possible for us to ‘consider these things.’
7. Describe the theocratic organization and one of its characteristics.
7 As God and King of those who serve and worship him, Jehovah is the great Theocrat, the God-Ruler, and it was under this righteous Theocrat that man was created to live. The great arrangement of Jehovah God at the head as the Theocrat and of righteous creatures serving under and worshiping him constitutes a theocratic organization. One of the characteristics of this theocratic organization has ever been the cutting off of those creatures and organizations that refuse to be virtuous, that refuse to uphold the principles of righteousness marking the theocratic organization.
8. Give instances of cutting off and of preservation.
8 An instance of the operation of this principle is found in the casting of man out of Eden. (Gen. 3:23, 24) Some time thereafter another great cutting off was accomplished by cleansing the earth with water, in which an ungodly world was destroyed. Through this cleansing a great preservation was accomplished, preservation of human and animal life upon the earth and of Jehovah’s worship, that it was not extinguished, and the preservation of virtue. There can be no doubt about the qualities of integrity and worship being involved at the time of the Flood.—Gen. 6:5-22
9. Individually, what must men do involving virtue, and why?
9 Man was helpless, in a position of complete dependency upon Jehovah for the blessings of his temporary life and certainly for any possible hope of everlasting life. Jehovah had indicated his purpose to effect deliverance in vindication of his name, but as far as individual men were concerned, each must take action definitely in evidence of his possession of qualities of virtue. If they did not do this they would not be exerting themselves on Jehovah’s side of the issue or standing for his supremacy and in justification of his righteousness. A course of unrighteousness is a denial of righteousness and therefore a denial of the righteous God. Such a course persisted in establishes the individual’s disinterest in righteousness, therefore his lack of interest in the promised New World in which righteousness is to dwell. (2 Pet. 3:11-13, NW) The great cutting off and cleansing by the Flood having passed into history, survivors and their descendants had before them the wonderful opportunity of upholding those things that Jehovah God approved. This course of action constituted worship of Jehovah, the exercise of virtue involving the basic attribute of love and including keeping of integrity, faith in Jehovah’s word, sure hope in his promises, loyalty to him and his cause, honesty before him and before man, morality in things personal and public.
THE TYPICAL PRESERVATION
10. To Israel were given what privileges?
10 Progressing with his purpose and using persons who willingly identified themselves with him and his worship, Jehovah organized the typical theocratic nation of Israel. In actually, but also pictorially, delivering them from bondage to the world power of devil-worshiping Egypt, he accomplished the cutting off or the disfellowshiping of an entire pagan world, separating his people, Israel, therefrom. The typical theocratic nation Israel must stand clean for the worship of the only true God, thus preserving within its national boundary the high qualities of clean worship, the virtues of righteousness.
11. Explain the purpose and development of judgment within typical Israel.
11 The law of God was given to Israel through Moses as Mediator and was based upon principles of righteousness, which do not change. Jehovah was Israel’s God, Lawgiver, King and Judge. (Isa. 33:22) In order that poor judgment or selfish action on the part of individuals in Israel should not result in violation of righteous principles, personal as well as national problems were brought to Moses for decision. His was a mind directed by God’s spirit and operating in harmony with the principles of his law. This kindly assistance proved to be a task too great for one man, and so Moses proceeded, with Jehovah’s approval, to make a division of religious judicial authority, appointing other men to responsibility in the theocratic organization to assist in the application of the law of God and conformity therewith in matters large and small. The positions occupied by Moses and the men whom he appointed were not merely empty and honorary, but were important and practical and for the specific purpose of righteous judgment. Concerning these theocratic appointments we read: “And Moses proceeded to choose capable men out of all Israel and to give them positions as heads over the people, as chiefs of thousands, chiefs of hundreds, chiefs of fifties and chiefs of tens. And they judged the people on every proper occasion. A hard case they would bring to Moses, but every small case they themselves would handle as judges.”—Ex. 18:25, 26, NW.
12. In respect to God’s law, what responsibility was borne by those of Israel?
12 The rule of procedure controlling the Israelite organization was the law of Jehovah. The responsible ones in the organization taught the law to the people and the people had the responsibility of informing themselves concerning the law of God. They knew what the principles of worship were and they knew the detailed application of those principles, in regard to the matters with which the law dealt, matters national, family and personal. Provisions were made to atone for sins and weaknesses of the fallen Israelite flesh. The various features of the law were designed to keep the nation in harmony with God, worshiping him, always acknowledging him, and, furthermore, to keep alive and vital the quality of love of God and neighbor and the elements of virtue in all matters. Jehovah was not going to allow his worship and its good qualities to be eliminated from the earth, but, rather, to be preserved in typical Israel.
13, 14. What drastic measures were provided, and for what purpose?
13 Sometimes it was necessary for drastic measures to be taken for the preservation of these good qualities. There was no watering down of theocratic standards to please those who had a greater love for unrighteousness than they had for righteousness. Offenders, insisting on going beyond the atonement provisions, were killed, and the congregation of the Israelites had a direct responsibility in their death. Religion or worship was not separated from governmental and economic matters of the nation, because acknowledgment of Jehovah must be present in all features of their life. So the law provided, “In case a prophet or a dreamer of a dream should arise in your midst . . . saying, ‘Let us walk after other gods, whom you have not known, and let us serve them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or to the dreamer of that dream, because Jehovah your God is testing you to know whether you are loving Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul. . . . And that prophet or that dreamer of the dream should be put to death, . . . and you must clear out what is evil from your midst.”—Deut. 13:1-5, NW.
14 The death penalty was not confined to the false prophet or dreamer because “in case your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or your cherished wife or your companion who is like your own soul, should try to allure you in secrecy, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ . . . you must not accede to his wish or listen to him, nor should your eye feel sorry for him, nor must you feel compassion, nor cover him protectively, but you should kill him without fail. Your hand first of all should come upon him to put him to death, and the hand of all the people afterward. And you must stone him with stones and he must die, because he has sought to turn you away from Jehovah your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves. Then all Israel will hear and become afraid and they will not do anything like this evil thing again in your midst.” (Deut. 13:6-11, NW) What if an entire community went bad and turned against the worship of the righteous God Jehovah? Then that entire community was to be annihilated.—Deut. 13:12-18.
15. Define virtue and show how religion is involved in its practice.
15 The foregoing was to ensure the preservation of Jehovah’s worship without pollution and the keeping of his righteous commandments, thereby also preserving the qualities of virtue in general. Virtue has reference to moral practice or action conformative to the standard of right, excellence and integrity of course, uprightness of conduct, rectitude, morality. It is not a mere abstaining from harm but it is an active quality or power, whether of physical or moral nature, of strength, courage and valor. It has reference to excellence of any kind, merit, worth, value, chastity, purity. Since the righteous God, Jehovah, is the author of all these virtuous elements, his worship is involved in them all, and a departure from his worship is a departure from all virtue. Therefore the extermination of devil worshipers from Israel by the death of those false religious practitioners served to preserve true worship and virtue.
16. The law relative to presumptuousness places what emphasis on pure worship?
16 The seventeenth chapter of Deuteronomy outlines procedures wherein Israelites must have courage to bear truthful witness against any detestable to Jehovah and also courage to put forth their hands first of all to kill the offenders, in which action they were to be followed by all the people, in order to “clear out what is bad from your midst.” (Deut. 17:7, NW) Those who disagreed with the righteous judgments of the priests were themselves to be killed. “In case a matter for judicial decision should be too extraordinary for you, . . . then you must rise and go up to the place that Jehovah your God will choose, and you must go to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge who will be acting in those days and you must make inquiry and they must hand down to you the word of the judicial decision. Then you must do in accordance with the word that they will hand down to you. . . . In accordance with the law that they will point out to you, and according to the judicial decision that they will say to you, you should do. You must not turn aside from the word that they will hand down to you, to the right or to the left. And the man who will behave with presumptuousness in not listening to the priest who is standing to minister there to Jehovah your God or to the judge, that man must die, and you must clear out what is bad from Israel. And all the people will hear and become afraid and they will not act presumptuously any more.”—Deut. 17:8-13, NW.
17. Through these strict features of the law to typical Israel, what good result was furthered?
17 This was not bloodthirstiness. It was action on Jehovah God’s part to preserve the line of the Seed of promise, which eventually came in the person of Christ Jesus. Through this provision of ransom and priestly office filled by this faithful servant of Jehovah there is set before men the possibility of everlasting life in the New World of righteousness. We thank God that he took positive action to preserve intact and uncontaminated the line of descent of the Seed of promise and preserved likewise upon the earth his worship in holy devotion to righteousness.
18. Were literal or symbolic transgressions forbidden, or both?
18 Among the personal sins or transgressions which were condemned by God in his law to Israel, and which had to be avoided by those who would worship Jehovah in purity and in truth, were robbery, adultery and drunkenness, to name just three. These literal violations of virtue not only were wrong in themselves but were adopted Scripturally as symbols of spiritual sins, that is, sins not in respect to material things affecting the individual’s relationship to Jehovah God, but in respect to unseen things affecting the individual’s relationship to Jehovah. The literal practices themselves, however, even after they came to stand for spiritual transgressions, were not permitted in Israel. This is emphasized in respect to the antitypical theocratic Christian organization that came on the scene at the termination of the Mosaic law covenant under which Israel was organized.
THE CHRISTIAN ANTITYPE
19. What great change did Jehovah provide through Christ Jesus?
19 Moving forward with his purposes looking to the complete vindication of his name, Jehovah came to the time when he would provide both the termination and the prophetic fulfillment of the law to Israel in his beloved Son Christ Jesus. Jesus began the development of some things new, different from the typical theocratic nation of Israel, namely, the real theocratic Christian organization. While the law covenant with Israel did terminate with Christ Jesus and has not been in effect since his impalement and ascension to heaven, nevertheless, the righteous principles of the law continue in full force, and, in fact, with even greater force and effect upon those of the Christian organization. With the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ as a basis, Jehovah developed the Christian congregation under the new covenant.
20. As to Christian virtue, what may be said with definiteness?
20 “God . . . has indeed adequately qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant, not of a written code, but of spirit; for the written code condemns to death, but the spirit makes alive.” (2 Cor. 3:2-6, NW) It is noted that Paul is not saying that there is a letter of the law and a spirit of the law and that there is a contrast between the two and therefore we may violate the letter of God’s law but keep its spirit. That is not the situation. Rather, what Paul is pointing out here is that there is a difference between the written code of the law given to the Israelites through Moses and the spirit of God. The spirit of God upon Christians develops in them fruits of righteousness and enables them to remain separate from the ungodly condemned world. The written code condemned the Israelites to death, but the spirit of God, through the operation of the new covenant based in the ransom of Christ Jesus, leads men to everlasting life. There is the contrast. Can we for a moment presume that, while the individuals of the nation of Israel under the law covenant were prohibited from practicing the depraving things that mankind in general then carried on, Christians are any the less obligated to refrain from these practices? No, of course not. On the contrary, the positive Christian commands to righteousness are more penetrating than the negative commands of the Mosaic law; and the spirit of God upon those who serve him in Christian worship now in the activity of the New World society enables them to keep integrity with the sure hope of gaining perfection to righteousness in the glorious future.