“We Should Not Neglect the House of Our God”
1. What was the attitude of Jesus Christ toward the temple in Jerusalem, and how was this shown?
JUST as foretold by the prophet Daniel (9:24-27), “Messiah the Leader” appeared in the year 29 of our Common Era, for then Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth, was baptized in the Jordan River and was then anointed with God’s holy spirit. (Matt. 3:13-17) As the Messiah or Christ he foretold the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple that occurred in the year 70 C.E. He did not try to preserve that typical “house of our God,” which was made up of “fine stones” and other costly materials. (Luke 21:5, 6) Yet, as long as God permitted this temple to stand in Jerusalem, Jesus Christ respected it and worshiped at it. On two occasions he cleansed it of commercialism.—John 2:13-22; Matt. 21:10-14.
2. However, in what building was Jesus more interested?
2 However, Jesus Christ was more interested in the real, everlasting temple of his heavenly Father, Jehovah God. So, before he made his final trip to Jerusalem to foretell the destruction of that city and its temple, he said, in the hearing of his twelve apostles: “On this rock-mass I will build my congregation, and the gates of Haʹdes will not overpower it.”—Matt. 16:18.
3, 4. (a) In Matthew 16:18 Jesus was speaking of his congregation as what? (b) When writing to the Christians in Ephesus, to what did Paul liken the congregation, and how?
3 By speaking of building his congregation (or church) and building it on a rock, this former carpenter was likening his congregation to a temple. He was speaking of it as a living “house of God.” When Jesus first cleansed the temple in the spring of 30 C.E., he used the term “temple” to refer to something different from that material temple in Jerusalem. (John 2:13-22) So now, in Matthew 16:18, he likens his congregation of faithful followers to a temple built upon himself as the Foundation Stone. In harmony with this fact the Christian apostle Paul, when writing to the congregation in Ephesus, Asia Minor, where the world-famous temple of the goddess Artemis (Diana) was still standing, spoke of the entire Christian congregation as a living temple. Paul said:
4 “Through him [Jesus Christ] we, both peoples [Jews and Gentiles], have the approach to the Father by one spirit. Certainly, therefore, you are no longer strangers and alien residents, but you are fellow citizens of the holy ones and are members of the household of God, and you have been built up upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, while Christ Jesus himself is the foundation cornerstone. In union with him the whole building, being harmoniously joined together, is growing into a holy temple for Jehovah. In union with him you, too, are being built up together into a place for God to inhabit by spirit.”—Eph. 2:18-22.
5. What is the true “house of our God” according to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17?
5 Again pointing out that the true “house of our God” is now a temple made up of living persons, the apostle Paul wrote to the Christian congregation in ancient Corinth, Greece: “Do you not know that you people are God’s temple, and that the spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you people are.”—1 Cor. 3:16, 17.
6. The members of the symbolic temple are comparable with what, and how does Peter make this comparison?
6 The members of this symbolic temple are therefore comparable with the stones of a material temple. That is why the Christian apostle Peter calls them “living stones,” when he writes to the Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor, saying: “Coming to him [Jesus Christ] as to a living stone, rejected, it is true, by men, but chosen, precious, with God, you yourselves also as living stones are being built up a spiritual house for the purpose of a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it is contained in Scripture: ‘Look! I am laying in Zion a stone, chosen, a foundation cornerstone, precious; and no one exercising faith in it will by any means come to disappointment.’”—1 Pet. 2:4-6; Eph. 2:20.
7. How does God dwell in his living temple?
7 Making very clear that God’s dwelling in his living temple is by means of his spirit, and not by any carved statue or idol image, the apostle Paul again writes to the Christian congregation in idolatrous Corinth: “What agreement does God’s temple have with idols? For we are a temple of a living God; just as God said: ‘I shall reside among them and walk among them, and I shall be their God, and they will be my people.’”—2 Cor. 6:16.
8. Those words of Paul and Peter indicate what regarding the temple then standing in Jerusalem?
8 All those things were written by the apostles Paul and Peter not later than five years before the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman legions in the year 70 C.E. It is thus very plain that by that time Jehovah God had rejected the material temple in Jerusalem, where his Son Jesus Christ had been condemned to death; just as Jesus had said, on Nisan 11, three days before the religious leaders had him put to death: “You people did not want it. Look! Your house is abandoned to you.”—Matt. 23:37, 38.
9. When was Jesus Christ laid as the “foundation cornerstone” in Zion, and when was building on him begun?
9 On the third day after Jesus’ death, Almighty God raised him from the dead and had him return to heaven, to the heavenly Mount Zion. There God laid Jesus Christ as the symbolic “foundation cornerstone,” on which a new, living temple was to be built. (1 Pet. 2:6; Isa. 28:16; Matt. 16:18) Since this living temple is a “spiritual house” in which God resides by his holy spirit, it began to be built on the day of Pentecost, 33 C.E., when God’s holy spirit was poured out upon the believing Jews who exercised faith in the heavenly “foundation cornerstone.”—Acts 2:1-42.
NEGLECT POSSIBLE, AND HOW
10, 11. (a) Why is liability to neglect of God’s true house still with us? (b) With what words did Paul warn Timothy against such a thing?
10 As the true “house of our God” is a living temple made up of the faithful congregation of Christ’s followers, it is easy for us to see how this symbolic house could be neglected by those who are “living stones” in it. And let us remember that “living stones” of that kind are being selected and prepared for this spiritual temple down till this day, so that the liability of such a neglect is still with us. The apostle Paul warned the Christian overseer Timothy against just such a thing, saying:
11 “I am writing you these things, . . . that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in God’s household, which is the congregation of the living God, a pillar and support of the truth. Indeed, the sacred secret of this godly devotion is admittedly great: ‘He was made manifest in flesh, was declared righteous in spirit, appeared to angels, was preached about among nations, was believed upon in the world, was received up in glory.’ However, the inspired utterance says definitely that in later periods of time some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to misleading inspired utterances and teachings of demons.”—1 Tim. 3:14 to 4:1.
12 Certainly, after he received Paul’s first letter, supplemented by Paul’s second letter to him, the first-century Christian overseer Timothy understood more fully, as Paul wrote, “how you ought to conduct yourself in God’s household.” He would be alert not to neglect any of his responsibilities toward God’s house or congregation. He would do just as the apostolic member of God’s house had told him to do, saying, in 1 Timothy 4:14-16; 6:2, 20, 21:
13 “Do not be neglecting the gift in you that was given you through a prediction and when the body of older men laid their hands upon you. Ponder over these things; be absorbed in them, that your advancement may be manifest to all persons. Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching. Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” “Keep on teaching these things and giving these exhortations. . . . O Timothy, guard what is laid up in trust with you, turning away from the empty speeches that violate what is holy and from the contradictions of the falsely called ‘knowledge.’ For making a show of such knowledge some have deviated from the faith.”
A NEGLECT WITH SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES
14. (a) What would Timothy regularly attend, and why would he not do otherwise? (b) For persons in what age brackets is such attendance?
14 Being an overseer of the congregation, Timothy would attend the meetings of the congregation regularly, either to direct what was going on there or to perform his part in the meeting, just as Paul told him, writing: “Continue applying yourself to public reading, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Tim. 4:13) He would not miss meetings. His missing would be cutting himself off from “God’s household, which is the congregation of the living God, a pillar and support of the truth.” By missing meetings he could not discharge his responsibilities. Attending meetings is not a thing for just old folks who are approaching death, but is a thing for young folks, for persons in the prime of life as well as for those nearing the end of life’s present span. Timothy was young. That was why Paul told him: “Let no man ever look down on your youth. . . . Do not severely criticize an older man. To the contrary, entreat him as a father, younger men as brothers.”—1 Tim. 4:12; 5:1.
15, 16. (a) By willfully failing to attend, what is a member virtually doing, and in what direction does this lead? (b) How is this indicated in Hebrews 10:23-31?
15 Not attending the meetings of the congregation is one of the most obvious ways of forsaking and neglecting the “house of our God.” If a member of God’s dedicated, baptized household willfully fails to attend, he is virtually disfellowshiping the congregation from himself. Disfellowshiping means the casting of a member out of God’s household; and if one should remain in this disfellowshiped condition till he died, it would mean his everlasting destruction as a person who is rejected by God. Staying away from meetings leads in that very direction. So Hebrews 10:23-31 says:
16 “Let us hold fast the public declaration of our hope without wavering, for he is faithful that promised. And let us consider one another [not avoid one another] to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near. For if we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment and there is a fiery jealousy that is going to consume those in opposition. . . . For we know him that said: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will recompense’; and again: ‘Jehovah will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”—See Deuteronomy 32:35, 36.
17. In Christendom, what is quite a barrier to attending meetings regularly, but how about God’s true house?
17 To attend meetings in the churches of Christendom costs money, either because of having the collection plate, bag or bucket passed before an attender one or more times during a religious meeting, or because of having to pay for admission into the religious building. Many persons find themselves too poor materially to make these forced contributions. But with the true household of God there is no such financial barrier to bar them from coming to congregation meetings regularly. At all meetings of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses the rule is applied: “Seats free, no collection.” One needs only to make the effort to attend meetings.
18. How can necessary expenses of a congregation be met, and how do Jehovah’s Christian witnesses take care of this?
18 Of course, where meetings are not held in private homes as in Bible times in our first century, there are expenses that a congregation will have to bear in order to meet together regularly in a meeting hall. (Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philem. 2) In that case free-will contributions can be made by members of the congregation as they are able to contribute. From this purpose a contribution box can be placed at a convenient spot for persons to drop in money contributions without showy display. We do not care to be like the religious hypocrites of our first century who did charitable works or alms-giving “in order to be observed by [men]; . . . that they may be glorified by men.” (Matt. 6:1-4) So, today, in the meeting places of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses there are contribution boxes in which to drop contributions as one chooses.
19. Is the money contribution the main thing here, or what is?
19 The money contribution is not the main thing, although a congregation as a whole would not want to neglect the “house of our God” by failing to provide a general meeting place even at such financial expense as the congregation can afford. The main thing is to get to the meetings, and that with regularity.
20. At meetings, in what ways can we make contributions other than in a financial way?
20 At such meetings, by being present, one can always make contributions in other ways than in a financial way. One can join one’s voice in with the congregation in singing songs of praise to God. If a general Bible study is being held, one can take part by offering a Biblical comment in answer to the questions asked; and to this end one can go over the study material beforehand. One can encourage the public speaker of the occasion by being present and showing good attention, interest and appreciation. Also, before and after meetings one can mix in with the congregation members and encourage, exhort and upbuild those whom one meets. This is a way in which one can “hold fast the public declaration of our hope without wavering” and also “consider one another to incite to love and fine works.”—Heb. 10:23-25.
SELF-PREPARATION AND PRAYER
21. (a) By self-preparation in advance, what does an attender reveal? (b) One can thus help to keep the congregation in what condition?
21 By self-preparation in advance of such meetings, one can make it very evident that one does not desire to neglect the “house of our God.” One thus reveals that one goes to meetings, not just as a matter of routine, indifferently, but with a purpose, the purpose of being spiritually built up oneself and of building up the other members of God’s household. One can thus aid in keeping the congregation strong in faith, hope and courage, yes, aid in growing stronger in these vital things. One can watch to keep the purity of the congregation, not alone the purity of the faith as it was “once for all time delivered to the holy ones,” but also the purity of the personal life in a moral sense. This calls for a person to put up a hard fight in a spiritual way, making full use of the “complete suit of armor from God” and “fighting side by side for the faith of the good news.” (Jude 3; Eph. 6:11-17; Phil. 1:27) This helps to keep God’s house in good repair spiritually.
22. In what other way would one not neglect the “house of our God,” as requested by Paul in Ephesians 6:18, 19?
22 Besides this, a faithful member of God’s household would not neglect God’s spiritual house by neglecting to pray for it, praying for it regularly at home and praying with the congregation when he is at meetings. Paul was part of the apostolic foundation of the “holy temple for Jehovah,” and yet in his letter to the congregation in Ephesus he asked them to make supplication not only “in behalf of all the holy ones” but “also for me, that ability to speak may be given me with the opening of my mouth, with all freeness of speech to make known the sacred secret of the good news.” (Eph. 2:20-22; 6:18, 19) By sincere prayer one shows that one is really concerned about the welfare and prosperity of God’s house.
23. Why is prayer really powerful, and how can we be like Daniel in prayer?
23 Prayer is really powerful, as it is heard and answered by God when in accord with his will and purpose. “A righteous man’s supplication, when it is at work, has much force.” (Jas. 5:16) The prophet Daniel prayed for God’s temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem; but we today can pray for God’s house of “living stones” to be kept in good spiritual condition and be preserved.—Dan. 9:1-19.
24 David, who as king of Jerusalem desired to build a glorious temple to Jehovah God, said in grateful song: “I rejoiced when they were saying to me: ‘To the house of Jehovah let us go.’ Our feet proved to be standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. For the sake of my brothers and my companions I will now speak: ‘May there be peace within you.’ For the sake of the house of Jehovah our God I will keep seeking good for you.” (Ps. 122:1, 2, 8, 9) King David was a good example for us in appreciating God’s house and in rejoicing at the invitation to go with others to God’s house.
A HOUSE OF ACTIVITY
25 However, let us not forget that God’s true house is a living one. It is therefore an organization of activity. Divine worship is carried on by and through God’s spiritual house not just by our going to meetings of the congregation. The apostle Peter makes it very clear that the purpose of God’s “spiritual house” is the offering up of “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”; and that the “holy nation,” the “people for special possession,” should “‘declare abroad the excellencies’ of the One that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9) All this calls for activity; and if we do not want to neglect God’s house, we will not fail to share in its activity.
26, 27. (a) What kind of sacrifices are these “spiritual sacrifices” as offered by worshipers at God’s house? (b) Why must such sacrificial expressions be done also outside the congregation, in harmony with Paul’s reasoning in Romans 10:13-15?
26 These “spiritual sacrifices” at God’s house by his worshipers are not animal victims. Hebrews 13:15, 16 says: “Through him [Jesus Christ] let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name. Moreover, do not forget the doing of good and the sharing of things with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” Public declaration to God’s name must be given and the doing of good must be done outside the congregation as well as within it. God’s name and his excellencies must be declared throughout all the earth, among all nations, that people of all the nations may call upon His name and be saved. This is only reasonable, for the apostle Paul quotes Joel 2:32 and bases questions on it, saying:
27 “‘Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.’ However, how will they call on him in whom they have not put faith? How, in turn, will they put faith in him of whom they have not heard? How, in turn, will they hear without someone to preach? How, in turn, will they preach unless they have been sent forth?”—Rom. 10:13-15.
28. How do members of the household show they take seriously their being sent forth to preach?
28 The members of God’s household take seriously their being sent forth to preach, to make known God’s name and his Messianic kingdom for the blessing of all mankind. Little wonder, then, that they zealously take part in the activities of God’s house. Loyally and unselfishly they support all the appointed members of God’s house who take the lead in all these activities. They are like the first-century Philippian congregation in its generous support of the missionary activities of the apostle Paul. (Phil. 4:14-16) They are very careful not to neglect the “house of our God” in this important respect by neglecting to share in its activities.
29, 30. What has resulted from the expanding activities of the “holy priesthood,” as foretold in Revelation chapter seven?
29 As a result of the expanding activities of the “holy priesthood” at God’s house since the close of World War I in 1918, a great crowd of people, the final number of which is not now known, have flocked to God’s spiritual house from all parts of the earth. Revelation 7:9-15 prophetically describes them, saying:
30 “Look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes; and there were palm branches in their hands. And they keep on crying with a loud voice, saying: ‘Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ . . . ‘These are the ones that come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. That is why they are before the throne of God; and they are rendering him sacred service day and night in his temple; and the one seated on the throne will spread his tent over them.’”
31. (a) During what period has this “great crowd’ come out? (b) How do they acknowledge Jehovah God, and what standards of life do they no longer accept?
31 Do you, our reader, see yourself in that “great crowd”? If so, then you know that the “great tribulation” mentioned above began with the “beginning of pangs of distress” during the years 1914-1918, as foretold by Jesus Christ, the “Lamb” who shed his blood in sacrifice to God for cleansing away the “sin of the world.” (Matt. 24:8; John 1:29) The end of the “pangs of distress” upon the nations has not yet come, for that end means the total annihilation of this system of things. But this “great crowd” has not waited for the end of the “great tribulation” to come before they think of taking up the service of God. They have come out since the “beginning of pangs of distress,” seeking salvation from the enthroned God of heaven and earth and through the once-sacrificed “Lamb,” Jesus Christ. They acknowledge Jehovah God as the rightful Ruler of heavenly angels and earthly men. They do not accept any longer the moral and religious standards of this worldly system of things. Instead, as pictured in Revelation 7:9-15, they confess that they are sinners, and they seek to get rid of their dirty appearance.
32. How do they wash their robes white in the “Lamb’s” blood?
32 So they wash their robes in the shed blood of the “Lamb,” to take away the unsightly stain of sin. This they do by accepting Jesus Christ as God’s High Priest and exercising faith in the sacrifice for sins that this High Priest offered, and then by making a full dedication of themselves to God, as no longer belonging to themselves or to the world or to Satan the Devil, but as belonging to Jehovah God by reason of his purchase of them.
33. Why do they flock to God’s spiritual house, and what is their attitude toward service at night?
33 No wonder that they now have an accepted standing before God, whom they joyfully hail as with palm branches. No wonder that they flock to God’s spiritual house, of which Jesus Christ is the “foundation cornerstone,” in order that there they may render sacred service to Jehovah God day and night. They say to the “spiritual priesthood” at God’s house: “O bless Jehovah, all you servants of Jehovah, you who are standing in the house of Jehovah during the nights. Raise your hands in holiness and bless Jehovah.” And the spiritual priesthood respond to them and say: “May Jehovah bless you out of Zion, he the Maker of heaven and earth.”—Ps. 134:1-3.
34. What do they keep vigilant to do at God’s temple, and at what time of the twenty-four-hour day?
34 So the “great crowd” that keeps flocking to God’s house does more than just go to meetings at His temple. They also take an active part in service that is sacred to God. By night as well as by day they cooperate with the remaining number of “living stones” of God’s spiritual temple who are still on this earth. They do not want to be like the Jews in the days of Governor Nehemiah who neglected the “house of our God” by failing to make contributions to God’s worship and thus obliging Levite temple servants to leave the temple and go back home in order to work their gardens for something to live on. (Neh. 13:10, 11) So, realizing that they are everlastingly indebted to God for salvation through his “Lamb” Jesus, they keep vigilant to serve God at his temple night and day.
35. (a) How do we see that the prophetic picture of Revelation 7:9-15 was not recorded in vain? (b) What resolve do the “great crowd” and remnant of the spiritual priesthood carry out, with what result?
35 Not in vain was the prophetic picture recorded in Revelation 7:9-15. The reality of this prophetic picture is before us today. It sets the pattern for the present “great crowd” of earthly saved ones to follow today. They do follow it now before the end of the “pangs of distress” of the “great tribulation” brings destruction to all false religions and their man-made temples. Together the “great crowd” and the remnant of the spiritual priesthood render sacred service to the one living and true God at his spiritual temple. Day and night they carry out their unchangeable resolve that “we should not neglect the house of our God.” The happy result is that the worship of Jehovah God remains vigorous and keeps on surviving, with increasing praise to Him who is the source of everlasting life and blessing to all obedient men.