The Value of Right Association Through Congregational Meetings
“Congregate the people, the men and the women and the little ones and your alien resident who is within your gates, in order that they may listen and in order that they may learn, as they must fear Jehovah your God and take care to carry out all the words of this law.”—Deut. 31:12.
1. Define association, and for what reasons do people associate?
TO ASSOCIATE means to gather together with another or with a group for some common purpose. People have drawn together in association for many purposes: Labor groups to improve working conditions and increase financial benefits, political leaders to plan party strategy, and religious heads to bring about greater solidarity within their own organization and with others. Worshipers of the one true God seek association with one another for yet a different purpose. Theirs is to show love for Jehovah God and neighbor, to build up their faith and to carry on pure worship in obedience to a divine command.
2. The command given the Israelites at Deuteronomy 31:12 served what twofold purpose?
2 Deuteronomy 31:12 says: “Congregate the people, the men and the women and the little ones and your alien resident who is within your gates, in order that they may listen and in order that they may learn, as they must fear Jehovah your God and take care to carry out all the words of this law.” These words written by Moses were for God’s people over 3,000 years ago. The purpose of this divine command was clearly twofold. First, it was to keep the commandments of Jehovah before the nation of Israel for their learning and remembering, that thus they would have proper fear and appreciation for their God. Secondly, it was to serve as a protection against the dangers of associating with those not interested in learning to fear and serve Jehovah, such as the heathen nations surrounding them. Because the command was given to congregate with those men, women, children and the alien resident “within your gates,” this would certainly exclude any association with non-Israelites not wanting to learn about and serve Jehovah God.
3. Why is it essential for Christians today to associate as a congregation, and how do they benefit?
3 The passing of centuries has not changed or weakened Jehovah’s command to his people to learn of him and his commandments in company with proper associates. Paul, in speaking to the Hebrew Christians, said: “Let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, . . . but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:24, 25) Obedience to this apostolic command results in praise to Jehovah’s name through the songs, prayers and words of appreciation spoken in congregation association. It brings blessings from him upon his people because of the act of obedience itself. Today, Christians need right associations so as to give and receive Scriptural counsel, also to give and receive spiritual encouragement. This wholesome association contributes a measure of godly protection from seen and unseen dangers in this present wicked, God-dishonoring system of things.
PURPOSE OF RIGHT ASSOCIATION
4, 5. (a) Why should Christians be selective in their association? (b) How did Paul emphasize right association to the Corinthians?
4 When Paul was pointing out the value of fellowship to the Hebrews, with whom was he encouraging them to associate? With the bloodthirsty crowd at the Roman circus, or with a gang of delinquents on the street, or with a school of worldly-wise philosophers? Certainly not! When writing to Timothy and describing this twentieth-century counterpart of such a vicious, loveless type of people, Paul says: “And from these turn away.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5) In disfellowshiping the lawless from the congregation, Paul warns that Christians cannot associate with one called a brother that is “a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner.” (1 Cor. 5:11) If this is true, how much more we should shun the company of those not brothers who are practicing these things.
5 In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul further emphasizes this point when he says: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what sharing do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever? And 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.’ ‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing’; ‘and I will take you in.’” (2 Cor. 6:14-17) Just as right association helped to keep the Jewish nation and early Christians close to Jehovah, so it will serve the same purpose for God’s people today in these few and all-important years before Armageddon.
6. What can result by not heeding 1 Corinthians 15:33, and what can be gained by obeying it?
6 The Bible clearly shows the detrimental effects wrong association can have on the life of a Christian. Paul writes: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Cor. 15:33) Failing to heed this warning has caused some to lose their appreciation of Jehovah God and his righteous requirements. They have been led to commit acts of immorality, drunkenness and rebellion. Some have become engulfed in worldly materialism. Others have turned apostate. Any of these sins could result in spiritual disaster. On the other hand, good associations are so beneficial that they can safeguard our present life as well as ensure our future life. This is possible because through association with the Christian congregation one receives knowledge of Jehovah God and his wonderful purposes as well as instructions on how he can bring his life into harmony with such knowledge. (John 17:3) For any to survive the battle of Armageddon it is vital to heed the command given to the Israelites, not only to listen and learn the law of Jehovah, but to carry out all the words of his law. The disciple James puts it this way: “However, become doers of the word, and not hearers only.”—Jas. 1:22.
7. How are newly interested persons benefited by associating with the Christian congregation?
7 Then, too, persons newly interested in the worship of Jehovah God are introduced or come in contact with Jehovah’s organization through the association with his faithful witnesses. All of these are united closely in a society having one purpose, and that is to incite to love and fine works, as Paul said. If there were no Christian congregation today, how could these seekers of God be shown the theocratic organization? When Paul advised the Corinthians about speaking in tongues and the advantage of prophesying, he showed that not only Christians congregated, but also other persons came to the meeting. “Therefore, if the whole congregation comes together to one place and they all speak in tongues, but ordinary people or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are mad? But if you are all prophesying and any unbeliever or ordinary person comes in . . . the secrets of his heart become manifest, so that he will fall upon his face and worship God, declaring: ‘God is really among you.’” (1 Cor. 14:23-25) Thus the whole congregated group of dedicated persons of God, as well as undedicated persons, receive encouragement, help and counsel when they meet together to hear the Word of God discussed. “Therefore keep comforting one another and building one another up, just as you are in fact doing.”—1 Thess. 5:11.
8. (a) Where and how is the standard of the New World society kept before us? (b) How do we know the Devil recognizes the value of Christian association?
8 During congregation meetings there is placed before us the standard for the New World society, and the value of right associations is contrasted with the dangers of wrong association. For example, we learn of the disobedience of King Saul, the greed of Achan at Jericho, the selfishness of the apostle Judas and the immorality of some dedicated Christians today resulting in disfellowshiping. We also hear of the faith of the patriarch Abraham, the meekness of the prophet Moses, the courage of his successor Joshua, the love of Christ Jesus, the zeal of Paul and the faithfulness and integrity of our Christian brothers today world wide. We are reminded to guard against adultery, lying, theft, gossip, fornication, slander, disbelief, rebellion and other God-dishonoring practices. We must remember that the Devil does not want Christians and interested persons to associate together so as to hear these Scriptural warnings. (Gal. 5:19-21) He realizes the importance of right association and the good effect it has upon Jehovah’s servants. For that reason his organization outlaws the meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses wherever it is in position to do so, as demonstrated in Spain, Angola, United Arab Republic, as well as in Russia and many other Communist lands.
JEHOVAH’S SPIRIT IN OPERATION ON ASSEMBLED CHRISTIANS
9. (a) What Scriptural assurance is there of Jehovah’s spirit being upon congregational meetings? (b) How does Jehovah deal with his people, and why do you so answer?
9 Christ Jesus had this to say about association with the Christian congregation: “Where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst.” (Matt. 18:20) Where you find Christians congregated in accord with Jehovah’s will, you will also find his directing spirit in operation. Luke writes of the association of the early Christians and how Jehovah God blessed them: “Day after day they were in constant attendance at the temple with one accord, . . . praising God and finding favor with all the people. At the same time Jehovah continued to join to them daily those being saved.” (Acts 2:46, 47) So we see how essential it is to recognize that today God is dealing with and through an organization as he has done in times past. This is further demonstrated to us by the way God dealt with the nation of Israel. He did not deal with any separate individual, but he dealt with those in association with his organization. Moses as his visible representative served as a channel of communication for the nation of Israel.—Ex. 3:10, 16.
10. Failure to associate at meetings with Jehovah’s witnesses would indicate what?
10 Today the anointed spirit-begotten witnesses of Jehovah, comprising the “faithful and discreet slave,” serve as an earthly channel of communication for the great crowd of people who will survive Armageddon. These anointed witnesses along with the “great crowd” of companions form the modern-day Christian organization through which God’s spirit is in operation. (Matt. 24:45-51; Rev. 7:9-17) Never has God had more than one channel of communication at one time. Failure to recognize and associate with his anointed witnesses would certainly indicate that one is not in Jehovah God’s organization and under his spirit. Unfortunately, the Israelites forgot the value of right association and congregated with those outside the gates of Israelite cities, as we read in the Psalms: “And they went mingling with the nations and took up learning their works. And they kept serving their idols, and these came to be a snare to them.”—Ps. 106:35, 36.
OPPORTUNITIES TO ASSOCIATE WITH CHRISTIANS
11. What generous provision has Jehovah made through his organization for the spiritual protection of his people?
11 To help to protect his people today from the false course of mingling with the nations and learning their works, Jehovah has made arrangements through his organization for his people to spend five hours each week at congregational meetings. These meetings are different from the religious services and meetings held in the church buildings of Christendom, because they are designed to meet the needs of Jehovah’s witnesses for carrying on their public ministry and to strengthen them to safeguard their Christian integrity. For this reason an outline of these meetings and their purpose will be beneficial and profitable for those readers who are dedicated witnesses of Jehovah, as well as interesting and enlightening for those readers who have not as yet attended any of the meetings sponsored by Jehovah’s witnesses.
12. (a) What is the principal meeting of Jehovah’s witnesses, and for whom is it beneficial? (b) How is the meeting conducted, and what Scriptural reason is there to participate?
12 The principal meeting of Jehovah’s witnesses each week is the congregation meeting where the Watchtower magazine is studied for one hour. If you will turn to the second page of this magazine you are now reading, you will see that 4,650,000 copies were printed of this issue in 70 languages. It is at the Watchtower study where doctrinal points are established and timely new spiritual truths are provided through the “faithful and discreet slave,” keeping one abreast with the application and fulfillment of Bible prophecy. It is a meeting where all benefit, young as well as adults. A man can learn how to care for his responsibilities within the family circle. He can receive information on how to be a good and wise father, how to keep unity and peace among the members of his family and how to exercise his headship properly. A woman can learn her Christian place, not only in the home, but also in the theocratic organization, and how she can serve God and her family in a pleasing manner. Children are taught proper respect for God and parents as well as receive instruction and discipline, which will contribute to their physical and spiritual growth. This Watchtower study meeting is conducted by a chairman who propounds the questions found at the bottom of the magazine page, and the answers are volunteered by those in the audience. When was the last time you volunteered an answer? How many weeks or months have gone by since you made a public declaration of your faith in Jehovah God and his salvation, as Paul encourages you to do? (Heb. 13:15; Rom. 10:10) Why not do it at the next Watchtower meeting and experience the truthfulness of Jesus’ words when he said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving”?—Acts 20:35.
13. (a) What is the purpose of the Service Meeting? (b) The success of the Service Meeting depends on what?
13 Another weekly congregation meeting held at the Kingdom Hall for one hour is the Service Meeting. This is a meeting that has been time-tested since the days of Jesus and the apostles to give Jehovah’s witnesses practical instructions that will help them to become better qualified ministers and more efficient in carrying on their house-to-house ministry. (Luke 10:1-16; Acts 4:23-31) It was for this reason that Paul sent Timothy to the congregation at Corinth. He was to teach them to carry on their ministry the way Paul did: “and he will put you in mind of my methods in connection with Christ Jesus just as I am teaching everywhere.” (1 Cor. 4:17) The program provides a variety of methods for instructing and teaching. There are talks, demonstrations, question-and-answer parts, interviews and discussions between two or more persons. Since all of Jehovah’s witnesses are ministers, this meeting is for all who have a desire to serve God and Christ Jesus to share in—men, women and children. (1 Cor. 14:26) Kingdom Ministry, a monthly publication of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, outlines the material to be covered during the Service Meeting, and the overseer of the congregation has the responsibility to assign to qualified brothers the material to be presented. Every member of the congregation must assume his share of the responsibility for making the meeting interesting, lively and beneficial for all who attend. If you are not enthusiastic about attending the Service Meeting and do not look forward to it with anticipation and expectation, could it be because you attend for the purpose of just receiving and not contributing? If you feel the meeting could and should be better and it is lacking, it could be that it lacks your participation. When you are asked to take part in a demonstration or have the opportunity to make a comment, do not refuse because you think someone else is better qualified. If he were, then you would not feel the meeting could be better. Accept every assignment as an opportunity to serve others, and rely on Jehovah’s spirit to help you.
14. What benefits are to be gained from the Theocratic Ministry School, and what are some of its features?
14 The Theocratic Ministry School is generally held the same evening as the Service Meeting. This school is designed for the purpose of teaching and equipping Jehovah’s witnesses to preach the good news. Most of those attending this meeting have made a dedication to do Jehovah God’s will, which is to preach the message of the Kingdom publicly, and therefore they are always interested in improving their ministry, as Paul encouraged Timothy to do when he wrote: “Become an example to the faithful ones in speaking . . . continue applying yourself to public reading, to exhortation, to teaching. Ponder over these things; be absorbed in them, that your advancement may be manifest to all persons.” (1 Tim. 4:12, 13, 15; 2 Tim. 2:15) Unlike with most schools, there are no graduates, for the course is a lifelong one for young and old, male and female. The principal textbook is the Bible, along with other Bible-study aids. In one hour’s time you will hear short Bible talks, sermons and Bible discussions by the students. These receive commendation and instructive counsel from a qualified school instructor.
15. How do the public Bible lectures benefit both the public and Jehovah’s witnesses, and why should all of Jehovah’s witnesses attend?
15 From the qualified students enrolled in the Theocratic Ministry School, speakers are selected to give one-hour public Bible talks on given subjects that are especially designed for newly interested people and for the refreshing of the mind of all of Jehovah’s witnesses. These public talks are usually given on Sunday at the Kingdom Hall. These interesting Bible lectures are one of the best methods of helping those who are studying the Bible in their homes with Jehovah’s witnesses to become acquainted with Jehovah’s great purpose for mankind and to associate with God’s organization regularly. In one year it is possible to hear numerous different topics discussed by qualified ministers. These lectures impress upon the minds of those attending, the vital truths of God’s Word, which magnify the Kingdom message. Any person attending, and not having a personal home Bible study as yet, may have his interest awakened at one of these lectures to the extent that he may desire a personal home Bible study. Jehovah’s witnesses also benefit greatly from attending, for they learn new truths and new ways of expressing the good news of God’s kingdom. These lectures also serve as a reminder of Bible principles, as Peter wrote: “I am arousing your clear thinking faculties by way of a reminder.” (2 Pet. 3:1) All of Jehovah’s witnesses will want to be at this meeting to welcome the visitors and to answer any questions that they may have on God’s Word the Bible.
16. What are the advantages of the Congregation Book Studies?
16 Finally, the fifth meeting, but certainly not the least important, is the Congregation Book Study. These small group studies are held in the homes of Jehovah’s witnesses and at the Kingdom Hall, making it convenient for those in the neighborhood to attend. The textbook studied is usually one of the latest Bible-study aids provided by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, along with the Bible. These studies make clear the light on Bible prophecies and the prophetic patterns needed to be understood at this time more than ever before. Here again is evidence of Jehovah’s loving-kindness and tender care for his people, because in these small groups it is easier to get acquainted, and, through his organization, for the study conductor to give special individual attention and loving care to those who attend. Truly here the proverb comes true: “By iron, iron itself is sharpened. So one man sharpens the face of another.”—Prov. 27:17.
17. How are newly interested persons and Jehovah’s witnesses affected by Christian association?
17 All persons who are interested in serving the Creator now and who want to enjoy the blessings from him in the future are invited, yes, urged to seek the association of Christian men, women and children who regularly attend these meetings. The value of this association is clearly seen and commented upon by many interested persons who attend the congregational meetings for the first time. They are often heard to say, “My, how friendly and happy the people are! The program was so interesting and instructive. Everything was so different from any other religious meeting I have ever attended.” Yes, they notice the difference in the people and the things heard, and Jehovah’s witnesses are happy they came. Jehovah’s witnesses experience this happiness every time they meet with their Christian brothers. This happiness is the result of good association with the ones coming under Jehovah’s spirit, which spirit is upon his assembled congregation. This is true, whether just a few are gathered in a private home, hundreds in a Kingdom Hall or thousands in a stadium or auditorium.
18. What percentage of Jehovah’s witnesses attend the congregational meetings on a worldwide scale?
18 In view of what has been said concerning the benefits of good, wholesome association to be enjoyed at the congregation meetings, Jehovah’s witnesses have an average attendance world wide of about 75 percent of all associated members, in contrast to the generally low meeting attendance complained about in most other churches. Still, this shows that about 25 percent of Jehovah’s witnesses are failing to associate regularly at the Watchtower study, Service Meeting, Theocratic Ministry School, Congregation Book Studies and public lectures. Is there not a danger of these following the same course as the unfaithful Israelites who lost sight of the value of right association and who mingled with the nations, took up their works and served their idols? There certainly is!
19. What can be done to assist those who do not regularly attend meetings?
19 Are you one of these irregular attenders? Do you know of any who are succumbing to this danger? If so, it would be an evidence of love on your part to consider with them Jehovah’s counsel and admonition on associating regularly at congregational meetings. Help them to regain the joy and the peace of mind that come from right association. Do so now. Paul says: “Hence straighten up the hands that hang down and the enfeebled knees, and keep making straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather that it may be healed.” (Heb. 12:12, 13) There is no question about our association after Armageddon, but, unless we are associating now with God’s congregation, we will not be alive to enjoy association with him, his Son and his people after Armageddon.
20. What is the only way to make sure of our association now?
20 Jehovah God’s purpose in admonishing right association for us now is that we may listen and learn to fear him and do his will. The Christian brothers with whom we associate at the congregation meetings are the best associations we can find in the world, and, furthermore, five of the most important hours each week are those spent in association with them at the congregation meetings. This association is pleasing to Jehovah, brings joy to us and is beneficial for our ministry and future life in the new order of things after Armageddon.
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All are encouraged to volunteer comments in the “Watchtower” study