Keep Your Faith Growing Exceedingly
“We are obligated to give God thanks always for you, brothers, as it is fitting, because your faith is growing exceedingly and the love of each and all of you is increasing one toward the other.”—2 Thess. 1:3.
1. What Scriptural report shows us the need to examine our faith?
TEN years after Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he wrote to the congregation at Colossae (c. 60-61 C.E.). It was then just ten years to the destruction of Jerusalem. It was an urgent time, certainly a time to pay attention to one’s faith in God. At Colossians 4:14 Paul lists Demas as a fellow minister sending greetings to the Colossian congregation. Yet less than five years later Paul writes to Timothy and reports: “Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things, and he has gone to Thessalonica.” (2 Tim. 4:10) Demas was not the first one, for Paul writes: “You know this, that all the men in the district of Asia have turned away from me.” (2 Tim. 1:15) Why? What caused this turning away? How was their faith being put out of action? Jesus Christ showed the future, our day, to be the time when “the love of the greater number will cool off.” (Matt. 24:12) 1 Timothy 4:1 also records: “In later periods of time some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to misleading inspired utterances and teachings of demons.”
2. (a) Why do some grow cold and stop serving God? (b) From where does faith come?
2 When a person examines the Bible, through study or hearing, proving to himself beyond doubt that God exists and is dependable, and that his Word is true, what is it that causes that person to stop serving God? Many point to materialism as the magnet that draws men away. But one can enjoy the many comforts of life and still be a Christian. Others say pleasure-seeking weakens faith, but Christians should be happy people and they can find upbuilding pleasurable times together. Some claim that fear shakes them out of God’s service. While it may be excesses of these or other kinds that appear on the surface to have stopped them, let us look a little closer. Faith is based on a solid foundation, God’s Word: “So faith follows the thing heard. In turn the thing heard is through the word about Christ.” (Rom. 10:17) It is like keeping healthy with nutritious, body-building food. Stop eating, and gradually strength and vigor leave. The problem is the physically weak condition that invites disease, but the cause is the lack of food. Faith is weakened through lack of food from God’s Word and soon gives out and its owner becomes the victim of all kinds of enemies. Really, then, the food supply comes in for close scrutiny. Paul said Timothy was “a fine minister of Christ Jesus, one nourished with the words of the faith and of the fine teaching which you have followed closely.” (1 Tim. 4:6) Paul, in writing to the Hebrews on the need for building up faith, said some had ‘become dull in their hearing.’ (Heb. 5:11) So they had cut off the food supply. In Heb chapter two, verse one, he warns: “That is why it is necessary for us to pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by us, that we may never drift away.”
3. Illustrate the benefits of personal study.
3 A big thing, then, to a Christian is a regular feeding program, doing personal research as well as study with others in congregation meetings. He gains God’s approval through study. (2 Tim. 2:15) A wise man said, as recorded at Proverbs 4:7: “Wisdom is the prime thing. Acquire wisdom; and with all that you acquire, acquire understanding.” Study is like traveling. You may listen with interest to someone else’s report of travels but it is not the same as being there yourself, where you see and feel the experience. A description of food can in no way be compared to the tasteful eating of it yourself.
4. (a) Describe some obstacles to growing faith. (b) Where do Jehovah’s witnesses fit into the picture?
4 Faith may not be developed enough in many persons to produce a fine minister. Maybe the teacher of a student was in a big hurry to get through certain printed material, perhaps not providing enough Scriptural examination to dispel false ideas or actions, replacing these with well-rounded-out Scriptural truths and qualities. Was it rushing him into the ministry before the desire to preach the good news had been developed? Then there is another big hurdle, a very lonely gap to cross. When one begins to realize that he must get out of Babylon the Great (Rev. 18:4), that means leaving lifetime friends and associates. Will new friends be found among Jehovah’s people soon? Will they be understanding and patient, not expecting of one great strides in improving? Will they help, or will they stand off in the distance and say, ‘Let’s see first if he is going to make it’? The extending of the helping hand, the warm assurance of genuine interest, yes, and the patient assistance, holding to the high standards of God’s Word yet not exactingly saying at every move, ‘Don’t do this’; or ‘Don’t do that.’ Faith will grow in such a warm protected atmosphere; it just takes time.
5. Describe the viewpoint needed in families and responsible servants in the congregation toward family study programs.
5 But now the importance of hearing to build faith has to be recognized by all involved in the building work. Each servant of God will have to place the importance on spiritual food that results in regular feeding programs and not shunting it around to make room for all kinds of other matters. The family will have to think like this in order to keep a family study program going. Overseers in all parts of the educational organization will have to remember its importance and not be taking a father away from his Scriptural responsibility of a faith-feeding program for his family, even with another assignment. Such interference can be avoided if those giving out assignments of service also make room for the time element that is to be used. Assignments in God’s organization are privileges of service, but when time is limited these privileges can put a strain on the family head’s program of family spiritual-feeding activity. Deep respect for that essential regular spiritual meal will cause the overseer and his brother to talk the matter over first.—Prov. 15:22.
6, 7. (a) While surrounded by advice from so many, what is the safe thing to do? (b) How do mature persons avoid interfering with the growing of others’ faith?
6 Then there is the matter of giving and receiving advice. There are so many advantages in knowing what is the right thing to do in serving Jehovah. Everyone has advice and usually it is given freely. Even the most sincere person’s advice is generally based on that person’s likes and dislikes. People go all the way through life making decisions and being one-sided by using their likes and dislikes as bases for decisions and giving advice. If you know what is right and do it you have contentment in serving Jehovah, having his blessing, and that is the main thing to strive for. There is no reason to get dogmatic or possessive in our attitude just because we know the truth and we are all part of the same organization. Inside the realm of moderation there is plenty of room to enjoy a wide variety of activity. (Titus 2:2; 1 Tim. 3:2, 11) No one should object. If Bible principles are not being violated, why worry about such things as styles, color of clothes, homes, food, recreation and jobs? Is there anything wrong with variety? Perchance you feel everyone should be the same. Look around the earth and its exciting colorful display and the endless variety. Isn’t it interesting and refreshing? Even though others may think he could improve, there are many things that are one’s own business, such as the type of work he does, the home in which he lives, training of children, and his friends. If we get disturbed over these things as well as become a source of irritation to others in constantly minding their business, then we may upset their life and interfere with their faith-building activity. Paul urges the putting of the big thing, the Kingdom, first.—Rom. 14:17-23.
7 One’s finding out what is right and then not being afraid to carry it out or abide by the truth saves one many faith-retarding moments. During times of indecision or hesitancy, doubts creep in, footsteps are feeble and ears are open to any kind of direction. Be wise, think the matter out with sound advice from the Bible.—Phil. 4:5.
8. Identify the difference and result in giving of directions and serving spiritual food.
8 In helping others rebuild faith it is necessary to serve food, not give directions. Those mature brothers in the congregation giving help to their brothers will really build faith if they serve spiritual food rather than post signs. It is true, the weaker ones need to get to the meetings; urgent directions will serve for one week and they may go to the meeting that week, but what about the other weeks? Spiritual food will give strength, more food later will add more strength and soon there will be a heart-activated response and a hungry “sheep” will be anxious to come to the meetings for more food. Mature ministers have prepared sermons that bring food to those met in the house-to-house ministry; then why not a prepared sermon when we are helping our brothers? True, it must be flexible, but certainly a well-thought-out point from God’s Word will add to the faith already there. Neither does it have to be slanted to bear down on the weakness of the brother’s faults or show him up weak in the strong light of God’s Word.
9. What method did Jesus use to build faith?
9 Remember, when Jesus spoke to the disciples on the road between Jerusalem and Emmaus, what did he tell these men that caused them to say: “Were not our hearts burning as he was speaking to us on the road”? (Luke 24:32) The same Scripture account answers: “And commencing at Moses and all the Prophets he [Jesus] interpreted to them things pertaining to himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27) Some of these scriptures that Jesus explained could have been Deuteronomy 18:15; Numbers 21:9; Genesis 49:10; 22:18; 3:15; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Jeremiah 23:5; Ezekiel 34:23; 37:25; Daniel 9:24; Malachi 3:1. Philip told Nathanael: “We have found the one of whom Moses, in the Law, and the Prophets wrote, Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”—John 1:45.
10. Describe the kind of people Jesus worked with and what this has to do with building faith.
10 The best example in building faith is Christ Jesus; so we need to do what he did, explain the way he explained, deal with people the way he dealt with them. Examine the kind of people Jesus assisted, the helpless paralytics (Matt. 9:2), the groping blind (Matt. 9:27), the frustrated dumb (Matt. 9:32), the dreaded lepers (Matt. 8:2), the terrifying demon-possessed (Matt. 8:28), despised tax collectors (Luke 5:30), and spurned women with bad reputation (Luke 7:37-50). Jesus talked to this kind of people day after day and under the close scrutiny of the bitter-minded, hateful religious leaders. (Matt. 22:15; 27:1; 26:3, 4) He came to be known by his association with such sinful people (Matt. 8:16, 17), and even fulfilled a prophecy in this respect recorded at Isaiah 53:3, 4. Jesus’ course was one of constant building, but in a patient, understanding manner.
11. How did Jesus go about aiding his disciples to grow in faith on that Passover evening, and what lesson do we learn from Jesus’ way of building?
11 The matter of faith came up the evening of the last Passover that Jesus spent with the apostles. He told them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Exercise faith in God, exercise faith also in me.” (John 14:1) Note now how Jesus builds faith as he explains that he was going away to heaven (1 Pet. 3:22) to prepare a place for them, his faithful apostles (1 Pet. 1:3, 4: Rev. 20:6), and he would return for them (Matt. 24:31). He points out the close union between him and his Father, Jehovah, and that they, his apostles, were enjoying that close relationship as they obeyed the commandments Jesus gave them, and increased their love of Jehovah, Christ Jesus and their brothers. He promised further help—“the spirit of the truth,” which would assist them to remain faithful. (John 14:17) Jesus made the point clear that “the things I say to you men I do not speak of my own originality; but the Father who remains in union with me is doing his works.” (John 14:10; see also John 7:16; 8:28.) If Jesus followed the policy of building up man’s faith by using God’s Word, then we can do no better today. Jesus had much greater wisdom than we do, yet he did not branch out on his own but fed spiritual food to build up faith.
12. Explain what you find in the sermon on the mountain, Jesus’ illustrations and prophecies that would be so helpful in building faith.
12 Examine the sermon on the mountain given by Jesus (Matt. 5:1–7:29) and note the spiritual food that would start faith to sprouting as well as build up faith of the mature ones. A rich meal is carefully prepared in the many parabolic illustrations Jesus used at Matthew chapters thirteen, twenty-one and twenty-two. Jesus gave prophecies that would build faith of thousands as they read those recorded at Matthew 24:1–25:46. In all these cases Jesus was brief, to the point and powerful in making his point.
13. Define the faith that those listed at Hebrews 11:1 demonstrated.
13 In the letter the apostle Paul wrote to build up the faith of the Hebrews he lists sixteen men and women by name who had one thing in common, faith. They lived at different times, faced various situations and problems, but it was their faith that brought Jehovah’s blessing. Hebrews 11:1 defines this kind of faith: “Faith is the assured [proven, founded on logic and facts] expectation [anticipation, looking for] of things hoped for, the evident [clear to the vision and understanding, distinct, plain] demonstration [an outward expression] of realities [being real, true to life or to fact] though not beheld [with literal eyes].” The Watchtower of April 1, 1962, defined faith this way: “possessing firm conviction, solid assurance, complete confidence.”
MAINTENANCE OF FAITH, WITH GROWTH
14. Why is building faith like constructing a building?
14 So one’s faith is often in the same condition as a building. Some houses deteriorate because of poor quality or unproved materials and these homes have to be repaired to remain. This may call for strengthening the foundation with reinforcing material. Usually, there is more work involved than in constructing a new house. Much time is spent in examination of the home’s weaknesses before the remedy can be worked out and repairs made.
15. When does faith maintenance start? Why?
15 Care of a home just begins when the contractor turns the keys over to the new owner. Everything is new, with all the latest materials for comfort and durability. But immediately the maintenance program begins. Weather, contracting of heat and cold, settling of the foundation and general wear soon produce cracks, chipped corners, broken panes, and multitudes of faulty installations. The same is true of one’s faith. How much time do you spend on faith maintenance? God’s Word advises: “Keep testing whether you are in the faith, keep proving what you yourselves are.”—2 Cor. 13:5.
16. How would a person check for weakness in faith and determine the maintenance measures?
16 Faith is linked with growth. Lack of faith is found where growth has stopped or is stunted. Jehovah says, at Hebrews 10:38: “‘My righteous one will live by reason of faith,’ and, ‘if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’” There is an excellent guide to determine maintenance—watch for any sign of shrinking back. Are you or your family studying less, skipping your family study? Do you find your explanations of Scriptural subjects a little stingy in understanding? Is your public ministry a hurried get-it-over-with program? Has your hearing dulled, with you finding yourself complaining about poor memory? Has the truth become commonplace with you because it is so easy to obtain? We cannot take the view of the short-term house owner who reasons that he will avoid maintenance costs and pass the resulting problems on to the next unsuspecting buyer. We have the hope of everlasting life before us and we need to keep our faith alive and growing.
17. (a) Are there any rewards for being faithful? (b) How are faithful ones usually identified?
17 There is so much more happiness in growth. You are living if your faith is alive. Unmeasured contentment is enjoyed with your dependable program of maintaining faith. Peace of mind comes with freedom from faith breakdowns. Then think of the great encouragement you are to the new ones, the weaker ones, and those slow to make progress, as you faithfully, with a calm steady pace, keep on serving Jehovah. Through a faithful servant Jehovah sent this very encouraging information to the Thessalonians: “We always thank God when we make mention concerning all of you in our prayers, for we bear incessantly in mind your faithful work and your loving labor and your endurance due to your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ before our God and Father.” (1 Thess. 1:2, 3) We have the same one to look to for help, and, to be sure, the future will be beyond description, “as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus.”—Heb. 12:2.