God’s Children Imitate What Is Good
“Be an imitator, not of what is bad, but of what is good. He that does good originates with God.”—3 John 11.
1. In what particular thing do old and young take keen interest, and why?
WHAT child is there who does not love to get a seed of some kind, and put it in a jar, and watch the start of a new life? Every day the child will peer into it, viewing attentively the signs of growth. Grown-up people also take the keenest interest in learning all they can about how a new life gets started. The initial germ, or cell, is microscopic, yet it contains a complex code, or pattern, governing its future development. As the Bible says of each form of life, it produces “according to its kind.” (Gen. 1:11, 12, 21, 24) The tremendous amount of energy stored up in that minute cell, with its potential of being endlessly renewed, also excites wonderment. Though much has been discovered, giving evidence of purpose and design, life is still a mystery. No wonder we love to peer at the beginning of a new life, whether human, or animal, or in plants. If it comes from good stock, it will follow the same pattern, and will imitate what is good.
2. Did the angels show a similar interest? How is this indicated?
2 The Bible reveals a similar attitude on the part of the angels. We can imagine their intense interest in what Jehovah, the Creator, was causing to be done on our tiny planet, microscopic compared with the universe, when it was being prepared to sustain life in endless variety and beauty. It is recorded that, at that time, they “joyfully cried out together, and all the sons of God began shouting in applause.” And what a thrill when they saw the climax of it all, the creation of man, “in God’s image”!—Job 38:7; Gen. 1:27.
3. Was God’s “master worker” likewise interested? Has this been maintained?
3 That creative work was carried out through the “master worker,” Jesus, in his prehuman existence, and he, too, found it to be of absorbing interest. God’s Word speaks of him as then saying: ‘I was glad at the productive land of his earth, and the things I was fond of were with the sons of men.’ He has never lost that interest in the human family. Likewise with the angels. Speaking of God’s purpose, centered in Christ and his footstep followers, Peter says that “into these very things angels are desiring to peer.”—Prov. 8:30, 31; Heb. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:12; see also Colossians 1:15, 16.
THE APOSTLE JOHN
4. (a) How did John express his interest in the “word of life”? (b) Why should we feel drawn to John?
4 Did the apostle John show a similar interest? Listen to the opening words of his first letter: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have viewed attentively and our hands felt, concerning the word of life . . . that which we have seen and heard we are reporting also to you, that you too may be having a sharing with us. Furthermore, this sharing of ours is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” There is no doubt of his interest, is there? And what a kindly invitation! He wants us, he wants you, to share with him. He desires that we should feel drawn to him, for he has worthwhile things to tell us, things that have warmed his heart, and will warm ours, and will help us in setting matters straight. As he says: “We are writing these things that our joy may be in full measure.” Surely it will help us to look at these good things through his eyes, that we may learn to evaluate properly, and imitate, what is good.—1 John 1:1-4.
5. In what way do we expect to be helped by John’s first letter?
5 Will John’s letter help us to get a deeper appreciation of our relationship with Jehovah? Will it help us to maintain that relationship in the face of adverse pressures, and subtle enticements? Why, his introduction, just quoted, indicates that very thing. But, first, let us introduce the writer himself. This will aid us to get a better understanding of what he wrote, and why he wrote it.
6. (a) As indicated by his style of writing, what kind of man was John? (b) What was John’s relationship with Jesus, and what surname was given John, and why?
6 What kind of man was John? He is often called the apostle of love, and rightly so, for the theme of love permeates his writings. Does this mean, as is sometimes said, that he had a gentle, serene disposition, with never a hard word? If you have that idea, you are in for a surprise. John thought in accord with his heart, as well as with his mind. He held strong views, accompanied with strong feelings, and was not afraid to express himself. He did not mince his words, or put on the soft pedal. To impress the force of his argument, and drive the point home, he often made use of a strong contrast. The question is, Are you prepared to take it, and face up to it? He wrote his three letters somewhere about 98 C.E., when he was well advanced in years, and could write with authority as a mature Christian. As a background, he had enjoyed extremely close association with Jesus during Jesus’ entire ministry. John came closer to Jesus than anyone else. (Mark 1:19, 20; 5:37; John 13:23; 19:26, 27; 21:20) John was far from being gentle by natural disposition. Once, when the Samaritans refused to entertain Jesus, then John and his brother, James, asked him: “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and annihilate them?” Not for nothing did Jesus give those two brothers the surname “Boanérges, which means Sons of Thunder.” There is no contradiction in this. True love, besides being kind and long-suffering, is marked by loyalty. John was intensely loyal. He wrote his letters when, as foretold, there were many who were proving disloyal.—Luke 9:54; Mark 3:17; Matt. 13:25; Acts 20:29, 30; 1 John 2:18.
GOD IS LIGHT
7. (a) What was the message John heard, and from what source? (b) How did Jesus relate light and darkness to the basis for judgment?
7 After his introduction, John comes straight to the point, saying: “This is the message which we have heard from him . . . that God is light and there is no darkness at all in union with him.” (1 John 1:5) How did John hear this message? In his Gospel, John testified regarding Jesus: “The light is shining in the darkness, but the darkness has not overpowered it,” and that Jesus gave authority to those exercising faith in him to become God’s children. These were not born again by human birth, but were born from God by his spirit. (John 1:5, 12, 13) John then recorded how Jesus himself had confirmed this when talking to Nicodemus, who came, unseen, to Jesus at night. Jesus spoke to him about being “born from the spirit,” and that “unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He also spoke of the “basis for judgment, that the light has come into the world but men have loved the darkness rather than the light, for their works were wicked,” and went on to contrast the one who hates and avoids the light with the one who “comes to the light, in order that his works may be made manifest as having been worked in harmony with God.” This would disturb Nicodemus, for, though he had a certain love for the truth, his loyalty to it was overshadowed by the fear of man.—John 3:1-8, 19-21.
8. What can we learn from John’s Gospel respecting light and darkness, and our deliverance?
8 Thus we learn that light stands for truth and righteousness, in contrast with darkness, which stands for error and falsehood, and things wicked and unclean. We have also learned more about our deliverance from darkness, and being transferred into God’s kingdom, and into his family, this signifying the start of a new life.—Col. 1:13.
9. (a) Regarding 1 John 1:5, how did John apply this to his day? (b) With what significance did John make references to lies and liars?
9 Following the principle laid down at 1 John 1:5, John proceeds to apply it as a direct challenge, saying: “If we make the statement: ‘We are having a sharing with him,’ and yet we go on walking in the darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth.” He drives the point home, saying: “He that says: ‘I have come to know him,’ and yet is not observing his commandments, is a liar [Greek: pseústes], and the truth is not in this person.” (1 John 1:6; 2:4) These repeated expressions: “If we make the statement,” and “he that says,” as at 1 John 1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, 6, show that John was keenly aware of the worsening conditions within the Christian congregation. The enemy had lost no time in sowing “weeds in among the wheat,” men who “speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Matt. 13:25; Acts 20:30; see also James 4:1-4.) These ones claimed to be in the truth, but their actual deeds and course of action belied their claims, and proved them to be counterfeit, pseudo Christians, antichrists. John uses the words “lie” and “liar” a number of times, commencing at John 8:44, and on to Revelation 22:15. A liar is not one who, by mistake, utters a falsehood unintentionally. A liar is one who knowingly utters an untruth, designed to deceive and mislead. Lies and truth do not mix. John was intensely loyal to the truth. He knew that “no lie originates with the truth.”—1 John 2:21.
10. (a) Why do we not expect a general falling away among true Christians? (b) Why does a careful watch still need to be kept?
10 How do these things apply to us today? It is not difficult to see how Christendom is composed largely of those who make a mere profession of being Christians. Jehovah’s witnesses, however, take their stand entirely separate from Christendom, a stand based solely on God’s Word and its principles of truth and righteousness. We are assured that in this harvesttime, referred to by Jesus, there will not again be a large-scale falling away into apostasy. (Matt. 13:30, 43; 2 Thess. 2:3, 8) But we cannot afford to be indifferent. The same enemy, Satan, the dragon, is on the warpath, more wrathful than ever. The modern-day history of Jehovah’s witnesses shows that attempts have been made by some, making up an “evil slave” class, to assume control over Jehovah’s work and his people. This was especially seen during the World War I period. Jehovah, however, has cleansed his organization, and made it wholly theocratic. The credit is due to him, not to man. Individually, careful watch has still to be kept. The records show that, in our congregations, some need to be warned, others put on probation, and others have to be disfellowshiped. Why? Because, while claiming to be in the truth, they do not practice the truth. This often starts in a small way, but, if persisted in, it leads away from the light into the darkness outside.—Rev. 12:17; Matt. 24:48; 25:30.
11. How can an acceptable standing with Jehovah be maintained?
11 We need to be on guard. None of us are physically perfect. John says: “If we make the statement: ‘We have no sin,’ we are misleading ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This can be done because “we have a helper with the Father, Jesus Christ, . . . [who] is a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins, yet not for ours only [of us with the heavenly hope] but also for the whole world’s.” (1 John 1:8–2:2) Yes, those with an earthly hope, the “great crowd” from all nations, “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:14) John later makes the distinction between the “brother sinning a sin that does not incur death,” for whom we can pray, and the deliberate, willful “sin that does incur death,” for which we do not pray. “All unrighteousness is sin; and yet there is a sin that does not incur death.” This shows that John was not an extremist, but was well balanced as a mature, older man.—1 John 5:16, 17.
GOD IS LOVE
12. (a) Why are we under obligation to love one another? (b) Why is one who hates his brother in a dangerous position? What course should he take?
12 Closely linked with the definition that “God is light,” John also says that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8, 16) John first learned about this from the same source as previously mentioned. He recorded that Jesus said to Nicodemus: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) The same truth is expressed at 1 John 4:9, 10. As before, John makes a direct application of this vital truth, saying: “Beloved ones, if this is how God loved us, then we are ourselves under obligation to love one another.” He later drives the point home by way of a forceful contrast, saying: “If anyone makes the statement: ‘I love God,’ and yet is hating his brother, he is a liar.” (1 John 4:11, 20) In other words, if you have got your knife into your brother, if only one, deliberately avoiding and refusing to speak to that one, or to acknowledge him, or her, as a member of the congregation, then you are putting yourself in a very dangerous position. You are really acting as a judge, over and above the congregation. If Jehovah accepts that one as one of His family, can you afford to treat him, or her, as disfellowshiped as far as you are concerned, your face hardening if that one comes in sight? Could you afford for Jehovah to treat you on that basis? Perhaps you say that, in the first instance, it is your brother who has his knife into you. Well, painful though that may be, if it is admitted, it remains to be said that you must be the first to take your knife out of him. Do not imitate what is bad. If it is a matter of a strong dislike and bad feeling, keep looking for opportunities, perhaps in small ways, to show your desire to be friendly. If there is some grievance, not yet settled, then the course to be followed is clearly laid down at Matthew 18:15-17. John says: “By this we have come to know love, because that one surrendered his soul for us; and we are under obligation to surrender our souls for our brothers.” That is the good example to imitate.—1 John 3:16.
13. Did Jesus cold-shoulder any of his followers? How can such a tendency be overcome?
13 This does not mean that we must treat all the brothers exactly alike. Jesus did not. It was manifest that there was a special bond between himself and John. But Jesus did not cold-shoulder any one of his followers, not even Judas Iscariot, right to the end. In evidence of this, none of his disciples had any idea, as far as Jesus’ manner was concerned, as to who would betray him. Do not let us be too quick to be too right in our own eyes, too stubborn in our own judgments. “He that hates his brother is in the darkness . . . and he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” To counteract any such tendency, let us practice what John says about being unselfish, thorough and practical, not shutting the door of our tender compassion when we see our brother in need. “Let us love, neither in word nor with the tongue [only], but in deed and truth.”—1 John 2:11; 3:17, 18.
14. What does it mean to remain in love, and what rich blessing does this bring?
14 For our encouragement, note this grand word of John: “God is love, and he that remains in love remains in union with God and God remains in union with him. This is how love has been made perfect with us.” (1 John 4:16, 17) To remain in love means to be determined and consistent in pursuing a course of action always governed by true, Godlike love. Due to imperfection and wrongful desires, one may stumble, but “the wicked one does not fasten his hold on him,” causing him to abandon that course. Never may that happen! Rather, by proving steadfast, he “remains in union with God and God remains in union with him.” How stimulating! To know that the true God, Jehovah, is in union with you, on your side, training you, making you firm and strong, leading you on to the finish, why, that gives you unshakable confidence and courage.—1 John 2:16; 5:18; see also John 10:27-30; 1 Peter 5:9, 10.
15. (a) To prove our love for God requires what good qualities? (b) What is the distinction between being sensitive and being touchy? (c) When and how were the good qualities shown by Jesus and his mother?
15 “So now, little children, remain in union with him.” (1 John 2:28; see also John 17:20-26.) That theme runs throughout John’s letter. We remain in union with God “when we are loving God and doing his commandments.” (1 John 5:2) This requires determination. Jesus was determined. He was also keenly sensitive. Nothing escaped his notice. Though sensitive to a perfect degree, he was in no way touchy, or easily offended, because he was in no way proud, or self-opinionated. He had no self-pity. These qualities were shown in an interesting way by Jesus, also by his mother, Mary, when at a marriage feast in Cana of Galilee. (John 2:1-11) To everyone’s embarrassment, the wine ran short. Jesus’ mother said to him: “They have no wine.” She did not drop her voice, speaking in a matter-of-fact way. She evidently raised her voice in question form, and Jesus was at once fully aware of what was in her mind: “They have no wine. Are you not going to do something?” Though overstepping the mark in attempting to direct Jesus in his ministry, he did not take it as a personal offense. Instead, he firmly, yet kindly, replied: “What have I to do with you, woman? My hour has not yet come.” What was her reaction? Did she bridle up and say: “That is not a very nice way to speak to your mother, in front of these servants”? Instead, showing her determination, she went right ahead with what was in her mind, and said to the servants: “Whatever he tells you, do.” Ah! now, was it Jesus’ turn to be deeply offended? Did he angrily turn on her, and say: “I told you just now to keep your place. Why do you not pay heed?” Instead, he did an amazing thing. Although his hour had not yet come, he did exactly what his mother had indicated. He did tell the servants to do something. Surely he could have performed a miracle, and produced all the wine required, without saying a word to the servants.
16. (a) Why did Mary have good reason for expecting Jesus to perform miracles? (b) In what ways was Mary brought within an inner circle?
16 However the matter may be viewed, both Jesus and Mary showed determination and sensitivity, yet without being touchy. Remember that no one had stronger reason than Mary for expecting Jesus to perform miracles as soon as he started his ministry, considering the wonderful miracle she had experienced in her own body just over thirty years before. For her, it was the start of a new life within her. God’s angel, Gabriel, on a personal visit (not by a dream), had explained that, by holy spirit, she would conceive in her womb, and that “what is born will be called holy, God’s Son.” (Luke 1:26-38) From that moment, she was keenly sensitive to the fact that she was indeed “highly favored” of Jehovah. In a most unique and intimate way she was brought within the inner circle of his favor, and she was determined to stay there. She could not accompany Jesus during his ministry, but when the end came, and her Son was on that terrible torture stake, she was there, close enough for Jesus to speak to her. Though in great mental and physical agony, Jesus very kindly arranged for his mother to be taken within the inner circle of the home of John, “the disciple whom he loved.” More than that, a few weeks later, when that even more wonderful inner circle was being formed with that little company at Jerusalem, she was there and was included in their number. That small band was chosen by God to form the nucleus of the Christian congregation, the start of a “new creation.”—John 19:25-27; Acts 1:14; 2 Cor. 5:17.
17. In what way is it good to be both determined and sensitive?
17 It is good to be determined and sensitive to privileges that come our way. To be brought within God’s family circle is truly a great favor, and we should always be keen to take in the spiritual “solid food” so as to maintain our sensitivity, by keeping our “perceptive powers trained” in order to retain these privileges. (Heb. 5:14) Should a special privilege be ours, in being a full-time servant of Jehovah in a missionary or Bethel home, we should be determined to stay there, if possible. Of course, a change is sometimes necessary, and this may not be because of unfaithfulness, or due to being touchy, or offended. For example, the reason for the change may be that one has decided to marry, and it is readily acknowledged that there is a world of difference between being touchy, and being touched.
18, 19. (a) How does John contrast “the children of God and the children of the Devil”? (b) How is God’s spirit, also faith, likened to a seed? What confidence does this give us, yet with what need for our day?
18 John sharply contrasts those who ‘originate with the Devil,’ with those who “originate with God,” or who have been “born from God.” Though at one time we may have been part of the world, “lying in the power of the wicked one,” we can, by responding to God’s invitation, be transferred, or passed over, into his family. Says John: “We know we have passed over from death to life, because we love the brothers.” This is “owing to the spirit which he [God] gave us.” That spirit, like a seed, if planted within a good heart, will be the start of a new life. As John writes: “Everyone who has been born from God does not carry on sin, because His reproductive seed remains in such one, and he cannot practice sin, because he has been born from God.” (1 John 3:8, 9, 14, 24; 5:19) This must be coupled with faith, which Jesus likened to a mustard grain, “the tiniest of all the seeds.” Though microscopic to begin with, if properly nurtured, it will grow with endlessly renewed energy, and you will be able to remove, or surmount, all obstacles. “Nothing will be impossible for you,” if it is in harmony with God’s will. It will enable us, as God’s children, successfully to imitate what is good, “because everything that has been born from God conquers the world. And this is the conquest that has conquered the world, our faith.”—Matt. 13:31, 32; 17:20; 1 John 5:4.
19 In these closing days of the old system of things, the obstacles and obstructions to our Christian life and service are very severe. There are many problems. Jehovah foreknew this, and provided helpful and timely counsel in his Word. It will be good to consider this in the light of what the Scriptures have to say regarding circumcision, especially that of the heart, as already mentioned.
[Picture on page 439]
When the wine ran out at a wedding feast, both Jesus and his mother showed determination and sensitivity without being touchy—and Jesus performed his first miracle