Cultivating Friendship with God
1. Why should we cultivate friendship with God?
FRIENDSHIP with God, or friendship with the world—which do you choose? If you love life, you will choose friendship with God, because he is the Source of life, but the wicked system of this world is at enmity with God, and is soon to pass away. (Jas. 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17) Friendship with God is something to cultivate zealously, even as Abraham cultivated it. “His faith worked along with his works and by his works his faith was perfected, and the scripture was fulfilled which says: ‘Abraham put faith in Jehovah, and it was counted to him as righteousness,’ and he came to be called ‘Jehovah’s friend.’” (Jas. 2:22, 23) You, too, can become Jehovah’s friend.
2. (a) What will God’s friendship mean for man on earth? (b) What will be the most glorious feature of the restored paradise?
2 What will friendship with God mean to those who choose it? For man upon this earth, it will include the enjoyment of paradise restored and spread earth wide. Even the desert plain is to “be joyful and blossom as the saffron.” (Isa. 35:1; Rev. 21:3, 4) The entire wealth of that paradise earth will be God’s gift to man, to be enjoyed without fear of the divisions, hatreds, wars and commercial greed that afflict groaning mankind today. (Ps. 115:16; Mic. 4:1-5) Does this mean, then, a materialistic society for mankind? Not at all! For the most glorious feature of the restored paradise is its spirituality. The grand restoration prophecies of the Bible, including those at Isaiah chapters 2, 9, 35, 65 and 66, have their finest fulfillment in a spiritual sense. Indeed, it is because the remnant of the “little flock” of true Christians on earth today have been restored to their spiritual “land” of friendship with God that the way has been opened for “other sheep,” also, to be brought into this spiritual paradise, and later an earthwide paradise.—Isa. 66:8-14; John 10:16.
3. In what way is man superior to the animals?
3 Unlike the animals, some of which lived out their life-spans in the original earthly paradise, man was made to live also in a spiritual paradise, to have close relationship with the great Spirit, Jehovah God. God, therefore, gave man an appreciation of moral values. It is stated at Genesis 1:27: “God proceeded to create the man in his image, in God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.” This could be no fleshly material image, for God is spirit. But God implanted in the original human pair the same praiseworthy attributes that he himself exhibits in marvelous balance. (1 John 4:11, 12; Phil. 4:8) As a spiritually minded, moral creature, perfect man was equipped to subdue the earth into a global paradise reflecting in every way the glories of Jehovah’s spiritual realm.—Isa. 11:6-9.
4, 5. (a) What resulted from man’s rebellion? (b) What loving provision did Jehovah then make, involving what sacrifice?
4 But alas! there came rebellion. Man lost friendship with God. Gone was his spiritual paradise, and, rightly, Jehovah drove him out of the Edenic paradise. But the glory of Jehovah’s wisdom now came to be displayed in a wonderful way. Though his righteous eyes could not look with approval on the defects and crookedness of disobedient mankind, yet he made provision so that those who exercise faith in him may return to the intimacy of his friendship. How? Through the loving gift of his Son.—Gen. 3:17-19, 23; Hab. 1:12, 13; Deut. 32:3, 4.
5 It was a noble sacrifice on the part of the Father in sending this beloved Son to earth—to be reviled, spit upon, tortured and murdered under a charge of blasphemy against the very God whom he so loyally obeyed. On the part of the Son, it was a hard sacrifice to suffer these indignities, to be rejected and cast out by the very ones for whom he came to provide salvation, surrendering even his soul in death. Surely, “no one has love greater than this.” (John 15:13) Indeed, the loyal love of both Father and Son provides a magnificent example for us. The more we come to appreciate the outstanding quality of this love, the more we should want to associate in the true Christian congregation, where the quality of this love prevails as “a perfect bond of union.”—Col. 3:14.
6. What did the apostle John report regarding love?
6 As a mature Christian living in the spiritual paradise of the first-century congregation, the apostle John deeply appreciated this quality of love. That is why his Gospel and his three letters positively glow with appreciative love. As a most intimate associate of Jesus and a friend of God, he faithfully reports under inspiration Jesus’ own statements on love, including his soul-stirring prayer on that last night with his disciples: “Righteous Father, the world has, indeed, not come to know you; but I have come to know you, and these have come to know that you sent me forth. And I have made your name known to them and will make it known, in order that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in union with them.”—John 17:25, 26.
7. Why is love to be cultivated, and how?
7 What a grand union! This love and friendship with God and Jesus is truly something to be cultivated. Yes, cultivated, for as long as we live in human imperfection, weeds are prone to take root in our personalities. These must be plucked out continually, so that there will be no obstacle to feeding the soil of good hearts with timely nourishment from God’s Word. How better can this be done than by making active association in the congregation of God’s own people the big thing in our lives? Thus, in having God as our Friend, we may truly say, “As for us, we love, because he first loved us.”—1 John 4:19; 1 Pet. 4:1-3; Ps. 84:10; 149:1.
A KINGDOM RULE OF LOVE
8. What kingdom has always ruled over true Christians?
8 Ever since the day of Pentecost, 33 C.E., Jesus has been exercising a Kingdom rule over his dedicated, spirit-begotten followers on earth. As stated in Colossians 1:13, 14, Jehovah “delivered us from the authority of the darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of his love, by means of whom we have our release by ransom, the forgiveness of our sins.” This is a real kingdom that rules over true Christians. That is why Paul writes, just before the above words, of his prayer that “you may be filled with the accurate knowledge of [God’s] will in all wisdom and spiritual comprehension, in order to walk worthily of Jehovah to the end of fully pleasing him as you go on bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the accurate knowledge of God.” (Col 1 Vss. 9, 10) Far from being a materialistic kingdom, this kingdom sets the highest importance on spiritual values. “For the kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but means righteousness and peace and joy with holy spirit.”—Rom. 14:17.
9. When and how is the Kingdom rule extended?
9 However, God’s Kingdom rule is to embrace much more than the Christian congregation! In the year 1914, in striking fulfillment of Bible prophecy, and amid the warfare of the worldly nations, “the kingdom of the world” rightfully became Christ’s. The time draws close for him “to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” (Rev. 11:15-18) But first Jesus, as the reigning king, gathers his true followers, anointed Christians, and restores among them the spiritual paradise such as existed among first-century Christians. All the evidence indicates that this gathering has been proceeding from 1919 onward. Moreover, the friendship of Jehovah and his Son has expanded, particularly from the year 1935, to include “a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues,” and these also come to attribute salvation to God and to the Lamb, Christ Jesus. These, too, enjoy the privileges of the spiritual paradise, with the prospect of passing soon through “the great tribulation” and sharing in the restoration of the earth-wide paradise.—Rev. 7:9, 10, 13-17; Isa. 26:20, 21; 65:17-25.
10. How, in recent years, have many made changes in their lives?
10 The coming earthly paradise will always reflect the glory of the spiritual. As appreciation of these spiritual matters deepens, many have seen the need to make changes in their lives. This has meant repenting of a former fruitless way of life, turning around, dedicating themselves to God through Christ and submitting to water baptism. (Acts 17:29-31) By making their lives over now, they prepare to live in the paradise earth. In the past three years alone, 477,124 persons world wide have thus come to associate with Jehovah’s witnesses and be baptized in water. And still they come! Truly, “many peoples” are delighting themselves to be brought under Christ’s Kingdom rule, saying, “Come, you people, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will instruct us about his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”—Isa. 2:3; Zech. 8:23.
GROWING IN FAITH
11, 12. How may newly baptized ones continue to grow in faith?
11 What a joy it is to see these hundreds of thousands of newly baptized Christians, along with countless others, growing up in the faith! As Paul said concerning the newly organized congregation at Thessalonica, so we say today of these many new believers: “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) Even in its infancy, that congregation was able to weather many hard trials. And why? Because of the intense love all had toward one another, and also because of their ‘growing exceedingly in faith’ through regular study and association together. Thus, they were “counted worthy of the kingdom of God.”—2 Th 1 Vss. 4, 5.
12 Do you want to be “counted worthy” today of a place in the realm of God’s kingdom? Then watch, as those Thessalonians did, that your faith keeps “growing exceedingly.” After baptism your desire to follow Bible teachings should become even stronger. As you continually study God’s Word, it should become more and more a part of you, so that you act on it. Jesus said: “You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you.” (John 15:14) And that means being Jehovah’s friends too. It means discarding worldly ways and habits that are at enmity with God, loving righteousness and hating wickedness just as Jesus does, and cultivating always the new Christian personality.—Ps. 45:7; Eph. 4:23, 24.
13. What is essential to building spiritual appreciation?
13 Like Jesus, we must become intensely loyal in upholding Jehovah’s sovereignty in word and in deed, treasuring our inestimable privilege of being Jehovah’s Christian witnesses. (John 17:4, 6, 11, 12, 26) In our field ministry, we urge others to read The Watchtower. We tell them they need it, and they do! So do we! It is essential to building spiritual appreciation, based on God’s Word, so that we may have and maintain friendship with God and Christ. (John 8:31, 32) Paul admonished Timothy: “Ponder over these things,” yes, “be absorbed in them, that your advancement may be manifest to all persons.” (1 Tim. 4:15) We need to do that too. This requires zealous association in the congregation. Through its “older men,” the Christian congregation today is keenly interested in your advancement and in helping you to cultivate “the joy that belongs to your faith, so that your exultation may overflow in Christ Jesus.” Regular association and study brings such reward.—Phil. 1:25, 26; Ps. 1:1-3; Heb. 2:1; John 15:7-11.
14. How should the study of The Watchtower affect us?
14 Yes, we should be deeply appreciative of all the fine spiritual food that “the faithful and discreet slave” class has been providing through The Watchtower, now for ninety-four years. (Matt. 24:45-47) As we take in this nourishment with others at Christian meetings, we come to be deeply grateful for God’s friendship toward us. We come to be “aglow with the spirit,” and how wonderfully this is reflected in our service to God! Our very enthusiasm for the grand truths that Jehovah is providing through his channel impresses the hearts of honest people. They start to wonder what it is we have that they do not have. Of course, it is God’s spirit that comes with appreciation of Bible truth, and our faith along with love. The “fatty things,” the “sweet things,” the wholesome nourishment from God’s Word that we enjoy in association with others, build in us this joy and enthusiasm that have such great persuasive power in recommending the truth to others.—Rom. 12:11; Neh. 8:10; Acts 4:13.
15. (a) For what may we appropriately pray? (b) How may we act in harmony with such prayers?
15 But while we rejoice in this glorious hope, we must also “persevere in prayer.” (Rom. 12:12; 1 Thess. 5:17) Like Solomon, we should pray for “wisdom and knowledge,” that we may appreciate Jehovah’s spiritual paradise to the full. (2 Chron. 1:7-12) In harmony with such prayers, let us set aside regular time for personal and family study, including preparation for congregational meetings. By appropriate planning, we can make our surroundings suitable for study. Ours can be the prayerful attitude of Psalm 19:14: “Let the sayings of my mouth and the meditation of my heart become pleasurable before you, O Jehovah my Rock and my Redeemer.” By zealous participation in congregational meetings, we can show that we have made the psalmist’s words our own: “Happy are . . . the ones walking in the law of Jehovah. How I do love your law! All day long it is my concern.”—Ps. 119:1, 97.
CULTIVATING SPIRITUAL LIVES
16. What prophetic fulfillments and theocratic arrangements are especially a reason for joy?
16 Our spiritual appreciation of Jehovah’s goodness deepens the longer we associate in his organization. Through Jehovah’s channel we receive ever clearer enlightenment on the Kingdom and its relation to the Christian congregation on earth. True, it is thrilling to see Bible prophecies being fulfilled in world events to the point where the “ten horns” of the U.N. “beast,” depicted in Revelation chapter 17, are poised ready to topple Babylonian religion at any hour. But even more thrilling in fulfillment are the related prophecies showing that Jehovah has brought the “holy place,” as represented by the Christian congregation, “into its right condition” in preparation for surviving the “time of distress such as has not been made to occur since there came to be a nation until that time.” (Dan. 8:14; 12:1) How we welcome Jehovah’s arrangement for “older men” to shepherd the flock in love! And how eager we should be, also, to have our own hearts in right condition for surviving with the theocratic organization!—Acts 20:28; Isa. 60:17; 65:13, 14.
17, 18. (a) What wise counsel does Jehovah provide for his people? (b) Why are there no generation gaps in true Christian families?
17 True to his promise, Jehovah comes as Friend to “save you people.” His saving power is seen even now in the loving protection he extends to all who associate in the Christian congregation. Consider, for example, all the wise counsel that The Watchtower provides for families. Through much of 1970 and 1971, parents were supplied with articles specially designed to read with their young children. More recently fine counsel has been provided for teen-agers, presenting helpful facts that young people want to know. In an age when the world of youth is seething with confusion, is it not wonderful that our own young people receive such sound advice, with eternal life in view?—1 Tim. 4:12; Prov. 3:1-4.
18 The older generation, too, right up to great-grandparents, receives splendid encouragement and help through The Watchtower and related publications. While the world bemoans its generation gaps, there are no such gaps in families that are solidly grounded in Bible truth. (Prov. 23:22-25) Youngsters know that they can depend on the interest and loving care of dedicated parents. The aged know that their family’s love and concern will continue with them. Parents who discipline their children in righteousness are assured of the respect of their little ones, and at the same time they rejoice in the companionship of their own elders. There are no gaps in this theocratic arrangement of Jehovah.—Col. 3:15-24; Deut. 31:12.
19. Where are real joy and satisfaction to be found today?
19 Yes, it is in the association of the Christian congregation, as well as in the family circle, that one and all can cultivate spiritual lives. Thus we can have the same happiness as David, who said: “I rejoiced when they were saying to me: ‘To the house of Jehovah let us go.’” (Ps. 122:1) There is joy and satisfaction, indeed, to be found in association in Jehovah’s earth-wide family. From this association, along with prayerful reliance on Jehovah, come peace of mind and heart in a troubled world. (Ps. 84:4; Phil. 4:6, 7) By watching every contact of association now, we maintain our position in today’s spiritual paradise, with prospect of eternal friendship with God in the expanded paradise to come.
HELPING OTHERS TO FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD
20. What important work is there to do (a) within the congregation? (b) outside the congregation?
20 Isaiah’s prophecy (Isa 35:3, 4) shows that God’s servants have a work to do: “Strengthen the weak hands, you people, and make the knees that are wobbling firm. Say to those who are anxious at heart: ‘Be strong. Do not be afraid. Look! Your own God will come with vengeance itself, God even with a repayment. He himself will come and save you people.’” Within the congregation of God itself, faithful overseers, “adequately qualified to teach others,” make personal visits on families and on the physically and spiritually infirm, as well as others, and they instruct with love and patience in the congregational meetings. (2 Tim. 2:2) Moreover, newly interested persons, who groan because of the detestable things they see in Christendom and throughout the world empire of false religion, must be built up with knowledge of God’s coming vengeance against the wicked and of the hope of salvation. (Ezek. 9:4-6; 34:15, 16) To this end, a great teaching work proceeds throughout the earth today, reaching, on an average, into 1,269,277 homes each week with Bible studies during 1972.
21. What Scriptural invitation is extended to those who thirst for truth?
21 Do you personally benefit by this great Bible educational campaign? If not, a warm invitation is extended to you to associate in the meetings at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in your locality—“Hey there, all you thirsty ones! Come to the water. And the ones that have no money! Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk even without money and without price. . . . Listen intently to me, and eat what is good, and let your soul find its exquisite delight in fatness itself. Incline your ear and come to me. Listen, and your soul will keep alive.”—Isa. 55:1-3; Rev. 22:17.
22. What will identify us as friends of God and of Jesus?
22 Jesus himself did a productive work of preaching while on earth. But he said that the one exercising faith in him would do even greater works. (John 14:12) Today the grandest worldwide witness work of all time is being carried to its completion by those having faith like that of Abraham, the friend of God. Jesus also says to these: “I have called you friends, because all the things I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you, and I appointed you to go on and keep bearing fruit and that your fruit should remain; in order that no matter what you ask the Father in my name he might give it to you. These things I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:15-17) By this Christlike love for one another and the bearing of much fruit, they are identified as Jesus’ modern-day disciples.—John 13:34, 35; 15:1-5.
23. How does the splendor of our God shine forth?
23 What fruitful expression concerning God’s kingdom is being made in the spiritual paradise enjoyed by God’s people on earth today! Truly, the splendor of Jehovah shines forth through his devoted people, who seek him through Christ, and who find him as their loving Friend.—Matt. 7:7, 11; Ps. 103:17, 18.