Is There a United Body of True Christians?
EVERYONE, when looking for a true Christian, expects to find a person of high moral qualities and good personality. And he is right. But there is more to a Christian than this.
You will find persons, even among those not professing to be Christians, who have fine moral qualities, also displaying likable personalities. What, then, is the difference?
The Christian must have, in addition to these things, a keen desire to promote true worship of the God of the Bible, as Jesus Christ did. He must have zeal and be active in that direction.
Even if you appreciate this fact, you may find it confusing to try to identify who really are true Christians in these days. In fact, you may wonder whether there are any at all. For you find little unity of thought and action among the religious people of Christendom. This is so as regards moral and social problems, and especially so when it comes to the worship of God. There is little effort to explain God and his purposes and the opportunity of gaining everlasting life, either in the heavens or on the earth, by pleasing Him in true worship.
UNITED THOUGHT AND EFFORT ESSENTIAL
Should there be, and is there, a BODY of people who devote themselves to the worship of God as set forth in the Bible and who do so with unanimity and active effort to get others to do so?
Well, there should be, according to the apostle Paul’s admonition to Christians in the first century. He wrote much about high morals and Christian personalities, but he also said: “Only behave in a manner worthy of the good news about the Christ, in order that, whether I come and see you or be absent, I may hear about the things which concern you, that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one soul [as if they were all together one person] striving side by side for the faith of the good news.”—Phil. 1:27.
AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE CHRISTIAN’S OBLIGATION
Few persons will deny that Jesus and his apostles were very zealous in expanding true worship to the ends of the earth. They were bound together in this purpose, united in doctrine and action. To illustrate how his disciples should be, Jesus gave the parable of the talents. (A silver “talent” represents a monetary value of hundreds of dollars.) This parable shows clearly and forcefully their obligation to increase true Christianity to the greatest possible extent.
Jesus’ disciples had asked him the question: “What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” The parable of the talents was included in his answer. Accordingly, the parable was given to prove to Christians living at the “conclusion of the system of things” that the Lord Jesus Christ was invisibly present in Kingdom power. But it had the beginning of its fulfillment back there when Jesus was on earth. We can get much enlightenment on the meaning of the parable from the similar parable of the minas or “pounds,” which showed Christ’s first-century listeners that the kingdom of God was not “going to display itself instantly,” as they had thought.—Matt. 24:3; Luke 19:11-27.
Both parables dealt with the kingdom of the heavens. The parable of the talents began in this manner:
“For it [that is, the circumstances connected with the kingdom of the heavens] is just as when a man, about to travel abroad, summoned slaves of his and committed to them his belongings. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, to still another one, to each one according to his own ability, and he went abroad.”—Matt. 25:14, 15.
The “man” is Jesus Christ. He was soon going to take a long trip “abroad,” back to his Father in heaven. Jesus was going to do this after his death and resurrection. There he was to sit down “at the right hand of God, from then on awaiting until his enemies should be placed as a stool for his feet.” (Heb. 10:12, 13) It would be a long time until he received from his Father the command to take full kingdom power, but at that time he would first inspect and reward his “slaves.” He would expect them to be at harmony, attending to his ‘business,’ and not at odds with one another. After the inspection was completed he would oust his enemies from the earth, as shown at Luke 19:15-27.—Ps. 110:1-3.
THE “BELONGINGS” ENTRUSTED TO THE “SLAVES”
Now, this “man” had “belongings” to leave in charge of his “slaves” until he would return with kingly power. What belongings of great value did Jesus Christ have? He did not have money, great possessions of land or buildings. Neither did he have recognition of authority from the political governments. He was put to death by the Roman Empire at the insistence of the Jews. What, then, did he have to entrust to his “slaves”?
It was a set of values different from the kind of belongings just mentioned. During his ministry in the flesh Christ had been seeking first the kingdom of his heavenly Father. By his preaching and teaching he had cultivated a field, he had built a potential into this field—a latent power to bring forth disciples. This was the estate that he left to his disciples. He had already said to his apostles more than two years previous to his death and resurrection:
“Look! I say to you: Lift up your eyes and view the fields, that they are white for harvesting. Already the reaper is receiving wages and gathering fruit for everlasting life, so that the sower and the reaper may rejoice together. In this respect, indeed, the saying is true, One is the sower and another the reaper. I dispatched you to reap what you have spent no labor on. Others have labored, and you have entered into the benefit of their labor.”—John 4:35-38.
Jesus confined his sowing to the Jews and Jewish proselytes and the related Samaritans. John the Baptist had also done some sowing. After Jesus’ resurrection and the pouring out of holy spirit on his disciples on Pentecost day of 33 C.E., these disciples would first do much reaping in this “sown” field. This they were “dispatched,” obligated, to do. The ones first “reaped” had been cultivated by the pure teaching of Jesus. Hence when they joined the spirit-begotten disciples they were as one man in maintaining pure teaching.
It is obvious that Jesus had more than three “slaves.” So the three different “slaves” who were depicted in the parable would represent all the prospective joint heirs of Christ for whom he has covenanted for the heavenly kingdom. There would be persons from all walks of life, old and young, men and women. (Compare Acts 1:14; 8:12.) But these differences of circumstance and age were to be no barrier to unity—all would do the same work.
In the fulfillment of the parable the Master saw to it that no one got more than he could handle, “according to his own ability.” The “five-talents” class of that first century evidently included the apostles, to whom the greatest responsibility was given. (Rev. 21:14; Eph. 2:20-22) They were of great assistance to the “two-talents” class in taking care of their responsibilities.
All the “slaves,” like the ones in the parable of the minas, were ‘to do business until he came.’ (Luke 19:11-13) It would be Jesus’ business, the King’s business, and the obedient slaves would therefore have to be at unity of thought and action. Christ is not divided against himself. (1 Cor. 1:10) His “slaves” would certainly not promote his business by working against one another, as in Christendom, where one sect teaches one thing and another sect teaches another.
In the parable itself the “ability” of the slaves, the basis on which the talents were proportioned, would be physical or mental ability. In the fulfillment, however, was it physical or mental ability that was represented? No doubt such would be valuable if channeled in the right direction and used properly. But the “ability” here represents the spiritual possibilities that are to be found in the Christian “slave” who is in line for the heavenly kingdom. The zeal, the willingness, the eagerness that he has, all contribute to these possibilities. This is in harmony with the principle that “God has set the members in the body, each one of them, just as he pleased.”—1 Cor. 12:18.
The Master, Jesus Christ, has committed something to these “slaves,” no matter whether they prove to be in the “five-talents” class or the other classes mentioned in the parable. On their part, they must also have or contribute something. What they can contribute complements the valuable thing entrusted to them, and enables them to cultivate the spiritual estate, the “field” left by the Lord Jesus Christ. It would help them, as a class or united group, to reap new disciples.
BEGINNING OF THE PARABLE’S FULFILLMENT
When did Jesus begin to commit these “belongings” to his disciples? Did he commit these to them independently or as a united group? The account at Acts 1:1-5 takes up where the Gospel of Luke left off, that is, “until the day that he [the resurrected Jesus] was taken up, after he had given commandment through holy spirit to the apostles whom he chose. To these also by many positive proofs he showed himself alive after he had suffered, being seen by them throughout forty days and telling the things about the kingdom of God. And while he was meeting with [a body of faithful disciples] he gave them the orders: ‘Do not withdraw from Jerusalem, but keep waiting for what the Father has promised, about which you heard from me; because John, indeed, baptized with water, but you will be baptized in holy spirit not many days after this.’”
So not only had Jesus prepared the “field,” making it ripe with a potential for many more disciples, but he had also prepared the first ones of his body of “slaves” to receive his “belongings.”
The fulfillment of the parable must have begun between the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his ascension to his heavenly Father’s presence. For when did Jesus first call his “slaves” together to commit to them his “belongings”? The apostle Matthew gives an account of Jesus’ words at a meeting in Galilee after his resurrection: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Matt. 28:16, 19, 20.
But on the day of his ascending to heaven Jesus was more specific about the course that the work of increasing his “belongings” would take. We read: “When, now, they had assembled, they went asking him: ‘Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?’ He said to them: ‘It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction; but you will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.’”—Acts 1:6-8.
LOOK FOR A UNITED BODY TEACHING BIBLE TRUTH
After his resurrection Jesus made appearances to various ones of his disciples, more than five hundred in one instance. And at Pentecost there were about 120 who experienced the baptism with holy spirit. (1 Cor. 15:6; Acts 1:15; 2:1-4) So there were many more than three “slaves” who began immediately to ‘do business’ with the talents, 3,000 hearing the witness about Jehovah God’s purposes through Christ on that day. But they did not follow an independent course or split up into various denominations. They all joined in the same vigorous, united promotion of true worship.—Acts 2:41-47.
Consequently, if you are confused in looking for true Christians in our day, it is important to keep in mind to look for a united BODY of them, all teaching the same things about God’s purposes. They must be living clean, moral, upright lives. Additionally, they must be zealously talking to others about the Bible, promoting true worship, helping new ones to become Christ’s disciples. Thereby they are increasing the King’s “belongings.” Do you find a people like that in your community?
How does the parable’s fulfillment come to a conclusion in our times? There was to be an inspection and rewarding of the slaves by the wealthy man. The fulfillment of this will be discussed in the following issue of The Watchtower.