How Jehovah Guides His People
“For this God is our God to time indefinite, even forever. He himself will guide us until we die.”—Ps. 48:14.
1. How does the Bible show that Jehovah guides those who love him?
THROUGHOUT the centuries, Jehovah has guided those who love him and who want to serve him. The psalmist was one of these, for he asked of God: “Send out your light and your truth. May these themselves lead me.” (Ps. 43:3) The prophet Daniel knew that “there exists a God in the heavens who is a Revealer of secrets,” and foretold that in our time, this “time of the end,” “the true knowledge will become abundant.” (Dan. 2:28; 12:4) Isaiah also prophesied that in this “final part of the days” true worship would “become firmly established” and that Jehovah would guide his people: “He will instruct us about his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” Thus, the invitation that is extended to people today is: “Come and let us walk in the light of Jehovah.”—Isa. 2:2-5.
2. What does Jehovah take into consideration when guiding his people in his truths?
2 Just how does Jehovah guide his people in his truths? For one thing, he takes into account that he created humans with a free will. Thus, the apostle Paul took note of Philemon’s “free will.” (Philem. 14) Since God created this free will, he does not counteract it by forcing persons to believe his truths or to act in a certain way, like robots. So, during this Christian era, he lovingly appeals to righteous-hearted persons to come and associate with his approved organization, and then guides them gently by means of holy spirit, his inspired Word and his truth-dispensing organization on earth.
3. What is it especially important to keep in mind as to how Jehovah guides his people?
3 Another consideration relative to God’s guidance of his people is that God gives the understanding of his truths in his own time, and in his own way. (Dan. 12:9) Too, Jehovah leads his people progressively in the truth. Having created the human mind, Jehovah knows that too little spiritual “food” will not sustain it properly, but too much at one time may be more than humans can absorb. At John 16:12 Jesus said to his faithful apostles: “I have many things yet to say to you, but you are not able to bear them at present.” To illustrate: When a person emerges from a long period of confinement in a dark room, it is best if he is exposed to light gradually. Too much light too soon can be shocking, perhaps even damaging. Similar is the need for progressive enlightenment with God’s truths. It corresponds with what the wise man says: “The road the righteous travel is like the sunrise, getting brighter and brighter until daylight has come.”—Prov. 4:18, Today’s English Version.
4. (a) What did Jesus indicate as to the need for progressive clarification of the truth? (b) Because Jehovah’s truths are clarified gradually, what must his servants be willing to do?
4 Jesus well knew that it was Jehovah’s way to make plain his truths progressively. He told his apostles that later God’s holy spirit would guide them into all the truth. (John 16:12, 13) And because previously established truths would be clarified step by step, there would be the corresponding need for God’s servants to correct and adjust their viewpoint on various Scriptural matters as time went on.
GUIDANCE REGARDING KINGDOM TRUTHS
5, 6. Regarding God’s kingdom, what shows that the disciples of Jesus had incorrect views?’
5 In guiding the first-century Christians, Jehovah did not make clear to them at one time all the truths related to his purposes. As an example, consider the Bible’s central doctrine, God’s kingdom. Jesus taught his followers to pray: “Let your kingdom come.” (Matt. 6:10) He urged: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness.” (Matt. 6:33) But during those years that he was on earth, did his followers understand all the details about Kingdom rule? Could they accurately answer questions about it, such as: What is God’s kingdom? Who will rule in it, and how many rulers will there be? When will it come? What will it do for the earth and for humans?
6 That those who talked with Jesus did not have all this knowledge is evidenced by the question that they asked him after his resurrection: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” (Acts 1:6) Instead of answering by telling them about every aspect of Kingdom rule, Jesus declared: “It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction.” (Acts 1:7) Why did Jesus handle the matter in this way? Because the disciples held deep-seated but erroneous views of the Kingdom. They believed that the Kingdom would be an earthly rule that would throw off Roman domination. Yet the truth was that the Kingdom was to be heavenly, and that those chosen to rule with Christ would be taken from the earth to heaven. (Rev. 5:9, 10; 14:3; 20:4) Further, their question shows that they expected the Kingdom to be established immediately. But that was not to be, for many centuries would pass instead.
7. (a) Despite their incorrect views about the Kingdom, what was Jesus’ attitude toward those disciples? (b) Do we understand everything about the rule of God’s kingdom?
7 Although his disciples held incorrect views, Jesus did not condemn them and cast them off. He knew that their gaining understanding of God’s truths would be gradual, and that holy spirit would progressively guide his followers so that they would get clear understanding in due time. Ultimately, complete knowledge concerning the Kingdom rule would be theirs. But, in the meantime, Jesus inculcated in those early followers a profound interest and zeal for seeking the Kingdom first, and a willingness to make adjustments in their views about it. So although limited in accurate knowledge about Kingdom truths, what they did know enabled them, as they waited, to ‘keep close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah.’ (2 Pet. 3:12) Today, our knowledge of God’s Kingdom rule, what it is and what it will accomplish, is far more advanced, but still not entirely complete.
TRUTHS ABOUT THE GENTILES
8. What problem was there in connection with the Gentiles, and was this even raised at Pentecost?
8 Another issue that demonstrates how the understanding of God’s truth is progressive has to do with how the non-Jewish, or Gentile, converts from 36 C.E. onward were viewed by some Jewish converts to Christianity. For instance, should they be circumcised, as the natural Jews were? Was the matter even raised in 33 C.E. when God’s holy spirit was poured out at Pentecost? (Acts 2:1-4) No, for while that outpouring established that God was with those disciples and would henceforth guide them, it did not miraculously give them knowledge about every detail of God’s truths. This can be seen from the fact that the issue of circumcision was not set forth in decrees decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem until 16 years after Pentecost, in the year 49 C.E.—Acts 16:4.
9-11. (a) After following Jehovah’s guidance over the years, why were his servants better able to handle a problem over circumcision? (b) How did the vision given to Peter help in adjusting to the proper understanding of the truth?
9 During all those years Jehovah allowed his people to experience how he was actually dealing with the Gentiles. In this way, their appreciation and understanding of the matter was deepened. Thus, when an issue arose that required decisive action, his servants had become well equipped to handle it with wisdom and insight. Take, for example, the adjustment that Peter had to make in his viewpoint. Over three years after Pentecost, the apostle Peter was guided by holy spirit to correct his view of the Gentiles, whom he had regarded as defiled, unclean.
10 In a vision, Peter was told to eat foods considered unclean under the Mosaic law. When he replied in astonishment that he did not eat such foods, a voice from heaven told him that what God calls clean can no longer be considered unclean. And at that very moment messengers came from the Gentile Cornelius. Cornelius had sent them to ask Peter to come to his home to tell him about God’s purposes. But Peter had just expressed horror at eating unclean foods, and now he was being asked to go into the home of a Gentile, whom he also considered unclean! What should he do? Holy spirit directed the answer: “Rise, go downstairs and be on your way with them, not doubting at all, because I have dispatched them.”—Acts 10:9-20.
11 Peter got the point. The vision about Jehovah’s making something clean that was formerly regarded as unclean was not merely about food, but, more importantly, it was about Peter’s attitude toward Gentiles. Showing that he understood, Peter later told Cornelius and his household: “Hence I came, really without objection, when I was sent for.” Then the holy spirit was poured out on that Gentile household, and they were baptized. Holy spirit had shown that God would now favor the Gentiles without their being circumcised.—Acts 10:21-48.
12. (a) What further problem arose with regard to the Gentiles, and when? (b) On what basis could the central body give a decisive answer?
12 However, did this satisfy all Christianized Jews regarding the Gentiles? No, because 13 more years passed, and an issue as to whether Gentiles had to be circumcised was raised by some circumcised Jews who came to Antioch, Syria. (Acts 15:1, 2) So in the year 49 C.E. a meeting was arranged with the central body of apostles and other elders at Jerusalem. At that gathering, Peter, Paul and Barnabas related what God had accomplished among the uncircumcised Gentiles to whom they had preached. After examining how Jehovah had actually dealt with these Gentiles for many years, they unanimously confirmed the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, fortifying the truth that the Gentiles did not have to be circumcised.
13. How did some show a lack of appreciation for the way Jehovah guides his people, and likely with what results?
13 Not all of Christ’s followers were willing to correct outdated views. Some would take clarifications as an excuse to abandon the truth, instead of viewing them as evidence of Jehovah’s progressive guidance of his people. For instance, when Jesus introduced the illustration regarding the symbolic eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood, the Bible record states that, “owing to this many of his disciples went off to the things behind and would no longer walk with him.” (John 6:53-66) How shortsighted that was! What a lack of appreciation as to how Jehovah leads his people! Thirty-eight years later likely some of them paid a heavy price, as those who did not continue walking in the advancing understanding of truth also doubtless may have rejected Jesus’ instructions to flee Jerusalem before it was destroyed. That cost them their lives, whereas those who continued to let Jehovah guide them fled and were spared.—Luke 21:20-24.
GUIDANCE IN OUR DAY
14. To that extent has our viewpoint on basic truths been corrected during the past century?
14 When we look at what has been published by Jehovah’s organization through the pages of The Watchtower and other publications for the past century, we find wholesome spiritual food in abundance. Early in this period, basic Bible truths were made clear, and they remain clear until this day. Our viewpoint on hell, Trinity, purgatory, the soul, where the dead are, the ransom, the resurrection, earth’s destiny, the Kingdom and other key doctrines has undergone very little change during 100 years. The truth has always been truth, though, at times, our understanding of it has required adjustment.—Compare John 16:13.
15. Has there been a need for Jehovah’s present-day servants to make adjustments in their views?
15 Jehovah has continued to guide his people step by step to a fuller appreciation of his truths, and this in his own time and in his own way. Because of this, Jehovah’s Witnesses from earliest times in the past century have understood that they must be willing to modify and correct their views of doctrine, practice and organizational procedure when it became apparent that Jehovah’s spirit was directing them toward such adjustments. As acknowledged by Bryan Wilson in the magazine New Society, Jehovah’s Witnesses have “always maintained that continued study of the Bible might lead to fuller knowledge, and on previous occasions errors in prophetic interpretation have been admitted.”
16. (a) Why is Bible prophecy an area that particularly requires a willingness to readjust views? (b) How have Jehovah’s servants responded to the information about the “last days,” and how have they been backed?
16 Perhaps the area in which it truly requires willingness to readjust is the field of Bible prophecy. Most prophecies are given only in general outline. Therefore, faith is required to await the outworking of the details. (Heb. 11:1) An example of this has to do with the Bible’s prophecies showing that this present wicked system under Satan will be destroyed and replaced by “new heavens and a new earth.” (2 Pet. 3:13) However, enough aspects of the overall “sign” of the impending end are given in the Bible to mark clearly the present time as the “last days,” “the time of the end.” (2 Tim. 3:1; Dan. 12:4) This has incited God’s servants to intensify the work of fulfilling Jesus’ words: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:14) They have had success in doing this and in surviving as an organization, also in prospering spiritually despite enormous persecution, likewise in putting on and displaying the new personality in this degraded world. All of this is testimony to the fact that Jehovah has indeed backed them up.—Isa. 54:17.
17. Does the nonfulfillment of our own premature expectations mean that Jehovah has altered his purposes?
17 However, during these “last days,” have erroneous views about this system’s end or telos (Greek) been held in advance by some of Jehovah’s servants? Yes, they have. Some of these views involve the length of time it would take for the end to come. Out of zeal and enthusiasm for the vindication of Jehovah’s name, Word and purposes, and the desire for the new system, some of his servants have at times been premature in their expectations. This is similar to the view that the disciples had as to the imminence of God’s kingdom in their day. (Acts 1:6) But because expectations have at times been premature and so have not been fulfilled, does this mean that God has somehow changed his purpose? Not at all. “My own counsel will stand, and everything that is my delight I shall do,” says Jehovah. (Isa. 46:10) Hence, Jehovah’s purposes, and time, for establishing a righteous new order are firmly fixed.
18. Why is it important to stay with “the things that are written”?
18 This certainly impresses on us our need to weigh carefully all Scriptural factors, not emphasizing some to the point of overshadowing others. As Jesus himself stated so plainly: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows.” (Matt. 24:36) Always there is the need to pay strict attention to the apostle Paul’s counsel: “Do not go beyond the things that are written.”—1 Cor. 4:6.
19. Although views have been readjusted, how does the evidence confirm the near end of this system?
19 Although many of Jehovah’s Witnesses have had to adjust their views in this matter, can we deny that we are in the “time of the end”? Surely the evidence of the impending end of this system grows daily, as we see the deepening breakdown of institutions such as marriage, family, government and worldly religion, as well as increasing crime and violence, and growing disrespect for God.—2 Tim. 3:1-5.
20, 21. How will those who continue to walk in Jehovah’s advancing light be rewarded?
20 While an undetermined length of time yet remains of these “last days,” one thing is certain. Those who continue to walk in Jehovah’s advancing light, and are willing to be readjusted, will be part of the anointed remnant and the “great crowd” who “come out of the great tribulation” into God’s righteous new order. “The Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will shepherd them [the great crowd], and will guide them to fountains of waters of life. And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes.”—2 Pet. 3:14, 15; Rev. 7:9-17.
21 Thus, those who look to Jehovah for guidance can look forward confidently to the establishing of a new system in which “the righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.” There, “the wicked one will be no more.” But in his place, the meek and teachable will “find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.”—Ps. 37:10, 11, 29.
22. What confidence can Jehovah’s servants have now and for the future?
22 So, as has been the case for the past 100 years with the modern organization of Jehovah’s people, we today are confident it will also be during the remainder of these last days that, “God is our God to time indefinite, even forever. He himself will guide us until we die.” (Ps. 48:14) And then, in his new order, we can with equal confidence look forward to Jehovah’s continued guidance of his servants throughout eternity, without their having to die at all, because “he that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 John 2:17.