The Path of the Righteous Does Keep Getting Brighter
“When one ruling over mankind is righteous, . . . then it is as the light of morning, when the sun shines forth.”—2 Sam. 23:3, 4.
1. What does 2 Samuel 23:3, 4 lead us to expect, and has this been realized?
THE light on the pathway of Jehovah’s servants from earliest times to the present has kept on increasing. This has been even more so since that notable year 1914 when, as developments here on earth showed, “the kingdom of the world did become the kingdom of our Lord [Jehovah] and of his Christ.” (Rev. 11:15) Light from God’s Word has flashed forth, like the sunshine on “a morning without clouds” to illuminate ever more clearly the pathway that Jehovah’s servants must tread.—2 Sam. 23:3, 4.
2. How may we regard periodic adjustments in viewpoint?
2 However, it may have seemed to some as though that path has not always gone straight forward. At times explanations given by Jehovah’s visible organization have shown adjustments, seemingly to previous points of view. But this has not actually been the case. This might be compared to what is known in navigational circles as “tacking.” By maneuvering the sails the sailors can cause a ship to go from right to left, back and forth, but all the time making progress toward their destination in spite of contrary winds. And that goal in view for Jehovah’s servants is the “new heavens and a new earth” of God’s promise.—2 Pet. 3:13.
3. What evidence is there that Jehovah is continuing to bless his witnesses?
3 There is no question that Jehovah God is continuing to bless the global activity of his witnesses, as directed by the “faithful and discreet slave.” This can be seen by the fruits. Remember, Jesus said: “Every good tree produces fine fruit.” And such righteous fruits are to be seen internationally today in one people only—the united, global society of Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Matt. 7:17.
4, 5. In addition to his inspired Word, what other instrument has Jehovah God used to guide his people?
4 No matter where we may live on earth, God’s Word continues to serve as a light to our path and a lamp to our roadway as to our conduct and beliefs. (Ps. 119:105) But Jehovah God has also provided his visible organization, his “faithful and discreet slave,” made up of spirit-anointed ones, to help Christians in all nations to understand and apply properly the Bible in their lives. Unless we are in touch with this channel of communication that God is using, we will not progress along the road to life, no matter how much Bible reading we do.—Compare Acts 8:30-40.
5 Regarding God’s channel of communication, Jesus said that the “faithful and discreet slave” would provide spiritual nourishment at the right time for all his followers and that he would set this “slave” over all his belongings. (Matt. 24:45-47) It is also noteworthy that the apostle Paul, at Ephesians 4:11-16, indicated that the Christian congregation needed not only such inspired instruments as apostles and prophets but also evangelizers, shepherds and teachers to help Christians to arrive at the oneness in the faith and the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, and to gain full spiritual maturity.—See also 1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 1:9-11.
6. Because of what factors has it been necessary at times to reevaluate viewpoints?
6 This “faithful and discreet slave,” which is associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses, has indeed been used by Jehovah God to guide, strengthen and direct his people. True, since the light shines forth progressively, and because there have been mistakes due to human imperfection and weakness, these Christians have had, on occasion, to reevaluate viewpoints and teachings. But has this not resulted in refinement, to their benefit? Consider some examples.
THE RANSOM AND JEHOVAH’S NAME
7. Why and on what basis was the teaching of the ransom made so prominent by the Bible Students?
7 In 1878, Charles T. Russell, who later became the first president of the Watch Tower Society, severed his relations with the coeditor of The Herald of the Morning, N. H. Barbour, over the issue of the ransom. Mr. Barbour rejected belief in the power of Jesus’ sacrifice to take away sins. For years thereafter Bible Students, as these witnesses of Jehovah then called themselves, considered the ransom to be the main teaching of the Bible. And there is no question that salvation through faith in Christ’s ransom is emphasized in God’s Word. (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Heb. 5:9; Rev. 7:10) Jesus’ ransom sacrifice was prophetically foreshadowed by Abraham’s offering up Isaac and by the sacrifices under the Mosaic law. It was foretold also by the prophets. So the Bible Students placed great stress on what Jesus Christ did for humankind.—Luke 24:25-27, 44.
8. (a) What was then seen to be of greater importance? (b) To what did this lead, but what adjustment was made in later decades?
8 However, the Bible shows that there is something far more important than our personal salvation. It is the great issue involving Jehovah’s universal sovereignty, which Satan called in question at the time of the rebellion in Eden. (Gen. 3:15; 1 Cor. 15:24, 25; Rev. 11:15; 12:10) It calls for the vindication of Jehovah’s name. Indeed, the entire theme of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the Messianic kingdom, whereby that glorious Name is vindicated, exalted for all time! Some 75 times in the Bible we read God’s own declaration: ‘They will have to know that I am Jehovah.’* His witnesses came to appreciate in time that creatures could plead with Jehovah God on the basis of his name’s being involved and that “everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.” (Rom. 10:13; Joel 2:32; Zeph. 3:9) So for some years Jehovah’s name and its vindication were made so prominent that critics of the Witnesses accused them of not believing in Jesus Christ. However, at most, this was a matter of overemphasis. As regular readers of The Watchtower in recent decades well appreciate, the Christian witnesses of Jehovah certainly have been giving due credit to Jesus’ role in the outworking of God’s purposes. Indeed, Jehovah’s prophetic Word focuses on Jesus as God’s ‘Chief Agent of salvation.’—Heb. 2:10; 12:2; Rev. 19:10.
9. What principle governing scientific progress appears to have application here?
9 Such adjustments might be said to follow a principle that has been said to govern the progress of scientific truth. In brief, it works something like this: At first there is a proposition made that is subject to argumentation. It holds out great possibilities for enlightenment or practical application. But then in time it is seen to have certain flaws or weaknesses. So the tendency is to go to a proposition at the opposite extreme. Later it is found that that position does not represent the whole truth either, and so there is a combining of the valid points in both positions. Time and again this principle has applied in the way Proverbs 4:18 has been fulfilled.*
CONDUCT AND PREACHING
10, 11. In their turn, what two positions were stressed, but with what final outcome?
10 Consider another example of progressive understanding: For some 40 years the Bible Students stressed the importance of cultivating a fine Christian personality, which cultivation they called “character development.” It was stressed so strongly because of its being neglected in Christendom. True, Christians were also to bear witness by speaking to others about God’s purposes, but this was more or less secondary. Later, when God’s people got to appreciate the importance of Jehovah’s name and that they were to witness to his name and kingdom, this was emphasized, with the result that less attention was paid to cultivating a Christlike personality. It was argued that above all else Jesus came to bear witness, and that preaching is what really counts. It became necessary to find a balance between the two positions.—Rom. 10:10; Gal. 5:22, 23.
11 In due course, that happy balance was reached. Christians need both to cultivate the fruitage of God’s spirit and to witness fearlessly and faithfully for Jehovah. Both of these requirements are important. We cannot neglect the one on the premise of doing the other. The apostle Paul said: “Woe is me if I did not declare the good news!” But he also said: “I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.”—1 Cor. 9:16, 27.
SUBJECTION TO THE “SUPERIOR AUTHORITIES”
12, 13. (a) What view was taken first regarding the “higher powers” of Romans 13:1? (b) To what opposite extreme did this lead, but with what apparent benefit?
12 Arriving at a proper understanding of Romans 13:1-7 furnishes yet another instance of “navigating” toward the correct viewpoint. The early Bible Students rightly understood that the “higher powers,” or “superior authorities,” were the governmental rulers of this world. (Compare Authorized Version and New World Translation.) On the basis of that understanding they concluded that if a Christian were drafted in time of war he would have to serve in the army, don a uniform and go off to battle. But it was allowed that, when it came to actually killing a fellowman, he could shoot in the air instead.
13 However, it was quite apparent that the apostle Paul could not be advocating such a course. The question arose: Could the “higher powers,” then, refer to Jehovah God and Jesus Christ? For a time, God’s people held to this viewpoint. And during the troublous years of World War II this at least fortified them in ‘obeying God as ruler rather than men,’ as they built up a marvelous record of fearless Christian neutrality throughout the earth. (Acts 5:28, 29) There has never been any question that Christians must give their primary allegiance to the Sovereign Lord Jehovah and his Messianic king, Jesus Christ. But are these at the same time the “superior authorities” to whom we must ‘render tax, tribute and honor’?—Rom. 13:7.
14. How was the matter of subjection to worldly governmental authorities finally seen in its true light?
14 Happily, in the year 1962, Jehovah led his people to an understanding of the principle of relative subjection. It was seen that dedicated Christians must obey secular rulers as the “superior authorities,” gladly recognizing these as “God’s minister,” or servant, for their good. (Rom. 13:4) However, if these “authorities” ask them to violate God’s laws, what then? Up to that point Christians have obeyed the command at Romans 13:1: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities.” But this is qualified by Jesus’ words, as recorded at Matthew 22:21: “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” So whenever “Caesar” asks Christians to do things contrary to God’s will, they must place Jehovah’s law ahead of “Caesar’s.” This is contrary to what is practiced in Christendom in general. Many so-called Christians scruple little about violating God’s laws when commanded to do so by Caesar. One patriot even expressed it this way: “Our country! . . . may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.” But not so the Christian witnesses of Jehovah! When commanded to go contrary to God’s will, they echo the words of Jesus’ apostles, saying: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
WHO ARE MINISTERS?
15, 16. (a) What had long been the understanding as to who are God’s ministers? (b) What adjustment was made, and why? (c) But what flaws did this adjustment have?
15 To cite one more example of progressive enlightenment, there is the question as to whether all sincerely dedicated Christians are ministers, regardless of age or sex. For many years it was held by Jehovah’s Witnesses that all who repented, converted, exercised faith in God and Christ, dedicated themselves to Jehovah to do his will as revealed by Christ, and were baptized, were indeed ministers. But then some raised objections. Governmental authorities often did not appreciate this position. It was also argued that many languages did not have an equivalent for the term “minister” and so it should not be used in a religious sense by those whose languages did have it. Also, it was argued that baptism hardly seemed an adequate ordination ceremony. But, were these valid reasons for restricting the designation “minister” to those appointed to office in the congregation, to elders and “deacons,” or ministerial servants?
16 The fact is that the law of the land usually allows each religious organization the right to determine what makes a person one of its ministers. If others do not appreciate their position or agree with it, this is of no consequence. Nor does it matter that many languages do not have an equivalent for the term “minister.” That should not prevent those whose languages do have such a term—English, Italian, Spanish and others—from using it if it serves a valid purpose.
17, 18. Who really may be termed “ministers,” and how should they regard their “ministry”?
17 The term “minister” is a useful one, for it refers to a special kind of “servant,” one with an exalted, special assignment of service. Anyone, regardless of age and sex, who is able to demonstrate that he or she has a good understanding of God’s will and purposes for mankind, and who has brought his or her life in line with Bible principles, and who has also made a dedication and been baptized in keeping with Jesus’ command at Matthew 28:19, 20, is truly one of God’s ministers. In fact, it can be said that such a one is more qualified to speak for God than any of those who have attended theological seminaries but who do not understand God’s purposes and may not have brought their lives in line with God’s righteous requirements. Those truly serving God can say with the apostle Paul: “I glorify my ministry.”—Rom. 11:13.
18 It must be emphasized that the term “minister” is not a title but a description. (Compare Matthew 20:28.) It is not enough for a person to take the steps qualifying him to be baptized as a servant of Jehovah God. The individual must make his ministry, his “sacred service” to Jehovah God, the chief aim in his life. Otherwise, regardless of how much time he may be able to devote to his ministry because of circumstances outside his control, he could not properly term himself a minister or be considered by others as being one of God’s ministers.—Rom. 12:1; 2 Tim. 4:5.
19. (a) Such development of understanding has resulted in what, but how are loyal ones blessed? (b) What is Jehovah’s arrangement for dispensing spiritual food, and why should it always be our choice?
19 Of course, such development of understanding, involving “tacking” as it were, has often served as a test of loyalty for those associated with the “faithful and discreet slave.” However, progress is being made continually toward fuller appreciation of the “good news” and all that it means. It has been the experience of those who stay close to God’s organization that questions and things hard to understand are always cleared up with the passing of time. And as the light shines forth ever more clearly, how heartwarming and satisfying the way proves to be! It is as Peter expressed it when some of the disciples stumbled over Jesus’ teaching: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.” (John 6:68) The Lord Jesus Christ still has those “sayings,” and he is dispensing them through the one “faithful and discreet slave” organization that he today uses on earth. It is like the “good tree” that Jesus described as bringing forth “fine fruit.” (Matt. 7:17) Apart from this, the only choice is association with Satan’s political “wild beast” and “Babylon the Great,” the world empire of false religion. (Rev. 13:1; 17:5) No dedicated Christian would want to return to that!—2 Pet. 2:22; John 14:6.
20. (a) Why can we now be more confident than ever about ‘the light that shines forth’? (b) What happy future is in prospect for all who choose the pathway of increasing light?
20 Indeed, “light itself has flashed up for the righteous one.” (Ps. 97:11) Proverbs 4:18 is being fulfilled, in that “the path of the righteous ones” is like a light shining ever more brightly. If at times there is a measure of adjustment, invariably an improved position results. The refinement has not been in vain. With Christ now reigning, the enlightenment enjoyed by Jehovah’s people “is as the light of morning, when the sun shines forth.” (2 Sam. 23:3, 4; Matt. 25:31) Favored indeed are all those who serve loyally with the “faithful and discreet slave” organization, Jehovah’s visible agent of communication! Theirs is the wise choice, for their pathway leads on to the precious goal of everlasting life in the new order that Jehovah is creating.—Isa. 65:17, 18; 66:22.
This has been termed the thesis (proposition), antithesis (opposing proposition) and synthesis (a combining of the two).
[Box on page 31]
Through study and experience Jehovah’s servants now see in proper balance:
That the vindication of Jehovah’s name is more important than the salvation of creatures.
That showing zeal in witnessing and cultivating the fruits of the spirit are of like importance.
That the Christian’s subjection to secular authorities is a relative subjection.
Their honored position as ministers, truly representing Jehovah, regardless of the way others view them.
[Diagram/Picture on page 27]
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Tacking into the Wind