What The Love of God Means
“This is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments.”—1 JOHN 5:3.
1. How should we demonstrate love for God, and what will result?
REGARDING the obligation that humans have to worship God, Jesus said: “You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.” (Matthew 22:37) How should we demonstrate this love? The Bible answers: “This is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments.” (1 John 5:3) With what fine result to those who do? John said: “He that remains in love remains in union with God.”—1 John 4:16b.
2. Who only should receive our worship?
2 If we love God, we will not give our worship to any creature, alive or dead, but to God only. (Luke 4:7, 8) The apostle Peter, and even an angel, refused to accept worship from humans. (Acts 10:25, 26; Revelation 22:8, 9) Also, Jesus showed that his mother, Mary, should not be given any worshipful honor, for such belongs only to God. (Luke 11:27, 28; John 2:3, 4; Revelation 4:11) Misdirecting one’s worship will result in conflict with God’s commandments, for “no one can slave for two masters.”—Matthew 6:24.
Use of the Cross in Religion
3. How does Christendom view the use of the cross?
3 There are also inanimate objects that if venerated may lead to breaking God’s commandments. Among the most prominent is the cross. For centuries it has been used by people in Christendom as part of their worship. The New Encyclopædia Britannica calls the cross “the principal symbol of the Christian religion.” In a court case in Greece, the Greek Orthodox Church even asserted that those who reject the ‘Holy Cross’ are not Christian. But is the cross really a Christian symbol? Where did it originate?
4, 5. (a) What does a dictionary say about the word stau·rosʹ, translated “cross” in some English Bibles? (b) Where did the use of the cross originate?
4 The instrument of Jesus’ death is noted in Bible passages, such as at Matthew 27:32 and 40. There the Greek word stau·rosʹ is translated “cross” in various English Bibles. But what did stau·rosʹ mean in the first century when the Greek Scriptures were written? An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E. Vine, says: “Stauros . . . denotes, primarily, an upright pale or stake. On such malefactors were nailed for execution. Both the noun [stau·rosʹ] and the verb stauroō, to fasten to a stake or pale, are originally to be distinguished from the ecclesiastical form of a two beamed cross. The shape of the latter had its origin in ancient Chaldea, and was used as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name) in that country and in adjacent lands, including Egypt.”
5 Vine goes on to say: “By the middle of the 3rd cent. A.D. the churches had either departed from, or had travestied, certain doctrines of the Christian faith. In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical system pagans were received into the churches apart from regeneration by faith, and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T, in its most frequent form, with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the cross of Christ.”
6, 7. (a) From where does the word “cross” come, and why is its use in English Bibles not justified? (b) How does the Bible’s use of the word xyʹlon verify that stau·rosʹ was an upright stake?
6 The Companion Bible, under the heading “The Cross and Crucifixion,” notes: “Our English word ‘cross’ is the translation of the Latin crux; but the Greek stauros no more means a crux than the word ‘stick’ means a ‘crutch.’ Homer uses the word stauros of an ordinary pole or stake, or a single piece of timber. And this is the meaning and usage of the word throughout the Greek classics. It never means two pieces of timber placed across one another. . . . There is nothing in the Greek of the N[ew] T[estament] even to imply two pieces of timber.”
7 Another Greek word, xyʹlon, is used in the Bible to refer to the instrument upon which Jesus died. This word helps to show that stau·rosʹ was an upright stake without a crossbeam. As The Companion Bible states: “The word [xyʹlon] . . . generally denotes a piece of a dead log of wood, or timber, for fuel or for any other purpose. . . . As this latter word [xyʹlon] is used for the former stauros, it shows us that the meaning of each is exactly the same. . . . Hence the use of the word [xyʹlon] . . . in connection with the manner of our Lord’s death, and rendered ‘tree’ in Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24 [King James Version].”
8. What do other sources say about the cross and its origin?
8 The French Dictionnaire Encyclopédique Universel (Encyclopedic Universal Dictionary) says: “For a long time we believed that the cross, considered a religious symbol, was specifically for Christians. This is not the case.” The book Dual Heritage—The Bible and the British Museum states: “It may come as a shock to know that there is no word such as ‘cross’ in the Greek of the New Testament. The word translated ‘cross’ is always the Greek word [stau·rosʹ] meaning a ‘stake’ or ‘upright pale.’ The cross was not originally a Christian symbol; it is derived from Egypt and Constantine.” The New Catholic Encyclopedia says: “The representation of Christ’s redemptive death on Golgotha does not occur in the symbolic art of the first Christian centuries. The early Christians, influenced by the Old Testament prohibition of graven images, were reluctant to depict even the instrument of the Lord’s [death]. . . . The cross comes to be represented in the time of Constantine.”
9. How is Emperor Constantine connected with the cross?
9 Constantine was the Roman emperor who convened the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. and influenced it to adopt the unscriptural doctrine that Christ was God. He did this to solidify his empire of pagans and apostate Christians. Of him The New Encyclopædia Britannica says: “On the eve of Constantine’s victory over Maxentius in 312, he saw a vision of the ‘heavenly sign’ of the cross, which he believed to be a divine pledge of his triumph.” It also says that thereafter Constantine promoted the veneration of the cross.
10. Why is it not reasonable or Scriptural to believe that God or Christ gave Constantine a “sign” involving a cross?
10 However, would God give a sign to a pagan leader who was not doing God’s will, and a pagan sign at that? Jesus rebuked his own countrymen for wanting signs. (Matthew 12:38-40) Furthermore, this pagan ruler was shedding innocent blood with carnal weapons for political supremacy and, in political intrigues, arranged the murder of relatives and other associates. In contrast, Jesus said: “My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought.” (John 18:36) That is why he commanded Peter: “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.”—Matthew 26:52.
11. What motivated Constantine to promote the use of the cross?
11 The book Strange Survivals says of Constantine and his cross: “That there was policy in his conduct we can hardly doubt; the symbol he set up gratified the Christians in his army on one side, and the [pagan] Gauls on the other. . . . To the latter it was the token of the favour of their solar deity,” the sun god they worshiped. No, Constantine’s ‘heavenly sign’ had nothing to do with God or Christ but is steeped in paganism.
Venerate the Instrument of Death?
12, 13. For what other reasons should the cross not be venerated?
12 Even if we ignore the evidence and assume that Jesus was killed on a cross, should it be venerated? No, for Jesus was executed as a criminal, like the men impaled alongside him, and his manner of death misrepresented him in the worst way. First-century Christians would not have viewed the instrument of his execution as sacred. Venerating it would have meant glorifying the wrong deed committed on it, the murder of Jesus.
13 If your dearest friend were executed on false charges, would you make an image of the instrument of execution (say a hangman’s noose or an electric chair or the rifle of a firing squad) and then kiss that replica, burn candles before it, or wear it around your neck as a sacred ornament? That would be unthinkable. So, too, with the adoration of the cross. The fact that the cross is of pagan origin only makes the matter worse.
14. What conclusion regarding the cross must we reach in view of secular and Biblical evidence?
14 The veneration of the cross is not Christian. It does not show love for God or Christ but mocks what they stand for. It violates God’s commandments against idolatry. It reveres a pagan symbol masquerading as Christian. (Exodus 20:4, 5; Psalm 115:4-8; 1 Corinthians 10:14) To consider a pagan symbol as sacred violates God’s command: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? . . . ‘Quit touching the unclean thing.’”—2 Corinthians 6:14, 17.
Holding to the Inspired Word
15. Why should we reject traditions that conflict with God’s Word?
15 The churches say that practices such as venerating the cross are part of “sacred tradition.” But when tradition conflicts with God’s Word, those who love God reject the tradition. What we really need for true worship is already included in God’s Word. As Paul wrote Timothy: “From infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through the faith in connection with Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17) Nowhere does the Bible say that traditions that contradict God’s Word are indispensable for salvation.
16. What did Jesus say to Jewish religious leaders regarding their traditions?
16 The conflict between the Scriptures and human tradition is not new. During the period from the completing of the inspired Hebrew Scriptures to the coming of Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders added many oral traditions, which they later committed to writing that was not inspired by God. Those traditions often conflicted with the Scriptures. So Jesus told the religious leaders: “Why is it you also overstep the commandment of God because of your tradition? . . . You have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition.” He applied God’s Word to them when it said: “It is in vain that they keep worshiping me, because they teach commands of men as doctrines.” (Matthew 15:1-6, 9) In his teachings, Jesus never quoted from such traditions. His appeal was to the inspired written Word of God.—Matthew 4:4-10; Mark 12:10; Luke 10:26.
17. Why can we have confidence in the Bible as a solid anchor for our hope?
17 God did not leave the preservation of “the word of life” in the insecure hands of religious traditionalists. (Philippians 2:16) Instead, by his powerful holy spirit, he inspired the writing of the Bible so that “through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) To say that the Bible is incomplete and that we need to rely also on the unstable thinking of imperfect, uninspired men is to deny the power of God. Surely, the almighty, awesome Creator of the universe could author a book! And he did this so that we could have a solid anchor for our hope and not have to depend on human traditions that lead people to violate God’s commandments. Hence, God’s Word says: “Do not go beyond the things that are written.” (1 Corinthians 4:6) Those who truly love God will observe that counsel.—See also Proverbs 30:5, 6.
“Observe His Commandments”
18. If we truly love God, what commandment must we obey?
18 “This is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments,” states 1 John 5:3. When religious leaders water down those commandments, or ignore them, or substitute conflicting traditions of men, then they lead their followers contrary to God’s will. As an example, consider a fundamental principle of Christianity: love. It was a vital part of Jesus’ teaching. He said: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”—Matthew 22:39.
19. (a) How vital is it for true Christians to love one another? (b) In what way did the “new commandment” that Jesus gave regarding love differ from the old one?
19 How important is this neighbor love? Jesus taught that true Christians can be identified by the love they have among themselves. He said: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35) True, the Law to ancient Israel included a commandment to “love your fellow as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) But what was new about Jesus’ command was his expression, “just as I have loved you.” This gave greater power to Christian love, for a Christian must even be willing to lay down his life for fellow believers, just as Jesus did.
20. Whom does the record of this century’s history identify as obeying the commandment to “love one another”?
20 Thus, true servants of God today can be identified by an unbreakable, unifying bond of love on an international scale. Who in our time demonstrate such obedience to God’s commandments on love? Who have been persecuted, imprisoned, thrown into concentration camps, or executed because they would not take up weapons against fellow believers—or even unbelievers—of other nations? The record of this century’s history answers: only Jehovah’s Witnesses.
21. What record have the churches of Christendom made regarding the commandment to love fellow believers?
21 On the other hand, Christendom’s religions have regularly broken God’s commandments regarding love. In all the wars of this century, the clergy of Christendom’s churches have led their people to meet on opposing sides of battlefields and to slaughter one another by the millions. Protestants killed fellow Protestants, Catholics killed fellow Catholics, yet all claimed to be Christian. But God’s Word declares: “If anyone makes the statement: ‘I love God,’ and yet is hating his brother, he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that the one who loves God should be loving his brother also.”—1 John 4:20, 21.
22. According to the definition at 1 John 3:10-12, whose children are the churches of Christendom, and why?
22 God’s Word also says: “The children of God and the children of the Devil are evident by this fact: Everyone who does not carry on righteousness does not originate with God, neither does he who does not love his brother. . . . We should have love for one another; not like Cain, who originated with the wicked one and slaughtered his brother.” (1 John 3:10-12) The churches of Christendom claim to be children of God, but they cannot be, for they grossly disobey God’s commandments on love and ‘slaughter their brother.’ They can only be children of “the wicked one.” Hence, God’s Word urges sincere ones in such religions: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues.” (Revelation 18:4) Soon God will execute his judgments against all false religions. Those who cling to them will suffer their fate. (Revelation 17:16) On the other hand, “he that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 John 2:17.
How Would You Answer
◻ Why is the English word “cross” a mistranslation of the Greek word stau·rosʹ?
◻ Where did veneration of the cross originate, and why should we reject it?
◻ What pattern did Jesus set regarding religious traditions?
◻ What evidence identifies those who obey the commandments regarding brotherly love?
[Box/Pictures on page 25]
ORIGINS OF THE CROSS
Long before the Christian era, cross forms were used in nearly every part of the earth as religious symbols
The Crux Ansata was used by the ancient Egyptians as a symbol of future life
The Crux Quadrata symbolized the four elements out of which all things were believed to be created
The Crux Gammata is thought to have been a symbol of fire or the sun; hence, of life
The Latin cross popular in Christendom
This cross is a monogram of the first two Greek letters in the word “Christ”
[Picture on page 24]
Christ died on an upright stake, not on a cross
[Pictures on page 26, 27]
“They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works.”—Titus 1:16