Do Not Miss the Purpose of God-Given Freedom
“Where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.”—2 CORINTHIANS 3:17.
1. Why does Isaiah 65:13, 14 apply to Jehovah’s Witnesses?
JEHOVAH is the God of freedom. And what a blessing God-given freedom is! Because his dedicated servants have such freedom, these words of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah apply to them: “Look! My own servants will eat, but you yourselves will go hungry. Look! My own servants will drink, but you yourselves will go thirsty. Look! My own servants will rejoice, but you yourselves will suffer shame. Look! My own servants will cry out joyfully because of the good condition of the heart, but you yourselves will make outcries because of the pain of heart and you will howl because of sheer breakdown of spirit.”—Isaiah 65:13, 14.
2. Why are Jehovah’s people spiritually prosperous?
2 God’s people enjoy this spiritually prosperous state because they are led by his spirit, or active force. The apostle Paul said: “Jehovah is the Spirit; and where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17) What is the purpose of God-given freedom? And what is required of us to use it to the full?
The Freedom God Has
3. What kind of freedom does God have, and why?
3 Jehovah alone has absolute freedom. None of his creatures can limit his freedom because he is Almighty God and the Universal Sovereign. As the faithful man Job said, “who can resist him? Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” (Job 9:12) Similarly, Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar was forced to admit: “There exists no one that can check [God’s] hand or that can say to him, ‘What have you been doing?’”—Daniel 4:35.
4. How is it that Jehovah keeps his freedom within bounds?
4 However, Jehovah’s own righteous principles keep that absolute freedom within bounds. This was illustrated when Abraham expressed concern about the residents of Sodom and asked: “Is the Judge of all the earth not going to do what is right?” God’s response indicates that he recognizes the responsibility to do what is right. He would not have destroyed Sodom if any righteous inhabitants had remained in it. (Genesis 18:22-33) God also keeps his freedom within bounds because his love and wisdom make him slow to anger and he exercises self-control.—Isaiah 42:14.
Limitations of Human Freedom
5. What are some factors that limit human freedom?
5 Though Jehovah has absolute freedom, all others act within limitations set by their nature, abilities, and realm of habitation, as well as such factors as the presently limited life-span of sinful humans. God created man with perfect freedom to function within the realm that Jehovah had set for him. There are several other reasons why human freedom is limited, not absolute.
6. Accountability to God has what bearing on our freedom?
6 First, human freedom is limited because God created man to serve His purpose. Jehovah is ‘worthy to receive the glory and the honor and the power because he created all things and because of his will they existed and were created.’ (Revelation 4:11) So man is accountable to his Maker, who has rightly made laws by which humans are to be governed. In ancient Israel under the Mosaic Law, God required that individuals be put to death if they abused his name or broke the Sabbath law. (Exodus 20:7; 31:14, 15; Leviticus 24:13-16; Numbers 15:32-36) Though we as Christians are not under the Law, our freedom is limited because we are accountable to Jehovah, who is our Judge, Statute-giver, and King.—Isaiah 33:22; Romans 14:12.
7, 8. (a) How do physical laws limit human freedom? (b) What other laws of God limit our freedom as humans?
7 Second, human freedom is limited because of God’s physical laws. For example, because of the law of gravity, a man cannot jump off a skyscraper without harming or killing himself. Clearly, God’s physical laws limit man’s freedom to do certain things.
8 Third, human freedom is limited because of God’s moral laws. Most likely, you have observed the outworking of what Paul wrote at Galatians 6:7, 8: “Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap; because he who is sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh, but he who is sowing with a view to the spirit will reap everlasting life from the spirit.” Incontrovertibly, Jehovah God’s moral laws also limit our freedom, but obeying them is required for us to gain life.
9. How does our being part of human society limit our freedom?
9 Fourth, man’s freedom is limited because he is part of human society. Hence, he should have freedom only to the extent that it does not unjustly interfere with that of others. Christians must be in subjection to governmental “superior authorities,” obeying them as long as they do not demand that we violate God’s laws. (Romans 13:1; Acts 5:29) For example, we should obey laws regarding payment of taxes, the speed at which we drive an automobile, and so forth. The fact that we must obey such laws of “Caesar” further shows that our God-given freedom is not absolute.—Mark 12:17; Romans 13:7.
Why Relative Freedom?
10, 11. Why did Jehovah give humans relative freedom?
10 Why did God give humans relative freedom? One reason was that the Creator might have intelligent creatures on the earth who would bring him honor and praise by their fine words and conduct. Humans can do this, whereas animals cannot. Animals, being governed by instinct, know nothing about moral conduct. You can train a dog not to take something, but you cannot teach it the wrongness of stealing. An animal with its actions programmed, as it were, cannot make decisions that bring praise and honor to God, whereas man can freely choose to serve his Maker out of love and appreciation.
11 God also gives humans this freedom for their benefit and happiness. They can exercise their relative freedom by being creative and inventive, benevolent and cooperative. Humans also have freedom of choice in such matters as vocation and place of residence. Today, economic and political factors often limit that freedom of choice, but this may be due to human greed, not because of the way God originally created mankind.
12. Why are the majority of mankind in bondage?
12 Though Jehovah gave humans great freedom, the vast majority today are in frustrating bondage. What happened? The first human pair, Adam and Eve, missed the purpose of God-given freedom. They went beyond divine limits on their freedom and challenged God’s rightful rulership over them as the Sovereign Lord, Jehovah. (Genesis 3:1-7; Jeremiah 10:10; 50:31) Not content to use their freedom to honor God, they used it selfishly, to decide independently what was right and what was wrong, thereby joining Satan in his rebellion against Jehovah. Instead of getting more freedom, however, sinful Adam and Eve were subjected to trialsome restrictions and bondage, a diminishing of their freedom, and finally death. Their offspring inherited this loss of freedom. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “The wages sin pays is death.”—Romans 3:23; 5:12; 6:23.
13. Why has Satan been able to enslave humans?
13 By reason of the rebellion in Eden, Adam and his offspring also came into bondage to Satan the Devil. Why, “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one”! (1 John 5:19) It is because of his superior power and ability that Satan has been able to deceive and make slaves of all mankind estranged from God. Moreover, selfish men have dominated fellow humans to their injury. (Ecclesiastes 8:9) Hence, mankind in general is now in bondage to sin and death, to Satan and his demons, and to the world’s political, economic, and religious systems.
True Freedom Made Possible
14. Mankind’s hope for true freedom is bound up with what?
14 Gaining freedom from sin, death, and the Devil and his world is bound up with God’s determination to settle the issue regarding the rightfulness of his own universal sovereignty. Because Satan raised this issue, Jehovah has allowed him to remain in existence, even as He permitted Pharaoh to exist for a time. This is in order that Jehovah may fully demonstrate his power and have his name declared in all the earth. (Exodus 9:15, 16) God will soon vindicate himself as Universal Sovereign and sanctify his holy name by removing the reproach brought upon it through the rebellion of Satan, Adam, and Eve. Thus, those fearing Jehovah will be released from bondage to sin and death and will be brought into a new world of God-given freedom.—Romans 8:19-23.
15. What role did Jesus play in the restoration of freedom to mankind?
15 To restore freedom to humankind, God sent his Son to the earth as a man. By voluntarily giving up his perfect human life, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, provided the ransom sacrifice, the basis for setting mankind free. (Matthew 20:28) He also proclaimed a message of freedom. At the beginning of his ministry, he applied to himself the words: “The spirit of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah is upon me, for the reason that Jehovah has anointed me to tell good news to the meek ones. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to those taken captive and the wide opening of the eyes even to the prisoners.”—Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:16-21.
16. What steps did first-century Jews have to take to gain true freedom?
16 How would people gain that freedom? Jesus said: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Thus, Jesus’ followers have come to enjoy spiritual freedom. (John 8:31, 32, 36) Further, Jesus told Roman governor Pontius Pilate: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone that is on the side of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37) Jews who accepted the truth as preached and exemplified by Jesus repented of their sins, corrected their erring course, presented themselves to Jehovah, and were baptized as Jesus had been. (Matthew 3:13-17; Acts 3:19) In this way they came to enjoy relative God-given freedom.
17. Why does Jehovah give his servants freedom?
17 Jehovah gives his loyal servants freedom primarily in vindication of his own sovereignty but also for their comfort or benefit. He freed the Israelites from Egyptian bondage so that they might glorify him as a kingdom of priests, his witnesses. (Exodus 19:5, 6; Isaiah 43:10-12) Similarly, Jehovah brought his people out of Babylonian exile primarily to rebuild his temple and restore true worship. (Ezra 1:2-4) When the exiles concerned themselves only with their own material comforts, Jehovah sent his prophets Haggai and Zechariah to alert them to their obligations before God. Having their God-given freedom thus put in proper perspective resulted in the completion of the temple, to God’s glory, and also in the comfort and well-being to his people.
Not Missing the Purpose of God-Given Freedom
18. Why can it be said that Jehovah’s modern-day servants have not missed the purpose of their God-given freedom?
18 What about God’s modern-day servants? As an organization, they have not missed the purpose of their God-given freedom. In the 1870’s they began to get free from Babylonish errors and to enjoy increased Christian freedom. This was in keeping with Proverbs 4:18, which says: “The path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.” Yet, as God’s ancient people were taken into Babylonian captivity for a time, in 1918 Jehovah’s servants came into a measure of bondage to Babylon the Great. (Revelation 17:1, 2, 5) Members of that world empire of false religion exulted when the figurative “two witnesses” lay spiritually dead. But by God’s undeserved kindness, in 1919 his anointed servants were revived, being set free spiritually. (Revelation 11:3, 7-11) Putting their God-given freedom to use, they became zealous witnesses of the Most High. Therefore, how appropriate it was that they, in 1931, joyfully embraced the name Jehovah’s Witnesses! (Isaiah 43:10-12) Particularly since 1935 have anointed Witnesses been joined by “a great crowd,” who hope to gain eternal life on earth. They too are not missing the purpose of their God-given freedom.—Revelation 7:9-17.
19, 20. (a) What is one noteworthy way in which Jehovah’s people put their God-given freedom to good use? (b) In what other notable way do Jehovah’s Witnesses make good use of the freedom God has given them?
19 Jehovah’s people are putting their God-given freedom to good use in two especially noteworthy ways. For one thing, they use it to pursue an upright course. (1 Peter 2:16) And what a fine reputation they have! For example, a man once entered a Kingdom Hall in Zurich, Switzerland, and said that he wanted to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Asked why, he stated that his sister was a Witness and had been disfellowshipped for immorality. He said: ‘That’s the organization I want to join—one that does not tolerate bad conduct.’ With good reason the New Catholic Encyclopedia has observed that Jehovah’s Witnesses have gained the reputation of being “one of the best-behaved groups in the world.”
20 Jehovah’s Witnesses also make use of their God-given freedom by fulfilling their commission to preach the good news of the Kingdom, as Jesus did. (Matthew 4:17) By word of mouth and printed page, both formally and informally, they are announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom. In doing so they greatly benefit themselves by strengthening their faith and brightening their hope. Moreover, this activity serves to save both them and those who listen to them. (1 Timothy 4:16) Regarding this activity, the book Dynamic Religious Movements says: “It would be difficult to find members of any other group who work as hard at their religion as do the Witnesses.”
21. What evidence is there that Jehovah is blessing the ministry of his people?
21 How Jehovah is blessing us in carrying out the purpose of our God-given freedom! This can be seen from last year’s field service report—a peak of over four million Kingdom publishers, with over ten million attending the Memorial of Jesus’ death. In one survey, Ireland had 29 consecutive monthly publisher peaks; Mexico had 78 peaks in 80 months; and Japan had 153 peaks in a row!
Make Good Use of Your God-Given Freedom
22. What is the essence of some thought-provoking questions we might ask ourselves?
22 If you are one of Jehovah’s dedicated Witnesses, are you making good use of the freedom that God has given you? Each of us might well ask himself: ‘Am I careful to use my God-given freedom so as to avoid stumbling anyone by wrong conduct? Am I conscientiously obeying the laws of Caesar, though putting God’s law first? Do I fully cooperate with the congregation elders? Am I using my God-given freedom to the full in preaching the good news? Do I always have “plenty to do in the work of the Lord”? Am I avidly pursuing a secular career when I could be putting my God-given freedom to better use by expanding my ministry, reaching out for greater responsibility in the congregation or for full-time service?’—1 Corinthians 15:58.
23. What should we do so that we do not miss the purpose of God-given freedom?
23 May all of us “taste and see that Jehovah is good.” (Psalm 34:8) Let us trust in him, conform to his laws, and glorify his holy name by zealously announcing his Kingdom. Remember that those ‘sowing bountifully will also reap bountifully.’ (2 Corinthians 9:6) Therefore, let us render wholehearted service to Jehovah and show that we have not missed the purpose of our God-given freedom.
How Would You Answer?
□ What kind of freedom does God have?
□ Human freedom has what limitations?
□ How was true freedom made possible?
□ What must we do to avoid missing the purpose of God-given freedom?
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Human freedom is limited by such factors as the law of gravity