Busy in Dead Works or in Jehovah’s Service?
“SORRY, but I’m busy.” This is one of the objections Jehovah’s Witnesses encounter as they publicly preach the good news of the Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14) And while the claim “I’m busy” sometimes amounts to nothing more than a handy excuse, the truth is that many people are busy. They are virtually consumed by “the anxiety of this system of things”—the pressures of making a living, paying bills, getting to and from work, raising children, taking care of home, car, and other possessions.—Matthew 13:22.
However, while people may indeed be busy, few are engaged in works that are truly fruitful or productive. It is as the wise man Solomon once wrote: “What does a man come to have for all his hard work and for the striving of his heart with which he is working hard under the sun? For all his days his occupation means pains and vexation, also during the night his heart just does not lie down. This too is mere vanity.”—Ecclesiastes 2:22, 23.
The Bible also calls such futile activity “dead works.” (Hebrews 9:14) Do such works dominate your life? This should be of great concern to you as a Christian, inasmuch as God will “pay back to each one according to his work.” (Psalm 62:12) And since “the time left is reduced,” we should especially be concerned that we do not waste time with works that are dead. (1 Corinthians 7:29) But just what are dead works? How should we view them? And how can we be sure that we are busy with works that are of real value?
Identifying Dead Works
At Hebrews 6:1, 2, Paul wrote: “For this reason, now that we have left the primary doctrine about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying a foundation again, namely, repentance from dead works, and faith toward God, the teaching on baptisms and the laying on of the hands, the resurrection of the dead and everlasting judgment.” Note that “the primary doctrine” included “repentance from dead works.” As Christians, Paul’s readers had already repented from such dead works. How so?
Before accepting Christ, some in the first century had engaged in the dead “works of the flesh,” namely, “fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism,” and other vile deeds. (Galatians 5:19-21) Unchecked, such works would have led to their spiritual death. Mercifully, though, those Christians had turned from their destructive course, repented, and been “washed clean.” They thus enjoyed a clean standing with Jehovah.—1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
Not all Christians, though, needed to repent from works that were wicked or immoral. Paul’s letter was primarily addressed to Jewish believers, many of whom had no doubt adhered strictly to the Mosaic Law before accepting Christ. Of what dead works, then, had they repented? Surely there was nothing wrong with their having followed the rituals and dietary requirements of the Law. Was not the Law “holy and righteous and good”? (Romans 7:12) Yes, but at Romans 10:2, 3, Paul said regarding the Jews: “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God; but not according to accurate knowledge; for, because of not knowing the righteousness of God but seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”
Yes, the Jews erroneously believed that by scrupulously following the Law, they could earn their salvation. Paul, though, explained that “a man is declared righteous, not due to works of law, but only through faith toward Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 2:16) After Christ’s ransom was provided, works of Law—no matter how pious or noble—were dead works and of no value whatsoever in gaining salvation. Righthearted Jews thus sought God’s favor by repenting of such dead works and getting baptized to symbolize their repentance.—Acts 2:38.
What do we learn from this? That dead works may include more than wicked or immoral acts; they encompass any work that is spiritually dead, vain, or fruitless. But do not all Christians repent from such dead works before their baptism? True, but some Christians in the first century later lapsed into immoral conduct. (1 Corinthians 5:1) And among Jewish Christians, there was a tendency to revert to practicing the dead works of the Mosaic Law. Paul had to remind such ones not to return to dead works.—Galatians 4:21; 5:1.
Guarding Against Dead Works
Jehovah’s people today must therefore be careful not to lapse into the snare of dead works. We are assaulted on virtually every side by pressures to compromise morally, to be dishonest, and to engage in acts of sexual misconduct. Sad to say, thousands of Christians each year succumb to such pressures and, if unrepentant, are expelled from the Christian congregation. More than ever before, then, a Christian must heed Paul’s advice at Ephesians 4:22-24: “Put away the old personality which conforms to your former course of conduct and which is being corrupted according to his deceptive desires; but . . . you should be made new in the force actuating your mind, and should put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.”
Of course, the Ephesians to whom Paul wrote had already put on the new personality to a large extent. But Paul helped them appreciate that doing so was a continuous process! Without unceasing effort, Christians could be led back to dead works by deceptive desires that persist as a corruptive influence. The same is true of us today. We must constantly strive to put on the new personality, not allowing it to be tainted by any traits acquired in our old way of life. We must shun—hate—any form of the wicked works of the flesh. “O you lovers of Jehovah, hate what is bad,” exhorts the psalmist.—Psalm 97:10.
Commendably, the vast majority of Jehovah’s people today have heeded this counsel and remained morally clean. Some, though, have been sidetracked by works that are not necessarily wrong in themselves but that are ultimately vain and fruitless. For example, some have been swept up in money-making schemes or in the acquisition of material things. But the Bible warns: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin.” (1 Timothy 6:9) For others, secular education has proved to be a snare. True, a certain level of secular education may be necessary to obtain employment. But in the time-consuming pursuit of advanced worldly education, some have harmed themselves spiritually.
Yes, many works may not be morally wrong in themselves. But they are nonetheless dead if they do not really add to our life now or gain us favor with Jehovah God. Such works consume time and energy but produce no spiritual benefits, no lasting refreshment.—Compare Ecclesiastes 2:11.
No doubt you are striving hard to be busy in worthwhile spiritual activities. It helps, though, to scrutinize yourself regularly. From time to time, you might ask yourself questions such as: ‘Is my service participation and meeting attendance suffering because I have taken on unnecessary secular work?’ ‘Do I have time for recreation but little time for personal and family study?’ ‘Do I expend much time and energy caring for material possessions but fail to care for needy ones in the congregation, such as the sick and the elderly?’ The answers to these questions might reveal a need on your part to give greater priority to spiritual works.
Keep Busy in Jehovah’s Service
As 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, there is “plenty to do in the work of the Lord.” Foremost is the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work. At 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul urged: “Make the preaching of the Good News your life’s work, in thoroughgoing service.” (Jerusalem Bible) Elders and ministerial servants also have much to do in caring for the needs of the flock. (1 Timothy 3:1, 5, 13; 1 Peter 5:2) Family heads—many of whom are single parents—also have weighty responsibilities in caring for their families and helping their children grow in their relationship with God. Such works can be exhausting, even overwhelming, at times. But far from being dead, they bring real satisfaction!
The problem is: How does one find time to accomplish all these necessary worthwhile works? Self-discipline and personal organization are essential. At 1 Corinthians 9:26, 27, Paul wrote: “The way I am running is not uncertainly; the way I am directing my blows is so as not to be striking the air; but I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.” One way to apply the principle of this text would be periodically to examine your personal routine and life-style. You may well discover that you can eliminate a number of unnecessary drains on your time and energy.
For example, is much of your energy and time being expended on TV viewing, recreation, mundane reading, or hobbies? According to an article in The New York Times, the average adult in the United States indulges in “just above 30 hours a week” of TV viewing. Surely, such time could be put to better use! The wife of one traveling overseer reports: “I almost completely excluded all time wasters, such as watching television.” The result? She was able to read the two-volume Bible encyclopedia Insight on the Scriptures in its entirety!
You may also need to consider to what extent you can simplify your life-style. Said Solomon: “Sweet is the sleep of the one serving, regardless of whether it is little or much that he eats; but the plenty belonging to the rich one is not permitting him to sleep.” (Ecclesiastes 5:12) Is a lot of your time and energy devoted to caring for unnecessary material possessions? Really, the more things we own, the more things we have to maintain, insure, repair, and protect. Might it be to your advantage simply to divest yourself of certain belongings?
Having a realistic schedule is another way to make better use of your time. Such a schedule should take into account one’s need for relaxation or recreation. But spiritual interests should be given priority. Time should be set aside for attending all congregation meetings on a regular basis. You might also determine in advance what days or evenings can be devoted to the evangelizing work. With careful planning, you may even be able to increase your share in the service, perhaps serving as an auxiliary pioneer from time to time. Be sure, though, to schedule time for personal and family study, including thorough preparation for the meetings. By being prepared, not only will you get more out of the meetings yourself but you will be in a better position to “incite to love and fine works” by means of your comments.—Hebrews 10:24.
Finding time for study may require making some sacrifices. For example, Bethel families worldwide rise early each morning to have a discussion of the day’s text. Would it be possible for you to buy out a little time each morning for personal study? The psalmist said: “I have been up early in the morning twilight, that I may cry for help. For your words I have waited.” (Psalm 119:147) Of course, rising early would require scheduling a reasonable hour for going to bed so that you can begin the next day fit and rested.
The Benefits of Being Busy in Jehovah’s Service
Having “plenty to do in the work of the Lord” does require planning, discipline, and self-sacrifice. But you will enjoy countless benefits as a result. So stay busy, not in dead or vain works that bring only emptiness and pain, but in Jehovah’s service. For it is by such works that you manifest your faith, gain God’s approval, and, ultimately, the reward of everlasting life!
[Picture on page 28]
Making a realistic schedule helps a Christian to use his time more wisely