“Remain in My Word”
“If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples.”—JOHN 8:31.
1. (a) When Jesus returned to heaven, what did he leave behind on earth? (b) What questions will we consider?
WHEN Jesus Christ, the Founder of Christianity, returned to heaven, he did not leave behind on this earth books written by him, monuments built by him, or riches amassed by him. He did leave behind disciples as well as specific requirements for discipleship. In fact, in the Gospel of John, we find that Jesus mentioned three important requirements that anyone who wants to be his follower must meet. What are these requirements? What can we do to meet them? And how can we make sure that we personally qualify as disciples of Christ today?a
2. What is an important requirement for discipleship, as recorded in the Gospel of John?
2 About six months before his death, Jesus went up to Jerusalem and preached to the crowds who had gathered there to celebrate the week-long Festival of Booths. As a result, halfway through the festival, “many of the crowd put faith in him.” Jesus kept on preaching, so that on the last day of the festival, once more “many put faith in him.” (John 7:10, 14, 31, 37; 8:30) At that point, Jesus directed his attention to the new believers and stated an important requirement for discipleship, as recorded by the apostle John: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples.”—John 8:31.
3. What quality is needed for one to “remain in [Jesus’] word”?
3 With those words, Jesus was not suggesting that the new believers were lacking in faith. Rather, he was pointing out that they had before them the opportunity to become his true disciples—provided that they remained in his word, that they showed endurance. They had accepted his word, but now they needed to continue in it. (John 4:34; Hebrews 3:14) Indeed, Jesus viewed endurance as such an important quality for his followers that in his very last conversation with his apostles, recorded in the Gospel of John, Jesus twice urged: “Continue following me.” (John 21:19, 22) Many early Christians did just that. (2 John 4) What helped them to endure?
4. What enabled the early Christians to endure?
4 The apostle John, a faithful disciple of Christ for some seven decades, pointed to an important factor. He commended faithful Christians, saying: “You are strong and the word of God remains in you and you have conquered the wicked one.” Those disciples of Christ endured, or remained in the word of God, because the word of God remained in them. They had heartfelt appreciation for it. (1 John 2:14, 24) Likewise today, in order to ‘endure to the end,’ we need to make sure that the word of God remains in us. (Matthew 24:13) How can we do that? An illustration told by Jesus provides the answer.
“Hearing the Word”
5. (a) What different types of soil are mentioned by Jesus in one of his illustrations? (b) What do the seed and the soil in Jesus’ illustration represent?
5 Jesus gave an illustration of a sower who sows seed, and it is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Mark 4:1-9, 14-20; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15) As you read the accounts, you will note that the key feature of the illustration is that the same kind of seed falls on various types of soil, producing different results. The first type of soil is hard, the second is shallow, and the third is overgrown with thorns. The fourth type, unlike the other three, is “fine” and “good soil.” According to Jesus’ own explanation, the seed is the Kingdom message found in God’s Word, and the soil represents people with differing conditions of the heart. Although the people pictured by the various types of soil have some things in common, those pictured by the fine soil have a characteristic that sets them apart from the rest.
6. (a) How does the fourth type of soil in Jesus’ illustration differ from the other three types, and what does that mean? (b) What is essential for showing endurance as Christ’s disciples?
6 The account at Luke 8:12-15 shows that in all four instances, people ‘hear the word.’ However, those having “a fine and good heart” go beyond “hearing the word.” They “retain it and bear fruit with endurance.” The fine and good soil, being soft and deep, allows the roots of the seed to sink down, and as a result, the seed sprouts and produces fruit. (Luke 8:8) Similarly, those with a fine heart understand, appreciate, and absorb the word of God. (Romans 10:10; 2 Timothy 2:7) The word of God remains in them. Consequently, they bear fruit with endurance. A deep, heartfelt appreciation for God’s Word is thus essential for showing endurance as Christ’s disciples. (1 Timothy 4:15) How, though, can we develop such heartfelt appreciation for God’s Word?
Heart Condition and Meaningful Reflection
7. What activity is closely associated with a good heart?
7 Note with what activity the Bible repeatedly associates a fine and good heart. “The heart of the righteous one meditates so as to answer.” (Proverbs 15:28) “Let the sayings of my mouth and the meditation of my heart become pleasurable before you, O Jehovah.” (Psalm 19:14) “The meditation of my heart will be of things of understanding.”—Psalm 49:3.
8. (a) When reading the Bible, what should we avoid but what should we do? (b) What benefits do we derive from prayerful meditation on God’s Word? (Include the box “Firmly Set in the Truth.”)
8 Like these Bible writers, we too need to meditate appreciatively and prayerfully on God’s Word and his activity. When reading the Bible or Bible-based publications, we should not act as if we were hurried tourists who rush from one scenic spot to the next, filming everything but seeing little. Instead, when studying the Bible, we want to take time to stop and enjoy the scenery, so to speak.b As we quietly reflect on what we read, the word of God affects our heart. It touches our emotions and shapes our thinking. It also moves us to share our intimate thoughts with God in prayer. Consequently, our attachment to Jehovah is strengthened, and our love for God impels us to continue following Jesus even under challenging circumstances. (Matthew 10:22) Clearly, meditating on what God says is essential if we want to remain faithful to the end.—Luke 21:19.
9. How can we make sure that our heart remains receptive to the word of God?
9 Jesus’ illustration also shows that there are obstacles to the growth of the seed, the word of God. Hence, to remain faithful disciples, we do well (1) to identify the obstacles represented by the unfavorable soil conditions mentioned in the illustration and (2) to take steps to correct or avoid them. In that way, we will make sure that our heart remains receptive to the Kingdom seed and keeps bearing fruit.
“Alongside the Road”—Being Preoccupied
10. Describe the first type of soil in Jesus’ illustration, and explain its meaning.
10 The first type of soil that the seed falls on is “alongside the road,” where the seed is “trampled down.” (Luke 8:5) Soil alongside a road that leads through a grainfield is hard packed by the flow of pedestrian traffic. (Mark 2:23) Similarly, those who allow the comings and goings of the world to impose undue demands on their time and energy may find that they are too preoccupied to develop any heartfelt appreciation for the word of God. They hear it, but they fail to meditate on it. So their heart remains in an unresponsive state. Before they develop a love for it, “the Devil comes and takes the word away from their hearts in order that they may not believe and be saved.” (Luke 8:12) Can this be prevented?
11. How can we prevent our heart condition from becoming like hard soil?
11 There is much that can be done to prevent the heart from becoming like unproductive soil alongside a road. Trodden down and hard soil can become soft and productive if it is plowed up and the flow of traffic over it is diverted. Similarly, making time for studying and meditating on God’s Word can result in the heart’s becoming like fine, productive soil. The key is not to become too preoccupied with the mundane things of life. (Luke 12:13-15) Instead, make sure that time is available to reflect on “the more important things” in life.—Philippians 1:9-11.
“Upon the Rock-Mass”—Being Fearful
12. What is the real reason that the sprout withers in the second type of soil mentioned in Jesus’ illustration?
12 When the seed falls on the second type of soil, it does not just remain on it, as in the first case. It takes root and sprouts. But then when the sun rises, the sprout is scorched by the heat of the sun and withers. However, note this significant detail. The real reason that the sprout withers is not the heat. After all, the plant that comes up in the fine soil is also exposed to the sun, but it does not wither—in fact, it thrives. What makes the difference? This sprout withers, explains Jesus, “because of not having depth of soil” and “not having moisture.” (Matthew 13:5, 6; Luke 8:6) A “rock-mass,” or rock-shelf, situated right under the layer of top soil, prevents the seed from sinking its roots deep enough to find moisture and stability. The sprout withers because the soil is shallow.
13. What kind of individuals are like shallow soil, and what is a deeper reason for the way they react?
13 This part of the illustration refers to individuals who “receive the word with joy” and zealously follow Jesus “for a season.” (Luke 8:13) When exposed to the blazing sun of “tribulation or persecution,” they become so fearful that they lose their joy and strength and give up following Christ. (Matthew 13:21) The deeper reason for their fear, however, is not opposition. After all, millions of Christ’s disciples endure various forms of tribulation, yet they remain faithful. (2 Corinthians 2:4; 7:5) The real reason some become fearful and fall away is that the rocklike condition of their heart prevents them from meditating deeply enough on positive and spiritual things. Consequently, the appreciation they develop for Jehovah and his word is too superficial and too feeble to withstand opposition. How can one prevent such an outcome?
14. What steps should an individual take to prevent his heart condition from becoming like shallow soil?
14 An individual needs to make sure that no rocklike obstacles, such as deep-seated bitterness, underlying self-interest, or similar hard but hidden feelings, are lodged in his heart. If such a barrier is already in place, the power exerted by God’s word can break it up. (Jeremiah 23:29; Ephesians 4:22; Hebrews 4:12) Thereafter, prayerful meditation will stimulate an “implanting of the word” deep in the individual’s heart. (James 1:21) This will provide the strength to cope with times of discouragement and the courage to remain faithful despite trials.
“Among the Thorns”—Being Divided
15. (a) Why does the third type of soil mentioned by Jesus especially deserve our attention? (b) What eventually happens with the third type of soil, and why?
15 The third type of soil, the one with thorns, especially deserves our attention because in some ways it is similar to the fine soil. Like the fine soil, the thorny soil lets the seed take root and sprout. Initially, there is no difference in the growth of the new plant in these two types of soil. With time, however, a condition develops that eventually chokes the plant. Unlike the fine soil, this soil becomes overgrown with thorns. As the young plant rises from this soil, it faces competition from ‘thorns that grow up with it.’ For a while both crops vie for nutrition, light, and space, but eventually the thorns overshadow the plant and ‘choke it off.’—Luke 8:7.
16. (a) What individuals resemble the thorny soil? (b) According to the three Gospel accounts, what is represented by the thorns?—See footnote.
16 What kind of individuals resemble the thorny soil? Jesus explains: “These are the ones that have heard, but, by being carried away by anxieties and riches and pleasures of this life, they are completely choked and bring nothing to perfection.” (Luke 8:14) Just as the sower’s seed and the thorns grow in the soil at the same time, so some individuals try to take in the word of God and the “pleasures of this life” at the same time. The truth of God’s word is sown in their heart, but it faces competition from other pursuits that vie for their attention. Their figurative heart is divided. (Luke 9:57-62) This prevents them from giving sufficient time to prayerful and meaningful reflection on God’s word. They fail to absorb God’s word fully and thus lack the heartfelt appreciation needed to endure. Gradually, their spiritual interests are overshadowed by nonspiritual pursuits to the point that they are “completely choked.”c What a sad ending for those who do not love Jehovah wholeheartedly!—Matthew 6:24; 22:37.
17. What choices do we need to make in life so as not to be choked by the figurative thorns mentioned in Jesus’ illustration?
17 By giving spiritual matters precedence over material considerations, we avoid being choked by the pains and pleasures of this world. (Matthew 6:31-33; Luke 21:34-36) Bible reading and reflection upon what we read should never be neglected. We will find more time for concentrated and prayerful meditation if we simplify our life as much as possible. (1 Timothy 6:6-8) Servants of God who have done so—who have, as it were, uprooted the thorns from the soil to give more nutrition, light, and space to the fruit-bearing plant—are experiencing Jehovah’s blessing. Says Sandra, aged 26: “When I meditate on my blessings in the truth, I realize that the world can offer nothing that compares with it!”—Psalm 84:11.
18. How can we remain in the word of God and endure as Christians?
18 Clearly, then, all of us, young and old, will remain in the word of God and endure as Christ’s disciples as long as the word of God remains in us. Therefore, let us make sure that the soil of our figurative heart never becomes hard, shallow, or overgrown but remains soft and deep. In that way, we will be able to absorb the word of God fully and “bear fruit with endurance.”—Luke 8:15.
a In this article, we will consider the first of these requirements. The other two will be discussed in the following articles.
b To meditate prayerfully on a portion of the Bible that you have read, you could, for instance, ask yourself: ‘Does it reveal one or more of Jehovah’s qualities? How does it relate to the Bible’s theme? How can I apply it in my life or use it to help others?’
c According to the three Gospel accounts of Jesus’ parable, the seed is choked by the pains and pleasures of this world: “The anxieties of this system of things,” “the deceptive power of riches,” “the desires for the rest of the things,” and the “pleasures of this life.”—Mark 4:19; Matthew 13:22; Luke 8:14; Jeremiah 4:3, 4.
What Are Your Answers?
• Why do we need to ‘remain in Jesus’ word’?
• How can we allow God’s word to remain in our heart?
• What kinds of individuals are represented by the four different types of soil mentioned by Jesus?
• How can you find time to reflect on God’s word?
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“FIRMLY SET IN THE TRUTH”
MANY longtime disciples of Christ prove year after year that they are “firmly set in the truth.” (2 Peter 1:12) What helps them to endure? Consider some of their comments.
“I end each day with reading a portion of the Bible and saying a prayer. Then I think about what I have read.”—Jean, baptized 1939.
“Meditating on how Jehovah, someone so lofty, loves us deeply gives me a sense of security and the strength to remain faithful.”—Patricia, baptized 1946.
“By sticking to good Bible-study habits and by being absorbed in ‘the deep things of God,’ I have been able to keep going.”—1 Corinthians 2:10; Anna, baptized 1939.
“I read the Bible and our Bible-based publications with a view to examining my heart and motives.”—Zelda, baptized 1943.
“My best times are when I can take a walk and talk to Jehovah in prayer and just let him know how I really feel.”—Ralph, baptized 1947.
“I start the day with considering the daily text and reading a portion of the Bible. This gives me something fresh to meditate on during the day.”—Marie, baptized 1935.
“For me, verse-by-verse discussions of a Bible book are a real tonic.”—Daniel, baptized 1946.
When do you take time to reflect prayerfully on God’s word?—Daniel 6:10b; Mark 1:35; Acts 10:9.
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By giving priority to spiritual matters, we can “bear fruit with endurance”