Moral Refinements​—Reflecting God’s Holiness

Moral Refinements​—Reflecting God’s Holiness


How the King has taught his subjects to respect God’s moral standards

Imagine entering the gate to the outer courtyard of Jehovah’s great spiritual temple

1. What did Ezekiel see that fills us with awe?

WHAT if you could have an experience like that of the prophet Ezekiel some 25 centuries ago? Imagine this: You approach a vast, gleaming temple complex. A mighty angel is there to show you this awesome place! You climb the seven steps that lead up to one of the three gates. These entrances fill you with awe. They tower upward about 100 feet (30 m). Within the entryways, you see that there are guard chambers. The pillars feature an elegant palm-tree design.​—Ezek. 40:1-4, 10, 14, 16, 22; 41:20.

2. (a) What does the visionary temple represent? (See also the footnote.) (b) What may we learn from features of the temple’s entrances?

2 This is the visionary spiritual temple. Ezekiel described it in such detail that his account fills chapters 40 through 48 of his prophetic book. This temple represents Jehovah’s arrangement for pure worship. Every feature has meaning for our own worship in these last days. * What do the lofty gates signify? They remind us that those who enter Jehovah’s arrangement for pure worship must live by God’s lofty and upright standards. Even the carvings of palm trees make a similar point, for palms are sometimes used in the Bible to stand for uprightness. (Ps. 92:12) And the guard chambers? Clearly, those who fail to respect divine standards are refused entrance into this beautiful, life-giving way of pure worship.​—Ezek. 44:9.

3. Why have Christ’s followers needed continual refinement?

3 How has Ezekiel’s vision been fulfilled? As we noted in Chapter 2 of this book, Jehovah used Christ to put his people through a special refining process from 1914 to early 1919. Did the refining stop then? Far from it! Throughout the past century, Christ has continued to uphold Jehovah’s holy standards of conduct. His followers have thus needed continual refinement. Why? Because Christ has been gathering his followers from this morally corrupt world and Satan never stops trying to draw them back into the mire of immorality. (Read 2 Peter 2:20-22.) Let us examine three areas in which true Christians have steadily been refined. First, we will consider some moral refinements, then a vital provision for keeping the congregation clean, and finally the family arrangement.

Moral Refinements Through the Years

4, 5. Satan has long used what tactic, and with what success?

4 Jehovah’s people have always been keenly interested in moral, upright conduct. Hence, they have embraced ever clearer instruction on the subject. Consider a few examples.

5 Sexual immorality. Jehovah designed sexual relations between marriage mates to be clean and beautiful. Satan delights in wrenching that precious gift from its proper context by twisting it into something dirty and using it to tempt Jehovah’s people so that they lose God’s favor. Satan used that tactic with tragic success back in the days of Balaam, and he has been using it more than ever in these last days.​—Num. 25:1-3, 9; Rev. 2:14.

6. What vow was published in the Watch Tower, how was it used, and why did it eventually fall into disuse? (See also the footnote.)

6 To counteract Satan’s efforts, the June 15, 1908, Watch Tower published a vow that included this commitment: “I will at all times and at all places, conduct myself toward those of the opposite sex in private exactly as I would do with them in public.” * Although the vow was not a requirement, many took it and submitted their names to be published in Zion’s Watch Tower. Years later, it was rightly seen that this vow, while helpful to many in its time, was becoming a mere ritual; so it fell into disuse. However, the high moral principles it represented were always upheld.

7. In 1935, The Watchtower addressed what problem, and what standard did it reaffirm?

7 Satan’s attacks only intensified. The March 1, 1935, issue of The Watchtower squarely addressed a growing problem among God’s people. Some evidently thought that sharing in the ministry somehow exempted them from holding to Jehovah’s moral standards in their private life. The Watchtower pointedly stated: “One should remember that merely engaging in the witness work is not all that is required. Jehovah’s witnesses are his representatives, and the obligation rests upon them to properly represent Jehovah and his kingdom.” The article then gave clear counsel about marriage and sexual morals, thus helping God’s people to “flee from sexual immorality.”​—1 Cor. 6:18.

8. Why has The Watchtower repeatedly stressed the full meaning of the Greek word for sexual immorality?

8 In more recent decades, The Watchtower has repeatedly stressed the proper definition of the word used in the Greek Scriptures for sexual immorality​—por·neiʹa. The meaning is not limited to the act of sexual intercourse. Rather, por·neiʹa includes a wide variety of immoral acts, generally encompassing all the lewd acts carried out in houses of prostitution. Christ’s followers have thus been protected from the plague of sexual perversion that has overtaken so many in today’s world.​—Read Ephesians 4:17-19.

9, 10. (a) What moral issue did The Watchtower address in 1935? (b) What is the Bible’s balanced teaching on the use of alcohol?

9 Alcohol abuse. The March 1, 1935, issue of The Watchtower raised another moral issue: “It has likewise been noticed that some take part in the field service and perform other duties in the organization while under the influence of [alcohol]. Under what condition is the use of wine approved in the Scriptures? Would it be proper to use wine to the extent that it affects one’s service in the Lord’s organization?”

10 The answer discussed the balanced view of alcoholic beverages that is found in God’s Word. The Bible does not condemn the use of wine and other alcoholic drinks in moderation, but it does strongly condemn drunkenness. (Ps. 104:14, 15; 1 Cor. 6:9, 10) As to taking part in sacred service while under the influence of alcohol, God’s servants have long been reminded of the account about Aaron’s sons, whom God put to death for offering illegitimate fire upon God’s altar. Shortly thereafter, the account reveals what likely led those men to doing something so inappropriate, for God gave a law forbidding all the priests to use alcohol while engaged in their sacred duties. (Lev. 10:1, 2, 8-11) Applying that underlying principle today, Christ’s followers are careful to avoid being under the influence of alcohol while taking part in their sacred service.

11. Why has it been a blessing for God’s people to receive increased understanding about alcoholism?

11 In more recent decades, Christ’s followers have been further blessed with increased understanding about alcoholism, a condition involving persistent, addictive misuse of alcohol. Thanks to timely spiritual food, many have been helped to handle that condition appropriately and regain control of their lives. Many more have been helped to avoid the problem altogether. None need to allow alcohol abuse to rob them of their dignity, their family and, above all, their privilege of engaging in pure worship of Jehovah.

“We cannot imagine our Lord reeking with the fumes of tobacco or putting into his mouth anything defiling.”​—C. T. Russell

12. How did Christ’s servants view the use of tobacco even before the last days began?

12 Use of tobacco. Christ’s servants began taking a dim view of the use of tobacco even before the last days began. A number of years ago, an elderly brother, Charles Capen, recalled his first meeting with Charles Taze Russell late in the 19th century. Capen, then 13 years old, and three of his brothers were on the staircase of the Bible House in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. As Russell passed them, he inquired: “Are you boys smoking? I smell tobacco smoke.” They assured him that they were not smoking. Surely they were left with no doubts about his views on the subject. In the Watch Tower of August 1, 1895, Brother Russell commented on 2 Corinthians 7:1, saying: “I cannot see how it would be to God’s glory, or to his own profit, for any Christian to use tobacco in any form. . . . We cannot imagine our Lord reeking with the fumes of tobacco or putting into his mouth anything defiling.”

13. What moral refinement came in 1973?

13 In 1935, The Watchtower called tobacco “the filthy weed” and noted that no one who chose to chew it or smoke it could remain a member of the Bethel family or serve as a representative of God’s organization in the pioneer work or the traveling ministry. In 1973 a further moral refinement came. The Watchtower of June 1 explained that no Witness of Jehovah could remain in good standing in the congregation while carrying on this death-dealing, defiling, and unloving practice. Those who refused to give up the misuse of tobacco were to be disfellowshipped. * Christ had taken another important step in refining his followers.

14. What is God’s standard regarding blood, and how did the practice of blood transfusion become commonplace?

14 Misuse of blood. In Noah’s day, God stated that it would be wrong to eat blood. He reaffirmed that position in the Law to the nation of Israel, and he similarly directed the Christian congregation to “abstain . . . from blood.” (Acts 15:20, 29; Gen. 9:4; Lev. 7:26) Not surprisingly, Satan found a way in modern times to cause many to disregard this divine standard. Doctors were experimenting with blood transfusion in the 19th century, but after blood types were discovered, the practice became more widespread. In 1937, blood began to be collected and stored in blood banks, and then World War II gave the practice a big push. Soon, transfusions became commonplace around the world.

15, 16. (a) Jehovah’s Witnesses took what stand regarding blood transfusion? (b) What support has been provided to Christ’s followers regarding transfusions and nonblood management, and with what result?

15 As early as 1944, The Watchtower indicated that receiving a blood transfusion was really another way of eating blood. The following year, that Scriptural position was strengthened and clarified. By 1951, a list of questions and answers was published to help God’s people deal with medical professionals. Around the world, Christ’s faithful followers were taking a courageous stand, often in the face of scorn, hostility, and even outright persecution. But Christ kept moving his organization to provide the needed support. Detailed and well-researched brochures and articles were published.

16 In 1979, some elders began to visit hospitals in order to help doctors to understand better our position, the Scriptural reasons for it, and the availability of alternatives to blood. In 1980, elders in 39 cities in the United States received specialized training in this work. In time, the Governing Body gave approval for the establishment of Hospital Liaison Committees all over the world. Have these efforts made any headway over the years? Today, many tens of thousands of medical professionals​—including doctors, surgeons, and anesthesiologists—​are cooperating with Witness patients, showing respect for our choice of nonblood management. More and more hospitals offer nonblood management, and some even regard it as the highest standard of medical care. Is it not thrilling to think of the ways Jesus has protected his followers from Satan’s efforts to pollute them?​—Read Ephesians 5:25-27.

More and more hospitals offer nonblood management, and some even regard it as the highest standard of medical care

17. How may we show that we value the way that Christ has been refining his followers?

17 We do well to ask ourselves, ‘Do we value the way Christ has been refining his followers, training us to adhere to Jehovah’s lofty moral standards?’ If so, then let us keep in mind that Satan is ever seeking to alienate us from Jehovah and Jesus by eroding our respect for godly morals. To counter that influence, Jehovah’s organization consistently provides loving warnings and reminders about the immoral ways of this world. Let us remain alert, responsive, and obedient to such helpful counsel.​—Prov. 19:20.

Protecting the Congregation From Moral Reproach

18. When it comes to those who willfully rebel against God’s standards, Ezekiel’s vision gives us what clear reminder?

18 A second area of moral refinement involves the measures taken to keep the congregation clean. Sadly, not all who accept Jehovah’s standards of conduct and dedicate themselves to God loyally stick with their decision. Some eventually have a change of heart and willfully rebel against those standards. What is to be done about such ones? We may find one indication in Ezekiel’s vision of the spiritual temple discussed at the outset of this chapter. Remember those lofty gates. Within each entryway, there were guard chambers. Guards would protect the temple, evidently to prevent those who were “uncircumcised in heart” from entering. (Ezek. 44:9) That is a clear reminder that pure worship is a privilege accorded only to those who endeavor to live by Jehovah’s pure standards of conduct. In a similar way, the privilege of associating with fellow Christians in worship is not open to everyone today.

19, 20. (a) How has Christ gradually helped his followers to refine the way serious wrongdoing is handled? (b) What are three reasons for disfellowshipping unrepentant wrongdoers?

19 Back in 1892, the Watch Tower commented that it is “our duty to disfellowship (as Christians) those who, either directly or indirectly, deny that Christ gave himself a ransom [a corresponding price] for all.” (Read 2 John 10.) In 1904, the book The New Creation acknowledged that those who persist in wrong conduct pose a real danger of demoralizing the congregation. Back then, the entire congregation would participate in “church trials” to examine cases of serious wrongdoing. However, such occasions were rare. In 1944, The Watchtower showed that only responsible brothers should handle such matters. In 1952 a Bible-based procedure for handling judicial matters was published in The Watchtower, highlighting a key reason for disfellowshipping unrepentant ones​—to keep the congregation clean.

20 In the decades since then, Christ has helped his followers to clarify and refine the handling of serious cases of wrongdoing. Christian elders are carefully trained to care for judicial matters in Jehovah’s way, with a proper balance of justice and mercy. Today we see clearly at least three reasons for taking the action of disfellowshipping an unrepentant wrongdoer from the congregation: (1) to keep Jehovah’s name free from reproach, (2) to protect the congregation from the contaminating effects of serious sin, and (3) to move a wrongdoer to repentance if that is possible.

21. In what way has the arrangement of disfellowshipping proved to be a blessing to God’s people?

21 Do you see how the arrangement of disfellowshipping has proved to be a blessing to Christ’s followers today? In ancient Israel, wrongdoers often became a corrupting influence on the nation, at times even outnumbering those who loved Jehovah and sought to do what was right. Thus, the nation often brought reproach upon Jehovah’s name and lost divine favor. (Jer. 7:23-28) But today, Jehovah is dealing with a community of spiritual men and women. Because hardened wrongdoers are removed from our midst, they are not allowed to become, in effect, weapons in Satan’s hand to inflict further damage on the congregation and its clean standing. Rather, their influence is kept to a minimum. As a group, we are thus assured of keeping Jehovah’s favor. Remember, Jehovah promised: “No weapon formed against you will have any success.” (Isa. 54:17) Do we loyally support the elders, who bear the heavy load of handling judicial cases?

Glorifying the One to Whom Every Family Owes Its Name

22, 23. Why are we grateful to our fellow Christians of the early 20th century, yet what evidence is there that more balance was needed in regard to the family?

22 A third area in which Christ’s followers have benefited from continual refinement has to do with marriage and family life. Has our view of the family been refined over the years? Yes. For example, when we read of God’s servants in the early part of the 20th century, we cannot help but be impressed and even amazed at their spirit of self-sacrifice. We are profoundly grateful for the way they put their sacred service above all else in life. At the same time, though, we can readily see that more balance was needed. How so?

23 It was not uncommon for brothers to undertake assignments in the ministry or the traveling work that took them far from home for many months at a time. Marriage was, at times, discouraged with more force than the Scriptures warrant, while relatively little was said about how to build strong Christian marriages. Do the same conditions prevail among Christ’s followers today? Hardly!

Theocratic assignments are not to be pursued at the expense of family obligations

24. How did Christ help his faithful people to gain a more balanced view of marriage and the family?

24 Today, theocratic assignments are not to be pursued at the expense of family obligations. (Read 1 Timothy 5:8.) Further, Christ has ensured that his faithful followers on earth receive a steady stream of helpful, balanced Scriptural counsel regarding marriage and family life. (Eph. 3:14, 15) In 1978, the book Making Your Family Life Happy appeared. Some 18 years later came the book The Secret of Family Happiness. Moreover, The Watchtower has featured numerous articles designed to help married couples apply Scriptural principles in their relationship.

25-27. How have the needs of children of varying ages received ever greater attention through the years?

25 And what about young ones? Through the years, their needs have received more and more attention. Jehovah’s organization has long provided good things for children of varying ages, but what was once a trickle has become a full, steady stream. For example, the “Juvenile Bible Study” feature appeared in The Golden Age from 1919 to 1921. After that came The Golden Age ABC brochure in 1920 and the book Children in 1941. In the 1970’s, the books Listening to the Great Teacher, Your Youth​—Getting the Best out of It, and My Book of Bible Stories were provided. In 1982, the Awake! series “Young People Ask” began, leading to the book Questions Young People Ask​—Answers That Work, published in 1989.

The brochure My Bible Lessons was received with joy at this convention in Germany

26 Today, we have two up-to-date volumes of Young People Ask, while the series continues on our Web site, We also have the book Learn From the Great Teacher. Our Web site has plenty of features for the young, including Bible-character cards, Bible study activities for older and younger children, puzzles, videos, and illustrated Bible stories, as well as Bible lessons for children aged three and under. Clearly, Christ’s view of young ones has not changed since he gathered the young children into his arms back in the first century. (Mark 10:13-16) He wants the young ones among us to feel beloved and well-fed spiritually.

27 Jesus also wants children to be protected from harm. As this morally degraded world has sunk deeper into depravity, the plague of child abuse has become more prevalent. Therefore, clear and direct material has been published to help parents keep their children safe from this vicious practice. *

28. (a) What is required if we are to engage in pure worship, as illustrated by Ezekiel’s temple vision? (b) What are you determined to do?

28 Is it not thrilling to contemplate how Christ has continued to refine his followers, training them to respect, live by, and benefit from Jehovah’s lofty moral standards? Think again about the temple that Ezekiel saw in vision. Remember the lofty entrances. True, that temple is, not a physical place, but a spiritual one. Nevertheless, do we see it as real? We enter into it, not just by going to a Kingdom Hall or by opening a Bible or by ringing a doorbell in the ministry. Those are physical acts involving tangible things. A hypocrite could do those things without ever entering Jehovah’s temple. However, if we do such things while at the same time living by Jehovah’s exalted moral standards and taking part in pure worship with the right heart attitude, we have entered into and are serving in that most sacred of places​—the arrangement for the pure worship of Jehovah God! Let us always cherish that precious privilege. Let us also keep doing our utmost to reflect Jehovah’s holiness by upholding his righteous standards!

^ par. 2 In 1932, Volume 2 of the book Vindication first showed that the Bible prophecies focusing on the restoration of God’s people to their homeland saw a modern-day fulfillment, not on fleshly Israel, but on spiritual Israel. Those prophecies point to the restoration of pure worship. The Watchtower of March 1, 1999, explained that Ezekiel’s temple vision is such a restoration prophecy and therefore has an important spiritual fulfillment during the last days.

^ par. 6 The vow prohibited a man and a woman from being alone in a room together unless the door was left wide open​—or unless they were marriage mates or close family members. For some years, this vow was recited daily as part of the Morning Worship program at Bethel.

^ par. 13 The misuse of tobacco includes smoking it, chewing it, or cultivating it for such uses.

^ par. 27 For example, see chapter 32 of Learn From the Great Teacher; also see the cover series, “Keep Your Children Safe!” in the October 2007 issue of Awake!