Is the Truth Bearing Fruit in Those You Teach?
WHEN young Eric announced that he no longer wanted to be known as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, his parents were crushed. They had not seen it coming. As a boy, Eric had shared in the family Bible study, attended Christian meetings, and joined in the preaching work with the congregation. He had seemed to be in the truth, so to speak. But now that he was gone, his parents realized that Bible truth had not been in him. That realization came as both a shock and a disappointment to them.
Others have experienced similar feelings of loss when a Bible student unexpectedly quits studying. At such times, people often ask themselves, ‘Why did I not see this coming?’ Well, is it possible to determine before spiritual disaster strikes whether the truth is bearing fruit in those we teach? For that matter, how can we be certain that the truth is working in us as well as in those we teach? In his familiar parable of the sower, Jesus provided a clue to the answer to these questions.
The Truth Must Reach the Heart
“The seed is the word of God,” Jesus said. “As for that [sown] on the fine soil, these are the ones that, after hearing the word with a fine and good heart, retain it and bear fruit with endurance.” (Luke 8:11, 15) So before Kingdom truth can produce any results in our students, it has to take root in their figurative heart. Jesus assures us that like good seed in fine soil, once divine truth has touched a good heart, it immediately goes to work and bears fruit. What should we look for?
We must take note of heart qualities, not just outward show. Merely keeping up a routine of worship does not always reveal what is really going on in someone’s heart. (Jeremiah 17:9, 10; Matthew 15:7-9) We need to look deeper. There should be a definite change in the person’s desires, motives, and priorities. The individual should be developing the new personality, which conforms to God’s will. (Ephesians 4:20-24) To illustrate: When the Thessalonians heard the good news, Paul said that they readily accepted it as the word of God. But it was their subsequent endurance, faithfulness, and love that confirmed to him that the truth was “also at work in [them].”—1 Thessalonians 2:13, 14; 3:6.
Of course, whatever is in a student’s heart will sooner or later be revealed in his behavior, as Eric’s example illustrates. (Mark 7:21, 22; James 1:14, 15) Unfortunately, by the time certain bad traits become fully evident in a person’s actions, it might be too late. The challenge, then, is to try to identify specific weaknesses before they become spiritual stumbling blocks. We need a way to look into the figurative heart. How can we do that?
Learn From Jesus
Jesus, of course, was able to read hearts unerringly. (Matthew 12:25) None of us can do that. Yet, he showed us that we too can discern a person’s desires, motives, and priorities. Just as a qualified doctor uses various diagnostic techniques to see what is wrong with a patient’s physical heart, Jesus used God’s Word to ‘draw up’ and expose the “thoughts and intentions of the heart,” even when they were still hidden from general observation.—Proverbs 20:5; Hebrews 4:12.
For example, on one occasion Jesus helped Peter to become aware of a weakness that later did become a stumbling block. Jesus knew that Peter loved him. In fact, Jesus had just entrusted Peter with “the keys of the kingdom.” (Matthew 16:13-19) Jesus also knew, however, that Satan had his eye on the apostles. In the days ahead, they would come under intense pressure to compromise. Jesus evidently discerned that some of his disciples had weaknesses in their faith. So he did not shy away from pointing out what they needed to work on. Consider how he brought the matter up for discussion.
Matthew 16:21 says: “From that time forward Jesus Christ commenced showing his disciples that he must . . . suffer . . . and be killed.” Notice that Jesus showed them, not just told them, what would happen to him. Most likely he used Bible verses, such as Psalm 22:14-18 or Isaiah 53:10-12, that indicate that the Messiah would have to suffer and die. At any rate, by reading or quoting directly from the Scriptures, Jesus gave Peter and the others an opportunity to respond from their hearts. How would they react to the prospect of persecution?
Surprisingly, as bold and zealous as Peter had shown himself to be, his rash response on this occasion revealed a critical flaw in his thinking. “Be kind to yourself, Lord,” he said, “you will not have this destiny at all.” Peter’s way of thinking was clearly misguided, for as Jesus pointed out, Peter was thinking, “not God’s thoughts, but those of men”—a serious fault that could lead to grave consequences. What, then, did Jesus do? After rebuking Peter, Jesus told him and the rest of the disciples: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and continually follow me.” Drawing on thoughts found at Psalm 49:8 and 62:12, he kindly reminded them that their everlasting prospects lay, not with men, who could not provide salvation, but with God.—Matthew 16:22-28.
Though Peter later temporarily succumbed to fear and denied Jesus three times, this discussion and others no doubt helped to prepare him for a rapid spiritual recovery. (John 21:15-19) Just 50 days later, Peter boldly stood up before the crowds in Jerusalem to testify to Jesus’ resurrection. In the weeks, months, and years to follow, he courageously faced repeated arrests, beatings, and incarceration, setting an outstanding example of fearless integrity.—Acts 2:14-36; 4:18-21; 5:29-32, 40-42; 12:3-5.
What do we learn from this? Can you see what Jesus did to draw up and expose what was in Peter’s heart? First, he selected appropriate scriptures to focus Peter’s attention on the specific area of concern. Next, he gave Peter an opportunity to respond from the heart. Finally, he provided further Scriptural counsel to help Peter adjust his thinking and feelings. You might feel that this level of teaching is beyond your ability, but let us consider two experiences that illustrate how preparation and reliance on Jehovah can help any one of us to follow Jesus’ example.
Drawing Up What Is in the Heart
When one Christian father learned that his two sons in the first and second grades had taken candy from the teacher’s desk, he sat them down and reasoned with them. Rather than simply dismiss this as a harmless, childish prank, the father relates, “I tried to draw out of their hearts what had motivated them to do this bad thing.”
The father asked the boys to recall what happened to Achan, as recounted in Joshua chapter 7. The boys immediately got the point and confessed. Their consciences had already been bothering them. So the father had them read Ephesians 4:28, which says: “Let the stealer steal no more, but rather let him do hard work . . . that he may have something to distribute to someone in need.” Having the children make compensation by buying candy and presenting it to the teacher reinforced the Scriptural counsel.
“We tried to root out any bad motives once these were discerned,” the father says, “and replace them with good and pure motives by reasoning with the children.” By imitating Jesus when teaching their children, these parents certainly had good results over time. Both sons were eventually invited to become members of the headquarters staff at Brooklyn Bethel, where one still serves after 25 years.
Consider how another Christian was able to help her Bible student. The student was attending meetings and sharing in the ministry and had already expressed a desire to get baptized. However, she appeared to be relying too much on herself rather than on Jehovah. “As a single woman, she had become more independent than she realized,” the Witness recalls. “I worried that she was headed for a physical breakdown or a spiritual fall.”
So the Witness took the initiative to reason with the student on Matthew 6:33, encouraging her to adjust her priorities, put the Kingdom first, and trust in Jehovah to work matters out for the best. She asked her frankly: “Does living on your own sometimes make it difficult for you to rely on others, including Jehovah?” The student admitted that she had almost quit praying. The publisher then encouraged her to follow the advice found at Psalm 55:22 and throw her burden on Jehovah because, as 1 Peter 5:7 assures us, “he cares for you.” Those words touched her heart. The Witness says, “That was one of the few times that I saw her cry.”
Keep the Truth Working in You
Seeing those we teach respond to Bible truth brings us great joy. If our efforts to help others are to have success, though, we have to set a good example ourselves. (Jude 22, 23) All of us need to “keep working out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) That includes regularly letting the light of the Scriptures shine on our own hearts, searching for attitudes, desires, and affections that might need correction.—2 Peter 1:19.
For instance, has your zeal for Christian activities diminished lately? If so, why? One reason might be that you are relying too much on yourself. How can you tell whether this is so? Read Haggai 1:2-11, and honestly reflect on Jehovah’s line of reasoning with the repatriated Jews. Then ask yourself: ‘Am I overly concerned with financial security and material comforts? Do I really trust Jehovah to care for my family if I give spiritual things priority? Or do I feel that I have to take care of myself first?’ If adjustments in your thinking or feelings are needed, do not hesitate to make them. Scriptural counsel, such as that found at Matthew 6:25-33, Luke 12:13-21, and 1 Timothy 6:6-12, provides the basis for a balanced view of material needs and possessions, one that secures Jehovah’s continued blessing.—Malachi 3:10.
This kind of frank self-examination can be sobering. Admitting to specific weaknesses when they are pointed out to us can be hard emotionally. Yet, when you lovingly take the initiative to help your child, your Bible student, or even yourself—no matter how personal or sensitive a matter might be—you may well be taking the first step toward saving his life or your own.—Galatians 6:1.
What, though, if your efforts do not seem to be producing good results? Do not give up quickly. Adjusting an imperfect heart can be a delicate, time-consuming, and sometimes frustrating endeavor. But it can also be rewarding.
Young Eric, mentioned at the outset, eventually came to his senses and again started “walking in the truth.” (2 John 4) “It wasn’t until I realized what I had lost that I turned back to Jehovah,” he says. With the help of his parents, Eric is now serving God faithfully. Although he once resented his parents’ repeated efforts to get him to search his heart, now he deeply appreciates what they did. “My parents are wonderful,” he says. “They never stopped loving me.”
Shining the light of God’s Word on the heart of those we teach is an expression of loving-kindness. (Psalm 141:5) Continue to search the heart of your children and your Bible students for evidence that the new Christian personality is actually taking hold in them. Keep the truth working in others and in yourself by “handling the word of the truth aright.”—2 Timothy 2:15.
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Jesus’ words revealed a weakness in Peter
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Use the Bible to draw up what is in the heart