“Have Regard for Those Who Are Working Hard Among You”
“Have regard for those who are working hard among you and presiding over you in the Lord and admonishing you.”—1 THESS. 5:12.
IMAGINE yourself as a member of the first-century Thessalonian congregation, one of the earliest to be established in Europe. The apostle Paul had spent considerable time building up the brothers there. He may have appointed older men to take the lead, as was the case in other congregations. (Acts 14:23) But after the congregation was formed, the Jews organized a mob to rid the city of Paul and Silas. The Christians who remained might have felt deserted, perhaps even fearful.
2 Understandably, after leaving Thessalonica, Paul was concerned about the fledgling congregation. He tried to return, but “Satan cut across” his path. So he sent Timothy to encourage the congregation. (1 Thess. 2:18; 3:2) When Timothy brought back a good report, Paul was moved to write the Thessalonians a letter. Among other things, Paul encouraged them to ‘have regard for those who were presiding over them.’—Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13.
3 The brothers who were taking the lead among the Thessalonian Christians were not as experienced as Paul and his traveling companions; nor did they have the rich spiritual heritage of the elders in Jerusalem. After all, the congregation had existed for less than a year! Still, those in the congregation had reason to be grateful for their older men, who were “working hard” and “presiding over” the congregation and “admonishing” the brothers. Indeed, they had good reason to “give [the elders] more than extraordinary consideration in love.” This request was followed by Paul’s counsel to “be peaceable with one another.” If you had been there in Thessalonica, would you have shown deep appreciation for the elders’ work? How do you view the “gifts in men” whom God through Christ has provided in your congregation?—Eph. 4:8.
4 After sending Paul and Silas to Beroea, how were the older men in Thessalonica “working hard”? Imitating Paul, they no doubt taught the congregation, using the Scriptures. ‘Did the Thessalonian Christians have appreciation for God’s Word?’ you may wonder. After all, the Bible says that the Beroeans were “more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, . . . carefully examining the Scriptures daily.” (Acts 17:11) The comparison, however, was with the Thessalonian Jews in general, not with the Christians. Those who became believers ‘accepted God’s word, not as the word of men, but as the word of God.’ (1 Thess. 2:13) The older men must have worked hard to feed such ones spiritually.
5 Today, the faithful and discreet slave class is providing God’s flock with “food at the proper time.” (Matt. 24:45) Under the slave’s direction, the local elders work hard to feed their brothers spiritually. Those in the congregation may have Bible-based literature in abundance, and in some languages such tools as the Watch Tower Publications Index and Watchtower Library on CD-ROM are available. To satisfy the congregation’s spiritual needs, the elders spend hours preparing meeting parts so that they can present the assigned information in a meaningful way. Have you thought about how much time the elders spend preparing their parts for meetings, assemblies, and conventions?
6 The older men in Thessalonica remembered the fine example that Paul set in shepherding the flock. It was not a matter of his making calls in a mechanical or perfunctory way. As discussed in the preceding article, Paul “became gentle . . . , as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children.” (Read 1 Thessalonians 2:7, 8.) He was even willing ‘to impart his own soul’! When shepherding, the older men were to be like him.
7 Christian shepherds today imitate Paul by cherishing the flock. By nature, some sheep may not be warm and companionable. Still, the elders try to show insight and “find good” in them. (Prov. 16:20) True, being imperfect, an elder may struggle to have a positive view of each one. Yet, as he tries his best to be gentle toward all, should he not be commended for his effort to be a good shepherd under Christ?
8 We all have reason to “be submissive” to the elders. As Paul wrote, ‘they are keeping watch over our souls.’ (Heb. 13:17) That expression reminds us of the literal shepherd who forgoes sleep in order to protect his flock. Likewise, the elders today may sacrifice some sleep while tending to the needs of those who have poor health or emotional or spiritual problems. For example, brothers on Hospital Liaison Committees have been awakened from sleep to respond to a medical crisis. Yet, when we face such a situation, how appreciative we are of their service!
9 Elders on Regional Building Committees and relief committees work hard to help the brothers. They deserve our wholehearted support! Consider the relief effort after Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar in 2008. To reach the Bothingone Congregation in the hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta region, the relief team traveled through devastated terrain strewn with corpses. When the local brothers saw that the first relief team to reach Bothingone included their former circuit overseer, they cried out: “Look! It’s our circuit overseer! Jehovah has saved us!” Do you appreciate the hard work that the elders render day and night? Some elders are appointed to serve on special committees to handle difficult judicial problems. These elders do not brag about what they have accomplished; yet those who benefit from their service are really grateful.—Matt. 6:2-4.
10 Many elders today also have paperwork to do. For example, the coordinator of the body of elders prepares the schedules for weekly meetings. The congregation secretary compiles the monthly and annual field service reports. The school overseer gives careful thought to the school schedule. Every three months, congregation account records are audited. The elders read letters from the branch office and apply the direction that helps maintain “the oneness in the faith.” (Eph. 4:3, 13) Through the efforts of such hardworking elders, “all things take place decently and by arrangement.”—1 Cor. 14:40.
“Presiding Over You”
11 Paul described the hardworking older men of Thessalonica as “presiding over” the congregation. The word in the original language implies “standing before” and can be rendered “directing; taking the lead among.” (1 Thess. 5:12; ftn.) Paul referred to the same elders as “working hard.” He was talking, not about one “presiding overseer,” but about all the older men in the congregation. Today, most elders stand before the congregation and conduct meetings. The recent adjustment to employ the designation “coordinator of the body of elders” helps us to view all the elders as members of a unified body.
12 “Presiding over” the congregation involves more than just teaching. The same expression is used at 1 Timothy 3:4. Paul said that an overseer should be “a man presiding over his own household in a fine manner, having children in subjection with all seriousness.” Here the expression “presiding over” obviously includes not only teaching his children but also taking the lead in the family and “having children in subjection.” Yes, elders take the lead in the congregation, helping all to be in subjection to Jehovah.—1 Tim. 3:5.
13 In order to preside well over the flock, the elders discuss among themselves how to address the needs of the congregation. It might be more efficient if one elder made all the decisions. Yet, following the example of the first-century governing body, modern-day bodies of elders discuss matters freely, seeking guidance from the Scriptures. Their goal is to apply Scriptural principles to the needs of the local congregation. This is most effective when each elder prepares for the elders’ meetings, considering the Scriptures and the guidelines from the faithful and discreet slave class. Of course, this takes time. When there is a difference of opinion, as occurred when the first-century governing body considered the matter of circumcision, extra time and research might be needed to reach a consensus based on the Scriptures.—Acts 15:2, 6, 7, 12-14, 28.
14 What might happen if one elder insists on having his way or tries to promote his own ideas? Or what if someone—like Diotrephes in the first century—sows seeds of discord? (3 John 9, 10) The whole congregation will surely suffer. If Satan tried to upset the first-century congregation, we can be sure that he wants to disrupt the peace of the congregation today. He might appeal to selfish human tendencies, such as the desire for prominence. Thus, elders need to cultivate humility and work together as a unified body. How we appreciate the humility of the elders who do cooperate as a body!
15 Paul then highlighted a difficult yet important task of the older men: admonishing the flock. In the Christian Greek Scriptures, only Paul used the Greek term translated “admonish.” It can refer to strong counsel but does not indicate hostility. (Acts 20:31; 2 Thess. 3:15) For instance, Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “I am writing these things, not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” (1 Cor. 4:14) His motive behind the admonition was loving concern for others.
16 The elders bear in mind the importance of the manner in which they admonish others. They strive to imitate Paul by being kind, loving, and helpful. (Read 1 Thessalonians 2:11, 12.) Of course, the elders ‘hold firmly to the faithful word so that they may be able to exhort by teaching that is healthful.’—Titus 1:5-9.
17 Of course, elders are imperfect and may say things that they later regret. (1 Ki. 8:46; Jas. 3:8) Also, elders know that for spiritual brothers and sisters, receiving counsel is normally not ‘joyous but grievous.’ (Heb. 12:11) So when an elder approaches someone with words of admonition, he likely does so after giving the matter much consideration and praying over it. If you have been admonished, do you appreciate that elder’s loving concern?
18 Suppose you had a health problem that seemed medically inexplicable. Then a physician correctly identified the problem, but the diagnosis was rather hard to accept. Would you hold a grudge against that doctor? No! Even if he recommended an operation, you would likely agree to the treatment, believing it to be for your benefit. The way the doctor conveyed the information may have a bearing on your feelings, but would you let that determine your decision? Probably not. Likewise, do not allow the way you are admonished to prevent you from listening to those whom Jehovah and Jesus may be using to let you know how you can help or protect yourself spiritually.
Appreciate Jehovah’s Provision of the Elders
19 What would you do if you received a gift especially made for you? Would you show your appreciation by using it? The “gifts in men” are what Jehovah through Jesus Christ has provided for you. One way you can show your gratitude for these gifts is by listening intently to talks given by the elders and by trying to apply the points they bring out. You can also show your appreciation by making meaningful comments at meetings. Support the work in which the elders are taking the lead, such as the field ministry. If you have benefited from counsel you received from a certain elder, why not tell him so? In addition, why not show your appreciation for the elders’ families? Remember, for an elder to work hard in the congregation, his family is sacrificing time spent with him.
20 Yes, we have ample reason to show gratitude for the elders, who are working hard among us, presiding over us, and admonishing us. These “gifts in men” are truly a loving provision from Jehovah!
Do You Recall?
• What reasons did the Thessalonian Christians have to appreciate those taking the lead among them?
• How do the elders in your congregation work hard for you?
• How do you benefit from the elders’ presiding over you?
• If given admonition by an elder, what should you keep in mind?
1, 2. (a) What was the situation of the Thessalonian congregation when Paul wrote his first letter to them? (b) What did Paul encourage the Thessalonians to do?
3. What reasons did Thessalonian Christians have for giving extraordinary consideration to the older men?
4, 5. Why was it hard work for the older men in Paul’s day to teach the congregation, and why is it that way today?
6, 7. (a) What example did the older men in Thessalonica have in Paul? (b) Why might it be challenging for elders today to imitate Paul?
8, 9. What are some ways that present-day elders ‘keep watch over our souls’?
10. What lesser-known work do elders do?
11, 12. Who preside over the congregation, and what does doing so involve?
13. Why might it take time to reach a decision at an elders’ meeting?
14. Do you appreciate that the body of elders work together in unity? Why do you feel that way?
15. What motive do elders have when admonishing a brother or a sister?
16. Elders do well to keep what in mind when admonishing others?
17, 18. What should you keep in mind if you receive admonition from an elder?
19, 20. How may you show appreciation for the “gifts in men”?
[Picture on page 27]
Do you appreciate the many ways in which the elders shepherd the congregation?