Improving Your Answers
1, 2. Why should we all apply ourselves to give good answers?
1 Christians should all cultivate the ability to give good answers. Wrote the apostle Paul: “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” (Col. 4:6) And it is natural that we strive to improve our answers. When we answer well, it brings us genuine pleasure: “A man has rejoicing in the answer of his mouth, and a word at its right time is O how good!”—Prov. 15:23.
2 Do you personally feel a need to improve your answers? Are you fully satisfied with your participation in the congregation meetings? Or is there some improvement that, if made, would really bring much pleasure to you? In your field ministry, are there times when you wish that you had handled a situation differently? This is true of all of us, so it is beneficial to consider together how we can improve our answers.
3, 4. How might a variety of comments be given on a single question during a meeting?
3 Congregation meetings. In most congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses it is noted that certain ones are always ready with answers to questions asked at the Watchtower study, at the congregation book study or in the oral review at the Theocratic Ministry School. This is no accident. They may be drawing on years of study and association with Jehovah’s people; but, in most instances, current preparation is also a major factor. Even newly associated ones can give good answers by making it a point to study the material in advance.—Prov. 15:28.
4 If you are the first one to comment on a question, it is usually good to come to grips with it, giving a direct answer. But if someone has already answered the question, do not feel that the discussion has to end there. For additional comments on the same question, you can do any of these things: Enlarge on the answer, show how scriptures in the paragraph bear on the answer, or point out how the matter being discussed affects our own lives. If the material is about world conditions or practices of false religion, you might comment on an experience or local situation that highlights the truthfulness of what the paragraph says. This enriches the discussion.
5. Why is it good to answer briefly and in one’s own words?
5 Answers usually carry more weight and are more deeply impressed on those listening when they are brief and to the point. Such answers are advisable in most cases. When someone rambles through the ideas of a whole paragraph, nothing stands out and listeners are usually not much wiser as to the clear-cut answer to the question. Also, answers that are in the commenter’s own words are usually most helpful. Commenting in this manner aids the one answering to make the information his own, and the phrasing used often helps others to grasp ideas that may have eluded them before. Your talks in the ministry school help you to develop this ability.
6. How can we improve as to being ready with our answers when the question is asked?
6 Can you improve, too, in being ready with answers? This involves advance preparation. But do not do that preparation while the paragraph is being read or while others are commenting, because you will lose much of the benefit of the meeting. Make it a habit to have your answers marked in advance. If you have underlined only a few key words rather than long phrases or sentences, then a quick glance at those key words will bring the thought back to your mind and you will be ready to answer. If the question on a paragraph is divided into “a” and “b” parts, an indication in the margin as to which part of the material is for “a” and which part for “b” will help you to avoid getting ahead of the conductor with your comments. Even if the material does not have prepared questions, when there is to be audience participation it still is helpful to mark what you feel to be key points. This will make it possible to comment spontaneously, and so will contribute to a lively discussion. After answering once in a meeting, do not hold back, concluding that you can leave the rest of the answering to others. Be willing to comment freely.
7. Why should we all feel the responsibility to comment in the meetings?
7 Some may be timid in giving answers, feeling that others can comment better. But the Bible urges us to appreciate our individual responsibility to share. Wrote the apostle Paul: “Let us hold fast the public declaration of our hope without wavering, . . . And let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another.” (Heb. 10:23-25) By answering we become inciters of others to love and fine works, warming their hearts and encouraging them. Then, too, we get benefits ourselves, for we experience the joy of giving and so obtain personal encouragement.
8-12. Offer some suggestions on how to handle objections in the field ministry.
8 Answering objections in the field ministry. You will find that you have little difficulty in answering questions in the house-to-house ministry if you are regular in personal study and in attending meetings. But if you do not know the answer to a question that is asked, do not hesitate to tell the householder that. Then offer to get the information and return. If the person is sincere, he will be glad to have you do so.
9 Besides such questions, you may at times encounter objections. How will you handle them? Before you answer objections it is helpful to know something about the thinking of the person. You might ask what gives rise to his objection. For example, a person may object that he has heard that you do not believe in Christ, but in actuality he is simply confused because of the Trinity doctrine. Many objections are the result of such misunderstandings. It is important to come to a mutual understanding of the meaning of key terms before embarking on a discussion. In fact, this may answer the objection and make further discussion of the point unnecessary.
10 It is good, too, when objections are raised, to treat the matter as one of mutual interest, where possible, rather than as something that makes you opponents. So instead of considering an objection as unpleasant or distasteful, view the objection as a point that really does concern the householder. With this in mind, you might tell him that you are glad he brought the matter up. Consider it a key to continued conversation, as something that may open up the person’s mind to receive Bible truths. Why not practice this in the ministry school, including in your talks situations that require you to cope with objections?
11 At times when you are talking to an interested person someone else raises objections in order to disrupt your discussion. In such a situation, you might shift the burden of proof back to the objector. Jesus Christ used counter-questions to silence opposers who tried to interfere with his preaching. (Matt. 22:41-46) So it is good to keep in mind that the burden of proof is properly on the person who makes an assertion about some matter. For example, if a householder tells you: “You people do not believe in the Trinity,” in a tone that implies that such belief is required of Christians, you might say: “I believe everything the Bible teaches. Will you kindly show me from the Bible why I should believe that doctrine?” Then the burden of proof is on the other party to support what he claims to be the truth.
12 The most authoritative answer to anyone who claims to accept the Scriptures is one taken directly from God’s own Word. It is far more persuasive than anything that we personally might say. Of course, when giving answers, always remain calm and show courtesy, regardless of the attitude of your questioner. This befits a minister of God.
13, 14. At home Bible studies, how might questions from the student be handled?
13 At Bible studies. At Bible studies there is usually a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, conducive to reasoning on matters. So, after you answer a student’s question, it is a good practice to ask whether he is satisfied. It may be that some points are still unclear in his mind. If you are not sure of a particular answer, offer to look it up for him. If further help is needed, you can inquire of a more experienced publisher. Remember, when you assist someone to gain a deeper insight into the Bible’s message you may be starting that one on the road to life, even as Philip the evangelist assisted the Ethiopian eunuch by answering his questions.—Acts 8:26-39.
14 In time it may be better not to answer all the questions brought up at a Bible study, but to save certain ones that will be covered in your further study material. Also, with a view to the student’s own progress, it is good to show him how to find answers by doing research himself. You might refer him to such Bible study helps as the indexes to the Society’s publications or an appropriate chapter in You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. Then ask him later what information he found, and his understanding of it. Have in mind his spiritual growth, not merely answering his questions.
15-18. What attitude should we have when called on to answer questions for officials?
15 When called before officials. When discussing the matter of persecution, the apostle Peter said: “Sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.” (1 Pet. 3:14, 15) There are occasions when we may be called on to make a defense before law courts or representatives of the law who have the authority to ask us what we believe and why we believe that way. “Sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts,” counsels the apostle. Be sure that deep in your heart you accord the Lord Jesus Christ the highest respect, a sacred position, one not to be desecrated. Then there will be no reason for anxiety. If we please the One anointed of God as King over all the earth, there is no reason to be perturbed about how men in high positions may react.
16 Nevertheless, in harmony with the admonition set out at Romans 13:1-7, be respectful toward those in authority. Even when your questioner seems to be imputing to you wrong motives or expressing himself as antagonistic to Jehovah’s witnesses, do not retaliate with a harsh reply. (Rom. 12:17, 21; 1 Pet. 2:21-23) Keep in mind that you are there to give a witness. Might it be that one of these officials will respond? Might it at least result in a more favorable attitude toward the preaching work? Let your conduct and your speech be a good representation of the way of the truth.—Matt. 10:18-20.
17 There may also be times when it is wise to say very little. You may simply wish to throw the burden of proof on the opponents, as the apostle Paul did when on trial. (Acts 24:10-13) Or you may even decide to be silent. This may be the best course if evil men seek to trip you up or to make sport of you while having no sincere desire to have their questions answered. (Luke 23:8, 9) Or, you may deem it wise to be silent because they are seeking, through you, to bring harm upon your fellow Witnesses. Said the psalmist David: “I will set a muzzle as a guard to my own mouth, as long as anyone wicked is in front of me.” (Ps. 39:1, 2) Particularly in lands where there is fierce opposition to true Christianity there is need to be able to distinguish between the “time to keep quiet” and the “time to speak.”—Eccl. 3:7.
18 Commenting on the ability of Jehovah’s servants to answer questions, a British newspaper had this to say: “Behind everything a Witness does lies a Scriptural reason. Indeed, their one basic tenet is recognition of the Bible as wholly, literally and exclusively true. And in this appears to lie their second strength; they can produce an answer to all questions.” It is God’s Word and our reliance upon it that make possible our ability to answer people’s perplexing questions. All credit and honor go to Him. But by seeking to improve our answers we bring greater glory to Jehovah, enhance our own joy and lead others into the pathway of peace with God.