WHEN you first learned to apply Bible principles, deeply ingrained patterns of thinking, speech, and behavior began gradually to change. Much of this took place even before you enrolled in the Theocratic Ministry School. Now you have likely progressed to the point where you have dedicated your life to Jehovah. Does that mean that you can stop making progress? Not at all. Your baptism is merely a beginning.
The disciple Timothy was already serving as a Christian elder when Paul told him to “ponder over” both the counsel given to him and the privileges of service entrusted to him—to “be absorbed in” these things—that his “advancement may be manifest to all persons.” (1 Tim. 4:12-15) Whether you are just beginning to follow the way of the truth or have much experience in Christian living, you should be interested in making advancement.
Knowledge and Transformation
At Ephesians 3:14-19, we read that the apostle Paul prayed that his fellow believers would be “thoroughly able to grasp mentally . . . the breadth and length and height and depth” of the truth. To that end, Jesus bestowed gifts in men to teach, readjust, and build up the congregation. Regular meditation on the inspired Word of God, along with guidance from experienced teachers, can help us to “grow up” spiritually.—Eph. 4:11-15.
That growth includes being “made new in the force actuating your mind.” This involves establishing a strong mental inclination in harmony with that of God and Christ. It requires constant exposure to their thinking, in order to “put on the new personality.” (Eph. 4:23, 24) When you study the Gospels, do you view these accounts of the life of Christ as a pattern for you to follow? Do you seek to identify specific traits shown by Jesus and then make a real effort to imitate these in your own life?—1 Pet. 2:21.
The topics you include in conversation can be an indication of the extent to which you have made such advancement. Those who have put on the new personality do not indulge in speech that is dishonest, abusive, obscene, or negative. Instead, their speech is “good for building up . . . that it may impart what is favorable to the hearers.” (Eph. 4:25, 26, 29, 31; 5:3, 4; Jude 16) Their comments and expressions both in private and at congregation meetings reveal that the truth is transforming their lives.
If you are no longer “tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching,” this too is evidence of advancement. (Eph. 4:14) How do you react, for example, when the world barrages you with new ideas, causes, or forms of entertainment? Are you tempted to divert time from spiritual obligations in order to pursue such things? Doing so can stifle spiritual advancement. How much wiser to buy out time for spiritual pursuits!—Eph. 5:15, 16.
How you deal with other people can also be an indicator of spiritual advancement. Have you learned to be “tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving” your brothers and sisters?—Eph. 4:32.
Your progress in doing things Jehovah’s way should be manifest both in the congregation and at home. It should also be evident at school, in public places, and at your place of secular work. (Eph. 5:21–6:9) If in all such circumstances you are displaying godly qualities in fuller measure, then your advancement is making itself manifest.
Use Your Gift
Jehovah has entrusted each of us with abilities and talents. He expects us to use these in behalf of others in such a way that through us, he can express his undeserved kindness. Regarding this the apostle Peter wrote: “In proportion as each one has received a gift, use it in ministering to one another as fine stewards of God’s undeserved kindness.” (1 Pet. 4:10) How are you handling your stewardship?
Peter continues: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as it were the sacred pronouncements of God.” (1 Pet. 4:11) This verse lays emphasis on the responsibility to speak in complete harmony with God’s Word, so that God is glorified. The manner in which such speaking is done should also glorify Jehovah. The training provided through the Theocratic Ministry School can help you to use your gift in such a way—glorifying God by the way that you help others. With that as your aim, how should you measure your progress in the school?
Rather than thinking in terms of how many points you have covered on your speech counsel form or the type of assignments that you have been given, reflect on the extent to which the training has improved the quality of your sacrifice of praise. The school prepares us to be more effective in the field ministry. So ask yourself: ‘Do I really prepare what I am going to say in the field service? Have I learned to show personal interest in those to whom I witness? Do I lay the groundwork for return visits by leaving people with a question for discussion the next time? If I am studying the Bible with someone, am I working to improve as a teacher who reaches the heart?’
Do not view progress simply in terms of privileges of service that are granted to you. Your advancement is seen, not in the assignment, but in what you do with it. If given an assignment that involves teaching, ask yourself: ‘Did I really employ the art of teaching? Did I handle the material in such a way that it made a difference in the lives of those who heard it?’
The exhortation to use your gift implies using initiative. Do you take the initiative to work with others in the field ministry? Do you look for opportunities to help members of your congregation who are new, young, or infirm? Do you volunteer to clean the Kingdom Hall or to assist in various ways at conventions and assemblies? Can you enroll periodically as an auxiliary pioneer? Are you able to serve as a regular pioneer or help in a congregation where the need is greater? If you are a brother, are you reaching out to meet the Scriptural qualifications for ministerial servants and elders? Your willingness to offer assistance and accept responsibility is a sign of advancement.—Ps. 110:3.
The Role Experience Plays
If you feel limited because of a lack of experience in Christian living, take heart. God’s Word can make “the inexperienced one wise.” (Ps. 19:7; 119:130; Prov. 1:1-4) Applying Bible counsel allows us to benefit from Jehovah’s perfect wisdom, which is of greater value than any learning gained through experience alone. Yet, as we make advancement in our service to Jehovah, we do gain valuable experience. How can we use it to good advantage?
Having been exposed to a variety of circumstances in life, a person could be tempted to reason: ‘I have faced this situation before. I know what to do.’ Would this be the course of wisdom? Proverbs 3:7 cautions: “Do not become wise in your own eyes.” Experience should certainly broaden our view of factors to consider when dealing with situations in life. But if we are making spiritual progress, our experience should also impress on our minds and hearts that we need Jehovah’s blessing in order to succeed. Our advancement is manifest, then, not by our facing situations with confident self-assurance, but by our readily turning to Jehovah for direction in our lives. It is shown by our being confident that nothing can happen without his permission and by our maintaining a trusting and affectionate relationship with our heavenly Father.
Keep Stretching Forward
The apostle Paul, despite being a spiritually mature, anointed Christian, recognized that he needed to keep “stretching forward” to attain the goal of life. (Phil. 3:13-16) Do you share that outlook?
To what extent have you made progress? Measure your growth in terms of how completely you have clothed yourself with the new personality, how fully you have submitted to Jehovah’s sovereignty, and how diligently you are using your gifts to honor Jehovah. As you benefit from Theocratic Ministry School education, the qualities highlighted in God’s Word should be progressively evident in your manner of speaking and teaching. Keep these aspects of your growth in focus. Yes, rejoice in them, and your advancement will readily be manifest.