“Strengthening the Congregations”
Traveling ministers assist the congregations to be made firm in the faith
Based on Acts 15:36–16:5
1-3. (a) Who is Paul’s new traveling companion, and what is he like? (b) What will we learn in this chapter?
AS THEY make their way across the rugged terrain between towns, the apostle Paul looks thoughtfully at the young man walking beside him. His name is Timothy. Youthful and full of vigor, Timothy is perhaps in his late teens or early 20’s. Each step of this new journey takes him farther from his home. As the day fades, the region of Lystra and Iconium steadily recedes in the distance behind them. What lies ahead? Paul has some idea, for this is his second missionary journey. He knows that there will be hazards and problems aplenty. How will the young man at his side fare?
2 Paul has confidence in Timothy, perhaps more than this humble young man has in himself. Recent events have made Paul more convinced than ever that he needs to have the right traveling companion. Paul knows that the work ahead—visiting the congregations and strengthening them—will require unswerving determination and unity of thought on the part of the traveling ministers. Why might Paul feel this way? One factor may be a disagreement that earlier caused a split between Paul and Barnabas.
3 In this chapter, we will learn much about the best way to handle disagreements. We will also learn why Paul chose Timothy as a traveling companion, and we will gain insight into the vital role of those who serve as traveling overseers today.
“Let Us Return and Visit the Brothers” (Acts 15:36)
4. What did Paul intend to do during his second missionary journey?
4 In the preceding chapter, we saw how a delegation of four brothers—Paul, Barnabas, Judas, and Silas—built up the congregation at Antioch with the decision of the governing body regarding circumcision. What did Paul do next? He approached Barnabas with a new travel plan, saying: “Above all things, let us return and visit the brothers in every one of the cities in which we published the word of Jehovah to see how they are.” (Acts 15:36) Paul was not suggesting a mere social visit to these newly converted Christians. The book of Acts reveals the full purpose of Paul’s second missionary journey. First, he would continue delivering the decrees that had been issued by the governing body. (Acts 16:4) Second, as a traveling overseer, Paul was determined to build up the congregations spiritually, helping them to grow firm in the faith. (Rom. 1:11, 12) How does the modern-day organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses follow the pattern established by the apostles?
5. How does the modern-day Governing Body impart direction and encouragement to the congregations?
5 Today, Christ uses the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses to direct his congregation. Through letters, printed literature, meetings, and other communication tools, these faithful anointed men impart guidance and encouragement to all the congregations around the world. The Governing Body also seeks to maintain close contact with each congregation. They thus use the traveling-overseer arrangement. The Governing Body has directly appointed thousands of qualified elders around the world to serve as traveling ministers.
6, 7. What are some of the responsibilities of traveling overseers?
6 Modern-day traveling overseers focus on giving personal attention and spiritual encouragement to all in the congregations they visit. How? By following the pattern set by such first-century Christians as Paul. He exhorted his fellow overseer: “Preach the word, be at it urgently in favorable season, in troublesome season, reprove, reprimand, exhort, with all long-suffering and art of teaching. . . . Do the work of an evangelizer.”—2 Tim. 4:2, 5.
7 In harmony with those words, the traveling minister—along with his wife if he is married—joins the local publishers in various aspects of the field ministry. Such traveling preachers are zealous for the ministry and are skillful teachers—qualities that have a positive effect on the flock. (Rom. 12:11; 2 Tim. 2:15) Those in the traveling work are best known for their self-sacrificing love. They give freely of themselves, traveling in unfavorable weather and even in dangerous areas. (Phil. 2:3, 4) Traveling overseers also encourage, teach, and admonish each congregation by means of Bible-based talks. All in the congregation benefit by contemplating the conduct of these traveling ministers and imitating their faith.—Heb. 13:7.
“A Sharp Burst of Anger” (Acts 15:37-41)
8. How did Barnabas respond to Paul’s invitation?
8 Barnabas welcomed Paul’s proposal to “visit the brothers.” The two had worked well as traveling partners and both were already acquainted with the regions and the peoples to be visited. (Acts 13:2–14:28) So the idea of joining together for this assignment may have seemed sensible and practical. But a complication arose. Acts 15:37 reports: “For his part, Barnabas was determined to take along also John, who was called Mark.” Barnabas was not simply offering a suggestion. He “was determined” to include his cousin Mark as a traveling partner on this missionary journey.
9. Why did Paul disagree with Barnabas?
9 Paul did not agree. Why? The account says: “Paul did not think it proper to be taking [Mark] along with them, seeing that he had departed from them from Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.” (Acts 15:38) Mark had traveled with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary tour but had not stayed the course. (Acts 12:25; 13:13) Early in the trip, while still in Pamphylia, Mark had left his assignment and gone home to Jerusalem. The Bible does not say why he left, but the apostle Paul evidently viewed Mark’s action as irresponsible. Paul might have had questions about Mark’s dependability.
10. To what did the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas lead, and with what result?
10 Still, Barnabas was adamant about taking Mark along. Paul was just as adamant about not doing so. “At this there occurred a sharp burst of anger, so that they separated from each other,” says Acts 15:39. Barnabas sailed away to his home island of Cyprus, taking Mark along. Paul proceeded with his plans. The account reads: “Paul selected Silas and went off after he had been entrusted by the brothers to the undeserved kindness of Jehovah.” (Acts 15:40) Together they traveled “through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the congregations.”—Acts 15:41.
11. What qualities are essential to preventing a lasting rift from developing between us and someone who has offended us?
11 This account may remind us of our own imperfect nature. Paul and Barnabas had been appointed as special representatives of the governing body. Paul himself likely became a member of that body. Still, in this instance, imperfect human tendencies got the better of Paul and Barnabas. Did they allow this situation to create a lasting rift between them? Although imperfect, Paul and Barnabas were humble men, having the mind of Christ. No doubt, in time they manifested a spirit of Christian brotherhood and forgiveness. (Eph. 4:1-3) Later, Paul and Mark worked together in other theocratic assignments.*—Col. 4:10.
12. What should characterize modern-day overseers, in imitation of Paul and Barnabas?
12 This one burst of anger was not characteristic of either Barnabas or Paul. Barnabas was known to be a warmhearted and generous man—so much so that rather than calling him by his given name, Joseph, the apostles surnamed him Barnabas, which means “Son of Comfort.” Paul too was known for his tenderness and gentle demeanor. (1 Thess. 2:7, 8) In imitation of Paul and Barnabas, all Christian overseers today, including traveling ministers, should always strive to show humility and to treat fellow elders as well as the entire flock with tenderness.—1 Pet. 5:2, 3.
“He Was Well Reported On” (Acts 16:1-3)
13, 14. (a) Who was Timothy, and under what circumstances may Paul have met him? (b) What led Paul to take special notice of Timothy? (c) What assignment did Timothy receive?
13 Paul’s second missionary journey took him to the Roman province of Galatia, where a few congregations had been established. Eventually “he arrived at Derbe and also at Lystra.” “And, look!” says the account, “a certain disciple was there by the name of Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman but of a Greek father.”—Acts 16:1.*
14 Evidently, Paul had met Timothy’s family when first traveling to the area about the year 47 C.E. Now during his second visit two or three years later, Paul took special notice of the young man Timothy. Why? Because Timothy was “well reported on by the brothers.” Not only was he well-liked by the brothers in his hometown but his reputation extended beyond the boundaries of his own congregation. The account explains that the brothers both in Lystra and in Iconium, some 20 miles [30 km] away, had good things to say about him. (Acts 16:2) Guided by holy spirit, the elders entrusted young Timothy with a weighty responsibility—to assist Paul and Silas as a traveling minister.—Acts 16:3.
15, 16. What was it about Timothy that earned him such a good reputation?
15 What earned Timothy such a good reputation at his young age? Was it his intelligence, his physical appearance, or his natural abilities? Humans are often impressed by such qualities. Even the prophet Samuel was once unduly influenced by outward appearances. However, Jehovah reminded him: “Not the way man sees is the way God sees, because mere man sees what appears to the eyes, but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.” (1 Sam. 16:7) Rather than any personal attributes, Timothy had inner qualities that earned him a good name among his fellow Christians.
16 Years later, the apostle Paul made reference to some of Timothy’s spiritual qualities. Paul described Timothy’s good disposition, his self-sacrificing love, and his diligence in caring for theocratic assignments. (Phil. 2:20-22) Timothy was also known for having faith “without any hypocrisy.”—2 Tim. 1:5.
17. How can young ones today imitate Timothy?
17 Today, many young ones imitate Timothy by cultivating godly qualities. They thereby make a good name with Jehovah and his people, even at an early age. (Prov. 22:1; 1 Tim. 4:15) They display faith without hypocrisy, refusing to lead a double life. (Ps. 26:4) As a result, many young ones can, like Timothy, play an important role in the congregation. How they encourage all lovers of Jehovah around them when they qualify as publishers of the good news and in due time make a dedication to Jehovah and get baptized!
“Made Firm in the Faith” (Acts 16:4, 5)
18. (a) What privileges did Paul and Timothy enjoy as traveling ministers? (b) How were the congregations blessed?
18 Paul and Timothy worked together for years. As traveling ministers, they carried out various missions on behalf of the governing body. The Bible record says: “As they traveled on through the cities they would deliver to those there for observance the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem.” (Acts 16:4) Evidently, the congregations did follow the direction from the apostles and older men in Jerusalem. As a result of such obedience, “the congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.”—Acts 16:5.
19, 20. Why should Christians be obedient to “those who are taking the lead”?
19 Similarly, Jehovah’s Witnesses today enjoy the blessings that come from submissively obeying the direction received from “those who are taking the lead” among them. (Heb. 13:17) Because the scene of the world is always changing, it is vital that Christians keep pace with the spiritual food provided by “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matt. 24:45; 1 Cor. 7:29-31) Doing so can prevent spiritual calamity and help us to remain without spot from the world.—Jas. 1:27.
20 True, modern-day Christian overseers, including members of the Governing Body, are imperfect, as were Paul, Barnabas, Mark, and other anointed elders in the first century. (Rom. 5:12; Jas. 3:2) But because the Governing Body strictly follows God’s Word and sticks to the pattern set by the apostles, they prove themselves trustworthy. (2 Tim. 1:13, 14) As a result, the congregations are being strengthened and made firm in the faith.
See the box “Mark Enjoys Many Privileges,” on page 118.
See the box “Timothy Slaves ‘in Furtherance of the Good News,’” on page 121.
[Box/Picture on page 118]
MARK ENJOYS MANY PRIVILEGES
Mark’s Gospel relates that those who arrested Jesus also tried to seize “a certain young man” who escaped and “got away naked.” (Mark 14:51, 52) Since Mark, also known as John Mark, is the only one who records this story, the young man may have been the writer himself. If so, Mark had at least some personal contact with Jesus.
Some 11 years later, during Herod Agrippa’s persecution of the Christians, “quite a few” members of the Jerusalem congregation gathered in the home of Mary, Mark’s mother, to pray. It was to their home that the apostle Peter made his way when he was miraculously freed from prison. (Acts 12:12) Thus, Mark may have grown up in a house that was later used for Christian meetings. He no doubt knew Jesus’ early disciples well, and they had a good influence on him.
Mark served side by side with a number of the overseers of early Christian congregations. His first service privilege, as far as we know, was that of working with his cousin Barnabas and the apostle Paul in their assignment at Antioch of Syria. (Acts 12:25) When Barnabas and Paul embarked on their first missionary journey, Mark traveled with them, first to Cyprus and then on to Asia Minor. From there, Mark returned to Jerusalem for unspecified reasons. (Acts 13:4, 13) After a disagreement between Barnabas and Paul concerning Mark, as described in Acts chapter 15, Mark and Barnabas continued their missionary service in Cyprus.—Acts 15:36-39.
All memories of that disagreement must have been long put behind them by 60 or 61 C.E. when Mark was once again working alongside Paul, this time in Rome. Paul, who was a prisoner in that city, wrote to the congregation in Colossae: “Aristarchus my fellow captive sends you his greetings, and so does Mark the cousin of Barnabas, (concerning whom you received commands to welcome him if ever he comes to you).” (Col. 4:10) So Paul was thinking of sending John Mark from Rome to Colossae as his representative.
Sometime between 62 and 64 C.E., Mark worked with the apostle Peter in Babylon. As noted in Chapter 10 of this publication, they developed a close relationship, for Peter referred to the younger man as “Mark my son.”—1 Pet. 5:13.
Finally, in about 65 C.E. when the apostle Paul was imprisoned for a second time in Rome, he wrote to his fellow worker Timothy, who was in Ephesus: “Take Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministering.” (2 Tim. 4:11) Doubtless, Mark responded readily to that invitation and made his way from Ephesus back to Rome. No wonder this man was highly appreciated by Barnabas, Paul, and Peter!
The greatest of all Mark’s privileges was his being inspired by Jehovah to write a Gospel account. Tradition has it that Mark received much of his information from the apostle Peter. The facts seem to support this view, for Mark’s account contains firsthand details that an eyewitness, such as Peter, would have known. However, it would appear that Mark penned his Gospel in Rome, not in Babylon when he was with Peter. Mark uses many Latin expressions and translates Hebrew terms that would otherwise be difficult for non-Jews to understand, so it seems that he wrote primarily for Gentile readers.
[Box/Picture on page 121]
TIMOTHY SLAVES “IN FURTHERANCE OF THE GOOD NEWS”
Timothy was a highly valued assistant to the apostle Paul. After the two men had worked side by side for some 11 years, Paul could write concerning Timothy: “I have no one else of a disposition like his who will genuinely care for the things pertaining to you. . . . You know the proof he gave of himself, that like a child with a father he slaved with me in furtherance of the good news.” (Phil. 2:20, 22) Timothy readily gave of himself in order to promote the preaching work, thus endearing himself to Paul and setting a fine example for us.
The son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother, Timothy seems to have been raised in Lystra. From infancy, Timothy had been taught the Scriptures by his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother Lois. (Acts 16:1, 3; 2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14, 15) Along with them, Timothy likely accepted Christianity during Paul’s first visit to Timothy’s hometown.
By the time Paul returned some years later, Timothy, then possibly in his late teens or early 20’s, was already “well reported on by the brothers in Lystra and Iconium.” (Acts 16:2) God’s spirit had inspired “predictions” about the young man, and in harmony with them, Paul and the local elders recommended that Timothy undertake a special form of service. (1 Tim. 1:18; 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6) He was to accompany Paul as a missionary companion. Timothy would have to leave his family, and in order to eliminate a possible cause for complaint among the Jews whom Timothy would be visiting, he had to submit to circumcision.—Acts 16:3.
Timothy traveled extensively. He preached with Paul and Silas in Philippi, with Silas in Beroea, then alone in Thessalonica. When he again met up with Paul in Corinth, Timothy brought good news about the love and faithfulness shown by the Thessalonians despite their tribulation. (Acts 16:6–17:14; 1 Thess. 3:2-6) On receiving disturbing news about the Corinthians, Paul, then in Ephesus, considered sending Timothy back to Corinth. (1 Cor. 4:17) From Ephesus, Paul later dispatched Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia. But when Paul wrote to the Romans, Timothy was back with him in Corinth. (Acts 19:22; Rom. 16:21) These are just some of the journeys that Timothy undertook for the sake of the good news.
That Timothy may have been somewhat hesitant in exercising his authority is indicated by Paul’s encouragement: “Let no man ever look down on your youth.” (1 Tim. 4:12) But Paul could confidently dispatch Timothy to a troubled congregation with the instructions: “Command certain ones not to teach different doctrine.” (1 Tim. 1:3) Paul also gave Timothy authority to appoint overseers and ministerial servants in the congregation.—1 Tim. 5:22.
Timothy’s excellent qualities endeared him to Paul. The Scriptures reveal that the younger man was a close, faithful, and affectionate companion, like a son. Paul could write that he remembered Timothy’s tears, longed to see him, and prayed for him. Like a concerned father, Paul also gave Timothy advice about his “frequent cases of sickness”—apparently stomach problems.—1 Tim. 5:23; 2 Tim. 1:3, 4.
During Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, Timothy was by his side. At least for a period, Timothy too endured prison bonds. (Philem. 1; Heb. 13:23) The depth of feeling between these two men can be gauged by the fact that when Paul perceived that his own death was near, he summoned Timothy: “Do your utmost to come to me shortly.” (2 Tim. 4:6-9) Whether Timothy arrived in time to see his beloved mentor again is not revealed in the Scriptures.