“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 circuit overseers today.
“Let Us Now 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: “Let us now return and visit the brothers in every one of the cities where we proclaimed 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, publications both online and in print, 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 circuit overseers.
6, 7. What are some of the responsibilities of circuit 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 times and difficult times; reprove, reprimand, exhort, with all patience and art of teaching. . . . Do the work of an evangelizer.”—2 Tim. 4:2, 5.
7 In harmony with those words, the circuit overseer—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 circuit 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) Circuit 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.” (Acts 15:36) 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: “Barnabas was determined to take along 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, however, was not in favor of taking [Mark] along with them, seeing that he had departed from them in 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 was 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 departed 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.a—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.” (Acts 4:36) 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 circuit overseers, 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.” The account adds: “A disciple named Timothy was there, the son of a believing Jewish woman but of a Greek father.”—Acts 16:1.b
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: “The way man sees is not the way God sees, because mere man sees what appears to the eyes, but Jehovah sees into the heart.” (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 “unhypocritical faith.”—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 unhypocritical faith, 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 them for observance the decrees that had been decided on by the apostles and the elders who were in Jerusalem.” (Acts 16:4) Evidently, the congregations did follow the direction from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. As a result of such obedience, “the congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number day by 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.
a See the box “Mark Enjoys Many Privileges.”
b See the box “Timothy Slaves ‘to Advance the Good News.’”