Striving for the Required Maturity
“The things you heard from me with the support of many witnesses, these things commit to faithful men who in turn will be adequately qualified to teach others.”—2 Tim. 2:2, NW.
1, 2. What, beyond what the world thinks, is required of true Christians, and how only can one follow the instructions given by Peter and Paul?
THERE is a common view today that all a Christian must do is live a good life, attend and support his church, conform to a few of its rules, and that by doing so he will receive God’s blessings and life. But it just is not so. Much more is needed. Knowledge, maturity and a real skill in using God’s Word are required of all Christians. It was not just to a clergy class, but to all the individual Christians to whom he wrote that Peter said: Be “always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you.” And it was not just to a clergy class, but to the entire Christian congregation at Ephesus that Paul wrote: “Stand firm, therefore, with your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and with your feet shod with the equipment of the good news of peace. Above all things, take up the large shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the wicked one’s burning missiles. Also accept the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, that is, God’s word.”—1 Pet. 1:1, 2; 3:15; Eph. 6:14-17, NW.
2 If you are to follow these instructions that were given to first-century Christians and, through them, to all true servants of God everywhere, you must become a full-grown man, having knowledge, truth, right action, Christian service, heart devotion, true faith and a real skill in using God’s Word. The Biblical example is not that of a group of silent Sunday listeners, but of active preachers, of men and women who, when they heard the truth, became so zealous for it that they would teach others, yes, and whose interest, zeal and experience made them adequately qualified to do that teaching.
3. What qualities do the congregation’s “older men” have, and does this relieve the newer ones of their responsibility?
3 Within the Christian congregation today there are many mature “older men” whose spiritual riches enable them to discharge this responsibility and to constitute a definite sustaining influence upon the entire congregation. They have developed the qualities of maturity, firmness of faith and fullness of understanding that are sought by all true Christians. Their zeal and understanding encourage and aid all the brothers. They take the lead in Christian service, setting the example for others to follow. (1 Pet. 5:3, NW) But remember that the responsibility for such Christian maturity and leadership does not rest just upon brothers who have long been in the truth, but upon the entire congregation. In the rapidly growing organization of today no matter how new you are you too will soon be an older brother to whom new ones will be looking for help and assistance. How can you develop the maturity that will enable you to discharge this responsibility? What are your obligations in this regard, and what results will this maturity produce?
4, 5. Upon what does a mature ability to teach depend, and upon what does it not depend?
4 It is obvious that this desired maturity does not depend solely upon the length of time one has been in the congregation, because often a new person develops quickly, rapidly becoming a mature “older man,” while someone else who has been associated for many years remains far from mature. Neither is it merely a matter of natural ability or of one’s worldly education, for we all know many brothers whose education is limited, whose speech is hesitant or faltering, and yet whose knowledge and Christian maturity is both astounding to the world and strengthening to the congregation.
5 Long ago the apostle Paul told Timothy: “The things you heard from me with the support of many witnesses, these things commit to faithful men who in turn will be adequately qualified to teach others.” (2 Tim. 2:2, NW) Where did they get that qualification? Did they have it before learning the truth? No, it was their knowledge, appreciation and conformity to the truth, not their worldly education, nor their lack of it, nor even the number of years they had been in the congregation, that made them qualified to teach others. The same factors are available to you, and they will have the same effect of helping you to become mature in knowledge, adequately qualified to teach.
6. Explain, in detail, what the apostle said about how maturity is achieved.
6 Paul even told us how to gain that necessary knowledge: “Continue applying yourself to public reading, to exhortation, to teaching. Ponder over these things, be absorbed in them, that your advancement may be manifest to all persons. Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching. Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” Therefore, one who desires the maturity that really marks the true Christian organization must study and then use his newly learned truths in God’s service. Now do you begin to understand why some brothers mature faster than others? Briefly and simply stated, it is because they study more and make better use of their knowledge.—1 Tim. 4:13, 15, 16, NW.
TAKING THE LEAD
7. What growth has made this maturity important now? What does this mean to those of us who are already in the organization?
7 Such maturity gives us the strength to withstand Satan’s deceptions and the knowledge and skill to fulfill our commission to preach. And this maturity is especially important in the rapidly expanding organization of today. Long ago Jehovah foretold: “The little one shall become a thousand, and the small one a strong nation: I, Jehovah, will hasten it in its time.” (Isa. 60:22, AS) How true that has been in our day! During the sixteen years since 1940 more than four people every hour, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year have taken up this preaching work. And for 1951 to 1955 one person every ten minutes, the clock around, has joined the ranks of such faithful preachers! Those who are new one month often are helping others the next. They do not hold back, but realizing their newness they study all the more, thankful for the privileges that have been given them and striving to increase both their knowledge and service. Yet we are working for far greater expansion. How will these new ones be brought to maturity? Only through those now in the organization being ready to provide mature assistance, to take the oversight in new territories and congregations, and to take the lead in teaching. There is always need for mature men who have a clear understanding of God’s Word, who are zealous in service and can be used in more responsible assignments as congregational overseers, missionaries or full-time ministers. You do not know what privileges and opportunities may be set before you in the future if you take full advantage of the provisions that have been made for your spiritual growth now. So be diligent in study!
8. How are added privileges to be sought, and what qualities should all Christians be developing?
8 Is it proper to prepare for such added privileges of service? Most certainly! The Scriptures say: “If any man is reaching out for an office of overseer, he is desirous of a right kind of work.” But the added privilege must be sought in the right way, not through the worldly methods of political maneuvering or string-pulling, but through developing the mature qualities that are needed by overseers. What are these? They are a sound knowledge, proper ability and the right attitude. They include being “a lover of strangers, qualified to teach,” “not greedy of dishonest gain,” and “holding the sacred secret of the faith with a clean conscience.” Also necessary is a love for the organization, Christian humility and a proper understanding of the Word. Actually, these are goals for which we all must strive, since they are not just the marks of an overseer, but of every mature Christian.—1 Tim. 3:1-9, NW.
9. In his letter to the Hebrews what did Paul say about maturity?
9 Yes, whether Christendom’s churches teach it or not, every individual Christian is under obligation to develop this maturity and to use it in teaching others. Paul wrote sharply to the Hebrews who were deficient in this. He said: “For, indeed, although you ought to be teachers in view of the time, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the first principles of the sacred pronouncements of God, and you have become such as need milk, not solid food. For everyone that partakes of milk is unacquainted with the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.”—Heb. 5:12-14, NW.
DIET, EXERCISE AND STRENGTH
10. How is God’s Word like solid food, and how must it be used to build spiritual strength?
10 This comparison of elementary truths with “milk” and the deeper matters to “solid food” is sound. Food is vital. It nourishes, sustains life, provides for growth and gives us the required energy. Similarly, the truths of God’s Word provide nourishment and sustenance, allow for spiritual growth and help one to stay strong and active in God’s service. Jesus said: “Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.” (Matt. 4:4, NW) This energizing spiritual food includes rich truths, strengthening examples, nourishing prophetic illustrations and the faith-building promises of God’s Word. It provides the energy that, if properly used, can lead to strength and maturity. How must it be used in order to gain such strength? Well, how do you use your physical energy to grow physically strong? Through exercise that develops your muscles and builds up your body. Spiritual strength is similar. To gain it the energy that comes from your study must be used in exercising your mind, heart and tongue in telling these good things out to others. The more door-to-door preaching activity you have, the more back-calls you make and Bible studies you conduct, the more time you talk to your relatives, neighbors, friends and to your working companions and business associates about the truth, the stronger you will become. This spiritual exercise firmly impresses your knowledge upon your mind and helps you build the strong muscle fibers of a victorious faith. Also, the questions you encounter will stir your appetite for more knowledge and you will return to the supply of spiritual food. And every time this happens you are taking another step along the path that leads from the milk of the Word to the solid food that belongs to mature people.
11. How can a new person, or one who is weak in faith, become a full-grown man, and what probably is wrong if one lacks maturity and strength?
11 Study leads to service, service to a desire for more knowledge, and one’s growing knowledge, if used properly, leads to an even greater activity in preaching. Through thus filling their minds with the truth of God’s Word and faithfully using that knowledge in Jehovah’s service, even the newest of publishers can make rapid progress toward becoming strong, full-grown men, able to meet problems, stand firm against opposers and to bolster up still newer ones who are flowing like a steady stream into the ever-expanding Christian congregation. Conversely, if you lack such maturity and strength probably it is because of a lack of either study or service. For sound knowledge, used in service, really will enable you to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently at the leader and perfecter of our faith, Jesus.”—Heb. 12:1, 2, NW.
12. How does the weekly Watchtower study provide a test of the effort you put forth to gain knowledge, and what did the apostle say about the course all Christians should take?
12 To have this strength requires effort. It requires long hours spent in study. Where do you stand in this regard? For example, in the Watchtower study at the Kingdom Hall, have you studied the lesson in advance? Do you know the points it contains? And have you thought on it and prepared to give good comments? When the lesson is a particularly deep one, do you just let it slide, not really getting the point of that particular lesson, but waiting for more milk and rejecting the meat? Paul, who had a great deal to say about maturity, admonished us really to grow up in knowledge, progressing far beyond the basic doctrines. He said: “Now that we have left the elementary doctrine about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying a foundation again, namely, repentance from dead works, and faith toward God, the teaching on baptisms and the laying on of the hands, the resurrection of the dead and everlasting judgment. And this we will do, if God indeed permits.”—Heb. 6:1-3, NW.
13. What should we do about the truth’s tasty appetizers, and how do we press on to more solid food?
13 Probably it was the thrilling clarity of the basic or elementary doctrines that first attracted you to the truth. These things, learned during the first few months of study, might therefore be likened to the delightful appetizers that often come before a full meal. But we are not to stop with them; rather we are to use them to stir our appetites for the really strengthening food that follows. These are only the beginning; we must receive the full benefit of the feast that Jehovah has provided. We do this through private study of the Scriptures, through listening to the preaching of the Word, through actually participating in all congregational meetings and by being anxious to benefit from whatever information comes through the food-dispensing channel that Jehovah has provided. Doing this, you will “quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and complete will of God.”—Rom. 12:2, NW.
PROVING YOUR LOVE
14. What abilities does the Christian need in order to show his love through service?
14 We must have such right knowledge if we are to preach to others, and we must preach to others if we are to show love for Jehovah God and his Son Christ Jesus. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, and by the third time Peter was grieved that the same question should so often be repeated. “Master,” he said, “you know all things; you are aware that I have affection for you.” But Jesus simply repeated the instruction: “Feed my little sheep.” (John 21:15-17, NW) That is the way we prove our love. We must be ministers, servants of God, feeders of the sheep. We should know what to say under questioning, and what we say should be both illuminating to our hearers and of praise to God. When you encounter questions can you leaf through the Bible’s pages and from them clearly and convincingly show the proof of your belief? Can you actually prove your faith from the Bible, at least on basic doctrines, not merely saying that the Bible teaches so-and-so, but showing where and how it does? Have you really taken the time and effort to learn these things? It requires work. It means that we must strive for knowledge, that we must dig out such facts and impress them upon our mind. But that is the only way to be adequately qualified to teach, and it is a requirement for true Christians. Everyone within the congregation should be growing and expanding in knowledge and experience, and showing his love as he really strives for the maturity that will make him efficient in feeding the sheep. How is your progress?
15, 16. What outstanding examples of Scriptural knowledge were set for us in Jesus’ day and shortly thereafter, and what should we do about it now?
15 Consider the outstanding Biblical knowledge that Jesus and his disciples had. At the age of twelve Jesus was found “sitting in the midst of the teachers and listening to them and questioning them. But all those listening to him were in constant amazement at his understanding and his answers.” Can you amaze educated theologians with your knowledge of God’s Word? Certainly this could be done only with a real knowledge. The disciples’ amazing knowledge of the Scriptures is shown by their abundant quotations from the earlier Hebrew writings. (This is detailed in paragraph 19 of the following article.) Further, those who received their letters, or epistles, also had such knowledge. They did not have the aids that we do. Books, including the Scriptures, were hard to come by. They were laboriously copied by hand and were not available to all people. But these early Christians obtained the use of them. They knew the Scriptures, saw the fulfillment of prophecies and read the writings of the apostles. Their knowledge grew and their faith expanded. And they used this knowledge and faith in showing their love by teaching others. It is noteworthy that they did not consider this knowledge limited just to the apostles or to some special clergy class. Rather, all were to gain it. Even when 3,000 were baptized at Pentecost, A.D. 33, they remained in Jerusalem for strengthening and knowledge. And when persecution did scatter them they were able to go “through the land declaring the good news of the word.”—Luke 2:46, 47; 2 Tim. 4:13; Acts 2:46, 47; 8:4, NW.
16 Real Christians follow the same example today. They gain the required knowledge and they show their love of God and of their neighbors by actually telling the good news to others. Such knowledge is available to all, irrespective of worldly education. It was not their previous education, but their persistence, faith, stick-to-itiveness, determination and God’s spirit that led lowly fishermen, tax collectors and other ordinary men to Christian maturity during the first century, and the same things will lead to your developing the required adequate qualification today.—Matt. 4:18-22; 9:9; Acts 4:13.
WHO HAS THE STRENGTH?
17, 18. Who are noted for their strength and zeal, where do they get it, and why do the world’s religions fall short?
17 It is generally recognized that members of the world’s religions not only leave such study and ministerial service up to their clergymen, rather than doing anything about it themselves, but also are very reluctant even when their leaders try to urge them into such activity. For example, at a National Catholic Educational Association meeting in Chicago, April 22, 1954, “The Rev.” John O’Brien criticized his own people’s “lack of zeal in winning converts,” while he said the progress of Jehovah’s witnesses “is the most spectacular in modern history.” And Our Sunday Visitor (August 28, 1955), trying to stir members of the Catholic church into a greater use of pamphlets, said of Jehovah’s witnesses: “Granted they make themselves a national nuisance, they also made 456,000 converts in six years!” But why do Jehovah’s witnesses have the strength and zeal for active Christian ministry when other groups do not? Again it is simply because good food, properly used, makes strong men. The key to the source of their strength was given in an article in the Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal, which said: “Without doubt, they are people who diligently study the Bible. But more than that, Jehovah’s witnesses believe what they read.”
18 Jesus had them, his apostles had them, the first-century Christian congregation had them. Should we expect the energy and strength, the zeal and activity of true Christianity to be any less today? No! It is just that the amount of accurate knowledge that many religions provide to their people has so dwindled that their members can only sit, not work, for they have neither the strength nor the zeal that is required for the kind of activity that first-century Christians showed marks the true Christian congregation. But right knowledge does stir those who have it to tell it out to others, to stand firm against persecution and even to face death rather than renounce their faith, as many of Jehovah’s witnesses have done under the violent Nazi and Communist persecutions, where even leaders of other religions capitulated! This strength is not amazing to those who have it, but only to those who do not, for those who have it remember that, after all, the Scriptures long ago said: Jehovah “giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might he increaseth strength.” “Jehovah will give strength unto his people; Jehovah will bless his people with peace.”—Isa. 40:29; Ps. 29:11, AS.
19. Reviewing this lesson, what must true Christians do?
19 Indeed, far more is required of a Christian than just living a good life and conforming to a few rules. You must gain right knowledge. You must develop the maturity, firmness of faith and accuracy of understanding that mark true Christianity, and that will enable you to save others and to make your own salvation sure, receiving “the accomplished end of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet. 1:9, NW) Men of faith brought the word of truth to you. You heard their message, accepted it, and already have begun telling it to others. Continue to improve in knowledge and efficiency. Really strive for the required maturity, and your ‘adequate qualification for teaching others’ will continue to grow. From a small handful a mighty Christian congregation has arisen as each new one in this organization commits the truths he has learned to even more faithful men who also will become adequately qualified to teach still others. All true Christians should develop skill in using God’s Word and should mature as Christian ministers, keeping in mind that Jesus said: “My Father is glorified in this, that you keep bearing much fruit and prove yourselves my disciples.” What sources really will help you to gain this maturity and produce this fruit? The following article answers.—John 15:8, NW.
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