Helpers Toward Walking Wisely
1. How must overseers carry out the command of Isaiah 58:1, and how does Matthew 18:15 set a course for them?
SPIRITUAL overseers must watch strictly how the congregations under their charge walk or conduct themselves. It is not enough to carry out the command of Isaiah 58:1 with reference only to Christendom: “Call out full-throated; do not hold back. Raise your voice just like a trumpet, and tell my people their transgression. and the house of Jacob [Israel] their sins.’ The theocratic overseers should not merely call attention to sinfulness in the enemy organization of Christendom. They must be impartial, balanced and just in applying a principle. Hence they must call attention to any transgressions and sins even in the congregations over which they have the oversight. If the overseer observes some offense or receives the report of some offense committed by any member against the congregation, then the overseer has something against the offender; for what affects the congregation affects him. He must investigate the matter and take steps concerning it in the spirit of Matthew 18:15: “Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”
2. In that case, what does the congregation servant have the right and obligation to do, and what is the primary purpose of such action?
2 Accordingly the congregation servant, together with the other members of the congregation service committee, has the right and is under obligation to summon the offender, or apparent offender, in order to come to a factual understanding of what has gone on. He must establish directly the guilt or guiltlessness of the apparent offender and discover any grounds for disfellowshiping, if any truly exist. The primary purpose of this is to keep God’s visible organization of his sheep clean and safe from a spread of sinfulness. The recovery of the offender is secondary.—Deut. 13:12-18.
3. When summoned, what should any accused brother do because of the criticalness of the time?
3 On the other hand, some member of the congregation may be accused of conduct deserving of his being disfellowshiped. When he is summoned for a fair, honest hearing before the accusing witnesses, it is not the time for him to justify himself and for him to refuse to present himself. It is an urgent time for the accused one to seek reconciliation with his disturbed brothers. It is a time, not for self-vindication in one’s own opinion, but for seeking unity with the organization by a clearing up of all misunderstandings or a correcting of matters. The accused one should not be stubborn in his own self-righteousness, like a strongly fortified town. “A brother transgressed against is more than a strong town, and there are contentions that are like the bar of a dwelling tower.” (Prov. 18:19) If anyone merely becomes aware that the brothers have something against him, it should cause him to make speed to straighten out the matter, especially if he really proves to be the sinner in the case.
4, 5. (a) Pertinent to that, what did Jesus say in his sermon on the mountain? (b) What did that saying of Jesus mean, and what does anyone do by ignoring it?
4 In his sermon on the mountain Jesus said: “If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother, and then, when you have come back, offer up your gift. Be about settling matters quickly with the one complaining against you at law, while you are with him on the way there.”—Matt. 5:23-25.
5 First after one has done everything possible to satisfy justice and to right the wrong here on earth with his fellow men, first then is he in a right condition to offer sacrifice to God and to find acceptance with him. In accord with this it is written: “The sacrifice of the wicked ones is something detestable to Jehovah, but the prayer of the upright ones is a pleasure to him.” (Prov. 15:8; 21:27) Let no one deceive himself by ignoring this fact.
6. What should a peace-seeking brother be willing to do under accusation, and why should he not be self-justifying and resisting?
6 In eagerness to keep or to restore right relations with his brothers and his God, a dedicated Christian should desire and be willing to hear the complaint that is made against him, in order to find out whether he himself is really at fault. The very fact that he has caused his brothers to take some offense should fill him with concern. It should make him want to correct misunderstandings or correct matters. He should not bristle up indignantly and retort: “If they do not like what I do, why should I worry? I know I am innocent and am doing no wrong. If they want to make evil out of it, that shows their wrong condition of heart. I do not give a snap of my fingers for what they think.” Such a resistant, unyielding, self-justifying attitude does not make for peace and harmony in the congregation. It is a foolish attempt to answer a matter before personally hearing it, to know the other’s viewpoint. Proverbs 18:13 cautions us, saying: “When anyone is replying to a matter before he hears it, that is foolishness on his part and a humiliation.”
SELF-JUSTIFICATION NOT GOOD
7. Why is his own presentation of the matter first in the case not enough, and what should he do to others who are disturbed about him?
7 A person may feel that he is guiltless. From his own presentation of his side of the matter his case may be strongly in support of him, to justify him. But his own presentation is only one side of the matter. After those who complain against him come up for testimony and present their side of the matter, he may find that he is not so innocent or faultless as he thought. Proverbs 18:17 says: “The one first in his legal case is righteous [innocent, according to his own testimony]; his fellow comes in and certainly searches him through.” His fellow who comes in and testifies against him certainly gives him reason to do a lot of self-examination and renders him uneasy and not so sure of his position. At least he is helped to see why he does not appear so innocent and clean to others. He should find out where the fault lies, whether it lies in himself. He should at least strive hard to clear up the misunderstanding in others, if they have misinterpreted matters. He should respect the attitudes of other honest brothers and should apologize where offense has been caused, if such offense be only because he was tactless or indiscreet rather than was actually sinning.
8. Who of all persons can find something wrong with him, and so what should be his prayer toward keeping in right relations?
8 Certainly if no one on earth can do so, Jehovah God in heaven can find plenty wrong with him. Proverbs 20:9 states: “Who can say: ‘I have cleansed my heart; I have become pure from my sin’?” Knowing his sinfulness by birth and his proneness to commit sin, the Christian should be humble and be willing to be corrected, praying with the psalmist: “Mistakes—who can discern? From concealed sins pronounce me innocent. Also from presumptuous acts hold your servant back; do not let them dominate me. In that case I shall be complete, and I shall have remained innocent from much transgression. Let the sayings of my mouth and the meditation of my heart become pleasurable before you, O Jehovah my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Ps. 19:12-14) This helps to keep oneself right with God.
9. Why did Elihu feel a blaze of anger against Job, and so what should an accused one not do to turn attention away from himself?
9 Remember that the young man Elihu felt a blaze of anger against patient Job “over his justifying his own soul more than God.” (Job 32:2) Job was innocent, and yet it was wrong on his part to think and speak as if Jehovah God were directly responsible for the sufferings that had come upon Job, as if He were bringing calamity upon the righteous as well as the unrighteous ones. (Job 9:22, 30-35; 27:1-6; 30:19-23; 19:6-22; 6:4; 7:19-21) When anyone is faced with a possible disfellowshiping, it is not the occasion to accuse back or make recriminations or to accuse others, as the ungodly Communists do, in order to turn attention away from himself to the deflections and misdeeds of others and thus to show that others are as bad as he is and are deserving of judgment also.
10. In a full sense, before whom are we brought when taken under examination, and to answer the main question involved what should we do?
10 It is not simply before a congregational service committee that we are brought when under examination for something wrong. Our secret faults are well known to God, if not to a congregation service committee. God can accurately judge our secret faults, and he will bring them to judgment in his own time. (Eccl. 12:14; 1 Cor. 4:4, 5) So the main question that we must answer is, Can I vindicate myself before God? To make sure whether we can do so, it is necessary for us to make a self-examination with the searchlight of God’s Word, for his Word “is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and their marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.”—Heb. 4:12, 13.
11. With whom else is that true besides with individuals, and how was this illustrated in the case of Achan the son of Zerah?
11 Since this is true with individuals, it also is true with a group of individuals, with a congregation or an organization. Call to mind the Israelite Achan the son of Zerah, who joined in the assault on the city of Jericho after Jehovah God had miraculously caused the city walls to fall down. Everything of value to be found inside the city was to be devoted to Jehovah God, for to him Jericho was the first fruits of the land of Canaan. But Achan robbed God by appropriating to himself part of the spoil of the city, namely, a good-looking garment from the land of Shinar, two hundred shekels of silver and a gold bar fifty shekels heavy. These stolen things Achan hid in the ground beneath his tent, thinking that no one outside his family was wise to the matter, and that he had got off scot-free. But God had seen in secret how Achan had sinned and had thus become unclean. As long as he and his unclean family were left unpunished in the midst of Israel, the nation of Israel could not prosper in its conquest of the Promised Land of Canaan. Therefore God caused Achan to be brought to the light and to be put away by stoning to death. After that, the congregation of Israel made due progress according to God’s will.—Josh. 7:1 to 8:2.
12. So, today whom can God ferret out from our midst, and why therefore should we use our spiritual breastplate and shield of faith?
12 Likewise, today God by his holy angels can ferret out the secretly sinning Achans in our midst. Oh, may none of us be one of such Achans! Hence we need to watch our heart and our kidneys. “Jehovah of armies is judging with righteousness; he is examining the kidneys [or, deepest emotions] and the heart.” (Jer. 11:20, margin) We need to have on the breastplate of righteousness and to be skillful in maneuvering the shield of faith in order to preserve our hearts and our deepest emotions pure, clean and right.—Eph. 6:14, 16.
13. What courage like Nathan’s must overseers show, but of what must they be certain first?
13 Overseers have to be courageous like Nathan, not weak in reproof as was High Priest Eli. Like the prophet Nathan they must apply God’s Word to the congregation member who is at fault and they must fearlessly say to him: “You yourself are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7) But they must be certain that they have the full facts to guide them to a right judgment and that they are backed up by God’s Word, and not acting from any selfish personal motives.
14. How should committees use the fearful power of disfellowshiping, and what warning of Jesus should they remember in this regard?
14 Congregation service committees have a fearful power in their possessing the commission to disfellowship the unruly and disorderly from the congregation. They need to use this power with caution, not only to avoid getting into legal difficulties with the law courts of the land, but also to avoid sinning with this disfellowshiping power through a misuse or an abuse of it. Never should it be used to vent a spite on a congregation member or to get rid of someone who is not liked personally by one or all of the service committee or who is a cause of irritation or of envy and so thought best to have out of the way. To guard against wrong motives, it is well for a Christian to remember Jesus’ warning: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged, and with the measure that you are measuring out they will measure out to you.”—Matt. 7:1, 2.
HANDLING OF GOSSIPS AND SLANDERERS
15. How, without wrong motives, may a committee bring itself under judgment in a case of disfellowshiping?
15 Even barring any wrong motives on its part, a congregation service committee may act in all sincerity and yet bring itself under judgment for not making a proper application of Bible principles to a case where the committee decides to disfellowship. This may be in a case that involves something other than adultery or fornication. Take, for example, the matter of gossiping. A committee might fail to make a distinction between gossip and slander.
16. What is the difference between gossip, scandal and slander?
16 Slander may be gossip; but not all gossip is slander. Gossip is defined as idle personal talk; that is, idle talk, especially about the affairs of others. It is light chat or talk; newsmongering. It may become scandal when it turns into groundless rumor or general talk that is damaging to the reputation of another. Scandal is usually more or less malicious, it being said out of ill will with a desire to hurt the one spoken about or against. Gossip may be simply light, familiar talk or writing, and may not be slanderous at all. It becomes slander when it becomes a defaming of another, when it becomes a malicious, false and defamatory statement or report or suggestion about another, designed to injure his reputation. In the law of judicial courts slander is defamation by oral utterance rather than by writing and other means.
17. What did Paul say to Timothy regarding gossipers?
17 The apostle Paul referred to the handling of gossipers. He wrote to Timothy as an overseer and gave the following instructions concerning younger widows who were still marriageable and who were not to be put on the list for receiving material help from the congregation: “On the other hand, turn down younger widows, for when their sexual impulses have come between them and the Christ, they want to marry, having a judgment because they have disregarded their first expression of faith. At the same time they also learn to be unoccupied, gadding about to the houses, yes, not only unoccupied, but also gossipers [phlýaroi]a and meddlers in other people’s affairs, talking of things they ought not. Therefore I desire the younger widows to marry, to bear children, to manage a household, to give no inducement to the opposer to revile. Already, in fact, some have been turned aside to follow Satan. If any believing woman has widows, let her relieve them, and let the congregation not be under the burden. Then it can relieve those who are actually widows.”—1 Tim. 5:11-16.
18. Why was it right for Paul to discuss widows, and how did younger ones make their lack of occupation spiritually harmful?
18 Discussing the case of widows was religiously right for the apostle Paul, for his fellow disciple James wrote: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.” (Jas. 1:27) However, the apostle Paul had made observations concerning the younger widows, that their lack of occupation was spiritually harmful to them. Being unoccupied with household obligations or with Jehovah’s service in the field, they were inclined to go to the houses, not to preach or bear witness from door to door, but to talk idly, to gossip, even to the point of meddling in other people’s affairs, “talking of things that they ought not.”
19. What did Paul instruct Timothy respecting the younger widows, and what was his purpose in laying a special responsibility upon the older women?
19 What did the apostle Paul advise overseer Timothy respecting them? Did he instruct Timothy to have them disfellowshiped? No! He recommended that they be given serious responsibility in order to keep them profitably occupied, even suggesting their getting married and rearing children of their own, so as to win commendation for the congregation rather than to give opposers of Christianity an inducement to revile Jehovah’s organization under Christ. The older women also were to set the younger widows and other women a good example: “Likewise let the aged women be reverent in behavior, not slanderous [diáboloi], neither enslaved to a lot of wine, teachers of what is good, that they may recall the younger women to their senses to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sound in mind, chaste, workers at home, good, subjecting themselves to their own husbands, so that the word of God may not be spoken of abusively.” (Titus 2:3-5) Such corrective measures that the apostle advised kept the younger women within the congregation, commendably occupied in good works and serving as an asset to the congregation and keeping high its spiritual quality in peace and unity.
20. What did the apostle John write to the disciple Gaius about Di·otʹre·phes?
20 The apostle John had to deal with a case of an abuse of the tongue, not in mere gossip but in slander. This was in the case of Di·otʹre·phes, who belonged to the same Christian congregation as did Gaius, a beloved disciple, whom John truly loved. In this case he said: “I wrote something to the congregation, but Di·otʹre·phes, who likes to have the first place among them, does not receive anything from us with respect. That is why, if I come, I will call to remembrance his works which he goes on doing, chattering [phlyareîn]b about us with wicked words. Also, not being content with these things, neither does he himself receive the brothers with respect, and those who are wanting to receive them he tries to hinder and to throw out of the congregation.”—3 John 9, 10.
21. Why was Di·otʹre·phes’ chatter a case of slander and why did he himself deserve to be thrown out?
21 Di·otʹre·phes was chattering or gossiping about the apostle John behind his back, but he was doing so “with wicked words.” He was thus slandering John. For this reason he deserved apostolic taking in hand. Hence John said that, should he himself come to that congregation, he would call to remembrance the works that Di·otʹre·phes was doing, which would be accompanied by appropriate action against Di·otʹre·phes. This wicked chatterer had no right or authority to do some excommunicating on his own account, throwing hospitable brothers out of the congregation. In speaking about the apostle John slanderously, Di·otʹre·phes was “disregarding lordship and speaking abusively of glorious ones.” (Jude 8) Di·otʹre·phes himself deserved to be thrown out.
22. Was it mere gossip of which Satan the Devil was guilty in Eden, and why was he called Devil?
22 Remember, it was not mere gossip of which Satan the Devil was guilty in the garden of Eden. He asked Eve a leading question for information, and then made this comment upon her answer: “You positively will not die. For God knows that in the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.” (Gen. 3:4, 5) That devilish statement was not gossip. It was what Jesus pronounced it to be—slander, a lie, maliciously designed to hurt the reputation or name of Jehovah God and induce rebellion against Him and cause distrust and disunity within His organization. Said Jesus to those who copied Satan the Devil: “You are from your father the Devil and you wish to do the desires of your father. That one was a manslayer when he began, and he did not stand fast in the truth, because truth is not in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks according to his own disposition, because he is a liar and the father of the lie.” (John 8:44) Let us make no mistake about it: it was slander, not gossip, for which that unfaithful one was called Devil (Diábolos), meaning “Slanderer.” It was a malicious lie against Jehovah God that killed God’s reputation with Eve and that betrayed the fact that this spirit son had rebelled against the Sovereign of the universe and should be disfellowshiped from Jehovah’s holy universal organization, thus being disowned as a son of God.
23. With regard to talk, what should a committee first determine, and why should they bring in two or more witnesses?
23 For this reason let the service committee of any congregation of Jehovah’s dedicated people be careful about taking drastic action against gossip. Let them first determine the nature or quality of the gossip. If it is light, inconsequential newsmongering, with personalities involved, there is no ground Scripturally for disfellowshiping and thereby showing oppressiveness. But if it amounts to slander with the malicious design to injure the reputation and standing of another, then it is time to take the matter under advisement and determine whether disfellowshiping the apparent slanderer is right and Scriptural and is for the protection of the congregation. Two or more witnesses will be needed to establish the fact of slander and to protect the service committee.
24. In being careful as to the matter of disfellowshiping, how should the committee be like Jeremiah?
24 A service committee should not use its power of disfellowshiping dangerously. It should veer away from bringing itself under condemnation in this matter. Said King David prophetically: “Anyone slandering his companion in secrecy, him I silence. . . . Every morning I shall silence all the wicked ones of the earth, to cut off from the city of Jehovah all the practicers of what is hurtful.” (Ps. 101:5, 8) For our guidance with respect to slanderers it is written: “He that is going about as a slanderer is uncovering confidential talk; and with one that is enticed [or, possibly, that is wide open] with his lips you must have no fellowship.” (Prov. 20:19; 11:13) A service committee has to draw a sharp distinction between mere gossip and slander. In this regard they should be like a metal tester, as Jeremiah the prophet was: “You will take note and you must examine their way. All of them are the most stubborn men, walking about as slanderers—copper and iron. They are all of them ruinous. . . . Rejected silver is what people will certainly call them, for Jehovah has rejected them.”—Jer. 6:27-30; 9:4-8.
25. Why does a committee do well to investigate slander, but for what is it not Scripturally authorized to disfellowship?
25 Slanderers can cause a death, either physical or spiritual; for which reason the warning is given: “You must not go around among your people for the sake of slandering. You must not stand up against your fellow’s blood. I am Jehovah.” (Lev. 19:16) For this reason a service committee does well to investigate slander. But it is not Scripturally authorized to disfellowship for mere gossip that is light, trivial, superficial, motivated by human interest, but not malicious, not bringing false accusation.
26. To what action is disfellowshiping subject by the disfellowshiped, and what does the reversal of some judgments prove?
26 Disfellowshipings are subject to appeal by the ones disfellowshiped who persist in believing that the committee exceeded itself. Appeals have been made to the Society at Brooklyn and some disfellowshipings have been reversed. This fact proves that some committees have been too eager to excommunicate. Either they have not had the needed witnesses with substantial testimony or have magnified the wrongdoing out of all proportions and have disfellowshiped oppressively and on unscriptural grounds. Disfellowshiping is primarily to prevent the mass of the congregation from becoming leavened with sin by a little lump. (1 Cor. 5:6-8, 13) But remember, it has to do with the eternal life of the disfellowshiped person.
27. Since souls are being dealt with, how should a committee show balance in the matter of disfellowshiping?
27 Yes, souls, precious lives, are being dealt with. This makes the matter something very solemn and serious. Do not stumble an innocent brother with an undeserved disfellowshiping. Examine your hearts and your motives, plus God’s Word. Do not be disfellowshiping-happy, exercising a dreadful power just to show you can use it and trying to intimidate by threatening to use it unless—! Slave masters were instructed to be ‘letting up on threatening’ their Christian slaves. Love is described as a quality that “does not keep account of the injury.” (Eph. 6:9; 1 Cor. 13:4, 5) So we must keep “putting up with one another in love, earnestly endeavoring to observe the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:2, 3) So let committees walk with balance in this matter.
28. (a) In what way of walking do our wisdom and salvation lie? (b) How may we buy out the opportune time, and in harmony with what dominant fact today will this be?
28 Our wisdom and our salvation lie in that we all “keep strict watch” on how we walk, not to avoid disfellowshipment, but to please and glorify God and vindicate his universal kingship. The overshadowing fact of today, that God’s kingdom rules and therefore the old world’s end is near, this fact should dominate our lives. These days, though wicked, furnish us an opportunity, that of “buying out the opportune time” for ourselves. How? By no longer wasting time in walking unprofitably and unreasonably as the doomed worldlings do, but by walking wisely according to what we perceive to be Jehovah’s will. In that case we shall find ourselves in harmony with God’s kingdom by Christ, and we shall gain life in happiness in his righteous order of new heavens and a new earth.
a The Greek noun literally means “silly talk, foolery, nonsense,” and then came to mean a “gossiper, tattler, babbler.”
b The Greek verb literally means “to talk nonsense, to play the fool”; which is why Schonfield’s The Authentic New Testament (1955) renders the phrase here: “fooling me with worthless words.”