A Provision for Spiritual Help in Times of Need
WHEN storm winds rage and torrents of rain descend, is it not comforting to be in a place of shelter and security? Or when the sun scorches the earth, is it not refreshing and life-sustaining to be in an oasis where water and shade are plentiful?
In a similar way, the Christian congregation today is a place where one can find comfort and encouragement. Long ago it was foretold that in these very distressing times those in responsible positions in God’s visible organization would be like a hiding place from storms and like an oasis in time of drought. Of the mature men taking the lead in the Christian congregation, the prophet Isaiah foretold: “Each one must prove to be like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.”—Isa. 32:2.
This protective helpfulness is manifested by such mature Christian servants in the congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses, not only when individually offering assistance to others, but also when matters of serious concern require that several of them meet together as a committee to give attention to a situation. Such a committee is usually made up of the overseer, or congregation servant, the assistant congregation servant and the Bible study servant, or it may include some other mature Christian brother.
RIGHT VIEW OF COMMITTEE
It is important for those in the congregation to appreciate why this congregation committee exists. These men should not be viewed as spiritual policemen to be feared. True, the overseer and the two other brothers on the committee watch out for the spiritual welfare of the sheeplike ones in their care, but they are to do so as loving shepherds, tenderly, and not in an arbitrary and dictatorial manner. They are not bosses, but are servants.
Jesus himself set the proper pattern for servants of God, particularly those with the heaviest responsibilities in regard to the congregation, in conduct toward their brothers. He said to his disciples: “You know that those who appear to be ruling the nations lord it over them and their great ones wield authority over them. This is not the way among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all.”—Mark 10:42-44.
To demonstrate this, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, thereby setting them an example of humility. Followers of Christ today, particularly the congregation committee, must cultivate such humility. In this regard the apostle Peter said: “Gird yourselves with lowliness of mind toward one another, because God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”—1 Pet. 5:5, 6; John 13:1-17.
With the congregation committee’s having such a proper viewpoint of their relationship to the brothers, each one in the congregation can feel that these servants are there for the assistance of any who want to consult them. They will not feel that these responsible brothers are trying to expose their shortcomings. The opposite is true. They are looking for opportunities to help, and particularly is this so in relation to those who may be experiencing difficulties.
THOSE EXPERIENCING DIFFICULTIES
At times a Christian may commit an act that plagues his conscience. It may not have been premeditated, but he may have been overcome by temptation. When such difficulty occurs, he will want to talk to a mature brother in the congregation, and this is in harmony with the Bible’s counsel: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to restore such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted. Go on carrying the burdens of one another, and thus fulfill the law of the Christ.”—Gal. 6:1, 2.
So it is a good thing for a person who has a serious problem to approach a mature brother, one who has spiritual qualifications, and seek his help. That mature brother could be the congregation overseer or one of the other members of the committee. Additionally, in some places, there are other men of comparable maturity in the congregation, and they too may be approached with confidence when one is in need of help. This does not mean one is obligated to go regularly to another person in the congregation and confess every little mistake he makes. All are imperfect and fall short of God’s standard of righteousness. As the apostle Paul stated it: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) That is why Jesus, in teaching his followers how to pray, told them to include in their petition to God this thought: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”—Matt. 6:12.
However, when more serious difficulties arise, then it is time to seek the counsel of a mature brother. Jehovah God, who knows our weaknesses, has for this reason lovingly arranged for us to have help from our brothers when we need it the most. Note what James 5:14-16 states in connection with this: “Is there anyone [spiritually] sick among you? Let him call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, greasing him with oil in the name of Jehovah. And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him. Therefore openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed. A righteous man’s supplication, when it is at work, has much force.”
The assistance mature men can render is a provision that Jehovah has made for our good, and not just an arrangement whereby certain ones are appointed to check up on what everyone else does. Obviously, when a person commits grievous sins it is evidence of spiritual weakness. A person in this position needs help to overcome his difficulties, and is wise if he asks for that help.
There is grave danger in not asking for assistance. If a person in difficulty fails to do so, he may just find that he will become habituated in a course of sin until he becomes irreformable or, even if he does not repeat the wrong, he may draw away from association with Jehovah’s organization for fear that someone may learn of his wrong act. How much better for the erring one to acknowledge humbly that there are times when we need help and so avail himself of the loving provision Jehovah has made.
Remember what is recorded at Proverbs 28:13: “He that is covering over his transgressions will not succeed, but he that is confessing and leaving them will be shown mercy.” So if someone has fallen into sinful conduct and is really sorry about it, he shows that, not by covering over his transgression, but by confessing it, seeking help, and thereafter carefully avoiding the circumstances that might lead to a repetition of the wrong.
NOTIFYING THE COMMITTEE
Is it necessary, where an erring one seeks the counsel of a mature individual, to inform the entire committee of every case of wrongdoing? In this regard it is good to keep in mind that the members of the committee are not assigned to check up on everything we do. They simply want to help our brothers walk in the way that merits Jehovah’s smile of approval.
So if a brother or a sister in the congregation approaches a brother who he feels will be able to assist him spiritually, that brother will usually be glad he can be of help. If he is really a brother with “spiritual qualifications,” of course, he is not simply going to tell the wrongdoer to forget about his unchristian deeds. He will look for evidence that the wrongdoer is sincerely and humbly repentant and will help him take whatever steps are necessary to make amends for the wrong committed. In some such cases the brother may feel that the counsel he is able to offer from God’s Word satisfies the needs of the case and is sufficient to “restore such a man.” If so, the matter can be kept between just the two of them. There is no need to take it farther.
Of course, if it should come to light, in the course of such discussion, that a wrong of the type mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:11 has been committed repeatedly, it ought to be brought to the attention of the congregation committee. Such repeated sin is a serious matter, but if the wrongdoer himself has voluntarily confessed and sincerely wants to do what is right in Jehovah’s eyes, it may be that he can be helped.
Certain other cases that may not involve repetition of a sin should also be brought to the attention of the committee, and this is true even though needed counsel and aid toward spiritual restoration has been provided. These include cases of sexual immorality involving other persons, whether committed by adults or dedicated and baptized minors, and other serious wrongdoing that has become public knowledge or that may readily become a matter of discussion in the congregation.
But when serious matters are taken to the congregation committee, does this necessarily mean that a person can then expect to be excommunicated from the Christian congregation? No, it does not mean that at all. The committee is there to help those who want to serve Jehovah. Let us not forget that James chapter five states that anyone who is spiritually sick should call the older men of the congregation to help him. With what results? Were they going to whip him? No, they would apply to him the beneficial counsel of God’s Word. They would pray over him. And if he had committed sins and was truly repentant, why, the scripture said that these would be forgiven him.
However, if these representative members of the congregation are going to extend mercy to one who has committed a serious sin, they have to do so in harmony with God’s written Word. It is not simply a matter of showing him mercy because they feel sorry for him. They must ascertain that there is a basis for mercy, that the individual is truly repentant. If the wrongdoer is sorry only because someone found out about his wrong, and not sorry over the wrongdoing itself, or if he is indifferent or seeks to justify himself, then, of course, he is not truly repentant and God will not forgive him. The committee would not be authorized by God’s Word to extend mercy to such an unforgiven person.
The action taken by the committee, which must be determined after prayerful consideration, depends greatly on the circumstances. It may be that in some cases good Scriptural counsel will suffice. On the other hand, if the wrong committed was serious, it probably would be wise not to have that person on the platform to instruct others in the congregation, at least for a suitable period of time. This gives the wrongdoer opportunity to supply proof of his repentance over a period of time and also affords the mature brothers opportunity to strengthen him spiritually.
If the wrong committed was not a public scandal, but serious enough to require discipline, then the erring one can be placed on a probation that is not announced to the congregation. During this time, usually one year, he should be given regular spiritual assistance to overcome his difficulty. Then the probation is lifted, again without announcement to the congregation. What a loving provision of God for truly repentant ones who fall into serious wrongdoing!
If the sin was grievous and a public scandal, then where mercy is shown, a probation period is again imposed, but this time it is announced to the congregation. Yet in this case, as in an unannounced probation, there is a loving effort to help the erring one.
However, there are some people who have come into Jehovah’s clean organization and have been baptized who prove in course of time that they are not really Christians. They like the association of Jehovah’s witnesses because they find them to be a very trusting people, and they take advantage of this for evil ends. Concerning people of that sort the disciple Jude wrote, in Jude verse 4 of his letter: “Certain men have slipped in who have long ago been appointed by the Scriptures to this judgment, ungodly men, turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct and proving false to our only Owner and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
When a person manifests that he is of that type, a deliberate wrongdoer, whether he has committed a serious wrong once or repeatedly, then he has no business in the theocratic organization. He ought to be exposed, and it is the responsibility of the congregation committee to disfellowship him.—1 Cor. 5:11, 13.
From all the various types of problems that may come to the attention of the congregation committee, it is evident that they occupy a place of great responsibility, one that takes spiritual strength. But it is also a great privilege to be able to serve their brothers, and “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving,” Jesus said. (Acts 20:35) How true this is when helpful counsel assists erring ones to see their responsibilities to Jehovah more correctly and to carry them out!
When persons are aided to do the will of God correctly and come to realize the marvelous arrangement Jehovah has made to give them uplift and comfort through the congregation, they will agree that such “gifts in men” are indeed “a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.”—Eph. 4:8, 11, 12; Isa. 32:1, 2.