A Test of Humility
HUMILITY is a quality that the Sovereign of the universe, Jehovah God, looks for in those whom he honors by use in his service. The Bible tells us: “God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.”—Jas. 4:6.
Though supreme, Jehovah God is humble. How can this be? God’s being humble, of course, does not mean that he submits himself to others. Rather it means he is ever ready and willing to exercise mercy toward lowly sinners who sincerely desire his approval. One who appreciated this was King David. After Jehovah rescued him from his enemies, David sang: “You will give me your shield of salvation, and it is your humility that makes me great.” (2 Sam. 22:36) Yes, humbly Jehovah condescended to come to the aid of an imperfect (though right-hearted) man, David, and thereby made him great.
God’s firstborn Son, Jesus Christ, also reflected humility. (Phil. 2:5-8) As a perfect man, he was never overcritical or arrogant toward the sinful persons among whom he lived and worked. Pity and compassion moved him to help others spiritually and physically.—Matt. 9:36.
Like Jesus Christ, millions of faithful angels have shown humility in both attitude and action. The angel used in conveying a prophetic revelation to the apostle John humbly acknowledged: “All I am is a fellow slave of you and of your brothers.” (Rev. 22:9) And of angels as a whole, Jesus said: “Joy arises among the angels of God over one sinner that repents.” (Luke 15:10) This joy is indeed an evidence of great humility. How so?
Well, back there in the first century C.E. repentant sinners came in line for membership in the heavenly kingdom. All who thereafter proved themselves faithful to the very death were to be associate king-priests with the Lord Jesus Christ, attaining a position higher than that of the angels. (1 Cor. 6:2, 3; 2 Tim. 2:11, 12; Rev. 20:6) Yet the angels did not feel slighted because of not having been chosen by Jehovah God despite their record of loyal service dating from long before man was even created. No, they rejoiced, appreciating that what these humans had faced and overcome equipped them to serve as sympathetic and merciful kings and priests.—Compare Hebrews 4:14-16.
So appreciative are the angels of the rightness and righteousness of Jehovah’s arrangement that they humbly minister to the prospective Kingdom heirs on earth. Says Hebrews 1:14: “Are they not all spirits for public service, sent forth to minister for those who are going to inherit salvation?” They set a fine example.
A TEST FOR THOSE NOT APPOINTED AS ELDERS
As imperfect humans, we are prone to think more of ourselves than we really should. So we must put forth effort to imitate the humility of Jehovah God and of his angelic sons, including Jesus Christ. At times developments within the congregations of God’s people put the humility of many to the test. Especially is this the case when men are appointed to serve in special capacities. For example, some, though not appointed as elders, may feel that they should be looked to as teachers in the congregation.
Even in the first century C.E. certain Christians reasoned that way. Evidently addressing himself to such men, the disciple James stated: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers; you should realize that those of us who do so will be called to the stricter account.”—Jas. 3:1, New American Bible.
It is sobering indeed to consider that, in the accomplishment of their work, elders have greater accountability than Christians generally. (Luke 12:48) This matter of being “called to the stricter account” is not an easy thing for elders. They, like their Christian brothers, are imperfect men. The disciple James acknowledged: “We all stumble many times.”—Jas. 3:2.
The imperfections of elders are often revealed to a greater degree than those of other members of the congregation. Why is this? It is because elders are constantly before the congregation, teaching, exhorting and reproving. Their actions come under close scrutiny by members of the congregation, for the elders are looked to as examples in proper Christian conduct.
A man who is not an appointed elder but believes that he should be one does well to reflect seriously on what James wrote. He could ask himself: Why do I want to be an elder? Is it because I want to expend myself in behalf of my brothers? Is my motive wholly an unselfish one or do I desire the prominence that is associated with one who is a teacher of fellow believers? Am I really in position to render a more serious account than other members of the congregation? Do I have the wisdom and insight to judge matters affecting people’s lives? Can I give sound Scriptural counsel that would truly aid others in solving personal and family problems?
Aware of their limitations in at least some of these respects, many Christian men recognize that they do not qualify as elders. They rejoice that responsible brothers having the needed spiritual qualifications put loyalty to Jehovah above personal friendship and therefore did not recommend them for the position of elder. Such appreciative men realize that they have not been hurt by this. There is nothing to prevent them from sharing fully in the work of preaching and teaching Bible truth to outsiders, loyally supporting those who are elders in the congregation in the accomplishment of their work, cultivating the fruitage of God’s spirit in fuller measure, and doing good toward their Christian brothers. And are these not the things that make a Christian’s life rich and meaningful? Surely they are.
These humble brothers know that they can continue to work toward being elders, not for self-glorification, but to the blessing of fellow believers. They may even approach elders in the congregation, asking what they might do to improve in areas where they do not quite measure up to the Scriptural requirements for elders.
If a brother tends to be “pushy” and competitive, trying to impress others with his abilities, he should first strive to cultivate greater humility. As the disciple James counseled: “Let his right conduct give practical proof of it, with the modesty that comes of wisdom. But if you are harbouring bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, consider whether your claims are not false, and a defiance of the truth.” (Jas. 3:13, 14, New English Bible) Not showy display, but humility and modesty are characteristic of the possessor of true wisdom. Men who have bitter jealousies and are contentious have no basis for boasting about their being qualified to teach their brothers. Their claims would defy the truth about the matter.
A TEST AFFECTING APPOINTED ELDERS
The test of humility also includes those who are appointed as elders. Many of these men have served as presiding ministers for a number of years. They were looked to as the “number one” man in the congregation. Often theirs was the deciding voice in accepting or rejecting suggestions. How do they feel about relinquishing the chairmanship of the body of elders to someone else? Are they fearful that things will not go as well? Are they willing to give due consideration to the suggestions of others? Or do they, because of their past experience, tend to override the suggestions of others?
Former presiding ministers with the right attitude appreciate that Jehovah’s arrangement is always best. They earnestly desire to handle matters in harmony with the apostle Paul’s counsel to ‘consider that others of God’s servants are superior to themselves.’ (Phil. 2:3) With due modesty, they acknowledge that others are superior to themselves in certain qualities. Some brothers are outstanding in their display of empathy, kindness, friendliness and generosity. Others have an excellent grasp of the Scriptures and are able to apply them effectively when problems arise. Still others possess remarkable zeal, enthusiasm and drive. Truly, no one man has all the desirable qualities in complete balance. So these humble former presiding ministers rejoice at the enriching effect the rotation of the chairmanship accomplishes on behalf of all in the congregation.—Compare 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.
The brothers appointed to serve as new chairmen or presiding ministers in rotation also have their humility put to the test. Will they now try to impress or superimpose their image on the congregation, changing matters to suit their personal tastes? Not if they are truly humble and modest. They recognize that their appointment does not make them the most prominent man in the congregation. They do not have all the answers. They are simply one member of the “body of elders.” They need the balancing effect of the other brothers. It is just as Proverbs 15:22 says: “In the multitude of counselors there is accomplishment.” Yes, a body of elders, functioning as a united whole, can reflect the beauty of godly qualities in a way that no one man ever could. That means that every elder must feel free to express himself and initiate suggestions or recommendations for the other elders to consider.
A TEST OF HUMILITY FOR CHRISTIAN YOUTHS
The young men in their late teens or early twenties likewise face a test of humility. Some of them have fine abilities and are able to express themselves well. But they lack the wisdom and experience needed by those who teach, exhort, reprove and judge matters of a very serious nature within the congregation of God’s people. Not even being used as ministerial servants, some brothers in their late teens may feel that there is nothing for them to do. How can such young men preserve the right view of Jehovah’s arrangement?
They would do well to consider the many things they can do in serving Jehovah and their brothers. Usually being free from family responsibilities, they can devote more time to studying and meditating on God’s Word. Thus they can build up an excellent fund of knowledge, and that will be most helpful to them whenever they do qualify to serve as elders. There is no limit placed on what young men can do in proclaiming the good news to others. They can also offer their talents and abilities in helping elders and ministerial servants to accomplish their work. By proving themselves to be cooperative, dependable, considerate, fully devoted to Jehovah’s service, they gain the respect and confidence of the entire congregation. (Acts 16:1, 2) Also it becomes clear to the entire body of elders that such young men are manifesting the qualities looked for in men who might in time be used as ministerial servants.
It is good for young men to remember that, under the Scriptural arrangement, not just some, but all of the brothers in a congregation who measure up to the needed qualifications, can be appointed as ministerial servants or as elders. Obviously, however, unless teen-agers put forth real effort to develop fine Christian qualities they will not have them when they are older. Youth provides a fine opportunity to work toward acquiring the qualities that will prove to be a blessing and source of encouragement to fellow believers.
Young men can greatly profit from associating with those who are elders and other older persons who manifest fine Christian qualities. Says Proverbs 13:20: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise.” While a young man may have to wait a while before he is appointed as a ministerial servant and eventually as an elder, this should be no cause for disturbance. It is much better to serve after one has a good background in the Scriptures and experience in life. Do not our brothers deserve the best in the way of Scriptural counsel and teaching? Certainly we would not want them to receive inferior shepherding simply in order that we might gain personally.
A TEST OF HUMILITY FOR EVERYONE
When we think about it, really the God-ordained arrangement in the congregations of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses tests the humility of all associated. The elders must be humble to heed the inspired command: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly; neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.” (1 Pet. 5:2, 3) It also requires humility for all the other members of the congregation to cooperate with the elders, supporting their decisions and assisting them in the accomplishment of their vital work. This is in harmony with the Bible’s admonition: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.”—Heb. 13:17.
True, the elders are imperfect men. They make mistakes. But if perfect, angelic sons of God are willing to minister to their needs and ours, surely all of us should humbly want to submit to Jehovah’s arrangement. Our cooperating with these men can contribute much to our happiness and welfare. So may all of us bend every effort to pass the test of humility with success, to the glory of our humble heavenly Father, Jehovah God.