Keep Your Senses in All Things
“Keep your senses, be watchful.”—1 Pet. 5:8.
1. To what do many people turn to escape the problems of life, and with what results?
HOW refreshing it is to associate with persons who keep their senses and stay balanced in situations that create tension and pressure! Especially is this true today, with conditions such as they are throughout the world. Even in remote places people are being influenced by problems so staggering that world leaders despair of finding ways of coping with, much less conquering, them. Faced with these conditions, many persons have tried to forget them by turning to alcohol or drugs in an effort to dull their senses to the realities of life. But in so doing they merely create more problems for themselves.—Prov. 23:29-35.
2. What conditions that were coming upon first-century Christians required them to keep their senses, and how did Paul describe this?
2 In the first century, Christians, too, were beset by conditions that would ultimately test them to the very limit. Were they advised to dull their minds so that such would become more bearable? To the contrary, though it may have been unpleasant to face the prospects of persecution and considerable apostatizing from the faith, steadfast ones needed to know what was ahead so that they could successfully overcome it. Therefore, the overseer Timothy was straightforwardly warned of this incoming apostasy, by the apostle Paul, who said: “There will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled; and they will turn their ears away from the truth.” Owing to the imminence of that danger, the apostle declared further: “You, though, keep your senses [“be soberminded”—Kingdom Interlinear] in all things.” (2 Tim. 4:3-5) Being thus armed, Timothy would be able to counteract those subtle deceptions.
3. (a) Why is it urgent to keep one’s senses today? (b) As explained by Peter, why must elders be watchful, and why does Paul encourage wakefulness?
3 In the more than nineteen hundred years since Paul wrote those words, that apostasy has come to full flower and is identifiable as modern-day Christendom. Though Jehovah God has separated his true Christian congregation from her, there is still the same urgent need to keep one’s senses because her apostasy is nearing its zenith and is enveloping the entire earth. Furthermore, her hostility toward Christ’s true followers may, at any time, take the form of intense persecution, even as in the first century. Are congregation elders, therefore, spiritually strengthening their Christian associates to withstand such increased pressures and to remain loyal? It is with good reason that the apostle Peter admonished elders to “shepherd the flock of God in your care,” adding this warning: “Keep your senses, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” (1 Pet. 5:2, 8) The gravity of the danger from that adversary has increased during these times of worsening world conditions and must be viewed soberly lest the fast-moving times and rapidly changing world scene confuse us. It puts to the test the ability of elders to safeguard the Christian congregation with sensible, sound guidance. Neither is it a time for dullness of mind. Paul warned that “Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night” and then gave the exhortation not to “sleep on as the rest do, but . . . stay awake and keep [your] senses.” (1 Thess. 5:2, 6-9) What must you do, then, as an elder, to show that you have taken to heart the admonition to ‘keep your senses in all things’?
DEVELOPING A SOBER-MINDED VIEW OF RESPONSIBILITIES
4. In what ways must an elder ‘fully accomplish his ministry’?
4 That oft-repeated warning to “keep your senses” should alert elders to the need to keep in clear focus their many responsibilities if they, like Timothy, are to ‘accomplish their ministry’ fully. Personal preference might tend to make an elder “go overboard” and direct most of his attention to only one or two aspects of his overseership. Such, however, would not be a sound viewpoint. Rather, as he considers his available time, it should be with an eye to how he can apportion it so that he is able to care for family responsibilities, for shepherding, for teaching, and for preaching and disciple-making. To care for all of these successfully calls for clear thinking, balance and sensibleness so that due attention is given each one and none suffers neglect.
5. Should an elder who is a family man devote all his time to his family? Why?
5 Take, for example, an elder who is a family man. He certainly has strong reason to be sober-minded as he considers the severe tests and pressures that those close to him must face almost daily. For him to remain an elder he must show genuine concern for his own family and set a good example as a father before the congregation. Paul detailed the qualifications that the elder should meet, stating that he should be “a man presiding over his own household in a fine manner, having children in subjection with all seriousness.” (1 Tim. 3:4, 5) Nevertheless, if he spent all his time with his family he would not set a good example even to them. Why not? Because it would encourage them to develop a self-centered attitude, one of exclusiveness from others. Instead, they should be encouraged to show interest in others, both those in the congregation as well as persons in the world of mankind. They should be invited to share in proclaiming the wonderful hope of everlasting life, even as they had been given that hope. This broadened view, then, will instill in them a compassionate understanding of others and a fuller appreciation of the purpose of the Creator.
6. How should an elder view the need for taking in knowledge?
6 Similarly, elders should be “qualified to teach”; so they need to be serious students of God’s Word. (1 Tim. 3:2) Depending upon their education, the number of years they have been studying the Bible, and other factors, some may feel that they must devote a considerable portion of their time to study, to research in the Scriptures and to talk preparation. However, here again an elder can go to extremes unless he is careful to keep his other responsibilities in good focus. Paul points to subtle danger that can overtake those who give too much attention to knowledge, stating, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Cor. 8:1; 13:2) This is not to say that knowledge is not important, but, rather, that it needs love with it in order to accomplish something worth while. Love differs from knowledge in that it is expressed in activity and is not just inert data stored in the mind. Hence, an elder who ‘keeps his senses’ will combine study with ministering to his brothers and to those in the world of mankind; thus he will make good use of his knowledge.—1 John 3:18.
7. (a) How urgent is the work of shepherding? (b) How can an elder make sure that his love is complete?
7 Paul placed much emphasis upon shepherding, exhorting the Ephesian overseers to “shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.” (Acts 20:28) There is no doubt that this is an urgent work, in view of these dangerous times when the very lives of Christians may be at stake. (2 Tim. 4:2) Moreover, effective shepherding takes time. Many hours must be spent in preparing for meetings and talks, in visiting and encouraging those who need aid or who are ill. Yet this vital work, too, must be viewed in relationship to other aspects of an elder’s responsibilities. Jesus showed that, while love for one’s Christian brothers is a principal sign of true discipleship, it does not excuse his followers from extending love to those of the world of mankind. Indeed, their love would be incomplete unless it included even opposers, as Jesus states: “You heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you.” (Matt. 5:43-48) So, as important as shepherding is, it, too, must be balanced with the other responsibilities of an elder.
8. (a) What work reveals Jehovah’s love and compassion, and how do people become acquainted with this? (b) How only will our “fine works” glorify God?
8 One responsibility that the entire association of Christians can share in is the urgent one of preaching the good news and making disciples. (Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20) This work acquaints people with the love and compassion that Jehovah God has for mankind, a love so great “that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) If they are to receive the light of truth it will be from God’s servants that they will get it, for Jesus said of them: “You are the light of the world.” What are they to do with that light? Not hide it, but, he said, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matt. 5:14-16) “Fine works” identify individuals as fine people—works such as those that produce fine families and orderly homes, honest employees and congregations of Christians who have genuine love for one another. Yet, would most people ever see the real meaning of these “fine works” if we never spoke out the truth, preaching the good news from house to house? Likely they would view us only as ‘good people.’ If, however, we speak out, they will discern why it is that we are different, what it is that makes us fruitful in fine works, and then, instead of giving us the credit, they will ‘give glory to our Father who is in the heavens.’ Elders, especially, should sober-mindedly strive to share fully in declaring the good news and to ‘be examples to the flock’ in this, personally encouraging their brothers to join with them in this important work, even as the apostles shared in the preaching work.—Matt. 4:19, 20.
READJUSTING ERRING ONES
9. What balance approach governs the way elders will treat those who err?
9 In addition to the aforementioned responsibilities of elders, there are times when they must try to readjust those of their Christian brothers who err and come into sin. Here, again, they must strive to ‘keep their senses’ and take a balanced approach. It is not their responsibility, for instance, to take it upon themselves to try to live the lives of others. Nor should they make an issue out of a minor matter or impose some personal view or standard on others. Rather, Peter counseled: “Let none of you suffer . . . as a busybody in other people’s matters.” (1 Pet. 4:15) Nevertheless, they should be alert to the needs of their brothers and be ready to give them aid if it is needed.
10. (a) When dealing with erring ones, why is the elder’s attitude important? (b) How does the erring one who is treated with mildness differ from one who deserves a severe rebuke?
10 Additionally, their attitude toward erring ones is very important. Logically it should not be one that is harsh or scolding. Such an attitude may only drive a truly repentant one away, whereas kindness may assist in the recovery of even those who are somewhat stubborn. Note, please, the way that Paul advised treating erring ones: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.” (Gal. 6:1) So Paul makes the point that if an elder really wants to assist such a person, he should adopt a “spirit of mildness” as he lovingly endeavors to readjust his brother and win back his heart. The one Paul speaks of does not merit a severe rebuke such as those whom he called “unruly men, profitless talkers, and deceivers of the mind.” (Titus 1:10, 13) The one who will listen is not a hardened practicer of sin, but, rather, one who took a ‘false step before he was aware of it.’ So he does not deserve to be treated like an enemy. In truth, both he and the elder have a common enemy, Satan; so it would be wrong for an elder to add a crushing burden to one who is already remorseful over his sin. What should be hated is, not the erring one, but the wrong act he committed.—Jude 22, 23.
11. How does Paul illustrate the situation of the erring one, and what is needed to make plain his wrong course to him?
11 Illustrating the situation of the erring one for us, Paul likens him to a hapless animal caught in a hunter’s snare. However, this is no ordinary hunter; such ones get caught in “the snare of the Devil, seeing that they have been caught alive by him for the will of that one.” (2 Tim. 2:24-26) True, roughly jerking a trapped animal out of a snare might free it, but it would surely do it serious injury. Would it not be much better to use gentleness and mildness so that, when released, it can more easily heal from the wounds it has brought upon itself? Likewise, erring ones must be treated compassionately; however, also with a measure of firmness in order to make clear the danger of their wrong course. Such ones need to learn really to hate the wrong that they committed and to see how detestable it is. It is vital that they understand why Jehovah’s view of the matter is sound and for their good and happiness, and to cleave to his Word, even as it is written: “For the commandment is a lamp, and a light the law is, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.”—Prov. 6:23.
12. How could timidity in reproving or readjusting wrongdoers bring blood guiltiness upon elders?
12 Those elders who have genuine love for erring ones will never timidly hold back from giving needed reproof or readjusting erring ones. Instead, they will act in harmony with Proverbs 27:5, 6, which says: “Better is a revealed reproof than a concealed love. The wounds inflicted by a lover are faithful, but the kisses of a hater are things to be entreated.” (Prov. 27:5, 6) In fact, failure on the part of an elder to give due warning or correction, when it is evident that a wrong course is being pursued, could lead to bloodguiltiness on his part. Paul made sure that no stain would come upon him, and so he fearlessly discharged his commission, saying: “I call you to witness this very day that I am clean from the blood of all men, for I have not held back from telling you all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:26, 27) If, like Paul, elders keep their senses and courageously shoulder their responsibilities, they will see lasting good come to those whom they have helped to recover from a wayward course.
NOT SIDESTEPPING RESPONSIBILITIES IN MAKING DECISIONS
13. What is the source of the responsibility laid on elders, and why are they qualified to make right decisions?
13 From what we have just discussed it is apparent that elders may at times find it necessary to make serious decisions, some even affecting, perhaps, the lives of their brothers. This weighty responsibility to act as overseers and shepherds comes from no earthly source but is conferred upon them by God’s holy spirit, making them his representatives. Paul explained it to the elders in the Ephesus congregation in this way: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God.” (Acts 20:28) So, like Timothy, they should view themselves as responsible to God and to Christ to carry out the work that has been assigned to them. (2 Tim. 4:1, 2) In most situations elders are well qualified to make right decisions, because Jehovah God has given them a spirit of “power and of love and of soundness of mind.” (2 Tim. 1:7) They are given “power,” or ability, so that they will be able to use the spiritual gifts they possess. They have the ‘spirit of love’ so that they will aid others with the proper motivation, and with “soundness of mind” they are guided in the proper direction as they strive to carry out their responsibilities.
14. (a) Explain why many matters must often be referred back to local elders for decisions. (b) How can elders prepare themselves to handle matters locally, and to whom can they turn for assistance?
14 Despite this help from God and his written Word, occasionally elders ask the Watch Tower Society’s branch office or the governing body to make decisions for them, such as those relating to the recommendation for appointment as elders and similar matters. Despite a willingness and sincere desire on the part of the branch office to help, often the matter must be referred back to the elders who have the facts, to make the recommendation themselves. The elders can ask questions, get answers, get more facts relating to the matter in question, if necessary, before making a final decision. Neither are they at a disadvantage spiritually speaking. Besides, they have the responsibility from God to make such decisions and not unnecessarily place it upon others. So they should prepare themselves by study and prayer to make right decisions in harmony with the will of God. Paul emphasized to Timothy the need for wholehearted reliance upon the Scriptures, since they are “inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” If the elder based his decisions upon them, he would prove himself a man of God “fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) The assistance of other elders, too, may prove helpful. The Bible states that “there is a frustrating of plans where there is no confidential talk, but in the multitude of counselors there is accomplishment.” (Prov. 15:22) If the circuit or district overseer is visiting the congregation, this overseer too may be consulted.
15. When should matters be referred to the Society’s branch office by elders?
15 If, however, after a thorough study has been made and the Scriptures have been carefully searched, no answer to a particular matter or problem is found, what course should the elders take? Surely it would be most unwise for them to proceed independently to decide the matter, perhaps guessing at the answer or just making an arbitrary decision based upon their own judgment. Rather, in such a case their best recourse is to communicate with the Society’s branch office that cares for their country and ask it for assistance.
16. What principle should be followed when elders must deal with those who are popular, respected or influential?
16 Never should elders fail to take action because of the fear of man. It may be true that at times they will have to deal with some who are popular or respected or influential. However, this should not influence their decisions in favor of that person. The standard of God’s Word is very plain in this regard. It states: “You people must not do injustice in the judgment. You must not treat the lowly with partiality, and you must not prefer the person of a great one. With justice you should judge your associate.” (Lev. 19:15; Jas. 2:1-9) From this it is very evident that a show of favoritism is unjust and violates the law of God.
BASE YOUR DECISIONS ON THE BIBLE
17. How can elders demonstrate deep respect for the Scriptures?
17 Above all else, elders should demonstrate a deep respect for the Word of God by basing all their counsel on it. (2 Tim. 2:15) This means that they will studiously avoid expressing their own ideas as the authority on matters but, instead, faithfully pass on the teaching they have received from the Scriptures and from Jehovah’s servant class, the “faithful and discreet slave.” (Matt. 24:45; 1 Tim. 4:6, 16) Their Christian brothers should recognize, too, that elders do not merely talk about the Bible, but are living examples of the power of God’s Word as demonstrated by the application of godly principles in their lives. This will help the entire association of Christians to appreciate the guidance and direction of the elders and to imitate their example of faith.—Heb. 13:7.
18. Who, besides elders, must keep their senses, and with what assured expectation in view?
18 Finally it must be remembered that all servants of God need to ‘keep their senses,’ not elders only, because every one of us must face the same dangers from the world. The critical conditions of today are bringing real tests of faith on each Christian. Most assuredly it is a time for sober thinking, a time to develop a clear view of matters in the light of God’s Word, so that each of us will be able to make wise decisions. Only in this way can we all together aid one another to “stay awake and keep our senses” so that Jehovah’s day of judgment does not catch us as a thief. Then, as “sons of light and sons of day,” we will be preserved through the coming world destruction and enter the new order of God’s making to His eternal praise and our everlasting salvation!—1 Thess. 5:5, 6.
[Pictures on page 369]
An elder needs to apportion his time to be able to care for family responsibilities . . .
. . . for preparing talks and personal study
[Pictures on page 370]
Shepherding calls are part of an elder’s responsibility . . .
. . . and so is sharing in field service