Loving Oversight Builds Up
“But speaking the truth, let us by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ.”—Eph. 4:15.
1. How do the Scriptures describe the Christian congregation and its overseers?
AS WE approach the “great tribulation,” our appreciation of the Christian congregation continues to deepen. The apostle Paul described this congregation of the living God as a “pillar and support of the truth.” He spoke also of “pillars” in reference to certain overseers of the congregation who were appointed by holy spirit “to shepherd the congregation of God.” Likewise, in the Christian congregation today, overseers are appointed theocratically for building it up in love.—1 Tim. 3:15; Gal. 2:9; Acts 20:28.
2, 3. (a) What “gifts” did Christ give to the congregation, and for what purpose? (b) What fine example should overseers try to follow?
2 “And [Christ] gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, for the building up of the body of the Christ, until we all attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ; in order that we should no longer be babes, tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in contriving error.”—Eph. 4:11-14.
3 Though we may not have the “apostles” and “prophets” who served by special assignment in the early congregation, yet ‘evangelizers, shepherds and teachers’ are still appointed by holy spirit to take the lead in God’s service. What a fine example these have in Jehovah himself, “the shepherd and overseer of [our] souls”! (1 Pet. 2:25) How tenderly he leads the sheep in “tracks of righteousness for his name’s sake”! (Ps. 23:1-6) How kindly and understandingly he cares for the sheep! “For this is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said: ‘Here I am, I myself, and I will search for my sheep and care for them. . . . In a good pasturage I shall feed them. . . . The lost one I shall search for, and the dispersed one I shall bring back, and the broken one I shall bandage and the ailing one I shall strengthen.’” (Ezek. 34:11-16) Jehovah sees to it that all the “sheep” are taught through his wifelike organization, their “mother,” so that they may have abundant peace and be firmly established in righteousness.—Isa. 54:13, 14; Gal. 4:26.
4. What has resulted from the “readjustment of the holy ones”?
4 “Readjustment of the holy ones” has progressed over the years. As the light of understanding shines ever brighter, old ideas have been replaced. Now, in these 1970’s, it can truly be said that “the day is firmly established” among Jehovah’s people and that the congregation is “full-grown.” The flock of God world wide is united in a “oneness in the faith” that stands in clear contrast to the divisions in worldly Babylonish religions, particularly those of Christendom. Never has such a unity been seen over the face of this earth as that now to be found in every land among the Christian witnesses of Jehovah. United in speaking Bible truth and in the bond of love, they are unaffected by the tempestuous ‘winds of teaching’ that now afflict Christendom. They have been diligent to follow through on Paul’s admonition: “Speaking the truth, let us by love grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ.”—Eph. 4:15; Prov. 4:18.
5, 6. (a) What questions are appropriate as to the elder arrangement? (b) How should we regard this arrangement?
5 In recent years we have gained deeper appreciation of the divine arrangement for appointing elders in each congregation. This is for our blessing. However, do all fully realize this? Are some still inclined to view the elders from a mere human, fleshly viewpoint? Are some reluctant to discuss pressing personal problems with an elder? Do some question the ability of an elder in their own congregation to understand their problem and give appropriate Scriptural advice? Do they feel that the only solution is to write to the Watch Tower Society? Of course, the Society and the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses are glad to help where they can. But remember that the elders, appointed by holy spirit, are the Governing Body’s representatives on the spot, in a position to consider all factors.
6 We should never slight the elder arrangement. It is a loving arrangement of Jehovah that elders ‘keep watch over our souls.’—Heb. 13:17; Ps. 19:7-9.
7. (a) What “burdens” may we carry for one another? (b) What is the “load” that each must carry individually?
7 In this respect, it is profitable for us to examine Paul’s words at Galatians 6:2, 5: “Go on carrying the burdens of one another,” and, “Each one will carry his own load.” Is this a contradiction? No, for there is a difference between a “burden” and a “load.” The Greek word for “burden” is baʹros, which always has reference to something burdensome and heavy. Thus, if a Christian gets into some spiritual difficulty that is hard for him to bear, loving fellow believers should “fulfill the law of the Christ” by extending a helping hand. Elders, especially, should help out. The ‘burdened’ one should not hesitate to seek such help. But at the same time he must “carry his own load.” Here Paul uses the Greek word phor·tiʹon, signifying something to be carried, without any reference to its weight. It is a “load” that we all have to shoulder, regardless of circumstances—our own load of responsibility to prove faithful as a dedicated slave of Jehovah God.—Gal. 6:4; 2 Cor. 10:12.
8, 9. To what extent may elders help in ‘carrying your burdens’?
8 If you need help in ‘carrying your burdens’ do not hesitate to seek help and counsel from the elders. They will be happy to assist to the extent possible. However, you should not expect the elders to make decisions for you. Decisions are your own personal “load,” your responsibility. It is not proper or fair to ask an elder: What would you do if you were in my position? He is not in your position. But he will be glad to review scriptures with you and to help you to weigh matters in the light of Bible principles. (Prov. 11:14) Often the answer to a question or problem becomes clear on talking it over with someone who has a good background in Bible knowledge and practical experience. It can aid you to make your own decision.—Prov. 15:22.
9 Elders can help in many ways. How?
WHEN PERSONAL AND FAMILY PROBLEMS ARISE
10. (a) What is the wise course if you are unable to overcome some persistent weakness? (b) What is indicated by ‘greasing with oil,’ and who can best help in this regard?
10 Are you battling with a weakness that persists despite conscientious efforts to cope with it? James 5:13-15 counsels: “Is there anyone suffering evil among you? Let him carry on prayer. . . . 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.” As the applying of literal oil to one’s head is soothing and refreshing, so also is the application of God’s Word to a spiritually sick person to soothe, correct, comfort and heal him. (Ps. 141:5; Isa. 1:6) No one can help better in this respect than an understanding elder.
11. How many some find aid in gaining a clear conscience?
11 Is there any wrongdoing in the past that causes you grief, shame and doubts about Jehovah’s having forgiven you? An elder can help you to examine your changed course and attitude to see if there is any real reason not to believe that Jehovah has forgiven you. Remember how Nathan, a prophet and no doubt an elder in Israel, was used by Jehovah in creating in King David ‘a pure heart and a new spirit.’ (2 Sam. 12:1-13; Psalm 51) As in David’s case, you can be confident that sincere prayers of repentance will be heard by Jehovah. Having repented and turned around, you can go forward with a clear conscience, appreciative of Jehovah’s mercy.—Ps. 86:15-17; Acts 3:19, 20.
12. How, perhaps can elders assist with health problems?
12 Are you discouraged over a health problem? An elder cannot cure miraculously, but he can offer warm encouragement and perhaps practical suggestions to help you to endure and keep joyful. Talk to him about it. Those “presiding . . . in the Lord” are the ones who are to take the lead in speaking “consolingly to the depressed souls.” The elders are the ones who can help to “strengthen the weak hands . . . and make the knees that are wobbling firm,” and can “say to those who are anxious at heart: ‘Be strong. Do not be afraid.’” Elders certainly can help to sustain you spiritually.—1 Thess. 5:12, 14; Isa. 35:3, 4.
13-15. What practical assistance may elders give with respect to: (a) domestic problems, (b) personal misunderstandings?
13 Do you have a domestic problem, perhaps with an unbelieving mate? No doubt you are familiar with the Scriptural counsel, such as 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 and; 1 Peter 3:1-9. But you wonder, How can I apply the Scriptures for better success? An elder may be able to offer the practical advice that you need. He may be able to visit when you are both at home together, and to help in breaking down the tensions, giving workable suggestions for improving relationships.
14 Oftentimes, the unbelieving mate has been barraged with negative talk about Jehovah’s Witnesses from workmates or relatives—on neutrality, blood, “holiday” or image-worship issues. In an understanding way, an elder can explain how everything ties in to the main positive issue of the Kingdom, which brings enduring happiness and peace, “satisfying the desire of every living thing.”—Ps. 145:9-16.
15 Have you had a personal misunderstanding with someone, causing hurt feelings, so that reconciliation has been difficult? Perhaps you have had a problem in trying to apply the good advice of Ephesians 4:26, 32. If you talk to an elder about it, he may be able to help you to overlook the offense. If advisable, he may arrange to talk with both of you, assisting you to find a solution by applying Bible principles.—Ps. 119:97; 133:1.
16. How may elders help shy persons?
16 Are you extremely shy, having a problem in conversing with and enjoying association with others? If you ask an elder, he may be able to help you to take the initiative more in speaking to others. Perhaps he can show you how to find real joy in your associations at the meetings, as well as at other times. “A joyful heart has a good effect on the countenance,” and as your own countenance brightens up you will experience more and more the joy of friendships among Jehovah’s own people. (Prov. 15:13) Elders, you can take the initiative in aiding shy persons to become more outgoing.—John 13:34, 35; Phil. 2:4.
ASSISTING ALL IN FIELD SERVICE
17. In what ways may elders assist in ‘readjusting’ with regard to problems encountered in the evangelizing work?
17 According to Ephesians 4:8, 11, “evangelizers” are included among Christ’s “gifts in men.” Truly, in their capacity as evangelizers, elders are privileged not only to set a zealous example in proclaiming the Kingdom, but also to help their brothers and sisters to develop abilities in this service. Already, some may be zealous in distributing magazines and literature from door to door. Others may have aptitude for re-visiting interested persons and starting new studies. Others may excel in teaching at Bible studies and in directing new ones to the meetings. Elders can help in training Kingdom proclaimers to widen out their activity and to become proficient in other fields. They can help members of the flock to fight discouragement due to difficult territory, or when hard problems of life interfere with their service.—Isa. 32:1, 2.
18. What attitude and confidence should elders encourage?
18 Elders can give practical instruction on preparation for field work, perhaps rehearsing Bible sermons together with new ones. They can encourage a healthy attitude toward Jehovah’s service. Distributing much literature in the field does not always indicate success, for it is desirable, also, to start Bible studies and to teach well with a view to making disciples. (Matt. 28:19) Elders can encourage one and all to continued diligence in ‘preaching the good news’ and to watchfulness in view of the great urgency of the times. (Mark 13:10, 32-37) As elders and all others of the flock work hard in the field service, we can be confident of angelic direction and of Jehovah’s blessing in gathering in “those who belong to him.”—2 Tim. 2:19; Matt. 25:31-33; Mark 4:3-8.
19. How may elders encourage prospective and present pioneers?
19 Are you desirous of expanding your privileges, perhaps to become a full-time “pioneer” proclaimer of the good news or a “temporary pioneer”? Here, again, an elder can help you with practical suggestions. From experience, he is usually familiar with the adjustments that must be made, the problems that must be faced and the kind of schedule that must be worked out. The elders can help to make arrangements for you to work with other full-time publishers of the Kingdom. Your service with these can build you up, and all of you can rejoice together as you have good success.—1 Tim. 4:15.
WHEN YOU HAVE BIBLE QUESTIONS
20. Of what service may elders be in finding answers to Bible questions?
20 Do you have difficulty in finding the answers to Bible questions? Elders may be able to show you how to make effective use of the Watch Tower Publications Indexes. Or if the Indexes are not available in your language, elders can show you other practical ways of searching out the answers. In many cases, an elder may be able to direct you straight to the scripture you want. If you seek an elder’s assistance first, it will rarely be necessary for you to write to the Watch Tower Society for an answer.—John 5:39; Acts 17:11.
21, 22. (a) What questions are best left alone? (b) Give examples of questions that could provide a basis for building faith.
21 However, there are some questions that are best left alone. Speculative inquiries merely “furnish questions for research rather than a dispensing of anything by God in connection with faith.” (1 Tim. 1:4) In building faith, what value is there in presenting elders or the Society with such problems as: What if Adam had eaten of the tree of life before he was driven out of Eden? What would Jehovah have done if Jesus had not proved faithful while on earth? Will some form of money be used in the New Order, and what about machinery, cars, television and computers? Would the water canopy around the earth have fallen if Adam had not sinned? How fast do angels travel, and how long does it take a spirit creature to travel from heaven to earth?
22 Rather, those humbly seeking the truth will be asking questions of the kind that sincere truth-seekers inquired of Jesus.—Matt. 9:14; 13:10; Mark 9:11; 10:9, 10; John 3:4; 16:17, 18; Acts 1:6.
RESPOND TO ELDERS’ COUNSEL
23. (a) What motivates elders in caring for the flock? (b) How may elders “readjust” some “in a spirit of mildness”?
23 Elders should be most interested in helping all to attain to the goal of everlasting life. This does not mean that they must delve into every private aspect of people’s lives. But there may be times when elders find it necessary to speak to certain ones about their conduct. If they observe that someone in the congregation is doing things that may endanger his spirituality or at last result in his falling away from the truth, then it is their obligation to warn that one. Thus they can help him to “nip it in the bud,” as it were, before he reaches a point of no return and falls into serious sin. “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, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1) Counsel and suggestions can be given, and should be heeded, in the “spirit of mildness.”
24. (a) Why do elders expend themselves on behalf of the “sheep”? (b) But what sins should they refer to the judicial committee?
24 An elder may thus be of invaluable service in calling attention to a trend, even in small things, that could lead to serious problems. “My brothers, if anyone among you is misled from the truth and another turns him back, know that he who turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (Jas. 5:19, 20) Undershepherds of Christ well appreciate that “it is not a desirable thing with [the] Father who is in heaven for one of these little ones to perish,” and that there is “joy in heaven over one sinner that repents.” (Matt. 18:14; Luke 15:7) So these elders expend themselves on behalf of the sheep. But cases of gross sin they refer to the judicial committee in the congregation.
25. What help could an elder give toward ‘readjusting’ an unruly child?
25 The young son of a Christian mother, the wife of an unbeliever, may behave obstreperously at the Kingdom Hall. In kindness and with tact, an elder may talk with the mother, offering to help her with her problem. If she is agreeable to receiving such advice, the elder may suggest practical ways of disciplining at home, so that the child may be helped to cultivate good manners, respect for others and, above all, the quality of love. A regular study with the children may help the “problem child” to receive loving assistance through this means. Readjusting that takes place at home may be clearly apparent soon in good behavior at the Kingdom Hall meetings.—Prov. 22:15; 23:13, 14; Deut. 11:18, 19.
26. What will result from humility in heeding elders’ counsel with regard to clothing and hairstyles, and so forth?
26 At times elders may have to call attention to clothing styles or grooming that bring an atmosphere of worldliness into the congregation or that may give a wrong impression to those on the outside. (1 Tim. 2:9, 10; Rom. 12:2) It may be as difficult for them to give this counsel as it is for some who have an independent spirit to accept it. But what will make for harmony, unity and peace in the congregation? Why, our humbly following advice from the “older men,” who have our spiritual welfare at heart. And remember, “the result of humility and the fear of Jehovah is riches and glory and life.”—Prov. 22:4; 1 John 2:15-17.
27. How may elders be of valuable service in encouraging other brothers in the congregation?
27 Elders should warmly encourage other brothers to reach out for added privileges in the congregation. “If any man is reaching out for an office of overseer, he is desirous of a fine work.” (1 Tim. 3:1) All have abilities that can be developed with the help of Jehovah’s spirit, and all dedicated brothers should be anxious to become as useful as possible in the Christian congregation. Elders can stimulate this positive attitude in others, training them to accept and fulfill responsibilities.—Matt. 6:33; Phil. 3:13.
28. What spiritual benefits may result from elders’ encouraging advancement through the Theocratic School?
28 All of the flock of God—young and old, brothers and sisters—will appreciate kindly shepherding. A Christian woman, for example, may shy away from enrolling in the Theocratic School. But loving, understanding encouragement from an elder may give her courage to share in this privilege. Encouraging counsel from the elder presiding over the School may aid many to become more capable workers in the field. A willing response to counsel and encouragement from the elders may result in fine spiritual benefits.
“GROW UP IN ALL THINGS”
29. What should be the goal of elders and all others in the congregation?
29 In what are the elders vitally interested? They want to see that all in the congregation continue to “grow up,” to become more Christlike in their service and way of life. Whether associated for a few months only, or for many years, all should have spiritual progress as the goal. God’s organization is on the move. It never slows down. So, why should we slow down?
30. Why should all respond readily to the shepherding of the elders?
30 Lives—souls—are involved. That is why the elders are intensely interested in each individual in the congregation. So all should pay careful attention to Hebrews 13:17: “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.” It is by their zeal in God’s service and their kindly shepherding that they are taking the lead. Their watching over your souls is not a probing into private affairs, but, rather, a watchfulness as to your spiritual welfare, in which they have a keen brotherly interest. It is indeed a joy to the shepherds when the flock responds to their loving oversight. Truly, we are encouraged to “imitate their faith.”—Heb. 13:7.
31. What attitude should the congregation take, then, toward the elders?
31 These “gifts in men,” the elders as ‘evangelizers, shepherds and teachers’ in the congregation, are truly a timely provision from Jehovah through Christ Jesus. Recognizing them as such a provision, let us look to their zealous example, and not hesitate to go to them with our problems and questions. They are indeed the ones ‘given’ to aid us in love, that we may “grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ.”—Eph. 4:7, 8, 11, 15.
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Taking the lead in the field service, working with others, is an important part of the work of elders