“Shining as Illuminators in the World”
THE world of mankind desperately needs enlightenment from God. Dishonesty, crime, violence, oppression and injustice abound. Many people are disheartened and discouraged. For them, life has little purpose. Others are trying to find an escape by means of alcoholic beverages, drugs, entertainment, sexual experiences of all kinds, yes, by means of anything that helps them to forget the realities of the present. Still others, through total involvement with their work, families and community, are able to dismiss from their minds how things really are. But when trouble touches their lives, they are forced to take a sober view of what this world actually is like.
Surely people need guidance, enlightenment, so as to be able to make the best of life now and to have a solid hope for the future. But who today can provide such enlightenment? Obviously it cannot be persons who are themselves caught up in the spirit of this world—its selfishness, greed, lack of concern for others, unbridled desire for sensual pleasure or lawlessness. The only ones who are in a position to illuminate the minds of others are true Christians, who have been enlightened by God’s Word and the operation of his spirit. Hence, all servants of the Most High should be “shining as illuminators in the world.”—Phil. 2:15.
Since all true Christians are to serve as illuminators, congregations of God’s people are appropriately represented in the book of Revelation as “lampstands.” Furthermore, bodies of elders, who should be examples to the rest of the congregation, are likened to “stars.” (Rev. 1:20) Describing what he saw, the apostle John, the writer of the book of Revelation, tells us: “I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands someone like a son of man. . . . And he had in his right hand seven stars.”—Rev. 1:12-16.
“STARS” IN CHRIST’S RIGHT HAND
For the members of a particular congregation to serve as a lampstand in a dark world, they must act in harmony with what is revealed in these words. The head of the entire Christian congregation is Jesus Christ, for he is the One who is “in the midst of the lampstands.” Accordingly, the members of the congregation, by holding fast to their Head and imitating him in word and deed, serve as illuminators. And the elders, by loyal submission to Christ’s headship, remain as “stars” in his “right hand,” that is, in his favor. Being in his hand, bodies of elders are under his control, guidance and direction. This gives rise to the question, Just what does Jesus Christ want elders to do in helping their respective congregations to serve as lampstands?
Here are three basic commands that the Son of God gave to his disciples: (1) “Keep on the watch, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether late in the day or at midnight or at cockcrowing or early in the morning; in order that when he arrives suddenly, he does not find you sleeping. But what I say to you I say to all, Keep on the watch.” (Mark 13:35-37) (2) “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) (3) “Go . . . and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Matt. 28:19, 20.
Hence, should we not expect elders to be setting the example for the whole congregation in loyally conforming to these commands? They need to remain spiritually awake, adhering closely to the lofty requirements of God’s Word in matters of personal conduct. In their relationship with members of the congregation, they should be displaying self-sacrificing love, putting the interests of others ahead of their own. And their words and actions should demonstrate that they recognize the importance of making disciples. Yes, elders should want to be the kind of real brothers that fit the symbolic description of “stars.” This requires their being an encouraging example, not just to the weaker members of the congregation, but to all. This is in harmony with the inspired admonition that the apostle Paul gave to Timothy, a fellow elder: “Become an example to the faithful ones in speaking, in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness.”—1 Tim. 4:12.
Just how important a good example can be is forcefully illustrated in the case of Nehemiah. Opposition to his rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was intense. Nevertheless, trusting in Jehovah and continually making the work a subject of prayer, Nehemiah courageously directed the job and also had an active personal share in the actual rebuilding. What was the result? Just fifty-two days after construction work began it came to a successful completion.—Neh. chapters 4, 6.
Similarly, when stirred to action by the word of Jehovah through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Joshua took a zealous lead in rebuilding the temple of Jehovah. By means of his prophets, the Most High imparted his spirit to them. Then, through the governor and the high priest, Jehovah’s spirit was imparted to the whole restored nation of Israel. How? In that Joshua and Zerubbabel stuck to the work to the finish and encouraged the temple workers by word and example.—Zech. 4:2-14.
ORDERLY ARRANGEMENTS AND TEACHING
In connection with the rebuilding of the temple and of the walls of Jerusalem, good organizational arrangements were needed to get the work done. Nehemiah, for example, had to take the initiative to adjust these arrangements to fit the circumstances. As the rebuilding work made good progress, Sanballat, Tobiah and neighboring peoples intensified their opposition and conspired to fight against Jerusalem. Nehemiah made this a matter of prayer, encouraged the people to trust in Jehovah, armed the workmen, arranged for others to stand guard and outlined an alarm system. The work then continued, totally frustrating the schemes of the enemy.—Neh. 4:7-20.
Likewise, elders today can make arrangements that will serve well locally in carrying out the vital work of making disciples. An excellent opportunity for this presents itself at the weekly congregation book or Bible study. Convenient times can be set for the group to meet to participate in spreading Bible truth. Since the group is small, the elder conducting the study can give personalized attention. He may wish to concentrate on working with certain ones for a time until they are at ease in making known the Bible’s message from house to house. He may also arrange to have experienced proclaimers of the “good news” work alongside youths or others who would benefit from their knowledge and experience.
Basic to getting the work done is equipping everyone with Scriptural knowledge that can be shared with others. During the course of the study, the conductor might periodically invite comments as to how a particular point under consideration could be used when sharing Bible truth with unbelievers. He could inquire as to when, in a person’s daily contacts, such information might be used to help someone spiritually and how this could be done. In reviewing with the group the material that has been studied, he could ask if someone would like to demonstrate how a Scriptural thought discussed that day could be used when visiting people at their homes.
There is also value in preparing the group beforehand for the people on whom they will be calling. With reference to himself, the apostle Paul said: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews . . . I have become all things to people of all sorts, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Cor. 9:20-22) What appeals to one person or segment of a community does not necessarily appeal to another. So, if we know something about the people whom we are trying to reach with the Bible’s message, we can give advance thought to what we might say to them. It may be advisable in the book study group to exchange thoughts about what various ones have found effective, and why.
Another aspect that might be discussed advantageously at times is the attitude we should have toward other people. All persons have been bought with the precious blood of God’s Son and, therefore, need to be informed about how they personally might benefit further. Regardless of what their attitude may be toward the proclaimers of the “good news,” Jehovah God desires that they come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9) How fine it would be to review from time to time whether our public preaching reflects a recognition of this fact! Would we, for example, be willing to give up our lives if that could result in helping persons in our community to come to an accurate knowledge of God’s truth? The apostle Paul was willing to do so. In his letter to the Romans, he wrote: “I am telling the truth in Christ; I am not lying, since my conscience bears witness with me in holy spirit, that I have great grief and unceasing pain in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were separated as the cursed one from the Christ in behalf of my brothers, my relatives according to the flesh.”—Rom. 9:1-3.
Our discussing such expressions can help us to examine our own attitude toward others and to see whether we are really thinking Scripturally. When we care about other people at heart, this will reveal itself in the appealing way in which we approach them. As a result, it will be easier for honest-hearted ones to respond to the “good news.”
Besides setting a fine example and making good use of opportunities to teach those in his group, an elder can also encourage fellow believers. Back in the time of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the Jews, in their own strength, would not have succeeded in completing the temple-rebuilding work. Mountainous obstacles stood in the way. Therefore, it must have been most upbuilding for them to hear these words: “Be strong, all you people of the land.” “I [Jehovah] am with you people.” “Do not be afraid.” (Hag. 2:4, 5) Similarly, when an elder expresses conviction in Jehovah’s backing of his people, based on actual experiences, and himself acts in harmony with that conviction, this is most strengthening to others. Also, his joy in serving Jehovah can be very stimulating and encouraging.
However, it is not strong personalities nor organizational efficiency, but God’s spirit that is the real force enabling true Christians to shine as illuminators in a hostile world. It was this same force that made it possible for Governor Zerubbabel and the Jewish laborers to complete temple-rebuilding work despite opposition from surrounding peoples. Through his prophet Zechariah, Jehovah declared that it was “not by a military force, nor by power, but by [his] spirit.”—Zech. 4:6.
Good teaching on the part of elders, coupled with encouragement and a fine example, is definitely needed for God’s spirit to energize the members of the congregation. How so? Because today God’s spirit does not grant individual Christians miraculous knowledge. It acts as a remembrancer and as a teacher. As a remembrancer, the spirit brings back to a Christian’s mind what he has learned from the Scriptures and, as a teacher, it enables him to discern just how the information brought back to mind should be used or applied. (John 14:26) Accordingly, the extent to which a Christian knows what is contained in the Bible, to that extent can he, with the aid of God’s spirit, make known the truth to others and help them to live the truth. And where the elders are few in number, they can call on ministerial servants and other mature Christians to share in building up the congregation with Scriptural knowledge.
All the meetings of the congregation should serve to impart instruction designed to help all to ‘shine as illuminators,’ both in word and in deed. Therefore, careful thought needs to be given to preparation, so that meetings will be truly educational and hold the attention of those in attendance. Elders can also teach when visiting members of the congregation in their homes, speaking to them before and after meetings and while sharing with them in the public proclamation of the “good news.”
So if a congregation is to serve as a “lampstand” in a particular community, the members thereof need to know and understand the Scriptures so that God’s spirit can be of the greatest help as a remembrancer and as a teacher. Since God’s spirit is holy, it will, of course, only operate upon those who maintain a clean standing before the Most High, upon persons who remain spiritually awake and have genuine love for mankind, especially for fellow believers. Are you doing your part in making the “lampstand” in your community shine brightly, to the praise of Jehovah God and in loyal obedience to Jesus Christ, the head of the Christian congregation?