‘Reproofs Are the Way of Life’
The December 1, 1976, Watchtower carried a series of articles on the subject of reproof. Many readers appreciated the material and expressed the desire that additional information be published, enlarging on points therein contained. The study articles in the present issue have been prepared with this in mind.
“The commandment is a lamp, and a light the law is, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.”—Prov. 6:23.
1. In view of what condition of humankind does the question arise as to how we can gain and maintain an unblemished standing before Jehovah? (Rom. 3:23)
WE IMPERFECT humans often err in word, attitude and action. Writing to fellow Christians, the apostle John said: “If we make the statement: ‘We have no sin,’ we are misleading ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) The Christian disciple James acknowledged: “We all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body.” (Jas. 3:2) How, then, can we gain and maintain a fine standing before God?
2. (a) What must a person do to be viewed as clean by Jehovah? (1 Ki. 8:46-50; Isa. 1:16-18; 55:6, 7; Col. 1:13, 14; Rev 7:14) (b) How does Bible-based reproof help us to maintain an unblemished standing before the Almighty? (Prov. 3:12; Rev. 3:19)
2 We need to have our sins forgiven. This requires that we confess our transgressions to the Most High, show true repentance or regret, and pray for forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. “If we confess our sins,” says the Bible, “he is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Reproof based on God’s Word and its righteous principles can show us just how we are sinning and, therefore, helps us to take the necessary steps to gain God’s forgiveness and thereby maintain an unblemished standing before him. Such reproof can also aid us to avoid more serious wrongdoing.
3. What may prompt us to reprove ourselves, and how do we do so? (Prov. 1:20-25)
3 In reading the Bible or Bible-based counsel or when hearing God’s Word discussed at a congregation meeting, we may come to realize that we have sinned in some respect. We may sincerely regret our failings, pray to be forgiven and request the help of God’s spirit in making further progress toward harmonizing our life with his will. In thus taking to heart Bible counsel and applying it, we reprove ourselves.
WHEN TROUBLED AT HEART
4. (a) Why might a person come to feel unworthy about approaching Jehovah in prayer? (b) What should a person who is in spiritual distress do, and how can this help him?
4 Then, again, a person, on becoming involved in wrongdoing or due to his sinful nature, may feel unworthy to approach God in prayer. His spiritual distress may affect his physical well-being. This may happen even though the individual really hates the wrong and sincerely wants to do what is right. When finding himself in such a state, what should a person do? The disciple James answers: “Let him call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him.” (Jas. 5:14) On hearing the fervent, heartfelt prayer of an elder in his behalf, the distressed person may be strengthened to draw close to Jehovah in prayer. Moreover, he may be helped to reason rightly: ‘If others are confident that Jehovah will answer prayers in my behalf, can I not also be confident that he will answer my prayers?’
5. (a) Why is there no need to give reproof to a person who is deeply distressed over sins that he may have committed? (b) What might the elders do to help such a repentant person?
5 Such a repentant person does not need reproof by someone else to make him aware of the seriousness of his sin. His own heart has already reproved him, in fact, condemned him. (1 John 3:19-22; compare 2 Samuel 24:10; Psalm 32:3-5.) So, the elders may need to remind the spiritually weakened one of Jehovah’s mercy and his willingness to hear our prayers. (Neh. 9:17; Matt. 7:7-11) Arrangements may have to be made to build up the individual spiritually, this being done progressively over a period of weeks or even months. One who is thus in need would certainly not want to underestimate the help that can be provided through the elders.
DEALING WITH UNWHOLESOME TRENDS
6. What might be some unwholesome trends that could develop in a congregation, and what should the elders consider?
6 There are times, of course, when elders need to reprove individuals or, in a general sense, the congregation collectively respecting certain attitudes or actions. Unwholesome trends may be developing. Some may have lost ‘the love that they had at first’ and be seriously neglectful of their spiritual responsibilities. (Rev. 2:4; 3:15-18) Perhaps worldliness is creeping into their social gatherings. (1 Pet. 4:3) Certain ones may be engaging in hurtful gossip or may in other ways be failing to control their tongues. (Eph. 4:29, 31; 5:3, 4) Parents may be very lax in training their children. (Eph. 6:4) There may be those who are immoderate in drinking alcoholic beverages or who take liberties in their association with the opposite sex. (Eph. 5:18-20; compare 1 Timothy 5:1, 2.) When conditions of this kind exist in the congregation, it would be good for the elders to discuss together just what might be done to help individuals and the brothers as a whole.
7. What is one way in which elders can give Scriptural reproof in the homes of their brothers?
7 Possibly, appropriate chapters from the Bible or Bible-based articles could be read and discussed privately with one who is having serious spiritual problems. By making sure that the individual needing help understands what the scriptures being considered mean and how they apply to his situation, the elders will be correcting or reproving him. Often this can be done by one or two elders in the informal atmosphere of the person’s home.—Compare Acts 20:18-20, 31.
8. How can Bible-based talks about undesirable developments in the congregation serve as a reproof to the hearers?
8 On the other hand, the elders may consider it advisable to give Scriptural talks that come to grips with and reason on undesirable developments in the congregation. (2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:10-14) The clear, forceful Biblical presentation should move the hearers to examine themselves and to make the necessary changes in their lives. (Compare James 1:22-25.) When they recognize that the scriptures being considered apply to them personally, they will be reproved.—Compare 1 Corinthians 14:24, 25, where the reference is to an unbeliever’s being reproved by what he hears at a congregation meeting.
INCIDENTS OF SERIOUS WRONGDOING REQUIRING REPROOF
9. (a) What kind of sins can bring great reproach upon the congregation? (b) Why might a person who has committed a gross sin only once still be in an unclean position before Jehovah?
9 As in the first century, so also today some baptized Christians commit gross sins that bring reproach on the congregation. (For examples of such wrongs, see 1 Corinthians 5:11; Galatians 5:19-21 and; 1 Timothy 1:9, 10.) They may err gravely only once or they may continue in a course of sin for a period of time. One who commits a gross wrong, though only once, remains unclean in God’s eyes until such time as he turns to Jehovah in repentance and seeks divine forgiveness.
10. What responsibility do elders have toward persons guilty of gross sin?
10 What responsibility do the elders have toward those who become involved in serious wrongs? Every effort should be made to help these persons spiritually, aiding them to come to repentance, if they have not already done so. The elders need to give careful and prayerful consideration as to how this can best be accomplished.
11. Why may a person who is repentant over his gross wrongdoing need further reproof?
11 At times the individual caught up in gross wrongdoing is sad in a godly way and expresses a firm determination to do what is right. His words reveal that he understands just how bad his sin was. So, he does not need to be convinced of the seriousness of this particular wrongdoing with a view to bringing him to repentance. But he may not appreciate fully that there were other sins that led to his serious failing. The individual may have slipped into a corrupt pattern of thinking. He may have been careless about his choice of reading matter and forms of entertainment. By allowing himself to come under strong worldly influences, he may have dulled his perceptive powers so that he has difficulty in distinguishing right from wrong. (Heb. 5:11, 14) Therefore, he definitely needs reproof, and it may require considerable time for the elders to help him to see just what it means to be a Christian in the fullest sense of the word. They may have to point out to him just how he repeatedly disregarded Scriptural admonition. They may also need to make him aware of the importance of repenting, not just over the gross sin, but also over the lesser sins that led up to it.
12. What factors might move elders to reprove a member of the congregation publicly?
12 So that the congregation might have a wholesome fear of getting involved in a like course of sin, the elders may decide to present to the congregation a Scriptural discussion dealing with the wrongdoer’s problem. Though his name may not be mentioned, he himself will know that he is being reproved before all, and so will those who are aware of the situation. (1 Tim. 5:20) In determining whether there should be public expression of reproof as regards the wrong conduct of an individual, elders should consider whether it is truly in the best interests of the congregation, including the repentant wrongdoer. They should also give thought to what restrictions, if any, should be imposed upon the one who is reproved.
MAINTAINING A FAMILY-LIKE ATTITUDE
13. How does the fact that a congregation is like a family govern the way erring ones should be treated?
13 In reproving erring ones, elders need to keep in mind that the congregation is like a family, an ‘association of brothers.’ (1 Pet. 5:9) Those in the congregation should be treated kindly and respectfully as one would treat members of one’s own fleshly family. (1 Tim. 5:1, 2) Good parents do not handle the wrongdoing of their children as does a judge in a court, simply getting the facts and then rendering a decision. They try to help wayward children to come to their senses and in the future to conduct themselves in a way that will bring credit, not disgrace, to the family.
14. How might good parents handle matters in connection with the wrongdoing of their children?
14 Often parents handle matters privately with a child that gets into trouble, not exposing their son or daughter to shame before the whole family. But when they deem it necessary, they may let all the other children know what has happened, the discipline given to the disobedient member of the family thus serving as a warning example to them. Parents may, for a time, put up patiently even with the wrongs of an adult son or daughter still living at home. Then, after repeated disciplinary efforts fail to correct a bad situation, they may demand that the grown son or daughter leave the house. (Compare this with what Israelite parents did in harmony with the command at Deuteronomy 21:18-21.) In taking this action, they may also have in mind shielding their younger children from a corrupt influence.
15. When it comes to wrongdoers, what should be the first objective of elders, and when only would they take disfellowshiping action?
15 Though they are like older brothers rather than parents of those in the congregation, elders similarly should first do everything that they can to bring erring ones to repentance. This may take time so that appropriate Scriptural reproof can be given. Even Jesus Christ, with reference to the woman Jezebel in the Thyatira congregation, said: “I gave her time to repent, but she is not willing to repent of her fornication.” (Rev. 2:21) When, as in the case of that woman Jezebel, there is no willingness to repent, elders should take disfellowshiping action, removing corrupting “leaven” from the congregation.—1 Cor. 5:6, 7.
16. What are some of the things elders will need to do in order to be of the greatest help to erring ones?
16 So that elders can be of real assistance to erring ones, they must look at matters in the light of the complete Word of God and not just a few passages that mention specific wrongs. On the surface, a particular case of wrongdoing may appear to be identical to one handled previously. However, the circumstances, attitudes and motives of the individuals involved may be very different. All the factors should be weighed carefully in the light of the Scriptures, to ascertain what is in the best interests of the congregation and the erring one. Any Scriptural reproof given should fit the needs of the individual. After getting a complete picture of what has happened and what led up to the wrongdoing, the elders who are caring for the problem may have to take time for personal meditation and prayerful consideration of the Scriptures before getting together as a group to discuss what should be done. This will put them in a far better position to give sound reproof and needed spiritual aid.
17. As members of the congregation, what should we be determined to do, and what rewards does this hold out?
17 Scriptural reproof definitely plays a vital role in helping all in the Christian congregation to follow a course that leads to everlasting life. May we, individually, remain attentive to the reproof found in the Bible, resisting temptations to become involved in conduct that would bring reproach upon the Most High God and the congregation of his devoted people. If we do, we can rest assured of Jehovah’s blessing now and the reward of everlasting life in his coming righteous new order.—John 17:3.
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We may be reproved in various ways, such as by reading the Scriptures or a Bible-study aid, being talked to personally and hearing a Scriptural talk at a congregation meeting