Visits from Older Men Benefit God’s People
“They returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to remain in the faith and saying: ‘We must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations.’”—Acts 14:21, 22.
1. Why are the visits of traveling overseers necessary today, as they were in the first century?
IN THE first century, the apostles and other older men made timely visits as traveling overseers to the Christian congregations. Today traveling overseers regularly visit more than 42,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the world. Do such visits, ancient and modern, have much in common? Yes, indeed! For the needs of Christians today are much the same as they were in apostolic times. We need the encouragement and practical help of these visits in order to keep on doing God’s will under trying conditions.
2. (a) What problems have Christians faced, both in the first century and now, requiring what work to be done? (b) Why have visits from older men been welcome?
2 Due to inherited imperfections, early Christians experienced problems similar to ours. (Rom. 3:23) Temptations that they faced were much like the ones we are called on to resist. (1 Cor. 10:13) They lived amid a wicked system of things that is still present today and from which we all long for deliverance. (Gal. 1:4) Their chief adversary, the Devil, we also must oppose. (1 Pet. 5:8) In the face of their fleshly weaknesses, pressures from the world and opposition from invisible wicked spirit forces, those first-century believers had a work to do. Their commission was to preach the “good news” and make disciples. That commission also applies to Jehovah’s Witnesses today and must be carried out to completion before the coming end of this ungodly world. (Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8) Both then and now, visits from spiritual men have been welcome as a provision to strengthen, encourage and otherwise help God’s people.
3. What benefit may we derive from reviewing accounts of visits in apostolic times and drawing modern-day parallels?
3 These visits in apostolic times provide helpful guidance for us today. (Acts 14:21-23; 15:36) As we examine some Scriptural accounts and draw modern-day parallels, we should be able to deepen our appreciation for the provision of such “gifts in men,” who serve and meet our needs.—Eph. 4:8, 11, 12.
HOW VISITS BY OLDER MEN WERE VIEWED
4. How did a visit to the Antioch congregation help the brothers?
4 It was following the Jerusalem Council of 49 C.E. that Judas and Silas were sent along with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch. If you had been there, what would you have experienced? According to Acts 15:32 the two “prophets” Judas and Silas “encouraged the brothers with many a discourse and strengthened them.” Previously, there had been some dissension in Antioch over the question of circumcision. But now the receipt by the Antioch congregation of a spirit-directed letter, coupled with this visit of the two “prophets,” had settled the matter. The congregation had reason to rejoice.—Acts 15:2, 22-31.
5. What does Philippians 2:20-22 tell us about Timothy’s qualifications?
5 It was their humble, self-sacrificing spirit that made “older men” such an encouragement to their brothers. For example, there was Paul’s missionary companion Timothy, concerning whom Paul wrote: “I have no one else of a disposition like his who will genuinely care for the things pertaining to you. For all the others are seeking their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” Timothy’s co-worker Paul had no hesitation about sending him to the Philippian congregation, as one who would slave among them for the “furtherance of the good news.”—Phil. 2:20-22.
6. (a) How would the brothers in Crete benefit from Titus’ carrying out Paul’s instructions? (b) What effect would Titus’ counsel have on young and old, men and women?
6 Commonly, older men who were sent to a particular area stayed there for an extended period to strengthen the brothers. There was a pressing need for Titus to assist in resolving problems in Crete. He was told to “correct the things that were defective and . . . make appointments of older men in city after city.” Also, in view of the unruliness, profitless talk and misleading ideas that some were teaching, Titus was to keep on reproving disorderly ones with severity, that they might be “healthy in the faith.” (Titus 1:5-14) He was to counsel and exhort aged men and women, along with younger men and women, as well as slaves, so that their way of life might “adorn the teaching of our Savior, God, in all things.”—Titus 2:1-10.
7. (a) What qualifications did visiting overseers have back then? (b) According to 1 Corinthians 11:1, how were faithful older men like Paul to be viewed?
7 It is evident that well-qualified visiting overseers conveyed needed instruction to the congregations in the first century. All of them had years of experience in the preaching work, in handling responsibility as elders and in enduring hardship. After enumerating the persecutions and dangers that he encountered, Paul disclosed his keen sense of responsibility, saying: “Besides those things of an external kind, there is what rushes in on me from day to day, the anxiety for all the congregations.” (2 Cor. 11:23-28) Titus, Timothy and others were closely associated with him in these experiences. (2 Cor. 8:23; 2 Tim. 3:10, 11) Exemplary faith made them worthy examples to imitate.—1 Cor. 11:1.
8. What admonition did the elders from Ephesus receive, and how did they feel about Paul?
8 Not only did the brothers highly respect these exemplary visiting “older men” for their fine work but they also expressed great personal affection for them. An outstanding case was when Paul met with the older men from Ephesus. He admonished them: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.” (Acts 20:28) Then he warned of an approaching apostasy, and exhorted them to keep awake and assist the weak. After offering prayer together, those older men were moved emotionally as they bade farewell to Paul, being especially pained to learn that they would see his face no more.—Acts 20:29-38.
PRACTICAL HELP GIVEN TO CONGREGATIONS
9. How did visiting overseers commend and encourage the congregations?
9 Visiting overseers often commended those early believers for the fine qualities that they displayed. This was so with the “holy ones” at Colossae. Epaphras had spoken of their fine works and of their love in a spiritual way, and for this Paul expressed thanks to God. (Col. 1:2-8) Paul’s visit to Thessalonica brought outstanding results. Later he wrote to the believers there taking note of their faithful work, loving labor and endurance. They had accepted the word under tribulation and had become worthy imitators of men like Paul, Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy. (1 Thess. 1:1-7) By word and example, those older men taught the early disciples and showed them how the fruitage of God’s spirit could be displayed in their everyday lives. They were encouraged to place implicit trust in Jehovah and to rely constantly upon him in prayer. Congregations rejoiced in such visits, acknowledging that they were strengthened and encouraged “to remain in the faith.”—Acts 14:22.
10. (a) Why could there be no compromise in regard to spiritual and moral cleanness? (b) What encouragement did those older men give to local appointed shepherds?
10 Unquestionably, the apostles and older men took steps to see that congregations back there functioned in an orderly, harmonious way, under the headship of Christ. (Eph. 4:15, 16) They knew that spiritual and moral cleanness had to be maintained. There could be no compromise in this regard. Otherwise, how could the Christian congregation keep separate from the world and be used as an honorable vessel in carrying out Jehovah’s work? (2 Cor. 6:14-17; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; 2 Tim. 2:20-22) To emphasize the importance of obedience to divine requirements, those older men made visits and wrote letters to help local appointed shepherds and the flock in their care.—1 Pet. 5:1-5.
11. In line with Paul’s advice to Timothy, what encouragement may visiting overseers give to all congregational overseers today?
11 Paul admonished the young overseer Timothy: “Become an example to the faithful ones . . . applying yourself to public reading, to exhortation, to teaching . . . that your advancement may be manifest to all persons.” (1 Tim. 4:12-15) On their visits, traveling overseers today give similar advices. And even as Paul charged Timothy, they encourage all congregational overseers to “preach the word, be at it urgently in favorable season, in troublesome season, reprove, reprimand, exhort, with all long-suffering and art of teaching,” and to “do the work of an evangelizer,” fully accomplishing this ministry.—2 Tim. 4:1-5.
12. What counsel that involved judging was given to the Corinthian congregation?
12 The apostles did not hesitate to express what should be done with regard to judging matters. When Paul encountered a situation involving wrongdoing that had gone uncorrected, he advised by letter what he would have done if personally present, firmly directing those responsible at Corinth to “remove the wicked man” from among them. (1 Cor. 5:3, 13) He also encouraged that personal differences among the brothers should be handled by men competent to judge. (1 Cor. 6:1-6) Such counsel helped the responsible brothers to adjust their thinking.
A LOVING PROVISION TO STRENGTHEN US
13. (a) Why can we be grateful for Jehovah’s provision of faithful overseers, including those who regularly visit congregations? (b) What experience have many traveling overseers had?
13 Today, because the spirit of Jehovah is operating on his people, hardworking qualified men of many years’ experience are available for visiting the congregations. (Compare Ephesians 4:11, 12.) Though they are imperfect men, they demonstrate many of the fine qualities that characterized Paul, Silas, Barnabas, Timothy and others. At the present time, there are numerous traveling overseers who have more than 30 years’ experience in the full-time work. One currently active circuit overseer took up the full-time service 55 years ago at the age of 18. (Eccl. 12:1) He has served continuously since then, spending the last 30 years in visiting the congregations. Almost all of these men have served also as overseers in local congregations and as pioneers. Others have spent years in the missionary field or at a branch office of the Watch Tower Society. The presence of such men in a congregation is a blessing, enabling all to derive strength from the spiritual things that they have to share. Their visits can help us in our service and worship as well as in cultivating Christian personalities.
14. What shows these older men to be qualified, and what do they endeavor to build up in others?
14 Representatives sent out to the congregations invariably are men who take the lead in the work of Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making. They have gotten the sense of the word and are bearing fine fruit. (Matt. 13:23) Imbued with a feeling of urgency born of genuine appreciation for what God’s kingdom means, and recognizing the seriousness of these last days, they do not loiter at their business. (Rom. 12:11) Having this attitude, they endeavor to build up in others the same evangelistic spirit that identified the early Christian congregation.—Acts 5:42; 8:1-4.
15. (a) How do traveling overseers regard Jesus’ commands at Matthew 24:14 and 28:19, 20? (b) In line with what happened after Pentecost of 33 C.E., what aid and example do they provide congregations today?
15 The traveling overseers’ high regard for Jesus’ command to preach the “good news” and make disciples moves them to stress this twofold commission as a sacred trust, a divine requirement. (Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20) They recall what happened following the day of Pentecost in 33 C.E., and also later, after the conversion of Cornelius and his household, namely, that believers increased rapidly and were fully instructed, so that they could live according to the “good news” and declare it effectively to others. (Acts 2:46, 47; 5:14; 6:7; 10:44-48; 20:20) Today, for the multiplying of further believers, traveling overseers invite as many as possible to share with them in witnessing. They give help to those who lack experience. The zeal and fine lead of visiting elders contribute toward expansion of the witness work. They say, with Paul: “Woe is me if I did not declare the good news!”—1 Cor. 9:16.
16, 17. (a) In guarding against the infiltration of worldliness, what encouragement may traveling overseers give? (b) In what ways may they aid the brothers in combating the subtle influence of materialism?
16 Moreover, there is much work to be done in aiding those associated with the congregations to make advancement in Christian living. (2 Pet. 1:5-10) Some who are not yet free of worldliness may try to bring in practices that would relax the high standards of conduct established in God’s Word. To guard against infiltration of worldliness, traveling overseers need to show discernment in observing subtle trends. They will want to encourage God’s people to adhere closely to Scriptural principles with regard to their living habits, morality and dealings with others, whether in personal or social matters. (1 Cor. 10:31-33; 1 Pet. 1:14-16; Heb. 13:18) They may need to remind elders to act decisively in maintaining moral, doctrinal and spiritual cleanness in the congregations.
17 In line with the advice Timothy received, traveling overseers are urged to warn Christians against the encroaching influences of materialism. (1 Tim. 6:9, 10, 17-19) By their own example in putting spiritual things first they encourage others to ‘seek first God’s kingdom.’—Matt. 6:33.
18. Why is the attainment of spiritual stability and maturity so essential, and how can this be encouraged?
18 In a world where people are tossed about by confusing winds of religious doctrine, Jehovah’s people need to be stable, full-grown Christians. (Eph. 4:13, 14) Their position must be steadfast, not shifting quickly because of independent thinking or emotional pressures. (Col. 1:23; 2:6, 7) Rightly, then, traveling overseers should emphasize the need for all Christians to grow constantly in accurate knowledge of God. (Phil. 1:9, 10; Col. 1:9-11) They encourage personal, family and congregational study so that Christians will feed, not just on ‘the milk of the word,’ but on “solid food,” in order to appreciate fully “the word of righteousness,” and to “have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” (Heb. 5:12-14) When they inspect a congregation’s spiritual condition, traveling overseers will counsel Scripturally on such points.
19. How do traveling overseers aid various ones according to their individual need? (Jas. 5:19, 20)
19 These older men may make visits on the sick, aged and others, as opportunity affords. (Prov. 16:31; Matt. 18:12-14; contrast Ezekiel 34:4.) When approached by individuals at variance with one another on personal matters, they may lovingly but firmly admonish them from the Scriptures, with a view to restoring peace. (1 Thess. 5:14, 15) In ways often unnoticed, they may impart spiritual upbuilding to those who have doubts regarding Christian conduct or who otherwise need to be ‘snatched out of the fire.’—Jude 22, 23.
20. How have traveling overseers and their wives been self-sacrificing?
20 As in the first century, these traveling overseers and their wives serve under a variety of circumstances. In many parts of the earth they move from place to place each week. To reach isolated areas or jungle territory, some travel by horseback or canoe, or walk long distances over mountain trails or passes. In the interests of the congregations they endure great hardships. Many have accepted assignments far away from their families and close acquaintances. But regardless of their situation, they willingly put themselves out, being ready to adapt for the sake of the “good news.”—1 Cor. 9:23.
21. (a) Our review of the ministry of these older men should help us to what appreciation? (b) So what question are we moved to ask?
21 A review of the many ways in which visits from faithful older men have strengthened the congregations, in apostolic as well as modern times, cannot help but make us appreciate their efforts. Truly such self-expending older men are among those of whom the apostle Paul wrote: “Now we request you, brothers, to have regard for those who are working hard among you and presiding over you in the Lord and admonishing you; and to give them more than extraordinary consideration in love because of their work.” (1 Thess. 5:12, 13) Though we have this regard for the traveling overseers, how can we personally derive greater benefits from their visits in the days ahead? Let us now see.