Overseers—Be Fine Examples to “the Flock”
“Become an example to the faithful ones in speaking, in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness.”—1 Tim. 4:12.
1. Why should we expect Christian overseers to set a fine example?
MUCH is involved in serving as an overseer in the Christian congregation. This fact is recognized by thousands of dedicated, spiritual men who are entrusted with this privilege today. Since all individuals in the congregation are Christian brothers and sisters, appointed elders know that their responsibility does not make them any better than other worshipers of Jehovah. (Matt. 23:8-12) Yet, in view of their responsibilities and the Scriptural requirements they must meet, more is expected of them. It is even as Jesus said: “Indeed, everyone to whom much was given, much will be demanded of him; and the one whom people put in charge of much, they will demand more than usual of him.” (Luke 12:48) “The flock” is greatly affected by what these undershepherds say and do. It is expected, therefore, that these men would set a fine example for others.
2. In what particular ways did Paul encourage Timothy to become an example?
2 This matter of being a good example cannot be overemphasized. It is one of the direct points of counsel found in Paul’s first letter to the overseer Timothy. Paul did not take anything for granted, and he did not want Timothy to do so either. Because Timothy was still a young man, some might tend to look down on him. No doubt Paul had this in mind when he wrote: “Let no man ever look down on your youth. On the contrary, become an example to the faithful ones in speaking in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness. While I am coming, continue applying yourself to public reading, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not be neglecting the gift in you that was given you through a prediction and when the body of older men laid their hands upon you.” (1 Tim. 4:12-14) There would be no legitimate reason for others to look down on Timothy if he continued to pursue an exemplary Christian course in life.
3. What should overseers examine, and why?
3 Like Timothy, overseers among Jehovah’s people today ought to examine their own life pattern. While our discussion especially concerns overseers, ministerial servants and men who are reaching out for greater congregational responsibility, all Christians should carefully consider what is involved in serving as an example to “the flock.” (2 Cor. 13:5) But now we ask: “Elders, are you really setting a fine example?” Your fellow believers look upon you while having in mind these words recorded at Hebrews 13:7: “Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.” Yes, elders, your Christian associates want to prove faithful to Jehovah. To do this they need not only Scripturally based counsel and words of comfort but your encouraging example. They will imitate your faith as they observe your right conduct and the outcome to which it leads.
4. (a) How do 1 Timothy 3:1 and Matthew 20:26, 27 emphasize what is involved in serving as Christian overseers? (b) Fulfilling his responsibilities requires what of an elder? (c) According to 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13, for whom should brothers have regard, and how should they show it?
4 This does not mean that, as an appointed elder, you are indispensable. Not at all. But you have a “fine work” in serving your spiritual brothers and sisters. (1 Tim. 3:1) Yours is not a position of some supposed greatness resulting from your efforts. (Matt. 20:26, 27) Yes, you have additional privileges and responsibilities. But properly fulfilling these will require that you humbly slave for Jehovah, Jesus Christ and your fellow believers. (Rom. 12:11; Gal. 5:13; Col. 3:23, 24) Indeed, you must work hard, preside, admonish and do other things in behalf of your brothers and sisters in the faith. They recognize that you have an appointment; but it is the hard work you do, along with your example, that moves them to be responsive in supporting your efforts. Such regard is proper and in keeping with the apostle Paul’s words: “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.
A Fine Example “in Speaking”
5. In what varied circumstances should overseers be a fine example “in speaking,” and why is this necessary?
5 There can be no question about the need for overseers to be a fine example “in speaking.” Certainly, this is something that must be true in their own homes. Also, it must be manifest when they speak to individual members of the congregation or from the public platform, as well as when they are witnessing from house to house in the community. An overseer’s comments may influence others more than he realizes. So what he says must always be based on or governed by the principles of God’s Word.
6. Why must elders guard against wrong thoughts and “speak good things”?
6 For speech to be upbuilding, the heart must be filled with good things from God’s Word. Then the mouth will “speak good things,” making statements that are spiritually fitting and upbuilding. (Matt. 12:34) An overseer must guard against letting wrong thoughts or ideas take root in his mind or heart, as this ultimately would show up in his speech and would be detrimental to others. Showing what to avoid and the kind of sayings that should be heard, the Bible counsels: “No bad language must pass your lips, but only what is good and helpful to the occasion, so that it brings a blessing to those who hear it.”—Eph. 4:29, The New English Bible.
7. Why should Christian overseers refrain from spreading strictly personal opinions or ideas?
7 To be an example in speaking, Christian undershepherds must not go “beyond the things that are written.” (1 Cor. 4:6) Whether in matters of doctrine, morals or Christian organization, an overseer should “preach the word.” (2 Tim. 4:2) If he were to introduce strictly personal opinions or to spread ideas contrary to the teaching received through the “faithful and discreet slave,” this would cause confusion. Rather than pushing ahead presumptuously in a course that could lead to dishonor, therefore, why not wait upon Jehovah and his organization? (Prov. 11:2) Perhaps there will be a further explanation or clarification of the subject later. Or, through prayer and diligent study of God’s Word with the help of the Watch Tower publications, the elder may find that he was wrong and will be glad that he did not spread his mistaken views.
8. (a) Why avoid fighting about words and getting involved in debates? (2 Tim. 2:14-19) (b) If a person raises a question and needs spiritual help, how should aid be given?
8 Paul told Timothy to charge others “not to fight about words, a thing of no usefulness at all because it overturns those listening.” The apostle then referred to the unhealthy effects of statements made by men who had deviated from the truth. There is nothing to be gained and likely much to be lost spiritually by fighting about words or getting involved in debates with those who reject healthful teaching. (2 Tim. 2:14-19; Titus 1:7-9) This does not mean that a person cannot sincerely raise a question about a matter that he does not understand. However, insisting on some viewpoint may cause unnecessary disturbance. Of course, if some individuals need spiritual help, there is a proper way to teach, and that is “with mildness.”—2 Tim. 2:23-26.
9. To teach effectively, what is required of overseers?
9 Overseers should “work hard in speaking and teaching,” not only in reaching outsiders with the truth but in spiritually building up the congregation. (1 Tim. 5:17) It takes time and effort to prepare Bible talks and meeting parts that are spiritually refreshing, instructive and practical. By regularly studying the Scriptures and by using the Watch Tower Society’s publications, talk outlines and other material from the “faithful and discreet slave,” speakers and teachers can develop many fine points that will enable them to impart healthful teaching. And by becoming an example in speaking, overseers show that they are applying themselves in the right way.
Always Maintaining “Fine Conduct”
10, 11. (a) What relationship is there between conduct and heavenly wisdom? (b) What happens when the wisdom from above is displayed, as compared with situations wherein ungodly traits are in evidence?
10 Congregational overseers must become an example also “in conduct.” To succeed in maintaining fine conduct, they need heavenly wisdom and understanding. The disciple James emphasizes this point, saying: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show out of his fine conduct his works with a mildness that belongs to wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and contentiousness in your hearts, do not be bragging and lying against the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is the earthly, animal, demonic. For where jealousy and contentiousness are, there disorder and every vile thing are.”—Jas. 3:13-16; 1 Pet. 2:12.
11 Relationships with fellow elders as well as with other congregation members are strengthened by fine conduct that reflects heavenly wisdom. (Jas. 3:17, 18) On the other hand, contentiousness, jealousy, bragging and other worldly, animalistic and demonic traits and actions tear down such relationships. These bad traits have no place among the ranks of God’s people. To act in a self-centered way belies any profession of Christlike love. Hence, fine conduct calls for “doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you.” (Phil. 2:3) Such conduct is truly exemplary in that it reflects a mental attitude like that displayed by Christ Jesus.—Phil. 2:5-8.
12. (a) How should female members of the congregation be viewed and treated? (b) What are overseers required to do about violations of God’s moral standards? (c) In connection with judicial matters, confidentiality places what responsibility on elders?
12 To set a fine example, overseers and other responsible brothers must always conduct themselves circumspectly toward the opposite sex. They are to entreat “older women as mothers, younger women as sisters with all chasteness.” (1 Tim. 5:1, 2) Constant vigilance is needed so as to guard against any ‘loosening up’ as regards adherence to God’s high moral standards. If there is definite evidence that some are trying to corrupt others morally, overseers must take swift action to keep the organization clean, knowing that Jehovah ‘exacts punishment for these things.’ (1 Thess. 4:3-8) At the same time, appointed undershepherds must refrain from openly discussing judicial matters involving those who have violated God’s righteous principles. Confidentiality must be maintained. The congregation can be expected to have full confidence only in elders who exercise proper oversight and whose personal conduct is always above reproach.
Exemplary “in Love”
13. What spirit is necessary if overseers are to be successful in setting a fine example, and why so?
13 Overseers cannot be truly successful in becoming “an example to the faithful ones” unless they manifest the spirit of love. After reminding Timothy to ‘stir up the gift of God that was in him,’ Paul said: “For God gave us not a spirit of cowardice, but that of power and of love and of soundness of mind.” (2 Tim. 1:6, 7) We know the wholesome effects produced in our lives as a result of having God manifest this quality of love toward us. When overseers are fine examples in displaying the spirit’s fruit of love, this, more than anything else, shows how they feel about their fellow worshipers of Jehovah. Love has a drawing power, prompting us to seek the counsel and help of loving undershepherds. We appreciate the warmth of their interest and their earnest desire to aid us in making spiritual progress.
14. Married overseers have what opportunities to show that they ‘love their wives as their own bodies,’ and this enables their wives to do what?
14 To carry on as spiritual men, overseers endeavor to ‘let all their affairs take place with love.’ (1 Cor. 16:13, 14) If married, these men are to be “loving their wives as their own bodies,” which they feed and cherish. (Eph. 5:28, 29) Overseers appreciate how much their own bodies require daily care. So, too, their wives need attention and regular spiritual care that will enable them to fulfill their supportive wifely roles in a way that is “becoming in the Lord.” (Col. 3:18, 19) Discussing the daily text from the Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, reviewing material in the Society’s publications, preparing for Christian meetings and keeping awake to occasions for praying together—all are expressions of such love. Also, as opportunity affords, elders should help their wives in other ways. This and the proper rearing of any children the couple may have will provide evidence that the man presides well over his own household and thus meets one of the Scriptural requirements for overseers.—1 Tim. 3:4, 5; 5:8.
15. How can an overseer show that he can “take care of God’s congregation” and that he has love?
15 Indeed, an overseer who maintains a fine family arrangement shows that he can “take care of God’s congregation.” (1 Tim. 3:5) In discharging congregational responsibilities, an elder takes a keen personal interest in those related to him in the faith. (Gal. 6:9, 10) Overseers prepare for and conduct congregation meetings, visit the sick and others in need, and regularly participate in publicly declaring the “good news.” All of this is an example of love for God, for the “sheep” in their care and for those to whom these elders preach the Kingdom message.
16. What moved Paul to act in the best interests of the Corinthian congregation, and is the same attitude found among Christian overseers today?
16 There are times when overseers find it necessary to give direct counsel or to take disciplinary action. Their desire is to help individuals and protect the congregation. In this, elders imitate the apostle Paul. Motivated by love, the apostle acted in the best interests of the congregation at Corinth, although this placed a considerable strain on him. He wrote: “Out of much tribulation and anguish of heart I wrote you with many tears, not that you might be saddened, but that you might know the love that I have more especially for you.” (2 Cor. 2:4) While some persons in that congregation did not fully appreciate Paul’s tireless and unselfish efforts, he was willing to expend himself even further in their behalf, for he said: “For my part I will most gladly spend and be completely spent for your souls. If I love you the more abundantly, am I to be loved the less?” (2 Cor. 12:15) Like Paul, many overseers exert themselves wholeheartedly. They do so out of love for their brothers, thus setting a commendable example.
17. The fine examples of many overseers have had what effect upon the organization of God’s people, providing a basis for what sentiments on the part of faithful undershepherds?
17 It is possible to point to many overseers who have for years literally spent themselves in serving Jehovah and caring for the needs of their spiritual brothers and sisters. The example provided by these men has promoted the spirit of love in the entire organization of God’s people. Our confidence has been strengthened by such examples in shepherding “the flock” during these trialsome days. Because of having true love and concern for “the flock,” these undershepherds have reason to express themselves as did Paul, who wrote: “May the Lord cause you to increase, yes, make you abound, in love to one another and to all, even as we also do to you; to the end that he may make your hearts firm, unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the presence of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”—1 Thess. 3:12, 13.
Showing Faith Strengthens Fellow Believers
18. To what works should overseers be able to point as evidence that they have genuine faith?
18 Despite the loud religious professions of many today, “faith is not a possession of all people.” (2 Thess. 3:2) It must, however, be our possession if we are to please God. (Heb. 11:6) Here, too, Christian overseers must be an example to all—“in faith.” Moreover, they must have deeds or works to prove the existence of genuine faith on their part. (Jas. 2:14-26) Among other things, these works include such deeds as comforting sick fellow believers, supplying the needy among them and having a regular share in proclaiming the “good news of the kingdom.”—Matt. 24:14; compare Matthew 25:34-40.
19. Why is faith essential, and what does it enable many to do?
19 It is significant that Paul repeatedly stressed the point that ‘the righteous one will live by reason of faith.’ (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38) Faith not only provides us with a vision of what lies ahead but moves us to do things. For example, it takes faith to enroll as auxiliary or regular pioneers and then serve as full-time preachers of the “good news.” (Mark 13:10) Despite family responsibilities and other duties, many overseers and ministerial servants arrange to share in this activity. Many adjust their secular employment and other affairs so as to give more attention to congregational responsibilities. And genuine faith is required when taking a direct part in preaching the “good news,” fulfilling assignments at Christian assemblies, erecting Kingdom Halls or engaging in various day-to-day theocratic activities. Indeed, it takes faith for overseers and all of Jehovah’s people to believe, live, work and worship according to God’s Word.
20. (a) What part does faith play in taking a firm stand against the Devil? (b) How can overseers especially help fellow believers to surmount trials of their faith?
20 Faith also is needed to withstand difficulties and surmount trials of faith. After Peter exhorted older men to become examples to “the flock,” he warned: “Keep your senses, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone. But take your stand against him, solid in the faith, knowing that the same things in the way of sufferings are being accomplished in the entire association of your brothers in the world.” (1 Pet. 5:8, 9) Overseers must be ever alert to the Devil’s tactics and the devices he uses to sidetrack, ensnare or devour God’s servants. Never should Christians allow themselves to be lulled into complacency about the situation they face, and appointed undershepherds of “the flock” should be especially vigilant. In many lands, experience shows that when difficulties and trials befall Jehovah’s Witnesses, overseers are in the forefront of the battle. With reliance on God, these elders keep helping their fellow believers in various ways, resisting the Adversary, praying earnestly, and using the large shield of faith and other spiritual armor.—Eph. 6:10-18.
21. What do overseers, in being examples in faith themselves, help “the flock” to do as far as faith and hope are concerned?
21 Overseers should help “the flock” to walk by faith and rejoice in the hope ahead. Because of their invisibility, we cannot see Jehovah God and his Son in the heavenly realm. Nevertheless, their dealings with us are real. (Heb. 11:27) What is taking place as a result of their leadership is in fulfillment of what the Bible foretold. Overseers should eagerly help their spiritual brothers and sisters to appreciate this fact and to see that members of the “great crowd” are being gathered in considerable numbers. Jehovah’s blessing is on the work being done. (Isa. 60:22; Rev. 7:9) We are experiencing the spiritual security he has promised. (Ps. 91:1, 2) Fruits of Jehovah’s holy spirit, including faith, do abound among God’s people today. (Gal. 5:22, 23; compare Romans 1:8.) Our eyes of faith behold the coming execution of Jehovah’s judgments. (Rev. 11:16-18; 16:14, 16) Beyond the “great tribulation” a new order is due to begin, and the earth will be brought to a paradise state. (Matt. 24:21; Luke 23:43; 2 Pet. 3:11-13) There is going to be a resurrection. (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15) The human family will be restored to peaceful relations with God, and everlasting life will be the lot of those who prove obedient during the final test. (Rev. 20:7-10) But as we look to the future, we appreciate the tens of thousands of overseers who now serve as examples in faith, loyal undershepherds who are doing so much to help “the flock” to rejoice in the hope ahead.—Rom. 12:12.
“In Chasteness”—Worthy Examples
22. (a) How can reflection on Philippians 4:8 and James 3:17 help overseers to be examples in chasteness? (b) In recommending brothers for responsibility within the congregation, how must overseers endeavor to remain chaste?
22 Finally, overseers are exhorted to “become an example to the faithful ones . . . in chasteness.” This means more than being clean in mind and moral conduct. Obviously, they must be careful that what their minds dwell upon is chaste. (Phil. 4:8; Jas. 3:17) But, in order to remain chaste, overseers must also exercise good judgment when considering brothers for responsibility within the congregation. Their qualifications must be weighed carefully in the light of Scriptural requirements. Never should favoritism be shown to personal friends or relatives. If there are doubts about a person’s moral conduct, allow time and facts to remove such doubts. This would be in line with the sound counsel found at 1 Timothy 5:22: “Never lay your hands hastily upon any man; neither be a sharer in the sins of others; preserve yourself chaste.”
23. What will help overseers to preserve themselves chaste in handling judicial matters?
23 Overseers also avoid sharing in the sins of others by handling judicial matters properly. In dealing with cases of wrongdoing, elders should be merciful when the circumstances call for mercy, but they must not condone or take a casual view of sin. (Prov. 28:13; Jas. 2:13; compare Jude 3-15, 22, 23.) Care must be exercised by appointed elders so that they are not swayed by partiality, sentiment or emotion when listening to the statements of wrongdoers or the testimony of others. By letting Bible principles govern any decisions they make in such cases, faithful undershepherds will preserve themselves chaste.
24. What will make it possible for overseers to express themselves as Paul did at 1 Corinthians 11:1?
24 By becoming examples in the foregoing ways, all faithful Christian overseers can with good conscience say, as Paul did: “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1) Although conscious of his personal weaknesses, the apostle was able to say with confidence that he was following Christ. The same thing is true of overseers today who are endeavoring to measure up to God’s requirements.
Congregation Encouraged to Speak the Word Boldly
25. Imitating the good example set by Christian overseers can produce what results in the congregation due to God’s blessings?
25 What results can we expect from following the example provided by faithful undershepherds of the “flock of God”? Why, all in the congregation will be encouraged to continue speaking the word of God with boldness while maintaining fine conduct! (Acts 4:29-31; 1 Pet. 2:12) The fruitage of love will unmistakably identify the congregation as being made up of Jesus Christ’s true disciples, and this will draw others into association with God’s people. (Zech. 8:23; John 13:34, 35) Active faith will be displayed in the doing of such fine works as preaching the “good news,” making disciples and pursuing godly ways. (Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20) With chasteness dominating the lives of all who seek God’s approval, the entire congregation will be kept clean. May we therefore serve Jehovah together in faithfulness, appreciating the blessings we enjoy as God’s people. And may our loving heavenly Father continue to bless our united efforts as we work with Christian overseers who are fine examples to “the flock.”