Timothy Gets Counsel From an Older Man
SEVERAL years ago the elders of a modern-day congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses received from a fellow Christian a letter that, in part, read: “You have helped me so much and I so want to let you know how grateful I am for all you’ve done. Today I am one of the happiest persons in the world. Your love and assistance have helped make me what I am. Thank you so much.”
You can be sure that this letter made these elders happy. Faithful elders have always enjoyed the esteem of their Christian brothers and sisters. And older elders have often given younger and less experienced elders fine counsel on how they can prove worthy of such esteem. The apostle Paul, for example, did so in his two letters to his younger fellow-elder Timothy.
How did the loving relationship that existed between Paul and Timothy come about? What can we learn from Paul’s counsel?
Paul’s Relationship With Timothy
Timothy evidently met Paul about 47-48 C.E. when Paul came to Lystra on his first missionary tour. At the time Timothy may have been just a teenager. During this visit Timothy, his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois became Christians. Timothy’s father, however, was an unbelieving Greek. Paul may have been particularly interested in Timothy’s welfare for that reason. At any rate, Timothy made fine progress and developed a faith that was “without hypocrisy.” (1 Timothy 1:5) It was when Paul returned to Lystra on his second missionary tour, about two years later, that Paul chose Timothy as a traveling companion.
Some 15 years of association with the apostle Paul followed. It was while serving in the capacity of an elder at Ephesus that Timothy received Paul’s first letter. It was written sometime after Paul’s release from prison in Rome in 61 C.E. and before his second imprisonment in 64 C.E. The second letter was probably written in 65 C.E., shortly before Paul’s death.—2 Timothy 4:6-8.
The affection Paul had for Timothy is apparent, for he calls him “a genuine child in the faith,” even “a beloved child.” So Paul’s fatherly advice to “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent cases of sickness,” does not seem out of place. And when Paul knows that his death is imminent, how natural for him to write: “Do your utmost to come to me shortly”! Particularly is Paul’s personal interest in Timothy pointed up in his second letter, where the personal pronouns “you,” “your” and “yourself” appear some 25 percent more often than in his first letter. Obviously this older elder had real affection for his younger associate and was interested in his personal welfare.—1 Timothy 1:2; 5:23; 2 Timothy 1:2; 4:9.
Additionally, and more importantly, Paul wanted Timothy to serve the interests of the Christian congregation well. Knowing Timothy’s physical and mental limitations, and also realizing that his relative youth made him susceptible to “the desires incidental to youth,” Paul counseled: “Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching. Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” (2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Timothy 4:16) How grateful Timothy must have been to receive divine counsel from an elder older and more experienced than he! Younger elders today also are appreciative of such help and direction. But what did Paul’s counsel to Timothy include?
“Continue in the Things That You Learned”
To continue one’s faithful course as a Christian—as an elder or otherwise—requires total reliance upon God. Never should one rely too heavily upon youthful strength or ability. The value of prayer should never be underestimated. Fitting, therefore, was Paul’s advice: “Carry on prayer, lifting up loyal hands, apart from wrath and debates.” (1 Timothy 2:8) How important that elders, when meeting together to discuss congregational matters, ask for divine guidance! This showing of loyalty to Jehovah prevents endless debates and possible outbursts of wrath.
In order to endure, Christians must stay close to the congregation and be interested in its well-being. To this end, Paul advised prayer “concerning kings and all those who are in high station.” Timothy, of course, realized that these were not to be prayers of blessing on politicians like those offered by today’s clergy. Rather, they were petitions to God that he might move the world’s governmental authorities to permit Christians to keep on “leading a calm and quiet life,” preaching the Kingdom message “with full godly devotion and seriousness.”—1 Timothy 2:1, 2.
The apostle Paul knew that considering the faithful course of others would help Timothy to “continue in the things that [he had] learned.” So Paul wrote: “You have closely followed my teaching, my course of life, my purpose, my faith, my long-suffering, my love, my endurance, my persecutions, my sufferings.” (2 Timothy 3:14, 10, 11) Thousands of older elders today set the same fine example that Paul did, this including their methods of teaching.—1 Corinthians 4:17.
“Keep Holding the Pattern of Healthful Words”
“All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” It is the pure message of Scriptural truth that makes a Christian “fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”—2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
Some of the Ephesian Christians, however, were no longer in harmony with what Paul called “the pattern of healthful words.” (2 Timothy 1:13) They were “mentally diseased over questionings and debates about words.” Some got into “violent disputes about trifles.” (1 Timothy 6:4, 5) So Paul’s counsel was to “turn down foolish and ignorant questionings, knowing they produce fights.” (2 Timothy 2:23) Likewise today, elders should keep attention focused on the really important things, those that will help Christians to “get a firm hold on the everlasting life.” What are these important things? God’s established Kingdom, the preaching work and the Christian way of life.—1 Timothy 6:11, 12.
In Timothy’s day Hymenaeus and Philetus, and perhaps others, were spreading false doctrines, “subverting the faith of some.” Due to such deviation from the truth, Paul said, “I have handed them over to Satan.” Evidently they were disfellowshipped from the congregation. (2 Timothy 2:17, 18; 1 Timothy 1:20) We should not expect a different situation today. Paul warned that “in later periods of time some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to misleading inspired utterances and teachings of demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1) A young, inexperienced elder could become unduly upset about this, but he should not. The apostasy of some in no way changes the truth. It simply marks the apostates as persons who “in accord with their own desires . . . turn their ears away from the truth.”—2 Timothy 4:3, 4.
Included in “holding the pattern of healthful words,” or ‘putting up with the healthful teaching,’ is living a morally upright life. (2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3) Some younger elders might feel that they should take a more up-to-date, more liberal stand on “sin,” or so-called matters of conscience. But worldly-wise arguments in defense of wrongdoing are nothing more than “empty speeches that violate what is holy.” Turn away from worldly philosophies, Paul urged, “from the contradictions of the falsely called ‘knowledge.’”—1 Timothy 6:20, 21.
True knowledge is gained by personal study under the guidance of God’s spirit and organization. This is what enables an elder, or any Christian for that matter, to be “a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.” He will not be like false religious leaders who are “always learning and yet never able to come to an accurate knowledge of truth.”—2 Timothy 2:15; 3:7.
“Preside in a Fine Way”
To “preside in a fine way” a Christian elder “needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, . . . instructing with mildness.” (1 Timothy 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:24, 25) Each member of the congregation must be dealt with individually. Paul’s years of experience had taught him the wisdom of entreating older men as fathers, “younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters with all chasteness.”—1 Timothy 5:1, 2.
As a person grows in experience he develops an eye for problems and for the needs of others. Timothy was to be aware of certain situations that might need his attention. Were there widows, for example, without close relatives, who needed to be cared for? Did any of the Christian slaves and Christian masters (like a Christian employee and his Christian employer of today) have a wrong view of their relationship that might require correction? Since they lived in Ephesus, a wealthy commercial center, did some need to be reminded that “those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires”? Did well-to-do Christians need to be counseled “not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God”?—1 Timothy 5:3-16; 6:1, 2, 9, 17-19.
Had some in the congregation become aware of, and even observed, sinful activity of those unwilling to adhere to God’s rules? “Reprove before all onlookers [such observers] persons who practice sin,” Paul admonished, “that the rest [those aware of it] also may have fear.” And what about the female members of the congregation? Were they “serious, not slanderous, moderate in habits, faithful in all things”? Or were some of them ignoring God’s arrangement that did “not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man” in the congregation?—1 Timothy 5:20; 3:11; 2:11, 12.
Were the men appointed to serve as elders and ministerial servants being chosen with care and necessary caution? “Never lay your hands hastily upon any man,” Paul counseled. Appointments of elders and ministerial servants must be made, not on the basis of personal feelings, but in the light of divine requirements. In discussing such appointments, young elders would do well to weigh carefully the observations made by elders older and more experienced than they are.—1 Timothy 5:22; 3:1-10.
“Become an Example to the Faithful Ones”
Timothy was evidently a shy, or timid, person. He may have been hesitant about exercising authority. But he should not have been. “Let no man ever look down on your youth,” Paul told him. “On the contrary, become an example to the faithful ones.” How? “In speaking, in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness.”—1 Timothy 4:12.
A Christian elder today could also feel backward and shy because of his comparative youth. He could be hesitant in offering comments at elders’ meetings. On the other hand, he could tend to be too forward, indicating a lack of humility. How important to remember that any Christian privilege we may be given is “not by reason of our works, but by reason of [God’s] own purpose and undeserved kindness”!—2 Timothy 1:9.
Physically, younger elders may be better able than others to take the lead in doing “the work of an evangelizer.” (2 Timothy 4:5) If so, then they should. It is a work that MUST be done, because Jehovah’s “will is that all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” Recreation, hobbies, vacations or sports should not be allowed to infringe upon time properly reserved for our Christian ministry.—1 Timothy 2:4; 4:8.
In keeping with Paul’s counsel to Timothy, neither should younger elders allow fear of men to hinder them. Paul reminded Timothy that “God gave us not a spirit of cowardice, but that of power and of love and of soundness of mind.” A Christian elder, or any other Christian for that matter, should “not become ashamed of the witness about our Lord.” In fact, all Christians should be willing to take part “in suffering evil for the good news.”—2 Timothy 1:7, 8.
For speaking out boldly in defense of true worship, the younger elder Timothy and his older fellow-elder Paul gained the love and esteem of their Christian brothers. By imitating the example of those first-century overseers, elders in this 20th century also will enjoy the love and esteem of their Christian brothers and sisters. Yes, be they young or old, “the men who minister in a fine manner are acquiring for themselves a fine standing.”—1 Timothy 3:13.
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Elders should be willing to learn from those older and more experienced than they