Elders—Guard Your Trust
“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.
1. What does the Christian trust include?
JEHOVAH GOD has granted those in his earthly organization a wonderful trust. But what is a trust? It is something of value committed to a person who must render an account. The Christian trust includes “the pattern of healthful words,” the truth imparted through the Scriptures and dispensed by “the faithful and discreet slave” as “food at the proper time.” (2 Timothy 1:13, 14; Matthew 24:45-47) This trust includes the ministry associated with the truth, which must be preached inside and outside the congregation. (2 Timothy 4:1-5) Kingdom proclaimers, including spirit-appointed elders, should esteem this trust as of the highest value.
2. Elders have what added trust, and what did Peter say about it?
2 Christian elders have an added trust—the responsibility of shepherding God’s flock. In this regard, the apostle Peter wrote: “To the older men among you I give this exhortation, for I too am an older man with them and a witness of the sufferings of the Christ, a sharer even of the glory that is to be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly; neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd has been made manifest, you will receive the unfadable crown of glory.”—1 Peter 5:1-4.
3. Christian elders must be sources of what?
3 Christian elders “must prove to be like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.” (Isaiah 32:1, 2) This means that elders should be sources of security, peace, and stability to the flock of God’s sheeplike servants. “More than usual” is required of elders, or undershepherds, of the flock because they have been “put in charge of much.” (Luke 12:48) And they surely have a precious trust that must be guarded.
Why Entrusted to You?
4. Why are so many elders needed?
4 The existence of over 60,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide requires scores of thousands of spiritually qualified men to care for God’s flock. There are many elders in each country, and this is a cause for joy. Worldwide there is an average of about 60 Kingdom proclaimers in each congregation. Hence, there is much work for elders to do.—1 Corinthians 15:58.
5. On what basis is the privilege of serving as an elder extended to a man?
5 If you are an elder, why was this blessed privilege extended to you? Because you have done certain things, and you have spiritual qualifications. For instance, you must have studied God’s Word diligently. (Joshua 1:7, 8) You must have shared zealously in the field ministry, also helping others to become Kingdom proclaimers. Having been “tested as to fitness first,” you served faithfully as a ministerial servant. You ‘reached out,’ or sought to qualify, to be an elder, appreciating that being an overseer is “a fine work.” (1 Timothy 3:1, 10) Like Timothy, you were “well reported on by the brothers.” (Acts 16:2) When recommended as an elder, likely you were in your late 20’s or older and were experienced in life. The congregation had come to respect you as a spiritually mature, approachable brother capable of giving effective Scriptural counsel and maintaining confidentiality.—Proverbs 25:9, 10.
How to Guard Your Trust
6, 7. First Timothy 4:13-15 provides what counsel to help a man to guard his trust as an elder?
6 Yes, if you are an elder, it was for sound reasons that Christian oversight was entrusted to you. And how privileged you have felt! But how can you guard your trust?
7 One way to guard your trust as an elder is to be positive and diligent in caring for your duties. All of us have assignments of varying responsibility in Jehovah’s organization. Therefore, keep your place, and be content to ‘conduct yourself as a lesser one.’ (Luke 9:46-48; compare Judges 7:21.) Cherish your privileges, and never ‘work with a slack hand.’ (Proverbs 10:4) Do not stand still, but with Jehovah’s help, make progress in all aspects of the ministry. Indeed, follow this counsel given by Paul to Timothy: “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. Ponder over these things; be absorbed in them, that your advancement may be manifest to all persons.”—1 Timothy 4:13-15.
8. What will help an elder to give sound counsel and impart something spiritually enriching at meetings?
8 Make sure that you maintain a good, productive schedule of personal study. As an elder, you are rightly expected to give sound Scriptural counsel. To equip you for this responsibility, have you read the entire Bible meditatively, perhaps many times? (Proverbs 15:28) What about your platform assignments? Prepare them well, prayerfully seeking Jehovah’s help so that you may impart something spiritually enriching to those present at our meetings. Elders in particular should ‘say what is good for building up, that it may impart what is favorable to hearers.’—Ephesians 4:29; Romans 1:11.
9. According to 2 Timothy 4:2, what must an elder do?
9 As an elder, heed Paul’s admonition: “Preach the word, be at it urgently in favorable season, in troublesome season, reprove, reprimand, exhort, with all long-suffering and art of teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2) Paul was concerned about apostasy because some in the congregation ‘fought about words,’ indulged in ‘foolish questionings,’ and ‘were not favorably disposed to the truth.’ (2 Timothy 2:14-18, 23-25; 3:8-13; 4:3, 4) Whether the congregation was experiencing a troublesome or a favorable season, however, Timothy was to “preach the word.” This would strengthen fellow believers to resist apostasy. Similarly today, elders must preach the penetrating Word, or message, of God, which reaches the heart and encourages adherence to Jehovah’s standards.—Hebrews 4:12.
10. Why should an elder regularly work in the field ministry with members of his family and others?
10 To speak with authority, an elder must live in harmony with God’s Word. But he is not fully guarding his trust if he ‘preaches the word’ only on the platform inside the congregation. In the same context Paul urged Timothy: “Do the work of an evangelizer.” To ‘accomplish your ministry fully’ as an elder, you must preach God’s Word “publicly and from house to house.” (2 Timothy 4:5; Acts 20:20, 21) Therefore, work in the field ministry with members of your family. This can contribute to the spiritual bond between you and your wife and will greatly benefit your children. Spend some time, too, sharing in the preaching work with other members of the congregation. This strengthens spiritual ties and increases brotherly love. (John 13:34, 35) Of course, an elder must strive for balance in dividing valuable time between his family and the congregation. The use of discernment will prevent him from devoting too much time to one, to the neglect and detriment of the other.
11. Why should an elder work hard to increase his capability as a teacher?
11 To guard your trust as an elder, also work hard to increase your capability as a teacher. “He that teaches, let him be at his teaching,” said Paul, “or he that exhorts, let him be at his exhortation.” (Romans 12:7, 8) Since a teacher stands as an instructor before others, they have a right to expect much of him. If an elder should err seriously in his teaching and this causes problems for fellow believers, he comes in line for judgment by God. Yes, teachers “shall receive heavier judgment.” (James 3:1, 2; Matthew 12:36, 37) So elders need to be serious students of God’s Word and must apply it in life. Then their Scriptural teaching, backed up by personal application, will be greatly appreciated by fellow believers. It will also shield the congregation from unwholesome influences, including apostasy.
12. What counsel once published in this journal will help an elder to avoid the misuse of the tongue?
12 Guard your trust as an elder, too, by avoiding pitfalls. One of these is misuse of the tongue as a teacher. The need for caution in this regard has long been emphasized by Jehovah’s organization. For example, in its issue of May 15, 1897, this journal discussed James 3:1-13 and said especially of elders: “If they possess an eloquent tongue it may be a channel for a great blessing, swaying large numbers to the Lord, the truth and the way of righteousness; or, on the other hand, if contaminated with error, the tongue can do almost untellable harm—injury to faith, to morals, to good works. It is indeed true, that whoever exercises the gift of teaching lays himself open to increased responsibility in the sight of God and men. . . . Whoever would be a fountain from which would go forth the divine Word, carrying blessing and refreshment and strength, should see to it that bitter waters, false doctrines that would cause a curse, an injury—dishonoring God and perverting his Word—should not find in them a channel of utterance. In the choice of leaders for meetings the ‘tongue’ qualification, as here laid down should not be overlooked. The fiery tongued should not be chosen, but the meeker, the moderate, who ‘bridle’ their tongues and endeavor carefully to ‘speak as the oracles of God’ only.” How important it is that an elder use his tongue aright!
13. Elders need to exercise what caution regarding recreation?
13 Excessive recreation is also a pitfall to avoid. Recreation should refresh and build up, not exhaust and distract a Christian. Furthermore, overseers must be “moderate in habits.” (1 Timothy 3:2) If moderation governs what you do regarding recreation, this will guard you and your family and will provide a fine example for the congregation. You would hardly be setting a good example if, time and again, you went away for recreational purposes on weekends while your fellow believers were diligently engaging in the field ministry. The good news must be preached, and elders should take the lead in this work as zealous Kingdom proclaimers.—Mark 13:10; Titus 2:14.
14. (a) What Scriptural examples highlight the need for elders to guard against sexual immorality? (b) Elders should not ignore what repeated advice on assisting spiritual sisters?
14 Sexual immorality is another pitfall to avoid. The world’s moral decay can influence even an elder if he does not resist the temptations used by Satan in his efforts to break the integrity of God’s people. (Compare Matthew 4:1-11; 6:9, 13.) Remember that the prophet Balaam, unsuccessful in his attempts to curse the Israelites, reasoned that Jehovah himself would curse them if they could be seduced to engage in sex worship. So Balaam taught the Moabite king Balak “to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication.” Did they avoid that pitfall? No, for 24,000 Israelites died in a scourge from Jehovah because they had immoral relations with Moabite women and bowed down to their gods. (Revelation 2:14; Numbers 25:1-9) Remember, too, that even David, ‘a man agreeable to God’s heart,’ stumbled into the pitfall of sexual immorality. (1 Samuel 13:14; 2 Samuel 11:2-4) As an elder, then, heed the repeated advice of “the faithful steward” never to assist a spiritual sister privately but to have another elder present when caring for this responsibility.—Luke 12:42.
15. How can an elder’s family help him to avoid the pitfall of materialism?
15 Materialism is another pitfall for an elder to avoid. Be content with necessities, knowing that Jehovah will make adequate provision. (Matthew 6:25-33; Hebrews 13:5) Train your family to be thrifty, for wastefulness is a thief of time and resources that could be used to help the family, as well as to engage in the field ministry, strengthen the congregation, and promote Kingdom interests. An elder benefits from his family’s cooperation in this regard and is grateful that they do not pressure him for things not actually needed. In fact, “better is a little in the fear of Jehovah than an abundant supply and confusion along with it.”—Proverbs 15:16.
“Pay Attention to Yourselves”
16. What counsel did Paul give to the overseers of Ephesus?
16 If elders are to guard their trust, they must apply Paul’s counsel to the overseers of Ephesus. He told 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. I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore keep awake, and bear in mind that for three years, night and day, I did not quit admonishing each one with tears.”—Acts 20:28-31.
17, 18. What counsel published in this magazine some 80 years ago still applies to Christian elders?
17 More than 80 years ago, The Watch Tower (March 1, 1909) quoted the foregoing counsel of Paul to fellow elders and commented: “The Elders everywhere need to take special heed; because in every trial the most favored and most prominent have the severest besetments and tests. Hence [James] exhorts, ‘Be not many of you teachers, brethren, knowing that a man shall receive the more severe testing.’ We, likewise, exhort all the Elders who in heart are pure, unselfish, that they have nothing but love and good wishes for all mankind, and that they become more and more filled with the fruits and graces of the holy Spirit, taking heed also to the flock. Remember, that the flock is the Lord’s and that you have a responsibility to the Lord, as well as to them. Remember, that you are to watch for their souls (interests) as those who must give an account to the Great Chief Shepherd. Remember, that the principal thing is Love, in all; and, while not neglecting doctrines, give special heed to the development of the Lord’s Spirit amongst the various members of his Body, that thus they may become ‘meet for the inheritance of the saints in light,’ and, according to the Divine will, be not suffered to stumble in this evil day, but, having done all, to stand complete in Christ, his Body, his Members, his Joint-Sacrificers, his Joint-Heirs.”
18 Those words were directed to spirit-anointed elders and fellow believers in line with the understanding and circumstances of Jehovah’s organization in those earlier days. Yet, how well that counsel applies today! Whether their hopes are heavenly or earthly, Christian elders must pay attention to themselves, guard their trust, and lovingly care for the interests of God’s flock.
Joy Results From Guarding Your Trust
19, 20. Why can it be said that joy results when elders guard their trust?
19 Happiness—in fact, heartfelt joy—results from guarding your trust as a Christian elder. There is pleasure in discharging a serious responsibility well. So be cautious, prayerful, diligent. Guard your trust as an elder and look forward to the time when you can say, as did the man with the secretary’s inkhorn: “I have done just as you have commanded me.”—Ezekiel 9:3, 4, 11.
20 Yes, work loyally as an elder so that it can be said of you as it was of Noah: “He did just so.” (Genesis 6:22) From such diligent service, the congregation benefits in many ways. Most of all, Jehovah is honored by strong, active congregations served by faithful elders who guard their trust. But more is required if, in effect, you are to be told: “Well done, good slave!” (Luke 19:17) As an elder, you must also treat God’s flock with tenderness.
What Would You Say?
□ What added trust do Christian elders have?
□ An elder can take what positive steps to guard his trust?
□ To guard his trust, what pitfalls must an elder avoid?
□ Why does joy result when elders guard their trust?
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Christian elders must be like “a place of concealment from the rainstorm”
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As an elder, regularly share in the field ministry with members of your family and others
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If you guard your trust as an elder, the congregation will benefit in many ways