“An Overseer Must Be . . . Self-Controlled”
“An overseer must be . . . self-controlled.”—TITUS 1:7, 8.
1, 2. What example of restraint did William of Orange provide, and with what beneficial results?
HISTORY provides a most noteworthy example involving restraint of the emotions. In the mid-16th century, the young Dutch prince William of Orange was on a hunting trip with King Henry II of France. The king revealed to William the plan he and the king of Spain had to wipe out all the Protestants in France and in the Netherlands—in fact, in all Christendom. King Henry was under the impression that young William was a devout Catholic like himself and therefore divulged all the details of the plot. What William heard horrified him in the extreme because many of his closest friends were Protestants, but he did not betray what he felt; instead, he showed great interest in all the details the king gave him.
2 As soon as William could do so, however, he set in motion plans to foil the plot, and this ultimately led to freeing the Netherlands of Spanish Catholic domination. Because William was able to exercise self-control when he first heard of the plot, he became known as “William the Silent.” So successful was William of Orange that we are told: “He was the real founder of the independence and greatness of the Dutch republic.”
3. Who benefit when Christian elders exercise self-control?
3 By reason of his restraint, William the Silent greatly benefited both himself and his people. In a comparable way, the holy spirit’s fruit of self-control should be manifested today by Christian elders, or overseers. (Galatians 5:22, 23) By exercising this quality, they benefit both themselves and the congregations. On the other hand, failure on their part to exercise self-control can do incalculable harm.
Self-Control—A Requisite for Elders
4. What counsel of the apostle Paul stresses the need for elders to exercise self-control?
4 Paul, himself an elder, appreciated the importance of self-control. When counseling the elders who had come to him from Ephesus, he told them: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock.” Among other things, paying attention to themselves included the need to exercise self-control, to watch their conduct. In writing to Timothy, Paul made the same point, saying: “Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching.” Such counsel showed Paul’s awareness of the human tendency on the part of some to be more concerned with preaching than with practicing what they preach. Therefore, he first emphasized the need to watch themselves.—Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 4:16.
5. How are Christian elders appointed, and where are their qualifications recorded in the Scriptures?
5 Throughout the years, the Scriptural role of elders has gradually become clearer. Today, we see that eldership is an appointive position. Elders are appointed by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses or its direct representatives. That body, in turn, represents “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45-47) The qualifications for becoming a Christian overseer, or elder, are given primarily by the apostle Paul at 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.
6, 7. What specific qualifications of elders require self-control?
6 Paul states at 1 Timothy 3:2, 3 that an overseer must be moderate in habits. This and the need for an elder to be orderly require the exercising of self-control. A man qualifying to be an overseer is not a smiter and is not belligerent. These qualifications also require that an elder be self-controlled. Moreover, for an elder not to be a drunken brawler, given to wine, he must exercise self-control.—See also footnotes to 1 Timothy 3:2, 3.
7 At Titus 1:7, 8, Paul specifically stated that an overseer must be self-controlled. Note, however, how many of the other requirements that are listed in these verses involve self-control. For example, the overseer must be free from accusation, yes, irreprehensible. Certainly, an elder could not meet those requirements unless he exercised self-control.
When Dealing With Others
8. What qualities needed by elders in giving counsel underscore the need for self-control?
8 Then again, an overseer must be patient and long-suffering in dealing with fellow believers, and this requires self-control. For example, at Galatians 6:1, we read: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications [primarily the elders] try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted.” To manifest a spirit of mildness takes self-control. For that matter, self-control is also involved in keeping an eye on oneself. Likewise, when an elder is being called on for help by a person in distress, self-control is very important. Regardless of what the elder may think of the individual, he must be kind, patient, and understanding. Rather than be quick to give advice, the elder must be willing to listen and draw out from the individual what really seems to be troubling him.
9. Elders should have what counsel in mind when dealing with distraught brothers?
9 Especially when dealing with distraught persons is this counsel at James 1:19 apropos: “Know this, my beloved brothers. Every man must be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” Yes, particularly when encountering angry or emotional reactions must an elder be careful not to respond in kind. It takes self-control not to meet emotionally charged words with emotionally charged words, not to “return evil for evil.” (Romans 12:17) To respond in like manner just makes bad matters worse. So here again God’s Word gives elders fine advice, reminding them that “an answer, when mild, turns away rage.”—Proverbs 15:1.
Self-Control at Meetings of Elders and Judicial Hearings
10, 11. What has happened at meetings of elders, showing the need for self-control on such occasions?
10 Another area wherein Christian overseers need to be careful to exercise self-control is during meetings of elders. To speak up calmly in the interest of truth and justice sometimes takes great self-control. It also takes self-control to avoid trying to dominate a discussion. Where an elder has such a propensity, it would be a kindness for another elder to offer him counsel.—Compare 3 John 9.
11 Then again, at meetings of elders, an overearnest elder may be tempted to get emotional, even to raise his voice. How greatly such actions betray a lack of self-control! They are really doubly self-defeating. On the one hand, to the extent that a person loses self-control, to that extent he weakens his own case by allowing emotion to overshadow logic. On the other hand, to the extent that an individual gets emotional, he tends to upset or even antagonize his fellow elders. Besides, unless elders are careful, sharp differences of opinion may cause division in their ranks. This works to their own harm and to that of the congregation.—Compare Acts 15:36-40.
12. In dealing with what situations must elders be careful to exercise self-control?
12 Self-control is also greatly needed by elders to avoid being partial or abusing their power. It is so easy to yield to temptation, to let imperfect human considerations influence what one says or does! Time and again, elders have failed to act decisively when one of their children or some other relative was found guilty of wrong conduct. In such situations it takes self-control not to let blood ties impede just action.—Deuteronomy 10:17.
13. Why is self-control especially needed by elders at judicial hearings?
13 Another situation in which self-control is very important is when there is a judicial hearing. Elders must exercise great self-control so that they are not unduly influenced by emotion. They should not be too easily swayed by tears. At the same time, an elder must be careful not to lose his composure when charges fly and aspersions may be cast upon him, as may be the case when dealing with apostates. Here Paul’s words are very fitting: “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all.” It takes self-control to exercise gentleness under pressure. Paul goes on to show that “a slave of the Lord” must be “keeping himself restrained under evil, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed.” To manifest mildness and to keep oneself restrained when dealing with opposition takes great self-control.—2 Timothy 2:24, 25.
Self-Control With the Opposite Sex
14. What fine counsel should elders heed in their dealings with those of the opposite sex?
14 Elders must be keenly alert to exercise self-control when it comes to their dealings with those of the opposite sex. It is inadvisable for an elder to make a shepherding call on a sister alone. The elder should be accompanied by another elder or a ministerial servant. Likely appreciating this problem, Paul counseled the elder Timothy: “Entreat . . . older women as mothers, younger women as sisters with all chasteness.” (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) Some elders have been seen putting their hands on a sister as if with a fatherly gesture. But they could be deceiving themselves, for a romantic impulse instead of pure Christian brotherly affection could well be motivating such a gesture.—Compare 1 Corinthians 7:1.
15. How does a certain incident highlight the reproach on Jehovah’s name that can result when an elder does not exercise self-control?
15 How much harm to the truth has resulted because some elders did not exercise self-control in their dealings with sisters in the congregation! A few years ago, an elder was disfellowshipped because he had committed adultery with a Christian sister whose husband was not a Witness. On the very night that the disfellowshipping of the former elder was announced, the aggrieved husband strode into the Kingdom Hall with a rifle and fired at the two guilty individuals. Neither of them was killed, and he was at once disarmed, but the next day a major newspaper featured on its front page the news of ‘a shooting at a church.’ What reproach that elder’s lack of self-control brought upon the congregation and upon Jehovah’s name!
Self-Control in Other Areas
16. Why must elders be careful to exercise self-control when giving public talks?
16 Self-control is also very much needed when an elder gives a public talk. A public speaker should be a model of confidence and poise. Some try to amuse their hearers with many witty remarks made just for the purpose of getting laughs. This may betray a yielding to the temptation to please their audience. Of course, all yielding to temptation is a lack of self-control. It might even be said that running overtime when giving a talk betrays a lack of self-control, as well as insufficient preparation.
17, 18. What role does self-control play in an elder’s balancing his various responsibilities?
17 Every hardworking elder must meet the challenge to balance the various demands made upon his time and energy. It takes self-control not to go to one extreme or another. Some elders have been so concerned with the demands of the congregation that they have neglected their families. Thus, when one sister told the wife of an elder about the fine shepherding call he had made on her, the elder’s wife exclaimed: “I wish he would make a shepherding call on me sometime!”—1 Timothy 3:2, 4, 5.
18 An elder also needs self-control to balance the time he spends on personal study with that spent in the field ministry or on shepherding calls. In view of the deceitfulness of the human heart, it is very easy for an elder to spend more time than he should at what he finds most pleasurable. If he likes books, he could well be spending more time on personal study than he should. If he finds the house-to-house ministry rather difficult, he may find excuses for neglecting it in the interests of making shepherding calls.
19. What obligation do elders have that underscores the need for self-control?
19 The obligation to maintain confidentiality also requires that an elder be alert to practice firm self-control. Pertinent here is the counsel: “Do not reveal the confidential talk of another.” (Proverbs 25:9) Experience suggests that this may be one of the most widely violated requirements among elders. If an elder has a wise and loving wife with whom he has good communication, there may be a tendency on his part to discuss or just to mention matters of a confidential nature. But this is improper and most unwise. To begin with, it betrays a trust. Spiritual brothers and sisters come to elders and confide in them because they have confidence that the matter will be held strictly confidential. Imparting confidential matters to one’s wife is wrong, unwise, and unloving also because this places a needless burden upon her.—Proverbs 10:19; 11:13.
20. Why is it so important for elders to exercise self-control?
20 Without question, self-control is, oh, so important, and especially so for elders! By virtue of their having been entrusted with the privilege of taking the lead among Jehovah’s people, they have greater accountability. Since much has been given to them, much will be required of them. (Luke 12:48; 16:10; compare James 3:1.) It is the privilege and duty of elders to set a fine example for others. More than that, appointed elders are in a position to do more good or more harm than others, often depending on whether they practice self-control or not. No wonder Paul said: “An overseer must be . . . self-controlled.”
Do You Recall?
◻ What Scriptural requirements of elders show that they must exercise self-control?
◻ Why is self-control needed by elders when dealing with fellow believers?
◻ How should self-control be exercised at meetings of elders?
◻ What challenge is presented by the need for elders to maintain confidentiality?
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Displaying self-control is essential at meetings of elders
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Christian elders must exercise self-control and maintain confidentiality