Elders—Readjust Others in a Spirit of Mildness
THE heart of a genuine Christian might be likened to a spiritual garden yielding fine fruitage. Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, and self-control would normally flourish there. And why not? After all, these are the fruits of the holy spirit given by Jehovah God to his dedicated servants. (Galatians 5:22, 23) Yet, every Christian desiring to maintain the garden of his heart as a place pleasing to his heavenly Father must wage a vigorous, ongoing battle against the weeds of inherited sin.—Romans 5:5, 12.
Occasionally, something undesirable begins to grow in a godly person’s imperfect heart. He or she may have had an excellent spiritual record. But then there arises some problem, possibly rooted in unhealthy associations or an unwise decision. How can congregation elders help such a person spiritually?
In helping a Christian who has erred, elders need to follow the apostle Paul’s counsel: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications 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.” (Galatians 6:1) When a fellow believer has taken “some false step before he is aware of it,” elders have a responsibility to offer assistance as quickly as possible.
Paul refers to “a man” as taking a false step. However, the Greek word (anʹthro·pos) used here can apply to either a man or a woman. And what does it mean to “readjust” a person? This Greek term (ka·tar·tiʹzo) means to “bring into proper alignment.” The same word is used for mending nets. (Matthew 4:21) It also applies to setting a person’s broken limb. A doctor does this carefully to avoid causing his patient unnecessary pain. Likewise, helping a brother or a sister to come into proper spiritual alignment requires care, tact, and compassion.
Elders give evidence of their own spirituality by manifesting a spirit of mildness when trying to readjust a person. Surely, mild-tempered Jesus would handle such matters with mildness. (Matthew 11:29) Elders ought to display this quality toward a servant of Jehovah who has taken a false step because they themselves are not above being overtaken in a sin, contrary to the intentions of their heart. This may occur in the future if it has not already happened in the past.
These spiritually qualified men should lovingly ‘bear the burdens’ of their fellow worshipers. Indeed, elders have it in their heart to help a brother or a sister to battle against Satan, temptations, the weaknesses of the flesh, and the besetments of sin. This certainly is one way for Christian overseers to “fulfill the law of the Christ.”—Galatians 6:2.
Men with true spiritual qualifications are humble, realizing that “if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he is deceiving his own mind.” (Galatians 6:3) No matter how hard elders try to do what is right and helpful, they will still fall short of the perfect and lovingly compassionate Son of God, Jesus Christ. But that is no reason for them not to do their very best.
Elders know it would be wrong to denounce a fellow believer in a haughty, holier-than-thou manner! Jesus surely would not do that. Why, he laid down his life not only for his friends but even for his enemies! Elders endeavor to display similar love when trying to help brothers or sisters out of difficulty and bring them closer to their heavenly Father and his righteous standards. What are some steps that will help elders to readjust fellow worshipers?
Some Helpful Steps
Prayerfully rely on Jehovah while speaking and acting in a mild-tempered way. Jesus was mild-tempered, prayed intently to his heavenly Father for guidance, and always did the things pleasing to Him. (Matthew 21:5; John 8:29) Elders should do no less when trying to readjust a person who has taken some false step. As a mild-tempered undershepherd, an elder will be encouraging and upbuilding in speech, not intimidating. During the discussion, he will try to create a climate in which the Christian needing help will feel as comfortable as possible in expressing his thoughts. To that end, heartfelt opening prayer will be of great help. One receiving counsel given in mildness will more readily open his heart to it if he knows that, like Jesus, the counselor wants to do the things pleasing to God. Concluding prayer is likely to impress the individual with the need to apply the counsel he has been given in such a loving, mild-tempered manner.
After prayer, offer sincere commendation. It may relate to the individual’s fine qualities, such as kindness, dependability or diligence. Reference might be made to his or her record of faithful service to Jehovah, perhaps over a period of many years. In this way, we show that we care and have Christlike regard for the person. Jesus began his message to the Thyatira congregation with commendation, saying: “I know your deeds, and your love and faith and ministry and endurance, and that your deeds of late are more than those formerly.” (Revelation 2:19) Those words assured members of the congregation that Jesus was aware of the fine work that they were doing. Though the congregation had its faults—a “Jezebel” influence was being tolerated—it was doing well in other respects, and Jesus wanted those brothers and sisters to know that their zealous activity had not gone unnoticed. (Revelation 2:20) In like manner elders should give commendation where it is due.
Do not treat a false step more seriously than circumstances require. Elders must protect God’s flock and keep his organization clean. But some spiritual missteps that require strong counsel can be handled at the discretion of one elder or two without a judicial hearing. In many cases, human weakness instead of deliberate wickedness underlies a Christian’s false step. Elders should treat the flock tenderly and remember this: “The one that does not practice mercy will have his judgment without mercy. Mercy exults triumphantly over judgment.” (James 2:13; Acts 20:28-30) Instead of magnifying matters, then, elders should deal with contrite fellow believers in a mild manner, like our compassionate and merciful God, Jehovah.—Ephesians 4:32.
Show understanding of factors that may have led to the false step. Elders need to listen carefully as their fellow believer pours out his heart. Since ‘God does not despise a heart broken and crushed,’ neither should they. (Psalm 51:17) Perhaps the lack of a marriage mate’s emotional support is at the root of the problem. Severe and prolonged mental depression may have worn away some of the person’s normally strong emotional fiber or may have made it extremely difficult to make wise decisions. Loving elders will consider such factors, for although Paul exhorted his brothers to “admonish the disorderly,” he also urged: “Speak consolingly to the depressed souls, support the weak, be long-suffering toward all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) While elders should not weaken the force of God’s righteous standards, they should take mitigating factors into account, even as God does.—Psalm 103:10-14; 130:3.
Avoid undermining your fellow Christian’s self-esteem. We never want to rob any brother or sister of dignity or give the impression that he or she is worthless. Rather, assurances that we have confidence in the person’s Christian qualities and love for God will serve as encouragement to rectify a mistake. Likely, the Corinthians were encouraged to be generous when Paul told them that he had boasted to others about their “readiness of mind” and “zeal” in this respect.—2 Corinthians 9:1-3.
Show that the problem can be overcome by trusting in Jehovah. Yes, earnestly try to help the individual to see that trusting in God and applying the counsel of His Word will help to bring about needed readjustment. To that end, our statements must be founded on the Scriptures and on Bible-based publications. Our goal is twofold: (1) to help the one needing assistance to see and understand Jehovah’s viewpoint and (2) to show the person how he has to some extent overlooked or failed to follow these divine guidelines.
Combine Scriptural counsel with kind though pointed questions. This can be very effective in reaching the heart. Through his prophet Malachi, Jehovah used a question to make His people understand how they had gone astray. “Will earthling man rob God?” he asked, adding: “But you are robbing me.” (Malachi 3:8) Israel’s failure to contribute the tenth part of their crops as required by the Mosaic Law was equivalent to robbing Jehovah. To remedy this situation, the Israelites needed to fulfill their obligations toward pure worship with faith that God would bless them abundantly. By means of thought-provoking and considerate questions, elders can also stress that doing the right thing today involves trusting our heavenly Father and obeying him. (Malachi 3:10) Communicating that thought to the heart will go a long way in helping our brother to make ‘straight paths for his feet.’—Hebrews 12:13.
Emphasize the benefits of accepting the counsel. Effective counsel includes both admonition about the consequences of pursuing a wrong course and reminders of the benefits derived from correcting matters. After a timely warning, Jesus assured those of the spiritually apathetic congregation at Laodicea that if they repented of their former course and became zealous disciples, they would enjoy outstanding privileges, including the prospect of ruling with him in the heavens.—Revelation 3:14-21.
Show interest in whether the counsel is being heeded. As a good doctor checks from time to time to see if a bone he has set is still properly aligned, so elders should try to determine whether Scriptural counsel is being applied. They might ask themselves: Is further help needed? Should the counsel be repeated, perhaps in another way? Jesus had to counsel his disciples repeatedly on the need for humility. Over quite a period of time, he patiently sought to readjust their thinking by means of counsel, illustrations, and object lessons. (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 9:33-37; Luke 22:24-27; John 13:5-17) Comparably, elders can help to ensure complete readjustment of a brother or a sister by arranging for follow-up Scriptural discussions designed to promote the person’s progress to full spiritual health.
Give commendation for any improvement made. If the one who has taken a false step is sincerely endeavoring to apply Scriptural counsel, commend him warmly. This will reinforce the original counsel and is likely to encourage further improvement. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he was obliged to give them firm counsel on several matters. Soon after Titus informed the apostle of the excellent response to his letter, Paul wrote to commend them. “Now I rejoice,” he said, “not because you were just saddened, but because you were saddened into repenting; for you were saddened in a godly way.”—2 Corinthians 7:9.
A Cause for Rejoicing
Yes, Paul rejoiced when he heard that his counsel had helped the Corinthians. Similarly, present-day elders have great joy when a fellow worshiper recovers from a false step because of responding favorably to their loving assistance. They can indeed take pleasure in helping a contrite Christian to uproot sin’s thorny weeds from his heart so that godly fruitage can flourish there in abundance.
If elders succeed in readjusting a person who has taken some false step, he or she may be turned back from a course that would be completely disastrous spiritually. (Compare James 5:19, 20.) For such assistance, the recipient of help should express gratitude to Jehovah God. Words of true appreciation for the loving help, compassion, and understanding of the elders would also be appropriate. And when spiritual recovery is complete, all those concerned can rejoice that readjustment has been brought about in a spirit of mildness.