“Call the Older Men”
“Is there anyone sick among you? Let him call the older men of the congregation to him.”—JAMES 5:14.
1, 2. (a) In what perilous situation do Jehovah’s servants now find themselves, and how may they feel? (b) What questions now require answers?
“CRITICAL times hard to deal with” are here. People are acting selfishly, materialistically, proudly, often provoking unrest in these “last days.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) As Christians living in the present wicked system of things, we find ourselves menaced by three great dangers: Satan the Devil, the world of ungodly mankind, and our own inherited sinful tendencies.—Romans 5:12; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 5:19.
2 Threatened by these dangers, we may at times feel overwhelmed. Where, then, can we find support to help us endure faithfully? To whom can we turn for guidance when faced with decisions about our Christian activities and our worship?
Help At Hand
3. From whom can we gain comforting reassurance, and how?
3 Knowledge that Jehovah is the Source of our strength gives us comforting reassurance. (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4; Philippians 4:13) The psalmist David, who experienced divine help, declared: “Roll upon Jehovah your way, and rely upon him, and he himself will act.” “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to totter.” (Psalm 37:5; 55:22) How grateful we can be for such support!
4. How do both Peter and Paul offer comfort?
4 We can also draw comfort from the knowledge that we are not alone in facing trials and dangers. The apostle Peter urged fellow Christians: “Take your stand against [Satan the Devil], 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 Peter 5:9) Surely, all Christians desire to stand firm in the faith. True, we may often feel “pressed in every way,” as did the apostle Paul. Yet, he was not “cramped beyond movement.” Like him, we may be perplexed “but not absolutely with no way out.” Even if we are persecuted, we are “not left in the lurch.” If “thrown down,” we are “not destroyed.” Consequently, “we do not give up.” We strive to “keep our eyes, not on the things seen, but on the things unseen.” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 9, 16, 18) How can we do this?
5. What threefold aid does Jehovah provide?
5 Jehovah, the “Hearer of prayer,” provides threefold aid. (Psalm 65:2; 1 John 5:14) First, he offers direction through his inspired Word, the Bible. (Psalm 119:105; 2 Timothy 3:16) Second, his holy spirit empowers us to do his will. (Compare Acts 4:29-31.) And third, Jehovah’s earthly organization stands ready to help us. What must we do to receive assistance?
“Gifts in Men”
6. What help did Jehovah provide at Taberah, and how?
6 An incident in the prophet Moses’ day helps us to appreciate Jehovah’s loving concern in providing help for His servants. It happened at Taberah, meaning “burning; conflagration; blaze.” At this location in the wilderness of Sinai, God caused fire to blaze against the complaining Israelites. “The mixed crowd” that accompanied the people of Israel out of Egypt had joined them in expressing dissatisfaction over the divinely provided diet. Noting God’s anger and feeling overwhelmed with responsibility for the people and their needs, Moses cried out: “I am not able, I by myself, to carry all this people, because they are too heavy for me. So if this is the way you are doing to me, please kill me off altogether, if I have found favor in your eyes, and let me not look upon my calamity.” (Numbers 11:1-15) How did Jehovah respond? He appointed “seventy men of the older men of Israel” and put his spirit upon them so that they could suitably share the administrative work with Moses. (Numbers 11:16, 17, 24, 25) With such qualified men assigned, help became more readily available to the Israelites and the “vast mixed company.”—Exodus 12:38.
7, 8. (a) How did Jehovah provide “gifts in the form of men” in ancient Israel? (b) What first-century application of Psalm 68:18 did Paul make?
7 After the Israelites had been in the Promised Land for many years, Jehovah figuratively ascended Mount Zion and made Jerusalem the capital of a typical kingdom with David as its king. In praise of God, “the Almighty One,” David lifted his voice to sing: “You have ascended on high; you have carried away captives; you have taken gifts in the form of men.” (Psalm 68:14, 18) Indeed, men taken captive during the conquest of the Promised Land became available to help the Levites with their duties.—Ezra 8:20.
8 In the first century C.E., the Christian apostle Paul called attention to a prophetic fulfillment of the psalmist’s words. Paul wrote: “To each one of us undeserved kindness was given according to how the Christ measured out the free gift. Wherefore he says: ‘When he ascended on high he carried away captives; he gave gifts in men.’ Now the expression ‘he ascended,’ what does it mean but that he also descended into the lower regions, that is, the earth? The very one that descended is also the one that ascended far above all the heavens, that he might give fullness to all things.” (Ephesians 4:7-10) Who is this “very one”? None other than Jehovah’s representative, the Greater David and Messianic King, Jesus Christ. He is the one God resurrected and exalted to “a superior position.”—Philippians 2:5-11.
9. (a) Who were the first-century gifts in men? (b) Who are the modern-day gifts in men?
9 Who, then, are these “gifts in men” (or, “consisting of men”)? Paul explains that God’s Chief Representative “gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, for the building up of the body of the Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11, 12) All of Christ’s followers who served as apostles, prophets, evangelizers, shepherds, and teachers did so under theocratic direction. (Luke 6:12-16; Acts 8:12; 11:27, 28; 15:22; 1 Peter 5:1-3) In our day, spiritually qualified older men appointed by holy spirit serve as overseers in some 70,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. They are our gifts in men. (Acts 20:28) With the worldwide expansion of the Kingdom-preaching work continuing apace, more and more brothers are “reaching out” and shouldering the responsibilities associated with “an office of overseer.” (1 Timothy 3:1) Upon being appointed, they too become gifts in men.
10. How does Isaiah’s description of “princes” fit the role of Christian elders today?
10 These Christian elders, or gifts in men, fit the description the prophet Isaiah gave when foretelling the role of the “princes,” the administrators under Kingdom rule. Each one must 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 reveals how supportive the loving oversight of these appointed men should be. How can you benefit from it to the fullest extent?
Taking the Initiative
11. When spiritually low, how can we receive help?
11 A drowning man instinctively cries for help. There is no hesitation. When life is at stake, no one needs prompting to call for assistance. Did not King David repeatedly call for help from Jehovah? (Psalm 3:4; 4:1; 5:1-3; 17:1, 6; 34:6, 17-19; 39:12) When spiritually low, perhaps sinking into despair, we likewise turn to Jehovah in prayer and beseech him to guide us by his holy spirit. (Psalm 55:22; Philippians 4:6, 7) We seek comfort from the Scriptures. (Romans 15:4) We consult the Christian publications of the Watch Tower Society for practical advice. This often enables us to solve our own problems. If we seem overwhelmed with difficulties, though, we can also seek the counsel of the appointed congregation elders. In fact, there may be times when we really need to “call the older men.” Why call Christian elders? How can they help those in need of spiritual assistance?
12-14. (a) What is the wise course to follow when one is sick? (b) According to James 5:14, what are “sick” Christians advised to do? (c) To what kind of sickness does James 5:14 refer, and why do you so answer?
12 When we become sick, we rest in order to give the body’s recuperative powers opportunity to act. But if our sickness persists, we wisely seek qualified medical help. Should we not also do the same if we become spiritually weak?
13 Note what the disciple James advises us in this regard. He says: “Is there anyone sick among you? Let him call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, greasing him with oil in the name of Jehovah.” (James 5:14) To what kind of sickness does James here refer? Some Bible commentators conclude that it is physical illness, reasoning that greasing with oil was a common medical practice in that day. (Luke 10:34) They also believe that James had in mind a miraculous cure through the gift of healing. What, though, does the context indicate?
14 “Good spirits” are contrasted with “suffering evil.” This implies that James was discussing spiritual sickness. (James 5:13) “Older men [elders, King James Version] of the congregation,” not doctors or even those who had the miraculous gift of healing, were to be called. And what were they to do? Said James: “Let them pray over him. . . . And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well.” (James 5:14, 15; compare Psalm 119:9-16.) Proving conclusively that James is referring to spiritual illness is the fact that he encourages confession of sins in connection with the hoped-for healing. He writes: “Openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed.” If grave sin is the cause of the spiritual illness, the sick person can be expected to recover only if he responds favorably to exhortation based on God’s Word, repents, and turns away from his sinful course.—James 5:16; Acts 3:19.
15. What kind of action is recommended at James 5:13, 14?
15 There is something else to note from the counsel James gives. When suffering evil, a Christian should “carry on prayer.” If he is in good spirits, “let him sing psalms.” Each situation—whether one is suffering evil or is in good spirits—calls for action. Prayer is needed on one hand, gladsome outcries on the other. So, then, what should we expect when James asks: “Is there anyone sick among you?” Again he recommends positive action, yes, taking the initiative. “Let him call the older men of the congregation to him.”—Psalm 50:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16.
How “the Older Men” Help
16, 17. How do older men help us to apply Bible principles?
16 It is sometimes difficult for us to know how to apply Bible principles to our personal circumstances. Here Christian elders can prove to be an invaluable source of help. For instance, they pray over the spiritually sick one and ‘grease him with oil in the name of Jehovah’ by skillfully applying soothing instruction from God’s Word. Elders can thus contribute much to our spiritual recovery. (Psalm 141:5) Often, all we need is confirmation that we are reasoning in the right way. Talking matters over with an experienced Christian elder will strengthen our determination to do what is right.—Proverbs 27:17.
17 When called to visit, Christian elders need to “speak consolingly to the depressed souls.” They will also “support the weak, [and] be long-suffering toward all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Such an intimate, understanding relationship between “the older men” and “the weak” bodes well for a complete recovery of spiritual health.
Personal Responsibility and Prayer
18 Christian elders must shoulder their responsibility toward God’s flock. They must be supportive. For instance, Paul said: “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. Go on carrying the burdens of one another, and thus fulfill the law of the Christ.” The apostle also wrote: “Each one will carry his own load.”—Galatians 6:1, 2, 5.
19 How can we carry one another’s burdens and yet be carrying our own load? The difference in the meaning of the Greek words translated “burdens” and “load” furnishes the key. If a Christian gets into spiritual difficulty that is very burdensome to him, elders and other fellow believers would aid him, thus helping him carry his “burdens.” However, the individual himself is expected to carry his own “load” of responsibility to God.* The elders gladly carry “the burdens” of their brothers through encouragement, Scriptural counsel, and prayer. Yet, elders do not take away our personal “load” of spiritual responsibility.—Romans 15:1.
20. Why should prayer not be neglected?
20 Prayer is essential and should not be neglected. But many spiritually sick Christians find praying difficult. When elders offer prayers of faith on behalf of a spiritually ailing one, what is the intent? “Jehovah will raise him up,” as out of despondency, and will strengthen him to pursue a course of truth and righteousness. A spiritually sick Christian may have a wrong attitude but may not necessarily have committed some grave sin, for James says: “Also, if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him.” The elders’ Scriptural counsel coupled with earnest prayer sometimes prompts the spiritually weak person to confess serious sins he may have committed and to manifest a repentant spirit. This, in turn, evokes forgiveness on God’s part.—James 5:15, 16.
21. (a) Why are some Christians reluctant to call the older men? (b) What will be considered in the next article?
21 Faced with the challenge of caring for the throngs of new ones coming into the Christian congregation, conscientious older men have much to do in providing adequate oversight. Truly, these gifts in men are a fine provision from Jehovah to help us endure in these critical times. Yet, some Christians hold back from calling for their help, thinking that these brothers are too busy or are overburdened with problems. The next article will help us to appreciate that these men are happy to be of assistance, for they willingly serve as undershepherds in the Christian congregation.
A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, by Fritz Rienecker, defines phor·tiʹon as “a load which one is expected to bear” and adds: “It was used as a military term for a man’s pack or a soldier’s kit.”
How Would You Answer?
□ When we need help, what threefold aid does Jehovah provide?
□ Who are the modern-day gifts in men?
□ When should we call the older men?
□ What help can we expect from Christian elders?
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Do you enjoy the spiritual benefits of prayer, Bible study, and help from Christian elders?