Father and Elder—Fulfilling Both Roles
“If indeed any man does not know how to preside over his own household, how will he take care of God’s congregation?”—1 TIMOTHY 3:5.
1, 2. (a) In the first century, how were single overseers and married overseers without children able to serve their brothers? (b) How are Aquila and Priscilla an example for many married couples today?
OVERSEERS in the early Christian congregation could be single men or married men without children or family men with children. Doubtless some of those Christians were able to follow the apostle Paul’s advice given in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 7, remaining single. Jesus had stated: “There are eunuchs that have made themselves eunuchs on account of the kingdom of the heavens.” (Matthew 19:12) Such single men, like Paul and perhaps some of his traveling companions, would be free to travel to help their brothers.
2 The Bible does not say whether Barnabas, Mark, Silas, Luke, Timothy, and Titus were single men. If married, evidently they were sufficiently free from family responsibilities to be able to travel widely on various assignments. (Acts 13:2; 15:39-41; 2 Corinthians 8:16, 17; 2 Timothy 4:9-11; Titus 1:5) They could have been accompanied by their wives, like Peter and “the rest of the apostles,” who apparently took their wives with them when going from place to place. (1 Corinthians 9:5) Aquila and Priscilla are an example of a married couple who were willing to pull up stakes, following Paul from Corinth to Ephesus, then moving to Rome, and back again to Ephesus. The Bible does not say if they had any children. Their devoted service for their brothers earned them the gratitude of “all the congregations of the nations.” (Romans 16:3-5; Acts 18:2, 18; 2 Timothy 4:19) Today, there are doubtless many married couples who, like Aquila and Priscilla, could serve other congregations, perhaps by moving where the need is greater.
Father and Elder
3. What suggests that many first-century elders were married men with families?
3 It would appear that in the first century C.E., the majority of Christian elders were married men with children. When Paul set out the qualifications required of a man “reaching out for an office of overseer,” he stated that such a Christian should be “a man presiding over his own household in a fine manner, having children in subjection with all seriousness.”—1 Timothy 3:1, 4.
4. What was required of married elders with children?
4 As we have seen, an overseer was not obliged to have children, or even be married. But if married, to qualify as an elder or a ministerial servant, a Christian had to exercise proper and loving headship over his wife and show himself capable of keeping his children in proper submission. (1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 3:12, 13) Any serious weakness in managing his household would disqualify a brother for special privileges in the congregation. Why? Paul explains: “If indeed any man does not know how to preside over his own household, how will he take care of God’s congregation?” (1 Timothy 3:5) If those of his own flesh were unwilling to submit to his oversight, how would others react?
“Having Believing Children”
5, 6. (a) What requirement as to children did Paul mention to Titus? (b) What is expected of elders who have children?
5 When instructing Titus to appoint overseers in the Cretan congregations, Paul stipulated: “If there is any man free from accusation, a husband of one wife, having believing children that were not under a charge of debauchery nor unruly. For an overseer must be free from accusation as God’s steward.” Just what is meant by the requirement “having believing children”?—Titus 1:6, 7.
6 The term “believing children” refers to youngsters who have already dedicated their lives to Jehovah and have been baptized or to young ones who are progressing toward dedication and baptism. The members of a congregation expect elders’ children to be generally well-behaved and obedient. It should be apparent that an elder is doing all that he can to build up faith in his children. King Solomon wrote: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) But what if a youth who has received such training refuses to serve Jehovah or even commits a gross wrong?
7. (a) Why is it evident that Proverbs 22:6 does not express an inflexible rule? (b) If an elder’s child does not choose to serve Jehovah, why will the elder not automatically lose his privileges?
7 It is evident that the above-quoted proverb is not stating a hard-and-fast rule. It does not annul the principle of free will. (Deuteronomy 30:15, 16, 19) When a son or a daughter reaches the age of responsibility, he or she must make a personal decision with regard to dedication and baptism. If an elder has clearly given needed spiritual help, guidance, and discipline, yet the youth does not choose to serve Jehovah, the father is not automatically disqualified from serving as an overseer. On the other hand, if an elder has several minor children living at home who, one after the other, become spiritually sick and get into trouble, he might no longer be considered to be “a man presiding over his own household in a fine manner.” (1 Timothy 3:4) The point is, it should be manifest that an overseer is doing his best to have ‘believing children that are not under a charge of debauchery nor unruly.’*
Married to an “Unbelieving Wife”
8. How should an elder act toward his unbelieving wife?
8 Concerning Christian men married to unbelievers, Paul wrote: “If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and yet she is agreeable to dwelling with him, let him not leave her . . . For . . . the unbelieving wife is sanctified in relation to the brother; otherwise, your children would really be unclean, but now they are holy. For, . . . husband, how do you know but that you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:12-14, 16) The word “unbelieving” here does not refer to a wife who has no religious beliefs but to one who is not dedicated to Jehovah. She could have been a Jew, or a believer in pagan gods. Today, an elder might be married to a woman who practices a different religion, is an agnostic, or even an atheist. If she is willing to stay with him, he should not leave her simply because of differing beliefs. He should still ‘dwell with her according to knowledge, assigning her honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one,’ living in hopes of saving her.—1 Peter 3:7; Colossians 3:19.
9. In lands where the law gives both husband and wife the right to expose their children to their respective religious beliefs, how should an elder act, and how will this affect his privileges?
9 If an overseer has children, he will exercise proper husbandly and fatherly headship in raising them “in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) In many lands the law gives both marriage mates the right to provide religious instruction for their children. In this case the wife may demand to exercise her right to expose the children to her religious beliefs and practices, which may include taking them to her church.* Of course, the children should follow their Bible-trained conscience with regard to not participating in false religious ceremonies. As family head, the father will exercise his own right to study with his children and take them to meetings at the Kingdom Hall when possible. When they reach the age at which they may make their own decisions, they will decide for themselves which way they will go. (Joshua 24:15) If his fellow elders and the members of the congregation can see that he is doing all that the law allows him to do to instruct his children properly in the way of the truth, he will not be disqualified as an overseer.
‘Presiding Over His Household in a Fine Manner’
10. If a family man is an elder, where does his primary duty lie?
10 Even for an elder who is a father and whose wife is a fellow Christian, it is no easy task to apportion his time and attention properly between his wife, children, and congregation responsibilities. The Scriptures are quite clear that a Christian father has an obligation to take care of his wife and children. Paul wrote: “Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” (1 Timothy 5:8) In that same letter, Paul stated that only married men who have already shown themselves to be good husbands and fathers should be recommended to serve as overseers.—1 Timothy 3:1-5.
11. (a) In what ways should an elder “provide for those who are his own”? (b) How can this help an elder to meet his congregation responsibilities?
11 An elder should “provide” for his own not only materially but also spiritually and emotionally. Wise King Solomon wrote: “Prepare your work out of doors, and make it ready for yourself in the field. Afterward you must also build up your household.” (Proverbs 24:27) So while providing for the material, emotional, and recreational needs of his wife and children, an overseer should also build them up spiritually. This takes time—time that he will not be able to devote to congregation matters. But it is time that can pay rich dividends in terms of family happiness and spirituality. In the long run, if his family is spiritually strong, the elder may need to spend less time handling family problems. This will leave his mind freer to take care of congregation matters. His example as a good husband and a good father will be of spiritual benefit to the congregation.—1 Peter 5:1-3.
12. In what family matter should fathers who are elders set a fine example?
12 Presiding over a household in a fine manner includes scheduling time to preside over a family study. It is particularly important that elders set a good example in this respect, for strong families make strong congregations. An overseer’s time should not regularly be so occupied with other privileges of service that he has no time to study with his wife and children. If this has been the case, he should reexamine his schedule. He may have to reschedule or reduce the time he devotes to other matters, even declining certain privileges on occasion.
13, 14. What counsel has “the faithful and discreet slave” given to elders who are family men?
13 Counsel to balance family and congregation responsibilities is not new. For years “the faithful and discreet slave” has been giving counsel to elders along these lines. (Matthew 24:45) Over 37 years ago, The Watchtower of September 15, 1959, pages 553 and 554, advised: “Really, does it not come down to a matter of balancing all these demands on our time? In this balance let proper weight be given to the interests of your own family. Certainly Jehovah God would not expect a man to use all his time in congregation activity, in helping his brothers and neighbors gain salvation, and yet not look after the salvation of his own household. A man’s wife and children are a primary responsibility.”
14 The Watchtower of November 1, 1986, page 22, counseled: “Engaging in the field ministry as a family will draw you closer, yet the unique needs of children require a commitment of your private time and emotional energy. Therefore, balance is needed to determine how much time you can use for . . . congregation duties while you also care spiritually, emotionally, and materially for ‘those who are your own.’ [A Christian] must ‘learn first to practice godly devotion in [his] own household.’ (1 Timothy 5:4, 8)”
15. Why does an elder with a wife and children need wisdom and discernment?
15 A Scriptural proverb states: “By wisdom a household will be built up, and by discernment it will prove firmly established.” (Proverbs 24:3) Yes, for an overseer to fulfill his theocratic duties and at the same time build up his household, he most certainly needs wisdom and discernment. Scripturally, he has more than one field of oversight. His family and his congregation responsibilities are involved. He needs discernment to strike a balance between these. (Philippians 1:9, 10) He needs wisdom to set his priorities. (Proverbs 2:10, 11) However much he feels responsible to care for his congregation privileges, he should realize that as a husband and father, his primary God-given responsibility is the care and salvation of his family.
Good Fathers as Well as Good Elders
16. What advantage does an elder have if he is also a father?
16 An elder who has well-behaved children can be a real asset. If he has learned to take good care of his family, he is in a position to help other families in the congregation. He understands their problems better and can give counsel that reflects his own experience. Happily, thousands of elders throughout the world are doing a fine job as husbands, fathers, and overseers.
17. (a) What should a man who is both father and elder never forget? (b) How should other members of the congregation show empathy?
17 For a family man to be an elder, he must be a mature Christian who, while caring for his wife and children, can organize his affairs so as to be able to devote time and attention to others in the congregation. He should never forget that his shepherding work begins at home. Knowing that elders with a wife and children have the responsibility of both their family and their congregation duties, members of the congregation will try not to make undue demands on their time. For instance, an elder who has children who have to go to school the next morning may not always be able to stay for some time after evening meetings. Other members of the congregation should understand this and show fellow feeling.—Philippians 4:5.
Our Elders Should Be Dear to Us
18, 19. (a) What has our examination of 1 Corinthians chapter 7 enabled us to realize? (b) How should we consider such Christian men?
18 Our examination of chapter 7 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians has enabled us to see that, following Paul’s advice, there are many single men who are using their freedom to serve Kingdom interests. There are also thousands of married brothers without children who, while giving due attention to their wives, serve as fine overseers in districts, circuits, congregations, and Watch Tower branches, with the commendable cooperation of their wives. Finally, in the nearly 80,000 congregations of Jehovah’s people, there are many fathers who not only take loving care of their wives and children but also take time to serve their brothers as caring shepherds.—Acts 20:28.
19 The apostle Paul wrote: “Let the older men who preside in a fine way be reckoned worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17) Yes, elders who preside in a fine way in their homes and in the congregation deserve our love and respect. We should indeed “keep holding men of that sort dear.”—Philippians 2:29.
By Way of Review
◻ How do we know that many elders in the first century C.E. were family men?
◻ What is required of married elders with children, and why?
◻ What is meant by having “believing children,” but what if an elder’s child does not choose to serve Jehovah?
◻ In what respects should an elder “provide for those who are his own”?
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Strong families make strong congregations