Charisma—Praise to Man or Glory to God?
“A RULER ought to excel his subjects not only in point of being actually better than they, but that he ought also to cast a sort of spell upon them,” wrote Xenophon, a famous Greek general. Today, many would call such a “spell” charisma.
Not all human rulers have charisma, of course. But those who have it use their ability to inspire devotion and to manipulate the masses for their own ends. Perhaps the most notorious recent example was Adolf Hitler. “[In 1933] to the majority of Germans Hitler had—or would shortly assume—the aura of a truly charismatic leader,” writes William L. Shirer in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. “They were to follow him blindly, as if he possessed a divine judgment, for the next twelve tempestuous years.”
Religious history is also full of charismatic leaders who inspired people to be devoted to them but who brought disaster upon their followers. “Be careful that no one misleads you,” warned Jesus, “for many men will come in my name saying ‘I am the Christ’, and they will mislead many.” (Matthew 24:4, 5, Phillips) Charismatic false Christs did not appear only in the first century. During the 1970’s, Jim Jones proclaimed himself the “messiah of the People’s Temple.” He was described as “a charismatic churchman” with “a strange power over people,” and in 1978 he instigated one of the greatest mass suicides of history.a
Evidently, charisma can be a dangerous gift. The Bible, however, talks about a different type of gift, or gifts, from God, available to all for the benefit of all. The Greek word for this gift is khaʹri·sma, and it appears 17 times in the Bible. One Greek scholar defines it as ‘a free and undeserved gift, something given to a man unearned and unmerited, something which comes from God’s grace and which could never have been achieved or possessed by a man’s own effort.’
So from the Scriptural standpoint, khaʹri·sma is a gift received, thanks to God’s undeserved kindness. What are some of these gifts that God has kindly given us? And how can we use them to bring praise to him? Let us consider three of these gracious gifts.
The greatest gift of all is undoubtedly the gift of everlasting life. Paul wrote to the Roman congregation: “The wages sin pays is death, but the gift [khaʹri·sma] God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) It is worth noting that the “wages” (death) are something we have earned, albeit unwillingly, by our sinful nature. On the other hand, the everlasting life that God makes available is something totally undeserved that we could never earn on our own merits.
The gift of everlasting life should be treasured and shared. We can help people get to know Jehovah, to serve him and thus be favored with the gift of everlasting life. Revelation 22:17 says: “The spirit and the bride keep on saying: ‘Come!’ And let anyone hearing say: ‘Come!’ And let anyone thirsting come; let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.”
How can we lead others to this life-giving water? Mainly by using the Bible to good effect in our ministry. It is true that in some parts of the world, people rarely read or think about spiritual things; nevertheless, there are always opportunities to ‘awaken the ear’ of someone. (Isaiah 50:4) In this regard, we can be confident in the Bible’s motivating force, “for the word of God is alive and exerts power.” (Hebrews 4:12) Whether it be the Bible’s practical wisdom, the comfort and hope it offers, or its explanation about the purpose of life, God’s Word can touch the heart and start people on the road to life.—2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
Additionally, Bible-based literature can help us say “Come!” The prophet Isaiah foretold that during this time of spiritual darkness, ‘Jehovah would shine forth’ upon his people. (Isaiah 60:2) Publications of the Watch Tower Society reflect this blessing from Jehovah, and every year they lead thousands of people to Jehovah, the Source of spiritual enlightenment. Throughout their pages prominence is not given to individuals. As the introduction to The Watchtower explains, “the purpose of The Watchtower is to exalt Jehovah God as Sovereign Lord of the universe. . . . It encourages faith in God’s now-reigning King, Jesus Christ, whose shed blood opens the way for mankind to gain eternal life.”
A full-time Christian minister, who for many years has had notable success in her ministry, comments on the value of The Watchtower and Awake! in helping people draw close to God: “When my Bible students start to read and enjoy The Watchtower and Awake!, they make rapid progress. I see the magazines as an invaluable aid in helping people get to know Jehovah.”
Timothy was a Christian disciple who was granted another gift that deserved special attention. The apostle Paul told him: “Do not be neglecting the gift [khaʹri·sma] in you that was given you through a prediction and when the body of older men laid their hands upon you.” (1 Timothy 4:14) What was this gift? It involved Timothy’s appointment as a traveling overseer, a service privilege that he had to care for responsibly. In the same passage, Paul exhorted Timothy: “Continue applying yourself to public reading, to exhortation, to teaching. Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching. Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”—1 Timothy 4:13, 16.
Elders today also need to cherish their service privileges. As Paul points out, one way they can do this is by ‘paying attention to their teaching.’ Rather than imitating worldly charismatic leaders, they direct attention to God, not to themselves. Jesus, their Exemplar, was an outstanding teacher who doubtless had a magnetic personality, but he humbly gave glory to his Father. “What I teach is not mine, but belongs to him that sent me,” he declared.—John 5:41; 7:16.
Jesus glorified his heavenly Father by using God’s Word as the authority for his teaching. (Matthew 19:4-6; 22:31, 32, 37-40) Paul likewise stressed the need for overseers to ‘hold firmly to the faithful word in respect to their art of teaching.’ (Titus 1:9) By basing their talks firmly on the Scriptures, elders will, in effect, be saying as Jesus did: “The things I say to you men I do not speak of my own originality.”—John 14:10.
How can elders ‘hold firmly to the faithful word’? By centering their talks and meeting assignments on God’s Word, explaining and emphasizing the texts that they use. Dramatic illustrations or amusing anecdotes, especially if overdone, may distract the audience from God’s Word and draw attention to the speaker’s own ability. The verses of the Bible, on the other hand, are what will reach the heart and motivate the audience. (Psalm 19:7–9; 119:40; compare Luke 24:32.) Such talks draw less attention to men and give more glory to God.
Another way elders can become more effective teachers is by learning from one another. As Paul helped Timothy, so one elder can assist another. “By iron, iron itself is sharpened. So one man sharpens the face of another.” (Proverbs 27:17; Philippians 2:3) Elders benefit by sharing ideas and suggestions. One recently appointed elder explained: “An experienced elder took the time to show me how he put together a public talk. In his preparation, he included rhetorical questions, illustrations, examples, or short experiences, as well as Scriptural passages that he had carefully researched. I have learned from him how to add variety to my talks in order to avoid a dry, monotonous delivery.”
All of us who enjoy service privileges, whether we are elders, ministerial servants, or pioneers, need to treasure our gift. Shortly before his death, Paul reminded Timothy ‘to stir up like a fire the gift [khaʹri·sma] of God which was in him,’ which in Timothy’s case involved some special gift of the spirit. (2 Timothy 1:6) In Israelite homes, fires were often just glowing coals. It was possible to ‘stir them up’ to produce flames and more heat. Thus we are encouraged to put our heart and energy into our assignments, stirring up like a fire whatever spiritual gift we have been entrusted with.
Spiritual Gifts to Be Shared
Paul’s love for his brothers in Rome impelled him to write: “I am longing to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift [khaʹri·sma] to you in order for you to be made firm; or, rather, that there may be an interchange of encouragement among you, by each one through the other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (Romans 1:11, 12) Paul viewed our ability to fortify others’ faith by our speaking to them as a spiritual gift. The interchange of such spiritual gifts would result in a shoring up of faith and in mutual encouragement.
And this is certainly needed. In this wicked system in which we live, we all face stress in one way or another. A regular interchange of encouragement, however, can help us to persevere. The idea of interchange—both giving and receiving—is important to maintaining spiritual strength. True, we all need heartening from time to time, but we can all build one another up as well.
If we are alert to notice fellow believers who are downhearted, we may be ‘able to comfort those in any sort of tribulation with the comfort with which we ourselves are being comforted by God.’ (2 Corinthians 1:3-5) The Greek word for comfort (pa·raʹkle·sis) literally means “a calling to one’s side.” If, when needed, we are alongside to offer a helping hand to our brother or sister, doubtless we ourselves will receive the same loving support when we are in need.—Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10; compare Acts 9:36-41.
Of great benefit also are the loving shepherding visits of the elders. Though there are occasions when visits are made to give Scriptural counsel on a matter requiring attention, most shepherding visits are occasions for encouragement, a ‘comforting of hearts.’ (Colossians 2:2) When overseers make such faith–strengthening visits, they are really imparting a spiritual gift. Like Paul, they will find this unique form of giving rewarding, and they will develop a “longing” for their brothers.—Romans 1:11.
This was true in the case of an elder in Spain, who relates the following experience: “Ricardo, an 11-year-old boy, seemed to express little interest in the meetings and the congregation in general. So I asked Ricardo’s parents for permission to visit their son, to which they readily agreed. They lived in the mountains about one hour’s drive from my home. Ricardo was evidently pleased to see the interest I took in him, and he responded right away. He soon became an unbaptized publisher and an energetic member of the congregation. His reserved nature was replaced by a happier more outgoing personality. Several in the congregation asked: ‘What’s happened to Ricardo?’ They seemed to notice him for the first time. Reflecting on that crucial shepherding visit, I feel that I have gained more than Ricardo. When he enters the Kingdom Hall, his face beams, and he comes rushing over to greet me. It has been a joy to see his spiritual progress.”
Doubtless, shepherding visits, such as this one, are richly blessed. Such visits are in line with Jesus’ plea: “Shepherd my little sheep.” (John 21:16) Of course, elders are not the only ones who can impart such spiritual gifts. Everyone in the congregation can incite others to love and fine works. (Hebrews 10:23, 24) Just as climbers who are scaling a mountain are roped together, so we are joined together by spiritual bonds. Inevitably, what we do and say affects others. A cutting remark or harsh criticism can fray the bonds that unite us. (Ephesians 4:29; James 3:8) On the other hand, choice words of encouragement and loving assistance can help our brothers surmount their difficulties. In this way we will be sharing spiritual gifts of lasting value.—Proverbs 12:25.
Reflecting God’s Glory in a Fuller Measure
It is clear that every Christian has a measure of charisma. We have been granted the priceless hope of everlasting life. We also have spiritual gifts that we can share with one another. And we can strive to inspire or motivate others toward right ends. Some have additional gifts in the form of service privileges. All these gifts are proof of God’s undeserved kindness. And since any gift that we might have is something we have received from God, we certainly have no reason to boast.—1 Corinthians 4:7.
As Christians, we do well to ask ourselves, ‘Will I use any degree of charisma that I might have to bring glory to Jehovah, the Giver of “every good gift and every perfect present”? (James 1:17) Will I imitate Jesus and minister to others according to my abilities and circumstances?’
The apostle Peter sums up our responsibility in this regard: “In proportion as each one has received a gift [khaʹri·sma], use it in ministering to one another as fine stewards of God’s undeserved kindness expressed in various ways. If anyone speaks, let him speak as it were the sacred pronouncements of God; if anyone ministers, let him minister as dependent on the strength that God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”—1 Peter 4:10, 11.
a A total of 913 people died, including Jim Jones himself.
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