Help Them Return Without Delay!
“Whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.”—JOHN 6:68.
1. What did Peter say when many disciples abandoned Jesus?
JESUS CHRIST was once abandoned by many disciples who rejected one of his teachings. “You do not want to go also, do you?” he asked his apostles. Peter replied: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.” (John 6:51-69) There was nowhere else to go. Judaism had no “sayings of everlasting life” then, and such sayings certainly cannot be found today in Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion. For any who have strayed from God’s flock but who want to please Jehovah, “it is high time to awake” and return to the fold.—Rom. 13:11, King James Version.
2. What should be kept in mind regarding confidential or judicial matters?
2 Jehovah demonstrated concern for the lost sheep of Israel. (Read Ezekiel 34:15, 16.) Similarly, Christian elders have a desire and a duty to help a sheeplike one who has strayed from the flock. If they assign a publisher to study with an inactive person desiring help, what should be done if the conductor learns that the individual has committed a serious sin? Instead of giving counsel about any judicial or confidential matter, the publisher should suggest that he speak to the elders. If he fails to do so, the publisher himself should inform the elders.—Lev. 5:1; Gal. 6:1.
3. How did the man with 100 sheep react when a lost one was found?
3 In the preceding article, reference was made to Jesus’ illustration about a man who had 100 sheep. When one was missing from the fold, he left the 99 and searched for the lost sheep. How that man rejoiced when he found it! (Luke 15:4-7) We have similar joy upon the return of one of God’s sheep who has been missing from the flock. Motivated by love, elders and other members of the congregation have probably visited the inactive one. They too want to see the person come back to the fold and enjoy God’s support, protection, and blessing. (Deut. 33:27; Ps. 91:14; Prov. 10:22) If they have an opportunity to be helpful in this regard, what can they do?
4 Perhaps they can encourage a person to return to the congregation by kindly showing him that Jehovah loves His sheep and requires only things that we can do. These include studying the Scriptures, attending Christian meetings, and preaching the good news of the Kingdom. It may be appropriate to read Galatians 6:2, 5 and mention that Christians can help to bear the burdens of one another, but “each one will carry his own load” of spiritual responsibility. No one else can be faithful to God for us.
Have “Anxieties of Life” Taken a Toll?
5, 6. (a) Why is it important that we listen carefully to the expressions of inactive fellow believers? (b) How may you be able to help inactive ones to see that not associating with God’s people has been detrimental to them?
5 To discern how to help inactive fellow believers, elders and other mature publishers need to listen carefully as such individuals make heartfelt expressions. Suppose you are an elder visiting a married couple who are absent from the congregation because the “anxieties of life” have taken a toll. (Luke 21:34) Financial problems or increased family responsibilities may have caused them to slip into spiritual inactivity. They may feel a need for relief, but you might point out that isolation is not the answer. (Read Proverbs 18:1.) You might tactfully ask them: “Are you happier since you stopped attending meetings? Is your family life better? Is the joy of Jehovah still your stronghold?”—Neh. 8:10.
6 Reflecting on such questions may help the inactive ones to see that because of their lack of association with the congregation, their spirituality and happiness have diminished. (Matt. 5:3; Heb. 10:24, 25) It may be possible to help them realize that failure to preach the good news has resulted in the loss of joy. (Matt. 28:19, 20) So, then, what would be the wise course for them to take?
7. What can we encourage those who have strayed from the flock to do?
7 Jesus said: “Pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life . . . Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur.” (Luke 21:34-36) Those who have strayed from the flock but who want to enjoy the happiness they once knew can be encouraged to pray for holy spirit and divine help and to act in harmony with their prayers.—Luke 11:13.
Were They Stumbled?
8, 9. How might an elder reason with one who was stumbled?
8 Because humans are imperfect, personality clashes occur, and this may stumble an individual. Some have been stumbled when a respected person in the congregation acted in an ungodly manner. If an inactive one has been affected in such a way, the visiting elder might point out that Jehovah does not cause anyone to stumble. So why should anyone sever his or her relationship with God and His people? Instead, should one not keep on serving God, confident that “the Judge of all the earth” knows what took place and will handle matters in the right way? (Gen. 18:25; Col. 3:23-25) If a person literally stumbled and fell, he would not deliberately remain in that position without even trying to get up.
9 In an effort to be of spiritual help, an elder might mention that with the passing of time, some find that what stumbled them no longer seems very important. In fact, the stumbling block may not exist any longer. If a person is stumbled because he has received discipline, prayerful meditation may cause him to conclude that he himself was at least partially in the wrong and should not have allowed the discipline to stumble him.—Ps. 119:165; Heb. 12:5-13.
Was It a Problem With a Teaching?
10, 11. What reasoning may be effective in trying to help one who had a different understanding of some Bible teaching?
10 Some may have left God’s flock because they did not agree with some Scriptural teaching. The Israelites freed from Egyptian bondage “forgot [God’s] works” on their behalf and “did not wait for his counsel.” (Ps. 106:13) It may be helpful to remind an inactive one that “the faithful and discreet slave” is dispensing excellent spiritual food. (Matt. 24:45) That is how the person originally learned the truth. So why should he not be determined to walk in the truth again?—2 John 4.
11 When endeavoring to help those who have strayed from God’s flock, the elder might refer to the disciples who abandoned Jesus because of rejecting one of his teachings. (John 6:53, 66) By cutting off association with Christ and his faithful followers, they lost their spirituality and their joy. Have those who stopped associating with the Christian congregation found another place where there is rich spiritual food? No, for there is none!
Was Improper Conduct Involved?
12, 13. If someone who has strayed from the flock admits that he has committed serious sin, how may it be possible to help him?
12 Some individuals stop preaching and attending meetings because they have committed a serious sin. They may feel that if they confess their wrongdoing to the elders, they will be disfellowshipped. But they will not be expelled from the congregation if they have discontinued the unscriptural practice and are genuinely repentant. (2 Cor. 7:10, 11) Instead, they will be welcomed back, and the elders will give them the spiritual help they need.
13 If you are a mature publisher who has been assigned to help an inactive person, what should you do if he tells you that he has engaged in serious misconduct? As noted earlier, rather than involve yourself further in the situation, recommend that he approach the elders. If he does not wish to do so, you will be showing your concern for Jehovah’s name and the spiritual welfare of the congregation by acting in harmony with divine direction respecting such matters. (Read Leviticus 5:1.) The elders will know how to assist anyone desiring to return and live in accord with God’s will. Loving discipline may be required. (Heb. 12:7-11) If the person acknowledges that he has sinned against God, has ceased to engage in wrongdoing, and is truly repentant, the elders will help him, and he can receive Jehovah’s forgiveness.—Isa. 1:18; 55:7; Jas. 5:13-16.
A Son’s Return Brings Joy
14. In your own words, relate Jesus’ illustration regarding the prodigal son.
14 When seeking to assist a sheep who has strayed, the one assigned to help might refer to Jesus’ illustration recorded at Luke 15:11-24. In that parable, a young man squanders his inheritance on loose living. He eventually comes to abhor the debauched life he has been leading. His stomach is empty, he is homesick, and he has made up his mind—he is going home! When he is still far off, his father sees him, runs and falls upon his son’s neck, tenderly kisses him, and is filled with joy. Reflecting on this illustration may motivate one who has drifted away to return to the fold. Since this system of things will soon be destroyed, he should ‘come home’ without delay.
15. Why do some drift away from the congregation?
15 Most who drift away from the congregation are not exactly like the prodigal son. With some, drifting takes place gradually, just as a boat that is adrift slowly floats farther from land. Others become so weighed down with anxieties that they lose sight of spiritual things. Still others allow themselves to be stumbled by someone associated with the congregation, or they leave because they do not agree with a certain Scriptural teaching. A few become involved in unscriptural conduct. However, the points presented in connection with each of these matters may help you to assist those who have left the fold for these or other reasons to return before it is too late.
“Welcome Home, Son!”
16-18. (a) How did one elder help a brother who had been inactive for years? (b) Why had this brother become inactive, how was he helped, and how was he received by the congregation?
16 One Christian elder says: “Our local body of elders is very interested in calling on those who are inactive. I thought about a brother I had studied with and helped to come to a knowledge of the truth. He had been inactive for about 25 years and was going through a very difficult situation, so I explained how applying the spiritual principles from the Bible could help him. After some time, he began coming to the Kingdom Hall and agreed to have a personal Bible study to help strengthen his resolve to come back to the flock.”
17 Why did the brother become inactive? He admits: “I started giving more attention to worldly matters than to spiritual things. Then I stopped studying, engaging in the ministry, and attending meetings. The next thing I knew, I was no longer a part of the Christian congregation. But I was helped to return by the personal and sincere interest the elder displayed.” This brother’s problems began to subside after he accepted a personal Bible study. He says, “I realized that what was missing in my life was the love and guidance of Jehovah and his organization.”
18 How was this brother received in the congregation? He says: “I feel like the prodigal son spoken of by Jesus Christ. In fact, one of our elderly sisters who was there 30 years ago and is still going strong said to me, ‘Welcome home, Son!’ That really touched my heart. I was truly home. And I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the love, warmth, patience, and interest shown to me by that elder and the entire congregation. Their love for Jehovah and neighbor truly helped me to return to the flock.”
Urge Them to Take Action Today!
19, 20. How can you encourage inactive ones to return to the flock without delay, and how can you show them that God does not expect too much of us?
19 We are living in the last days, and the end of the present system of things is imminent. Therefore, encourage inactive ones to attend Christian meetings. Urge them to start attending immediately. Point out that Satan is trying to destroy their relationship with God and make them think that relief from life’s burdens can come by abandoning true worship. You can assure them that only by being Jesus’ faithful followers can they enjoy true refreshment.—Read Matthew 11:28-30.
20 Remind inactive ones that God expects us to do what we can. When Lazarus’ sister Mary was criticized for anointing Jesus with expensive perfumed oil shortly before his death, he said: “Let her alone. . . . She did what she could.” (Mark 14:6-8) Jesus praised the needy widow who made a very small contribution at the temple. She also did what she could. (Luke 21:1-4) Most of us can attend Christian meetings and share in the Kingdom-preaching work. With Jehovah’s help, many of those now inactive will be able to do the same things.
21, 22. Of what can you assure those who return to Jehovah?
21 If a sheeplike one who has strayed from the flock fears facing his brothers again, you might remind him of the rejoicing that occurred when the prodigal son came home. Those returning to the congregation are a cause of similar joy. Encourage them to act now to oppose the Devil and draw close to God.—Jas. 4:7, 8.
22 A joyful welcome awaits those returning to Jehovah. (Lam. 3:40) Their past experiences in God’s service undoubtedly brought them great joy. Untold future blessings await those who return to the flock without delay!
How Would You Answer?
• How might you help a Christian who stumbled and became inactive?
• What reasoning might help someone who left God’s flock because of a personal view regarding a teaching?
• How may it be possible to help someone who is hesitant about returning to the congregation?
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Listen carefully as an inactive fellow believer expresses himself
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Reflecting on Jesus’ illustration of the prodigal son may move some to return to the flock