“The undeserved kindness of the Lord Jesus Christ be with the spirit you people show.”—PHILEM. 25.
1. What hope did Paul express when writing to fellow believers?
WHEN writing to fellow believers, the apostle Paul repeatedly expressed his hope that God and Christ would approve of the spirit that the congregations displayed. For example, to the Galatians he wrote: “The undeserved kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ be with the spirit you show, brothers. Amen.” (Gal. 6:18) What did he mean by “the spirit you show”?
2, 3. (a) When using the word “spirit,” to what was Paul at times referring? (b) What questions might we ask ourselves about the spirit we show?
2 Paul’s use of the word “spirit” in this context refers to the impelling force that causes us to say or do things in a certain way. One person may be gentle, considerate, mild-tempered, generous, or forgiving. The Bible speaks well of “the quiet and mild spirit” and of being “cool of spirit.” (1 Pet. 3:4; Prov. 17:27) On the other hand, another person may be sarcastic, materialistic, easily offended, or may have an independent attitude. Worse yet, there are those who show an unclean, disobedient, or even rebellious spirit.
3 Thus, when Paul used expressions such as “the Lord be with the spirit you show,” he was encouraging his brothers to show a spirit in harmony with God’s will and the Christlike personality. (2 Tim. 4:22; read Colossians 3:9-12.) Today, we do well to ask ourselves: ‘What kind of spirit do I show? How can I more fully manifest a spirit that pleases God? Can I improve in contributing to the overall positive spirit of the congregation?’ To illustrate, in a field of sunflowers, each flower contributes its glowing face to the overall beauty of the flower patch. Are we one of the “flowers” that adds to the overall beauty of the congregation? Certainly, we should strive to be one. Let us now see what we can do to manifest a spirit that pleases God.
AVOID THE WORLD’S SPIRIT
4. What is “the spirit of the world”?
4 The Scriptures tell us: “We received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God.” (1 Cor. 2:12) What is “the spirit of the world”? It is the same spirit as that mentioned at Ephesians 2:2, which says: “You at one time walked according to the system of things of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience.” This “air” is the world’s spirit, or mental attitude, and it surrounds us like literal air. It is everywhere. It is often manifested in the no-one-is-going-to-tell-me-what-to-do or the fight-for-your-rights attitude of so many people today. They constitute “the sons of disobedience” of Satan’s world.
5. What bad spirit did some in Israel show?
5 Such attitudes are not new. In Moses’ time, Korah rose up against those in authority in the congregation of Israel. He particularly targeted Aaron and his sons, who had the privilege of serving as priests. Perhaps he saw their imperfections. Or he may have argued that Moses practiced nepotism—giving privileges to his relatives. Whatever the case, it is obvious that Korah began to look at things from a human viewpoint and spoke out against those appointed by Jehovah, disrespectfully telling them: “That is enough of you . . . Why, then, should you lift yourselves up above the congregation?” (Num. 16:3) Similarly, Dathan and Abiram had complaints against Moses, telling him that he was ‘trying to play the prince over them to the limit.’ When called to appear before Moses, they responded arrogantly: “We are not going to come up!” (Num. 16:12-14) Jehovah was clearly not pleased with their spirit. He executed all the rebels.—Num. 16:28-35.
6. How did some in the first century reveal that they had a bad attitude, and what might have been the reason for it?
6 Some in the first century also became critical of those entrusted with authority in the congregation, “disregarding lordship.” (Jude 8) These men likely were dissatisfied with their privileges and tried to influence others against appointed men who were conscientiously carrying out God-given duties.—Read 3 John 9, 10.
7. In what way might there be a need for caution in the congregation today?
7 Obviously, such a spirit has no place in the Christian congregation. That is why there is a need for caution in this regard. Older men in the congregation are not perfect, just as they were not perfect in Moses’ day and in the apostle John’s time. Elders may make mistakes that affect us personally. If that happens, how inappropriate it would be for any member of the congregation to react according to the world’s spirit, vehemently demanding “justice” or that “something be done about this brother”! Jehovah may choose to overlook certain minor failings. Can we not do the same? Because of what they perceive as defects in the elders, some individuals who engage in serious wrongdoing in the congregation have refused to appear before a committee of elders assigned to help them. This could be likened to a patient who loses out on the benefits of a treatment because he does not like something about the doctor.
8. What scriptures can help us to maintain a proper view of those taking the lead in the congregation?
8 To avoid that kind of spirit, we can remember that Jesus is pictured in the Bible as having “in his right hand seven stars.” The “stars” represent the anointed overseers and, by extension, all the overseers in the congregations. Jesus can direct the “stars” in his hand in any way he feels appropriate. (Rev. 1:16, 20) Thus, as Head of the Christian congregation, Jesus has full control of the bodies of elders. If someone on a body truly needs correction, the One who has “eyes as a fiery flame” will see to it that this is done in His own time and way. (Rev. 1:14) In the meantime, we maintain proper respect for those appointed by holy spirit, for Paul wrote: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.”—Heb. 13:17.
9. (a) What test may a Christian experience if he is corrected or disciplined? (b) What is the best way to react to reproof?
9 A Christian’s spirit may also be tested if he is corrected or is relieved of privileges in the congregation. One young brother was tactfully counseled by the elders about playing violent video games. Sadly, he did not receive the counsel well and had to be deleted as a ministerial servant because he no longer met the Scriptural qualifications. (Ps. 11:5; 1 Tim. 3:8-10) Afterward, the brother made it widely known that he did not agree, repeatedly writing letters critical of the elders to the branch office and even influencing others in the congregation to do the same. It is really counterproductive, though, for us to jeopardize the peace of the entire congregation in an attempt to justify our actions. How much better to view reproof as a way to open our eyes to see weaknesses that we were not aware of and then quietly accept the correction.—Read Lamentations 3:28, 29.
10. (a) Explain what we can learn from James 3:16-18 about a good spirit and a bad spirit. (b) What results from displaying “the wisdom from above”?
10 James 3:16-18 is a good guide as to what constitutes both the improper and the proper spirit to display in the congregation. It says: “Where jealousy and contentiousness are, there disorder and every vile thing are. But the wisdom from above is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and good fruits, not making partial distinctions, not hypocritical. Moreover, the fruit of righteousness has its seed sown under peaceful conditions for those who are making peace.” As we work in harmony with “the wisdom from above,” our godly qualities will enable us to contribute to a good spirit among the brothers.
MANIFEST A RESPECTFUL SPIRIT IN THE CONGREGATION
11. (a) What will maintaining a proper spirit help us to avoid? (b) What do we learn from David’s example?
11 We should keep in mind that Jehovah has assigned the elders “to shepherd the congregation of God.” (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2) Thus, we realize that the wise course is to respect God’s arrangement, whether we have the privilege of serving as elders or not. Maintaining a proper spirit can help us to avoid being oversensitive about position. When King Saul of Israel felt that David had become a threat to his kingship, Saul “was continually looking suspiciously at David.” (1 Sam. 18:9) The king developed a bad spirit and even wanted to kill David. Rather than being overly concerned with position as Saul was, how much better to be like David. In spite of all the injustice heaped upon him, the young man maintained respect for God-appointed authority.—Read 1 Samuel 26:23.
12. What will contribute to unity in the congregation?
12 Differences of viewpoint can become a source of irritation in the congregation—even among the overseers. The Bible’s counsel can help us in this regard: “In showing honor to one another take the lead” and, “Do not become discreet in your own eyes.” (Rom. 12:10, 16) Instead of insisting that we are right, we should acknowledge that there is often more than one acceptable way to look at a situation. If we try to see others’ point of view, we can contribute to the unity of the congregation.—Phil. 4:5.
13. How should we view our own opinions, and what Bible example illustrates this?
13 Does this mean that it is wrong to offer our observation if we see something in the congregation that we feel needs adjustment? No. In the first century, an issue arose over which there was much disputing. The brothers “arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and older men in Jerusalem regarding this dispute.” (Acts 15:2) No doubt each of those brothers had an opinion on the subject and an idea of how the matter might be handled. However, once each one expressed his thought and a spirit-directed decision was made, the brothers did not continue to bring up their individual opinions. After the letter with the decision reached the congregations, “they rejoiced over the encouragement” and were “made firm in the faith.” (Acts 15:31; 16:4, 5) Likewise today, once we bring a matter to the attention of the responsible brothers, we should be content to leave it to their prayerful consideration.
SHOW A FINE SPIRIT IN PERSONAL RELATIONS
14. How can we show a fine spirit on a personal level?
14 On a personal level, there are many opportunities for us to show a fine spirit. Each of us can do much good if we display a forgiving spirit when others offend us. God’s Word tells us: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also.” (Col. 3:13) The expression “if anyone has a cause for complaint” suggests that there may be valid reasons for becoming irritated with others. However, rather than being overly concerned about their foibles and disturbing the peace of the congregation, we try to imitate Jehovah and forgive freely, moving on in our service together.
15. (a) What can we learn about forgiveness from Job? (b) How can prayer help us to show a pleasing spirit?
15 Regarding forgiveness, we can learn from the man Job. His three would-be comforters offended him with many unkind words. Nevertheless, Job was forgiving. How? “He prayed in behalf of his companions.” (Job 16:2; 42:10) Praying for others may change our attitude toward them. Praying for all our Christian associates helps us to develop a Christlike spirit. (John 13:34, 35) In addition to praying for our brothers, we should pray for holy spirit. (Luke 11:13) God’s spirit will help us display true Christian qualities in dealing with others.—Read Galatians 5:22, 23.
CONTRIBUTE TO A WHOLESOME SPIRIT IN GOD’S ORGANIZATION
16, 17. Regarding ‘the spirit we show,’ what are you personally determined to do?
16 What delightful results can be obtained if each member of the congregation makes it his or her goal to contribute to the wholesome spirit of the congregation! After considering these matters, we may decide that we personally can improve in displaying an upbuilding spirit. If so, we should not hesitate to let ourselves be examined in the light of God’s Word. (Heb. 4:12) Paul, who was very concerned about his actions in the congregations, said: “I am not conscious of anything against myself. Yet by this I am not proved righteous, but he that examines me is Jehovah.”—1 Cor. 4:4.
17 As we strive to act in harmony with the wisdom from above, not taking ourselves or our position too seriously, we will contribute to a wholesome spirit in the congregation. By having a forgiving spirit and thinking positively of others, we will enjoy peaceful relations with fellow worshippers. (Phil. 4:8) As we do these things, we can be confident that Jehovah and Jesus will be pleased ‘with the spirit we show.’—Philem. 25.