“We are fellow workers for your joy.”—2 COR. 1:24.
1. What caused Paul to rejoice over the Christians in Corinth?
IT WAS the year 55 C.E. The apostle Paul was in the harbor city of Troas, but he could not stop thinking about Corinth. Earlier that year, it had pained him to learn that the brothers there quarreled among themselves. So out of fatherly concern, he had sent a letter to correct them. (1 Cor. 1:11; 4:15) He had also sent his fellow worker Titus to them and had arranged for Titus to report back to him in Troas. Now Paul was waiting for Titus in Troas, longing to hear how the Corinthians were faring. But to Paul’s deep disappointment, Titus did not arrive. What could Paul do? He sailed to Macedonia, and to his joy, there they met. Titus related that the brothers in Corinth had responded well to Paul’s letter and that they were yearning to see him. When Paul heard that good report, he “rejoiced yet more.”—2 Cor. 2:12, 13; 7:5-9.
2. (a) What did Paul write to the Corinthians about faith and joy? (b) What questions will we consider?
2 Shortly thereafter, Paul wrote the Corinthians a second letter. He told them: “Not that we are the masters over your faith, but we are fellow workers for your joy, for it is by your faith that you are standing.” (2 Cor. 1:24) What did Paul mean by that? And how should those words affect Christian elders today?
OUR FAITH AND OUR JOY
3. (a) What did Paul mean when he wrote: “By your faith . . . you are standing”? (b) How do elders today follow Paul’s example?
3 Paul mentioned two vital aspects of our worship—faith and joy. Recall that regarding faith, he wrote: “Not that we are the masters over your faith, . . . for it is by your faith that you are standing.” With these words, Paul acknowledged that the brothers in Corinth stood firm, not because of him or any other human, but because of their own faith in God. Hence, Paul saw no need to control the faith of his brothers, and he had no desire to do so. He was confident that they were faithful Christians who wanted to do what was right. (2 Cor. 2:3) Today, elders follow Paul’s example by expressing confidence in their brothers’ faith and motives for serving God. (2 Thess. 3:4) Rather than making rigid rules for the congregation, elders rely on Scriptural principles and direction from Jehovah’s organization. After all, present-day elders are not the masters over their brothers’ faith.—1 Pet. 5:2, 3.
4. (a) What did Paul mean when he wrote: “We are fellow workers for your joy”? (b) How do elders today imitate Paul’s attitude?
4 Paul also stated: “We are fellow workers for your joy.” With that expression, he referred to himself and his close associates. Why do we draw that conclusion? Well, in the same letter, Paul reminded the Corinthians of two of these associates when he wrote: “Jesus . . . was preached among you through us, that is, through me and Silvanus and Timothy.” (2 Cor. 1:19) Moreover, whenever Paul used the term “fellow workers” in his letters, it always referred to his close associates, such as Apollos, Aquila, Prisca, Timothy, Titus, and others. (Rom. 16:3, 21; 1 Cor. 3:6-9; 2 Cor. 8:23) Hence, by saying: “We are fellow workers for your joy,” Paul assured the Corinthians that he and his companions wanted to do all they could to promote the joy of all members of the congregation. Today, Christian elders have the same desire. They want to do all they can to help their brothers to “serve Jehovah with rejoicing.”—Ps. 100:2; Phil. 1:25.
5. We will consider the responses to what question, and on what should we reflect?
5 Recently, a group of zealous brothers and sisters living in different parts of the world were invited to respond to the question, “What words and deeds of an elder have added to your joy?” As we now consider the observations made by that group of fellow believers, see how their comments compare with how you might have responded. Furthermore, let all of us reflect on how we may contribute to a spirit of joy in our local congregation.*
“GREET PERSIS OUR BELOVED ONE”
6, 7. (a) What is one way in which elders can imitate Jesus, Paul, and other servants of God? (b) Why does remembering our brothers’ names add to their joy?
6 Many of our brothers and sisters say that their joy is enhanced when elders show personal interest in them. One basic way in which elders do so is by following the example set by David, Elihu, and Jesus himself. (Read 2 Samuel 9:6; Job 33:1; Luke 19:5.) Each of these servants of Jehovah showed sincere interest in another person by using the individual’s name. Paul too appreciated the importance of remembering and using the names of fellow believers. He concluded one of his letters by greeting more than 25 brothers and sisters by name, including Persis, a Christian sister about whom Paul said: “Greet Persis our beloved one.”—Rom. 16:3-15.
7 Some elders have a hard time remembering names. Still, when they make a real effort to do so, they are, in effect, telling their fellow believers, ‘You are important to me.’ (Ex. 33:17) Elders will particularly add to their brothers’ joy when they remember their names as they call on them for comments during the Watchtower Study or other meetings.—Compare John 10:3.
“SHE PERFORMED MANY LABORS IN THE LORD”
8. What was one important way in which Paul followed the example set by Jehovah and Jesus?
8 Paul also showed his interest in others by giving sincere commendation, which is another basic way to enhance the joy of fellow believers. Thus, in the same letter in which he stated his desire to work for his brothers’ joy, Paul wrote: “I have great boasting in regard to you.” (2 Cor. 7:4) Those words of commendation must have warmed the heart of the brothers in Corinth. Paul expressed similar sentiments to other congregations. (Rom. 1:8; Phil. 1:3-5; 1 Thess. 1:8) In fact, after he mentioned Persis in his letter to the congregation in Rome, Paul added: “She performed many labors in the Lord.” (Rom. 16:12) How heartening that compliment must have been for that faithful sister! In commending others, Paul followed the example set by both Jehovah and Jesus.—Read Mark 1:9-11; John 1:47; Rev. 2:2, 13, 19.
9. Why does giving and receiving commendation add to a spirit of joy in the congregation?
9 Elders today also see the importance of putting their feelings of appreciation for their brothers into words. (Prov. 3:27; 15:23) Whenever an elder does that, he tells his brothers, in effect: ‘I noticed what you did. I care about you.’ And fellow believers definitely need to hear the elders’ reassuring words. A sister in her mid-50’s spoke for many when she said: “At work I seldom get a compliment. There’s a cold and competitive climate. So when an elder commends me for something I’ve done for the congregation, it’s so refreshing, so energizing! It makes me feel loved by my heavenly Father.” A brother who as a single parent is raising two children felt similarly. An elder recently gave him heartfelt commendation. How did it affect our brother? He says: “The elder’s words gave me a real boost!” Indeed, by sincerely commending fellow believers, an elder lifts their spirit and deepens their joy. That, in turn, will give them added strength to keep on walking on the road to life “and not tire out.”—Isa. 40:31.
“SHEPHERD THE CONGREGATION OF GOD”
10, 11. (a) How can elders follow the example set by Nehemiah? (b) What will help an elder to impart a spiritual gift when making shepherding calls?
10 What is an especially vital way in which elders show personal interest in their brothers and add to the congregation’s joy? By taking the initiative to reach out to those who need encouragement. (Read Acts 20:28.) When elders do so, they imitate spiritual shepherds of old. Note, for instance, what the faithful overseer Nehemiah did when he saw that some of his Jewish brothers had grown spiritually weak. The account states that he immediately rose up and encouraged them. (Neh. 4:14) Today, elders want to do the same. They ‘rise up’—take the initiative—to help fellow believers to be firm in faith. To give such personal encouragement, they visit their brothers and sisters in their homes if circumstances allow. During such shepherding visits, they want to “impart some spiritual gift” to them. (Rom. 1:11) What will help elders to do so?
11 Prior to making a shepherding visit, an elder needs to take some time to think about the individual he will visit. What are the person’s challenges? What thoughts could build him or her up? What scripture or experience of a Bible character would be applicable to his or her circumstances? Such forethought will help an elder to have a conversation that will be meaningful, not trivial. During shepherding visits, an elder allows his brothers and sisters to express themselves while he listens attentively. (Jas. 1:19) One sister said: “It’s so comforting when an elder listens with his heart.”—Luke 8:18.
12. Who in the congregation are in need of encouragement, and why?
12 Who will benefit from receiving shepherding visits? Paul admonished his fellow Christian elders to “pay attention . . . to all the flock.” Indeed, all members of the congregation need to receive encouragement, including those publishers and pioneers who have faithfully been carrying out their ministry year after year. Why do they need the support of spiritual shepherds? Because sometimes such spiritually strong ones too are nearly overwhelmed by the pressures exerted by this wicked world. To illustrate why even a strong servant of God may, at times, need help from a companion, let us consider an event in King David’s life.
“ABISHAI . . . CAME TO HIS HELP”
13. (a) Ishbi-benob exploited what condition of David? (b) How was Abishai able to come to David’s rescue?
13 Shortly after young David had been anointed as king, he stood face-to-face with Goliath, one of the Rephaim, a race of giants. Courageous David killed the giant. (1 Sam. 17:4, 48-51; 1 Chron. 20:5, 8) Years later, during a battle with the Philistines, David again stood face-to-face with a giant. His name was Ishbi-benob, also one of the Rephaim. (2 Sam. 21:16; ftn.) This time, however, the giant nearly killed David. Why? Not because David had lost his courage but because he had lost his strength. The record states: “David grew tired.” As soon as Ishbi-benob noticed David’s moment of physical weakness, he “got to think of striking David down.” But then, just before the giant thrust his weapon into David, “at once, Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his [David’s] help and struck the Philistine down and put him to death.” (2 Sam. 21:15-17) What a narrow escape! How grateful David must have been that Abishai had kept an eye on him and had quickly come to his aid when his life was in danger! What lessons can we draw from this account?
14. (a) How are we able to conquer Goliathlike challenges? (b) How can elders help others regain their strength and joy? Give an example.
14 Worldwide, we as Jehovah’s people are carrying out our ministry despite the obstacles that Satan and his agents place in our path. Some of us have stood face-to-face with giant challenges, but with full reliance on Jehovah, we took on those “Goliaths” and conquered them. However, at times, the constant battle against the pressures of this world leaves us tired and discouraged. In that weakened condition, we are vulnerable and in danger of being ‘struck down’ by pressures we otherwise would have dealt with successfully. At such moments, the timely support given by an elder can help us to regain our joy and our strength, as many have experienced. A pioneer in her mid-60’s related: “Some time ago, I did not feel well, and field service tired me out. An elder noticed my lack of energy and approached me. We had an encouraging conversation based on a Bible passage. I applied the suggestions he gave me, and I benefited.” She added: “How loving of that elder to take note of my weak condition and to give me help!” Yes, it is heartening to know that we have elders who keep a loving eye on us and who, much like Abishai of old, stand ready to ‘come to our help.’
“KNOW THE LOVE THAT I HAVE . . . FOR YOU”
15, 16. (a) Why was Paul dearly loved by his fellow believers? (b) Why do we love our caring congregation elders?
15 Being a shepherd involves hard work. At times, elders spend sleepless nights in prayerful concern for God’s flock or in giving spiritual support to fellow believers. (2 Cor. 11:27, 28) Still, elders carry out their responsibility fully and gladly, just as Paul did. He wrote to the Corinthians: “I will most gladly spend and be completely spent for your souls.” (2 Cor. 12:15) Indeed, out of love for his brothers, Paul fully spent himself in strengthening them. (Read 2 Corinthians 2:4; Phil. 2:17; 1 Thess. 2:8) No wonder the brothers dearly loved Paul!—Acts 20:31-38.
16 We as God’s servants today also love our caring Christian elders and thank Jehovah in our personal prayers for providing them. They add to our joy by showing personal interest in us. We feel enriched by their shepherding visits. Moreover, we are grateful that they stand ready to come to our aid at moments when we feel overwhelmed by the pressures of this world. Yes, such attentive Christian elders truly are ‘fellow workers for our joy.’
The same brothers and sisters were also asked, “Which quality do you value the most in an elder?” The overwhelming majority of them answered, “Being approachable.” That important quality will be considered in an upcoming issue of this journal.