2. What conditions that were coming upon first-century Christians required them to keep their senses, and how did Paul describe this?
2 In the first century, Christians, too, were beset by conditions that would ultimately test them to the very limit. Were they advised to dull their minds so that such would become more bearable? To the contrary, though it may have been unpleasant to face the prospects of persecution and considerable apostatizing from the faith, steadfast ones needed to know what was ahead so that they could successfully overcome it. Therefore, the overseer Timothy was straightforwardly warned of this incoming apostasy, by the apostle Paul, who said: “There will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, in accord with their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves to have their ears tickled; and they will turn their ears away from the truth.” Owing to the imminence of that danger, the apostle declared further: “You, though, keep your senses [“be soberminded”—Kingdom Interlinear] in all things.” (2 Tim. 4:3-5) Being thus armed, Timothy would be able to counteract those subtle deceptions.
3. (a) Why is it urgent to keep one’s senses today? (b) As explained by Peter, why must elders be watchful, and why does Paul encourage wakefulness?
3 In the more than nineteen hundred years since Paul wrote those words, that apostasy has come to full flower and is identifiable as modern-day Christendom. Though Jehovah God has separated his true Christian congregation from her, there is still the same urgent need to keep one’s senses because her apostasy is nearing its zenith and is enveloping the entire earth.
DEVELOPING A SOBER-MINDED VIEW OF RESPONSIBILITIES
4. In what ways must an elder ‘fully accomplish his ministry’?
4 That oft-repeated warning to “keep your senses” should alert elders to the need to keep in clear focus their many responsibilities if they, like Timothy, are to ‘accomplish their ministry’ fully. Personal preference might tend to make an elder “go overboard” and direct most of his attention to only one or two aspects of his overseership. Such, however, would not be a sound viewpoint. Rather, as he considers his available time, it should be with an eye to how he can apportion it so that he is able to care for family responsibilities, for shepherding, for teaching, and for preaching and disciple-making. To care for all of these successfully calls for clear thinking, balance and sensibleness so that due attention is given each one and none suffers neglect.
5. Should an elder who is a family man devote all his time to his family? Why?
5 Take, for example, an elder who is a family man. He certainly has strong reason to be sober-minded as he considers the severe tests and pressures that those close to him must face almost daily. For him to remain an elder he must show genuine concern for his own family and set a good example as a father before the congregation. Paul detailed the qualifications that the elder should meet, stating that he should be “a man presiding over his own household in a fine manner, having children in subjection with all seriousness.” (1 Tim. 3:4, 5) Nevertheless, if he spent all his time with his family he would not set a good example even to them. Why not? Because it would encourage them to develop a self-centered attitude, one of exclusiveness from others. Instead, they should be encouraged to show interest in others, both those in the congregation as well as persons in the world of mankind. They should be invited to share in proclaiming the wonderful hope of everlasting life, even as they had been given that hope. This broadened view, then, will instill in them a compassionate understanding of others and a fuller appreciation of the purpose of the Creator.
6. How should an elder view the need for taking in knowledge?
6 Similarly, elders should be “qualified to teach”; so they need to be serious students of God’s Word. (1 Tim. 3:2) Depending upon their education, the number of years they have been studying the Bible, and other factors, some may feel that they must devote a considerable portion of their time to study, to research in the Scriptures and to talk preparation. However, here again an elder can go to extremes unless he is careful to keep his other responsibilities in good focus. Paul points to subtle danger that can overtake those who give too much attention to knowledge, stating, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Cor. 8:1; 13:2) This is not to say that knowledge is not important, but, rather, that it needs love with it in order to accomplish something worth while. Love differs from knowledge in that it is expressed in activity and is not just inert data stored in the mind. Hence, an elder who ‘keeps his senses’ will combine study with ministering to his brothers and to those in the world of mankind; thus he will make good use of his knowledge.—1 John 3:18.
7. (a) How urgent is the work of shepherding? (b) How can an elder make sure that his love is complete?
7 Paul placed much emphasis upon shepherding, exhorting the Ephesian overseers to “shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.” (Acts 20:28) There is no doubt that this is an urgent work, in view of these dangerous times when the very lives of Christians may be at stake. (2 Tim. 4:2) Moreover, effective shepherding takes time. Many hours must be spent in preparing for meetings and talks, in visiting and encouraging those who need aid or who are ill. Yet this vital work, too, must be viewed in relationship to other aspects of an elder’s responsibilities. Jesus showed that, while love for one’s Christian brothers is a principal sign of true discipleship, it does not excuse his followers from extending love to those of the world of mankind. Indeed, their love would be incomplete unless it included even opposers, as Jesus states: “You heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you.” (Matt. 5:43-48) So, as important as shepherding is, it, too, must be balanced with the other responsibilities of an elder.
8. (a) What work reveals Jehovah’s love and compassion, and how do people become acquainted with this? (b) How only will our “fine works” glorify God?
8 One responsibility that the entire association of Christians can share in is the urgent one of preaching the good news and making disciples. (Matt. 24:14; 28:19, 20) This work acquaints people with the love and compassion that Jehovah God has for mankind, a love so great “that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) If they are to receive the light of truth it will be from God’s servants that they will get it, for Jesus said of them: “You are the light of the world.” What are they to do with that light? Not hide it, but, he said, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matt. 5:14-16) “Fine works” identify individuals as fine people—works such as those that produce fine families and orderly homes, honest employees and congregations of Christians who have genuine love for one another. Yet, would most people ever see the real meaning of these “fine works” if we never spoke out the truth, preaching the good news from house to house? Likely they would view us only as ‘good people.’ If, however, we speak out, they will discern why it is that we are different, what it is that makes us fruitful in fine works, and then, instead of giving us the credit, they will ‘give glory to our Father who is in the heavens.’ Elders, especially, should sober-mindedly strive to share fully in declaring the good news and to ‘be examples to the flock’ in this, personally encouraging their brothers to join with them in this important work, even as the apostles shared in the preaching work.—Matt. 4:19, 20.