The Bible’s View
What Is Involved in ‘Appointment by Holy Spirit’?
“PAY attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.” (Acts 20:28) The apostle Paul directed these words to the elders of the Ephesus congregation when he met with them at Miletus, a city on the west coast of Asia Minor.
By reason of his evangelizing work under the direction of God’s holy spirit, Paul, with the aid of faithful associates, was instrumental in establishing many new congregations. Personally he could not care for all these congregations but needed the aid of spiritually qualified men who could act as shepherds and teachers of their fellow believers.
Since the apostle and his companions in the evangelizing work had the spirit of God resting upon them, they were able to discern who among the brothers had the necessary spiritual qualifications for being overseers or elders. As Jesus Christ had spent much time in prayer before choosing the 12 apostles, Paul and his associates prayed before making final selection of those whom they appointed to serve as elders. Through prayer, they sought the guidance of the holy spirit. (Luke 6:12, 13; compare Acts 6:6.) The actual appointing was done by means of a symbolic act. Paul and others who were already elders laid their hands on those who would start rendering special service in the congregation. (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6) This served to impress on the men designated to serve that their appointment was through spirit-directed men. Because those making the appointments had the spirit of God and sought divine direction, elders were appointed by holy spirit. In our day, men involved in making recommendations and appointments seek to be guided by the spirit-inspired counsel set forth at 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1 and 1 Peter 5.
In view of the fact that humans are involved in the appointment of elders, there is a possibility of choosing an unqualified man to serve, for humans are not able to read the heart. That is why the apostle Paul cautioned Timothy: “Never lay your hands hastily upon any man; neither be a sharer in the sins of others; preserve yourself chaste.” (1 Tim. 5:22) If he had acted prematurely in appointing an elder, Timothy would have had to bear a measure of responsibility for whatever wrongs such an unqualified man committed.
Today, too, the matter of sharing in the sins of others needs to be given due consideration before any man is chosen to serve as an overseer. We should never forget that the congregation is God’s, purchased with the blood of his Son. Therefore, if there be any mistreatment of the flock, the men responsible as well as those who shared in choosing unqualified persons will have an accountability with the Most High, who purchased the flock at great cost to himself. So men having any share in the making of appointments need to be very conscientious in letting themselves be guided by God’s Word and his spirit.
Members of the congregation rightly follow the lead of faithful spirit-appointed overseers. This is in harmony with the inspired counsel: “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.
However, it should be noted that, when Paul spoke to the elders of the Ephesus congregation, he was not stressing the attitude of the congregation toward the elders. Rather, the elders were being reminded that, by reason of their appointment by holy spirit, they were accountable to the Source of that spirit for their actions. They were under obligation to follow the lead of God’s spirit in discharging their responsibilities in the right manner and with the proper attitude.
Paul’s own example forcefully illustrates what it means for a man to recognize that he has been appointed by holy spirit. The apostle Paul saw to it that he imparted “all the counsel of God,” not holding back anything that was vital to a person’s acting in a divinely approved way. Never did the apostle use his position to further selfish ambition or to gain money or possessions from the brothers whom he served as a humble slave. Though he deeply appreciated voluntary material assistance, Paul did not seek such. He labored with his own hands to get the necessities of life. The apostle spent himself completely in behalf of his brothers, devoting both days and nights to encourage them. So great was his love for them that he was not ashamed to shed tears in their presence while admonishing them. Because he loved his brothers, Paul remained firm for what was right, not holding back in giving strong reproof when necessary.—Acts 20:27-35; compare 1 Corinthians 4:21; 5:1-13.
The manner in which the apostle dealt with believers at Ephesus was not an exception. It was the way in which he customarily discharged his obligations as a shepherd. For example, to Christians at Thessalonica, he could write:
“At no time have we turned up either with flattering speech, (just as you know) or with a false front for covetousness, God is witness! Neither have we been seeking glory from men, no, either from you or from others, though we could be an expensive burden [“be on our dignity,” marginal reading] as apostles of Christ. To the contrary, we became gentle [“babes,” marginal reading] in the midst of you, as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, having a tender affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not only the good news of God, but also our own souls, because you became beloved to us.”—1 Thess. 2:5-8.
Members of Christian congregations today have no difficulty in cooperating with elders who seek to imitate the Christlike pattern of the apostle Paul. Such elders have no desire for glory but are genuinely interested in slaving for their brothers. They are neither a financial burden to their fellow believers nor a burden by insisting on their own “dignity,” assuming a superior air toward other members of the congregation. They are “gentle,” yes, as unassuming “babes” among their brothers, not lording it over anyone. Like a nursing mother who puts the interests of her child ahead of her own interests, such elders are willing to expend themselves fully within the framework of their limitations.
Faithful elders realize that a failure to labor unselfishly for the congregation would mean proving false to their appointment by holy spirit, for the spirit produces love, an unselfish interest in the welfare of others. Thus, appointment by holy spirit involves a selection of qualified men under the guidance of the spirit as well as a recognition of accountability to the Source of the spirit.