Men Who Can Aid You to Succeed
1, 2. (a) When faced with distress, what do we need from others? (b) In the Christian congregation, who especially can provide this?
AN ENCOURAGING word in time of distress, a helping hand when trouble threatens—what a blessing these can be! Because obstacles do arise to block our path as we move forward toward our goal of everlasting life, such aid is truly vital. It certainly is a blessing that in the Christian congregation there are faithful older brothers who can provide much-needed upbuilding and comfort.
2 The Bible speaks of these “shepherds” as “gifts in men” whom Jesus Christ has provided for the building up of the congregation in love. (Ephesians 4:7-16) Therefore, if you should feel at any time that you are weakening in faith, are puzzled, perplexed or even disheartened because of problems or trials, you should call on devoted elders to help you stick to your decision to remain an approved disciple of God’s Son.
3. What admonition is given to elders at 1 Peter 5:1-3
3 An examination of what the apostle Peter wrote to elders well illustrates how and why they can be a strengthening aid to you. We read:
“To the older men among you I give this exhortation, for I too am an older man with them and a witness of the sufferings of the Christ, a sharer even of the glory that is to be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly; neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.”—1 Peter 5:1-3.
4. How does Peter’s language show that he did not exalt himself above the elders to whom he was writing?
4 We can rejoice that there are Christian men who want to conform to the apostle Peter’s counsel. In providing spiritual help to members of the congregation, they render assistance in the same spirit as that shown by the apostle. Love for God and their brothers motivates them. Note that Peter did not exalt himself over the elders whom he was exhorting or encouraging. He spoke of himself as “an older man with them,” that is, as a ‘fellow elder.’ The apostle thus referred to himself as a brother who had a sympathetic understanding of their position as elders in the congregation. Such a sympathetic attitude in dealing with fellow believers makes an elder a real blessing to his brothers.
5. How was Peter a “witness of the sufferings of the Christ”?
5 The words of Peter also show that he recognized the weighty responsibility that had been entrusted to him. He identified himself as a “witness of the sufferings of the Christ, a sharer even of the glory that is to be revealed.” Peter knew firsthand about the way in which the Son of God was reviled, physically abused and finally nailed to a stake. He was a direct spectator and saw the resurrected Jesus Christ and his ascension to heaven. And in his second letter he says:
“It was not by following artfully contrived false stories that we acquainted you with the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, but it was by having become eyewitnesses of his magnificence. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when words such as these were borne to him by the magnificent glory: ‘This is my son, my beloved, whom I myself have approved.’ Yes, these words we heard borne from heaven while we were with him in the holy mountain.”—2 Peter 1:16-18; compare Matthew 16:28–17:9.
6. Why did the elders whom Peter addressed have good reason to heed his words?
6 Surely, the elders to whom Peter was directing his encouragement had good reason to pay attention to the words of a fellow elder who could speak of himself as a ‘witness of Christ’s suffering and a sharer of the glory to be revealed.’ Not only did the apostle appeal to them in a humble manner but his own example was worthy of imitation, for, as the Bible record shows, actively and at times with considerable danger to himself, he made known to others the things of which he was an eyewitness.—Acts 2:22-38; 4:8-12, 19, 20; 5:29-32.
7, 8. (a) What should an elder recognize about the ownership of the flock? (b) How should this affect his treatment of the congregation?
7 For an elder today to be like Peter, he needs to recognize that the members of the congregation belong, not to him, but, to Jehovah God. The apostle Paul also called attention to this important fact. To the elders of the Ephesus congregation, he said: “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.
8 At great cost to himself, Jehovah God acquired the members of the Christian congregation as his property. No greater price could have been paid than that of the blood of his sinless Son. When elders have Jehovah’s view of the value of the congregation in their care, it aids them to be diligent in helping each individual to remain the honorable property of the Most High. They would have to answer to God for any mistreatment of the flock. That is why elders should endeavor to have a proper appreciation of the worth of each person in the congregation. This can serve as a strong restraint against taking a superior position toward the flock and treating it in a harsh, domineering way. (Contrast Acts 20:29.) Individually, members of the congregation are greatly built up by brothers who accord them the dignity and respect that is their due. It gives all a sense of security when elders prove themselves to be real “shepherds,” looking out for the spiritual and physical well-being of the entire flock.
“NOT UNDER COMPULSION, BUT WILLINGLY”
9, 10. (a) How might an elder do his shepherding “under compulsion”? (b) What would show that he is shepherding the congregation “willingly”?
9 In any given situation where help is needed, a person finds it much easier to approach someone who has not only the ability to render aid but also the desire to do so. Fittingly, Peter urged that the elders do their shepherding, “not under compulsion, but willingly.” (1 Peter 5:2) To be a good “shepherd” in the congregation, a man needs to guard against performing his work merely out of a sense of duty. If caring for the congregation were to become joyless drudgery, an elder would simply be fulfilling an assignment “under compulsion.” The flock would notice this and withdraw, not wanting to add to the elder’s burdens with their problems. However, when an elder finds joy in handling his responsibilities because he really wants to do the work, the members of the congregation will be drawn to him. Such a willingness to serve stems from deep love for God and the congregation of his people. It is an evidence that the elder is accomplishing his ministry toward the flock with the right attitude.
10 Of course, good judgment is needed on the part of an elder so that he does not burden himself down with more tasks than he can reasonably handle. With advancing years and declining health, he may not be able to accomplish as much as in former years, requiring that he ask other capable men to help him. Nevertheless, he may still find real joy in being a willing “shepherd” within the framework of his limitations.
‘NOT FOR DISHONEST GAIN, BUT EAGERLY’
11. Why is there a danger of shepherding the congregation “for love of dishonest gain”?
11 Besides showing a willing spirit, an elder needs to have a pure, unselfish motivation if he is to be of real help to his brothers. The apostle Peter cautions against serving as a shepherd “for love of dishonest gain.” To use one’s shepherding assignment to gain material possessions, praise or power would be a dishonest use of it. True, the Bible counsels giving “double honor” to men who work hard at teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17, 18) But such “double honor” should always come spontaneously from congregation members, never being sought by an elder or viewed as something he rightly expects or exacts from them. Prominence may come to an elder, perhaps because his circumstances leave him free to share more extensively in Kingdom activity than others, or because of certain outstanding abilities. There may easily arise a temptation to profit from his prominence, leading to his wanting, even hinting about, certain material things that others might be able to give him. This could perhaps lead to his associating mainly with more prosperous persons in the congregation, to the neglect of others. He may become desirous of praise but become cool, or even resentful, toward valid criticism or counsel.
12, 13. How did the apostle Paul show that he served his brothers “eagerly”?
12 While this may happen to relatively few men in the Christian congregation today, elders should not minimize the danger. Even in very minor manifestations, the tendency to seek material benefits through spiritual relationships should be resisted. The Christian apostle Paul set an excellent example in this regard. To the elders of the Ephesus congregation, he could say:
“Bear in mind that for three years, night and day, I did not quit admonishing each one with tears. . . . I have coveted no man’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands have attended to the needs of me and of those with me. I have exhibited to you in all things that by thus laboring you must assist those who are weak, and must bear in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, when he himself said, ‘There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.’”—Acts 20:31-35.
13 A congregation benefits immeasurably from men who labor “eagerly” as did Paul. He was glad to serve his brothers, never looking desiringly at anything that they possessed and from which he might benefit. His joy came from giving freely of himself in building up his brothers.
14. What do we learn from 1 Thessalonians 2:5-8 about what is included in shepherding the congregation “eagerly”?
14 The unhypocritical way he and his companions served is made clear in his words to the Thessalonians:
“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 as apostles of Christ. To the contrary, we became gentle 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 Thessalonians 2:5-8)
Yes, instead of seeking personal gain from members of the congregation, Paul acted as does a nursing mother who deeply loves her children and puts their interests ahead of her own.—Compare John 10:11-13.
15. In what manner should elders seek to shepherd the flock?
15 In addition to being rightly motivated by concern for the flock, an elder needs to remember the importance of caring for the congregation in the right manner. The apostle Peter counseled that elders not ‘lord it over those who are God’s inheritance but that they become examples to the flock.’ (1 Peter 5:3) In keeping with this admonition, elders would not lift themselves above their brothers. This would be contrary to the instructions that Jesus gave to his followers:
“Do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your teacher, whereas all you are brothers. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One. Neither be called ‘leaders,’ for your Leader is one, the Christ. But the greatest one among you must be your minister.” (Matthew 23:8-11)
So, rather than issuing commands like a master, or trying to manage the lives of congregation members, an elder is a man who humbly slaves for his brothers. By his example, he encourages the flock to be Christlike.—Compare 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12.
16. Why can faithful elders be approached with confidence?
16 When elders set a fine example personally in Christian living and activity, they can do much to assist their fellow believers finally to be found approved by Jehovah God. Moreover, Jesus Christ, the “chief shepherd” under whom they serve, will reward all faithful undershepherds at the time of his glorious manifestation as “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:16; 1 Timothy 6:15) As the apostle Peter wrote: “When the chief shepherd has been made manifest, you will receive the unfadable crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4) Truly, men who serve their brothers for the right reason, with the proper motive and in the correct manner, are of real help to the congregation, contributing to their finding great joy in their Christian way of life. (2 Corinthians 1:24) Do not hesitate to enlist the aid of faithful elders whenever necessary.