“Feed My Little Sheep”
1, 2. How was the fact of Jesus’ resurrection established to guide Peter and the other faithful apostles?
THE Master was alive. The great Preacher of Jehovah’s kingdom was there on the seashore. Already Christ Jesus had built a fire and had fish broiling upon it; bread also there was for the disciples to break their fast. Peter, as usual, impulsive, had put on his garments (for he was naked) and had jumped off the boat and swum ashore. The others had rowed to shore in the small boat. To them Jesus spoke in the same manner that he had spoken before his resurrection. To those hungry disciples he said, “Come, take your breakfast.” Not one had courage or need to ask him, “Who are you?” They realized it was their Master.
2 “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise.” Prior to this postresurrection appearance of Christ Jesus there had been six others: among these, one to Mary Magdalene, then to the group of women, to the two on the way to Emmaus, and also to Peter. John reports: “This was now the third time that Jesus appeared [especially] to the disciples [to apostles in a group] after his being raised up from the dead.” Remember, “out of fear of the Jews the doors were locked where the disciples were, Jesus came and stood in their midst”; also “his disciples were again indoors, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and he stood in their midst.” (John 21:12-14; 20:19, 26, NW) Here now was ample evidence; alive again was the Redeemer of mankind!
3, 4. (a) Before his death, how and why did Jesus describe to his disciples their foretold scattering? (b) After his resurrection, where and how did Jesus give vital instruction particularly to what seven disciples?
3 John, vividly describing this breakfast scene, adds the impressive conversation between Jesus and Peter, which very indelibly remained on Peter’s mind. Jesus speaks directly to Simon Peter: “‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him: ‘Yes, Master, you know I have affection for you.’” When Jesus first propounded this question he may have had in mind what he had previously said to his disciples and Peter’s reply. That earlier conversation Mark reports: “Jesus said to them: ‘You will all be stumbled, because it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered about.” But after I have been raised up I will go ahead of you into Galilee.’ But Peter said to him: ‘Even if all the others are stumbled, yet I will not be.’” However, everyone in the world who since then has ever read the life of Christ knows how Peter three times denied Christ, and how truly Jesus prophesied when he said: “You today, yes, this night, before a cock crows twice, even you will disown me three times.” But then Peter had profusely retorted: “If I have to die with you, I will by no means disown you.” All the other disciples also then had said the same thing.—Mark 14:27-31, NW.
4 Jesus was a marvelous teacher. Using illustrations, he also indelibly impressed the minds of his listeners with what he desired to get into their minds and into their very hearts. So Jesus, at the seaside breakfast, with Peter’s three denials in mind, continued talking directly to Peter, a second time asking: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter replied: “Yes, Master, you know I have affection for you.” Jesus then said to him, “Shepherd my little sheep.” Then a third time Jesus (using now Peter’s own variant term affection) asked: “Simon son of John, do you have affection for me?” Grieved, Peter now insisted: “Master, you know all things; you are aware that I have affection for you.” Then Jesus said: “Feed my little sheep.” What an avalanche of thoughts must have hurtled through Peter’s mind while Jesus was talking to him, repeatedly asking him the same question and then three times telling him, ‘Feed my lambs; shepherd my little sheep; feed my little sheep’! Jehovah’s greatest Teacher knew that when he would shortly afterward permanently ascend into the heavens the whole load of responsibility would fall upon those who had followed him; he knew that they would be the overseers of his sheep. He realized they would be the ones responsible for seeing to it that all those who had begun to put faith in him as Jehovah’s anointed Leader, and in his new teaching, would have to be shepherded. Would he have trustworthy men—men that would never turn aside? He eagerly made sure that this one, Peter, would be diligent in his work. Each of the other six faithful disciples present at that seaside breakfast the Master (here using Peter as the example or “sounding board”) thus also instructed. Upon those other six also Jesus thus adroitly impressed the importance of their own individual responsibility as lovers of him, as his sheep’s loving tenders and feeders. So it was by repetition, by three true testimonies or “witnesses,” that Jesus emphasized the feeding and shepherding of his sheep.—John 21:15-17, NW.
“PRESIDE IN A RIGHT WAY”
5. Recognizing what provision of Jehovah is essential to living today as obedient Christians, and why?
5 Today, though removed by more than 1900 years from that sublime morning at Galilee’s shore, faithful Christians keenly sense its lesson as one they must vividly keep in mind. While each dedicated servant of Jehovah God bears a responsibility to preach the good news of His kingdom, they all, individually, also must recognize the organization, the grand, unified association, of these qualified ministers. They all must and do clearly visualize their now having been brought together into the congregation, the assembled earth-wide army or society of Jehovah’s new world! Indeed, they see among themselves Jehovah’s provision of qualified overseers, equipped to look after their welfare and to supervise their united, orderly, ever-expanding joyful activity in obedience to Jehovah and Christ Jesus.
6, 7. Overseers’ presiding in a right way includes what, and for what end?
6 In the New World society the principal overseer in a local congregation is the congregation servant. Paul, the faithful twelfth apostle of the Lamb, was deeply interested in these servants too; hence he urged: “He that presides, let him do it in real earnest.” (Rom. 12:8, NW) To Timothy and to Titus Paul wrote detailed instructions for overseers and ministerial servants. He informed them how circumspectly they must walk. Naturally, men in the truth and acquainted with God’s Word the longest would be the ones to preside over the congregation because of their qualifications and faithfulness. That is why Paul admonished Timothy: “Let the older men who preside in a right way be reckoned worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching.” (1 Tim. 5:17, NW) Clearly Paul saw that the other faithful apostles who actually had walked with Jesus and had been personally taught by Jesus had been carefully chosen. Paul saw that it was necessary to be very selective in placing men in positions of responsibility. They must be men rich in right works—men who work hard in Kingdom service. There was no question about that. Older or experienced men, too, would be qualified to preside in the right way; to all, other godly persons they would speak and they would teach.
7 In the Bible many scriptures indicate that true Christians should go from house to house; that they should make return visits; and that in the homes of the people they should help them to study the Bible. Truly, then, every individual who claims to be a genuine follower of Christ must be able to teach, even as Jesus, their Leader, taught—setting the pattern. But among all of these teachers there must necessarily be older or experienced men who can and will preside in Jehovah’s right way, exercising true leadership, setting the proper example for each less-experienced willing one.
8. (a) How are Jesus’ instructions to Peter about feeding and shepherding the Master’s sheep applicable today? (b) Why is zeal a prime essential now in every qualified overseer?
8 Peter was permanently impressed by the wise counsel Jesus gave him during that memorable breakfast session. Years later Peter wrote: “To the older men among you I give this exhortation, . . . Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not . . . as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.” (1 Pet. 5:1-3, NW) Yes, Peter had been a fisherman. (Mark 1:17; Matt. 4:18-20, NW) But now he had become, under Jesus’ patient and marvelous training, not a mere ‘fisher of men’ but a truly godlike shepherd of sheeplike humans—not merely to ‘catch’ them (as fish are caught) but to tend and feed and rightly lead them on and on in righteous, life-sustaining ways of the Great Shepherd, Jehovah, for His name’s sake. (Ps. 23:3, NW) Now, as a shepherd, a good one, Peter had become experienced in tending and feeding Christ’s young lambs and little sheep. To maturity he had brought many of them, as had done also Christ’s other faithful apostles. And now because Peter’s years were going by he was counseling the older men so that they too could clearly see their responsibility to act like true shepherds, properly looking after the flock, really being examples to the flock. Today, more than ever before, an overseer must be zealous. Why? Because today the zeal of Jehovah himself is being exercised in an outstanding way for advancement of his newly begun government in the hands of Christ Jesus. (Isa. 9:6, 7, AS) Today the zealous overseer must be equipped to teach. He must be able to give the proper instruction to others in the congregation so that they will become firmly established and remain faithful and true. He must lead others aright and he himself must continue joyfully following in the footsteps of Christ Jesus.
“PAY ATTENTION TO YOURSELVES”
9. How are instructions given to overseers by Paul useful today?
9 Paul, an experienced overseer, entreated his brother overseers, saying: “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, NW) Here, too, the emphasis is that an overseer must be a shepherd; he has a very responsible position. He must ‘feed my sheep.’ Today not only do overseers include those of individual congregations but there are overseers appointed to serve many congregations. According to the annual earthwide report of activities of Jehovah’s witnesses (see country-by-country chart, pages 24-26), they are seen to be organized into 16,240 congregations. Under the Society’s arrangement, 1,107 circuit servants oversee those congregations. Still other experienced and trained men, district servants, oversee the circuit servants and congregation servants. Of these, 152 have been appointed to serve in different parts of the world. Today these appointed overseers—branch servants, zone servants, district servants, circuit servants, congregation servants—may not look upon their responsibilities lightly.—Ex. 18:25, 26; Deut. 1:9-15; Eph. 4:11-16, NW; Mic. 5:2-5, AS.
10, 11. Responsibility for shepherding described by Jesus to Peter is how extensive at present, and why?
10 Indeed such overseers may picture themselves at Galilee’s shore, where Peter once fished with his father and where, later, Peter attentively heard Jesus say to him:
“Feed my young lambs.”
“Shepherd my little sheep.”
“Feed my little sheep.”
Here Jesus placed a full load of responsibility upon Peter, one of his appointed overseers, to do something very necessary. But were the other six chosen “fishers of men” who also at the same time heard Jesus’ weighty instruction to Peter—were those other six excluded? Did Jesus expect those other faithful apostles of his to do from then on whatever each of them privately and personally desired to do? Jesus’ own answer is clear: “You continue following me.”—John 21:22; 17:15-21; Acts 1:6-8; Rev. 14:1-5, NW.
11 As the united apostles’ work grew and more people who loved truth and righteousness were being gathered to this wonderful religion that Jehovah’s greatest Prophet, Jesus, had introduced it called for many more mature men. More overseers would have to be appointed. And now, in this climactic harvesttime, especially, when we see associated with Jehovah’s New World society 591,556 ministers, all dedicated to Jehovah God, the need is a hundredfold greater. As these ministers are now gathered into thousands of local congregations with their qualified overseers and ministerial servants, all unitedly announcing Jehovah’s kingdom, every one of them must give to Jehovah God exclusive devotion. Those overseers by their deeds and works are reckoned worthy of double honor. Those within Jehovah’s organization “who work hard in speaking and teaching” are the ones who must and do “feed my little sheep.”—John 4:21-24; 1 Tim. 5:17, NW.
12. Why and how may one rightly reach out for becoming an overseer?
12 To everyone it should be clear that “if any man is reaching out for an office of overseer, he is desirous of a right kind of work.” (1 Tim. 3:1, NW) However, when he reaches out for such a position he should be sure he has qualifications to fulfill its requirements and to be a man who will bear the full responsibility that goes with that position. He must grow on to maturity. This may take years within the organization of the New World society. To qualify as an overseer, whether district servant, circuit servant, or similar supervisory task, he should be able first to fulfill the position of a pioneer or special pioneer, advancing then to the greater responsibilities in circuit and district service, or probably to duties of a branch servant overseeing Kingdom activities in an entire country.
13. How have special pioneers shared in helpful shepherding during the past year?
13 It brings real joy to the hearts of all ministers of God to see the wonderful work that has been accomplished in another year. One of the finest witnesses to the Kingdom ever given by Jehovah’s witnesses was performed during the service year 1956. Throughout the year the Society tried diligently to add more persons to the special pioneer work, to serve needy ones in isolated regions of earth, along with missionaries, and to preach there the good news of the established Kingdom. Special pioneers have increased by 519 over the previous year; 2,637 are now working in isolated territories, organizing new congregations and taking on the responsibility of overseeing when a local group gathers. In years of human life some of these special pioneers may be young, but as to other Christians in their midst they are older or experienced men, able to preside in a right way; and these new ministers who have dedicated themselves to God see that these special pioneers have worked hard in their speaking and in their teaching, and they are pleased to have their helpful shepherding.
14. Quantity and quality increases among Kingdom ministers have included what during the past year?
14 A fine growth within the organization of Jehovah’s witnesses in the past twelve months is now apparent. In 162 lands throughout the world an average of 591,556 Kingdom publishers has been preaching every month. This is a 3.6-percent increase over the 1955 service year. While this numerical or quantity increase is not so great as in some other years, growth or quality increase within the association of brothers is very healthy, outstanding. Consciousness of the earth-wide forward movement of the united, peaceful New World society members is broadening and deepening among all of them. They see more clearly that their delightful work is a gathering in of the other sheep, which makes our hearts glad. One and a half million more hours were spent in joyful field activity during the past twelve months than during the previous year. That included gathering 136,000 more new subscriptions for The Watchtower and Awake! Not only do Jehovah’s witnesses go from house to house and preach short sermons to the people, interesting them in home Bible study, talking and reading to them directly from the Bible, but they try to leave with willing ones printed sermons so that after the Kingdom minister departs to serve someone else the householder visited may privately consider such sermon or several sermons of greater length. During the service year 19,326,817 books, booklets and Bibles have been placed. Additionally, The Watchtower and Awake!—the two principal journals Jehovah’s witnesses use in helping people in Bible study—were distributed to the number of 55,735,715 copies. Magazine distribution alone, from house to house and on street corners, has increased over 19,000,000 copies. Of course, there are many hundreds of thousands of subscribers for The Watchtower and Awake! This required regular distribution, through the Society’s many branches and printing plants, of millions of copies of these publications. To supply the needs of Jehovah’s witnesses in more than a hundred languages the Society printed 130,992,362 Bibles, books, booklets and magazines, all of which assisted them in proclaiming world-wide the good news of Jehovah’s established kingdom.
“TELL THE GOOD NEWS”
15, 16. (a) Why is ‘telling the good news from day to day’ vitally important now? (b) What other reported results of the past year’s world-wide activities of Jehovah’s witnesses may we now consider, and why?
15 In all of this we rejoice. It truly makes our hearts glad to have had a share in spreading this comforting message unto the ends of the earth. Always Jehovah’s witnesses have in mind, in their work day by day, the words of Jesus: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for the purpose of a witness to all the nations, and then the accomplished end will come.” (Matt. 24:14, NW) That is why they have chosen for this year a very energizing text, one filled with life and responsibility: “From day to day tell the good news of salvation by him.” (Ps. 96:2, NW) The New World society looks forward to 1957 with unusual vim, vigor and vitality, to tell this message of comfort to every willing listener in all the world. Last year God’s kingdom ministers spent 87,353,772 hours going from house to house preaching, telling people about the wonderful hope before them. Not only have they gone from house to house with sermons, but they made many, many a back-call. In fact, during the year they made 27,746,348 back-calls. Out of these they were able to establish 333,330 home Bible studies. What a joy it is to see ministers, not hired to stand on a pulpit but ministers at heart, going out to all the nations of the world and helping people there to see the truth!
16 Jehovah’s witnesses fully appreciate that there still are many things to be done, many places to be visited, many hearts to comfort. They know, too, that many more persons have to be helped to grow to maturity, to gain accurate knowledge and a clear understanding of the Bible. Last year at the Memorial service of Jehovah’s witnesses there were 919,994 persons in attendance. Only 16,302 of these professed to be of the anointed, striving for the position of being joint heirs with Christ Jesus in heavenly glory. All of the other hundreds of thousands are, we believe, eager to live here on earth in the new world of righteousness, according to the will of Jehovah. But they need help. Not all of these 919,994 are ministers—only 591,556 have identified themselves as ministers, and they have much work to do. For some reason they conducted 4,000 fewer Bible studies in the homes of the people than during the preceding year. Not quite as many of them went out in the preaching work during the year. There were only 640,347. But even though 2,582 fewer publishers report having worked sometime during the year, this does not disturb Jehovah’s witnesses. They are determined to take care of the other sheep. And having in mind the texts considered in this review, and having specially in mind Jesus’ words, “Feed my little sheep,” every one of Jehovah’s witnesses, not only overseers but every minister of every congregation, by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness will put forth greater effort than ever before to tell this good news from day to day. Why will they do this? Because they see that some are not taking on the responsibility that was placed upon Peter. Such ones do not feel the seriousness of it. Therefore it will be necessary for all of Jehovah’s witnesses to call on more people, spend more time with those in the truth and those not yet in the truth, so that they might be brought on to maturity.
17, 18. How does considering now the past seven years’ record of baptisms enable us to see other opportunities and responsibility for the year ahead?
17 Here is another interesting thing: During the past seven years 394,024 were baptized. Every one of these has declared himself before Jehovah God that he has chosen to do Jehovah’s will. Today His will is that His servants preach the good news of His kingdom. But when we go back in our reports seven years we find that at the end of the service year 1949 there were only 279,421 regular ministers in the field. Add that to those baptized during the past seven years and you have 673,445 people that should be publishers of the Kingdom. But the record shows that there are only 591,556 working ministers. Very easily the question can be asked: Where are the other 80,000? Have they died? No, not all of them; at least not physically. They are not in their graves. But some have become sick spiritually and they need the help of those who have come on to maturity.
18 Remember what Jesus said: “Feed my little sheep.” The responsibility falls upon every one of Jehovah’s witnesses worldwide to do that very thing. Are you doing it? Will you do it? Will the year 1957 be outstanding as far as you are concerned in doing the will of Jehovah God? Do you hear Jesus saying to you, “Feed my little sheep”? And will it bring real joy to your heart to have in mind and to live the text Jehovah’s witnesses will keep before them during 1957: “From day to day tell the good news of salvation by him”? Do you appreciate your responsibility as an overseer, as a ministerial servant, as a minister in the great congregation of God? Jesus’ words, “Feed my little sheep,” apply to you, the Christian.
[Chart on page 24-26]
1956 SERVICE YEAR REPORT OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES WORLD-WIDE
(See bound volume)