Overseers of Jehovah’s People
“Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God.”—Acts 20:28, NW.
1, 2. What is the effect of the growth of the New World society, and how was this growth foretold?
THE amazing growth of the New World society is a cause of wonderment to the world and a source of joy to Jehovah’s witnesses. With an increase of 1,374 percent in ministers in the last thirty years, is it any wonder that news writers have labeled it the world’s fastest-growing religion? But the expansion has not ended. More is to come, and the Scriptures assure us that this growth will continue until the worship of Jehovah completely fills the earth.—Isa. 11:9; 60:8.
2 Of the great influx of those of the “other sheep” into the theocratic New World society Jehovah long ago inspired the prophet Zechariah to write, in the 8th chapter, verse 23 Zec 8:23 (AS): “Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, they shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” And so to his theocratic organization he issues instructions that this growing crowd of worshipers be accommodated. Yes, Jehovah makes adequate provision for those that gather to his house for worship. And is such provision not reasonable?
3. What provision was made by God to care for the living souls formed upon the earth, and especially man?
3 Has not Jehovah always provided for his creatures? When, during the period of earth’s creation, Jehovah said: “Let the waters swarm forth a swarm of living souls . . . flying creatures . . . the great sea monsters . . . domestic animal and creeping animal and wild beast of the earth . . . Let us make man in our image,” did he bring them forth into an earth not yet prepared? No! Already extensive work had been done to make the earth a suitable home that would adequately sustain them. So the Creator could say to the first man and woman: “Here I have given to you all vegetation bearing seed which is on the surface of the whole earth and every tree on which there is the fruit of a tree bearing seed. To you let it serve as food. And to every wild beast of the earth and to every flying creature of the heavens and to everything creeping upon the earth in which there is life as a soul I have given all green vegetation for food.” Then it came to be so. “After that God saw everything he had made and, look! it was very good.”—Gen. 1:20-31, NW.
4. What has Jehovah brought into existence in our day, and how has he provided for it?
4 How much more so is this true in our day. Jehovah has brought into existence a New World society, he has delivered them from the old world into his favor, into a new land, Beulah land, their theocratic place, and there he has richly blessed their spiritual position. (Isa. 62:4, 5) Provision has been made by God to care adequately for the ever-increasing Kingdom interests in the earth. True to his word, in response to the loving service of his devoted witnesses, he has opened the windows of heaven and now pours out a blessing so rich that there is no lack among his people.—Mal. 3:10.
5. How was the growth of the newly formed Christian congregation handled in the first century?
5 In the first century when the Lord Jehovah poured out his spirit upon those faithful worshipers assembled in Jerusalem at Pentecost, the evidence that these indeed were the servants of the Living God and that the message they taught was the truth was so overwhelming that the organization experienced a growth of about three thousand persons in one day. (Acts 2:1-42) Thereafter goodly numbers continued to learn the truth. How could such growth be handled, how could they be adequately instructed and organized by the small Christian congregation that was then in its infancy? The answer was supplied by God through Christ Jesus, in the form of qualified apostles and others to serve as overseers.—1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:7-14.
JEHOVAH’S CHANNEL OF COMMUNICATION
6. Illustrate why recognition of Jehovah’s channel of communication was so important in times past.
6 Jehovah has established a very definite channel of communication through which he deals with his people. In the time before the flood he used Noah, and it was vital for all to recognize that fact in order to be saved from the world cataclysm of that time. (Heb. 11:7) At the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt it was Moses through whom God dealt with his people. When they recognized the theocratic arrangement Jehovah’s blessing rested upon them. However, when they took a merely human view of this provision of God they brought trouble upon themselves. Such was the experience of Miriam, who was smitten with leprosy for her failure to recognize Jehovah’s arrangement with respect. Others, such as Korah, Dathan, Abiram and the men with them, were cut off in death for their self-willed independence. And even those who sympathized with them brought upon themselves divine disapproval, 14,700 of them being cut off on one occasion.—Num. 12:1-10; 16:1-35, 41-50.
7. (a) What is Jehovah’s channel of communication today, and by whose determination? (b) What has been entrusted to its care?
7 Let us now unmistakably identify Jehovah’s channel of communication for our day, that we may continue in his favor. Listen to the inspired answer to the situation, in Matthew 24:45-47 (NW): “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.” And has he? Yes, particularly since 1919 has it been true that he has appointed the collective body of the anointed remnant over all the visible interests of the Kingdom. The “slave” then became responsible not only for ministering to the needs of the anointed body members but also for taking on the responsibility of preaching the good news of the established Kingdom to people of all nations. (Matt. 24:14) Such is true not by their determination of it, but because God himself has so directed. “God has set the members in the body, each one of them, just as he pleased,” is the way it is pictured in 1 Corinthians 12:18 (NW). It is vital that we appreciate this fact and respond to the directions of the “slave” as we would to the voice of God, because it is His provision.
WHO APPOINTS OVERSEERS
8, 9. (a) Who appoints overseers in the New World society? (b) Explain how that is true.
8 This matter of theocratic appointment permeates every part of the organization. It is directed from the top, from Jehovah God himself, down. Those in responsible positions, such as circuit and district servants, congregation servants and ministerial servants in the congregation, are all part of this theocratic structure. Their appointment to service is to be viewed in that way. And knowing this they feel a great responsibility before God to discharge their assignments properly. As the apostle Paul so aptly stated it: “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) Servants in the congregations are not such because some man has selected them. It is not the circuit servant or the congregation committee that determines who will oversee the congregation of God. It is Jehovah’s holy spirit that must operate to appoint them as overseers. How?
9 God’s Word, the Bible, was written under the inspiration of the holy spirit. In it is found a detailed description of the ones who may be overseers in the congregations. These requirements are set forth by God himself, and his active force continues to operate in our time to move the governing body and others in positions of responsibility because they do adhere closely to the written Word. When those instructions are carefully followed and only such ones as are described in the Scriptures are appointed as overseers, just who is selecting them? Not man, because he did not establish the standard to follow. It is Jehovah God himself who, by means of his holy spirit, is appointing them to be overseers.—Ps. 119:105; Prov. 3:5, 6.
WHO MAY SERVE
10. What is meant in the Scriptures by the term “older man,” and why may only such ones be overseers?
10 Consider the Scriptural requirements as they are set out in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. One of the first things to be considered in the selection of a servant is the matter of maturity, and repeatedly we are told that only an “older man” may be an overseer. While not listed in 1 Timothy 3, it is the first point considered in Titus 1:5. By older men is meant not merely persons who are older in a physical sense. Age does not necessarily make a man mature in spiritual matters, although years of experience are definitely an asset. Maturity that qualifies one for special privileges of service includes both knowledge and experience. An overseer should be diligent in study in order to meet that standard. He should have a good knowledge of the history of the organization, sound understanding of doctrinal matters and thorough appreciation of organization instructions. While it is true that he is no doubt very busy in looking after the congregation, he should always keep up on his study, not only for his own benefit, but also as an example in this to the brothers. This, coupled with much experience in working with the organization, is needed if the overseer is to handle his assignment properly.
11. Explain what is embraced in the requirements that the overseer be irreprehensible and moderate in habits.
11 The second verse here reads: “The overseer should therefore be irreprehensible, a husband of one wife, moderate in habits, sound in mind, orderly, a lover of strangers, qualified to teach.” (1 Tim. 3:2, NW) In saying that he must be irreprehensible it means that he must be blameless. None should be able to point the finger at him as one who is negligent in his work or who fails to conform to the standards of the Bible. This is true in all things. Consequently, if he is married he must be the husband of just one wife. In habits, too, he should be moderate. As to eating, he must not be a glutton. Although drinking is not forbidden, he must never do it to excess. (1 Cor. 10:31) In work he is moderate. He is diligent, yes; but he does not go to the extreme of ruining his health. If he finds pleasure in wholesome recreation, that too is proper. But never would he go to the foolish extreme of becoming a lover of pleasures more than a lover of God by allowing it to crowd out theocratic activities.—Phil. 4:5; 2 Tim. 3:1, 4.
12. Why would it be unwise for a faddist to serve as overseer?
12 Oftentimes in the old-world society we observe individuals who attract attention to themselves by their oddities, but when such persons come into Jehovah’s organization they are diligent to make over their personality. (Eph. 4:22-24) Of course, if some have not yet done that they could not be overseers. If a brother is a faddist as to eating or other matters of life, things are not in their right place. “For the kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but means righteousness and peace and joy with holy spirit. For he who is in this regard a slave to Christ is acceptable to God and has approval with men.” (Rom. 14:17, 18, NW) We do well in caring for our health, but we are unwise when we allow that to occupy the attention in our lives that should be accorded the ministry. Only those who put the Kingdom first may be servants.
13. In saying that he must be “sound in mind” what is meant?
13 What is meant by saying that he must be sound in mind? It means much more than mere mental stability. One who is sound in mind theocratically has made his mind over in accord with the good and acceptable will of God. He having filled his mind with the truth, his reasoning is based on the Bible. He has learned to trust in Jehovah with all his heart and not to lean upon his own understanding.—Ps. 19:7; 139:17; Isa. 55:9; Rom. 12:2.
14. What would be included in being “orderly” and “qualified to teach”?
14 It is in the same sense that he must be “orderly.” Any servant, in fact anyone in the New World society, knows that it is important to be neat and to keep a well-ordered home. His home is not merely a matter of personal interest, but when he becomes one of Jehovah’s witnesses he and his home represent the New World society in the community. He wants to be sure they are a credit to the organization. Orderliness, however, extends beyond this. It requires that he recognize theocratic order, that he appreciate the need for submission to the theocratic organization, both invisible and visible. Appreciating theocratic order will prevent him from looking at his fellow servants according to the imperfect flesh, but will move him to deal with them as with men who have been designated by God to care for Kingdom interests. It will cause him to deal well with his brothers, all of whom are servants of Jehovah and not of the overseer. He himself will deeply appreciate that he is a servant and that he must look well to his assignment, building up the congregation spiritually and welcoming into its midst those strangers or persons of good will who also manifest a desire to join in right worship. These things, together with continued application of himself in the theocratic ministry school, should help him to be qualified to teach, both from house to house and from the platform in congregational meetings.—1 Cor. 14:40; 2 Cor. 5:16; Eph. 5:21.
15. What can be said of an overseer’s disposition and his viewpoint toward commercial pursuits?
15 Observe now the third verse of this chapter three in 1 Timothy. The overseer must not be a “drunken brawler, not a smiter, but reasonable, not belligerent, not a lover of money.” (NW) Instead of bringing reproach upon the New World society by excessive drinking, fights or a bad disposition, he seeks rather the fruitage of God’s spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control. (Gal. 5:22, 23) You will observe that there is included a warning against a danger that has proved to be a trap to many—love of money. Never may an individual be an overseer if his love for money is permitted in any way to exceed his love for God. If he allows his secular employment to crowd out his regular attendance at congregation meetings to partake of Jehovah’s table, he does not meet this requirement. If occasional or frequent overtime work or even regular employment that interferes with meetings or service is more of an attraction to him than the activities of the New World society, he would injure the spirituality of himself and those in the congregation who look to him to take the lead. Servants must be on guard that the snare of materialism does not deprive them of their privileges of service.—Matt. 6:31-33; Luke 12:15.
16. Does a man’s family affect his qualifications as overseer? How?
16 The record continues in 1 Timothy 3:4, 5 (NW): “A man presiding over his own household in a right manner, having children in subjection with all seriousness; (if indeed any man does not know how to preside over his own household, how will he take care of God’s congregation?).” One who presides in a right manner over his household does so in love. He is not an iron-handed ruler who demands respect while failing to do the things that win respect. Yet when discipline is required he does not ignore that responsibility either. At times children, influenced by the worldly atmosphere of independence, fail to obey, or cause a disturbance in the meetings. That in itself does not mean that the father is failing to train them properly. But the question is, Does the father now show respect for theocratic order himself by administering the needed discipline, not in the midst of a congregation meeting, but outside or later at home? Adequately and consistently meted out, it will soon put an end to the difficulty, and his ability to cope with the situation will be demonstrated in the fact that any repetition of the occurrence will be rare. If he cannot manage his own household, however, how would he ever be able to shepherd the flock of God?—Heb. 12:9; Prov. 23:13, 14.
17. (a) For what reasons would a novice not qualify as overseer? (b) In what respect must he have a good report even from those outside the organization?
17 “Not a newly converted man, for fear that he might get puffed up with pride and fall into the judgment passed upon the Devil. Moreover, he should also have a favorable testimony from people on the outside, in order that he might not fall into reproach and a snare of the Devil.” (1 Tim. 3:6, 7, NW) It takes time for one to make his mind over. When old-world ideals have been one’s standard of life for twenty, thirty or forty years before he learns the truth, his thinking will not be completely remolded all at once. He may progress to the point of dedication very rapidly and show himself willing to make the change. But that change must actually have been made, New World ways becoming his way of life, before he qualifies as an overseer in the congregation. A full year of active service after symbolizing his dedication by water immersion is surely not too long for the responsible ones to wait before recommending such one as a servant, if no one else is available in the congregation. (1 Tim. 5:22) The course of the new minister will amaze those whom he has known in the old world, and, on account of the truth, they may speak abusively of him. But when it comes to his relationships with others, his reliability and his manner of speech, they can find no fault with him. On such relationships they accord him favorable testimony, although they may not agree with his religion.—1 Pet. 4:4, 15, 16.
18. What keeps overseers humble and approachable?
18 Those meeting these standards are the ones whom Jehovah has approved as overseers of his people. They are men of high caliber and true godly devotion, whose desire in life is to serve Jehovah God and advance the interests of his New World society. And with all this they are sincerely humble because they see their position in relationship to their Father in heaven. Although they have much responsibility they must never lose sight of the fact that they are servants. Keeping this in mind, they will be approachable, reasonable and always helpful to their brothers.
HOW SELECTION IS MADE
19. How does Samuel’s anointing of David illustrate the way theocratic appointments are made?
19 From time to time some in the capacity of overseers are called on to recommend others for positions of service in the theocratic organization. They must keep in mind that according to the theocratic arrangement of things these are to be appointed by the holy spirit. Their position is somewhat similar to that of the prophet Samuel, whom Jehovah sent to anoint the one He had selected as king over his people. He was not given the name of the one to be anointed, but only told that it would be a man of God’s choosing from among the sons of Jesse. When the young men were brought before the prophet, Samuel’s first inclination was toward the oldest of the boys, a handsome, well-formed youth by the name of Eliab. But such qualities were not the basis for determination. As Jehovah told him: “Do not look at his appearance and at the height of his stature, for I have rejected him. For not the way man sees [is the way God sees], because mere man sees what appears to the eyes, but, as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.”—1 Sam. 16:1, 6, 7, NW.
20. (a) Is it possible to examine the heart of man today? (b) Who only may be recommended as a servant, and what assurance does this give us?
20 The same is true today. Jehovah looks on the heart, not the outward appearance. Overseers must keep that in mind and not be swayed by personality and other aspects of outward appearance. True, a man cannot look into another’s heart, but God’s Word can. “For the word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and their marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12, NW) The Scriptural requirements must be applied to the case, because it is God’s Word that makes clear what is in the heart of man. The position of the one called upon to recommend a servant is not to pick one he personally feels to be the best qualified, but to find the man described in God’s Book of Instructions, the Bible, seeking Jehovah’s help in the matter through prayer. Then, having followed the inspired Word of God, and knowing that the holy spirit operates on the organization to direct it, we can have full confidence that the servants are indeed appointed by Jehovah God by means of his holy spirit.
RECOGNIZING THEOCRATIC REPRESENTATIVES
21. By what means today does Jehovah keep before our minds his requirements of meeting together and there publicly declaring our hope?
21 This puts all in Jehovah’s organization in a favored position, for we know that the arrangements within the organization are made by the loving provision of God. We accept them as from God and thank him for his provisions. However, the apostle Paul soberly counsels: “We also entreat you not to accept the undeserved kindness of God and miss its purpose.” (2 Cor. 6:1, NW) Let us respond to the oversight provided as we would to God. Consider an application of the point. When the one appointed as congregation servant, or any of the other servants or Bible study conductors, approaches us to encourage more consistent meeting attendance or participation in the meetings, why does he do it? Specifically, it is because God instructs that we follow such a course. “Let us hold fast the public declaration of our hope without wavering, for he is faithful that promised. And let us consider one another to incite to love and right works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:23-25, NW) And now that servant has been appointed by the holy spirit to aid us in our ministry and to call to our mind the good counsel contained in the Bible to attend congregation meetings and there make public declaration of our hope. We should respond with the same readiness as we would to the voice of God. It is his means of dealing with us now.
22. How was the need for respect to heavenly theocratic representatives impressed on Zechariah?
22 Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, had an experience with an appointed theocratic representative that should impress this on our minds. When Gabriel, an angelic servant of God, was sent to notify him of the forthcoming birth of his son, Zechariah did not reject the announcement, but merely expressed some doubt, saying: “How am I to be sure of this? For I am aged and my wife is well along in years.” Zechariah here failed to show due respect for theocratic authority. For this failure he was struck speechless and remained that way until the birth of John. Such experience was written for our counsel at this time.—Luke 1:18-20, NW.
23. (a) Is it any less important to recognize earthly overseers in the theocratic organization? (b) What view do we take of counsel from the organization?
23 Surely none would question the authority of the angel Gabriel when he spoke as a servant of God. Obedience and respect shown to that theocratic representative would demonstrate obedience and respect for the One he represented, Jehovah God. Earthly overseers represent Jehovah in their assignments just as much as heavenly ones do. At some time you may have been approached by one of the servants in the congregation, who offered some suggestions on improving or enlarging your privileges of service in the field work. How should we respond to what he says? Well, how would we respond if Jehovah himself opened the heavens and issued that counsel for us? Because we love our heavenly Father we would delight to do it! (Ps. 40:8) Well, Jehovah has opened the heavens and instructed us what to do. By sending forth his holy spirit from on high he has had recorded in his Word the admonition that we preach publicly and from house to house and that we feed the sheep by calling back on all those who showed interest when they heard the Word. Now, in this time, he has designated the “faithful and discreet slave” to oversee this work of Kingdom proclamation. To this “slave” class he has entrusted all his belongings as respects true worship on the earth. In fulfilling its assignment from Jehovah this class gives us suggestions on how to carry out our Scriptural commission to preach and uses the local theocratically designated servants to draw them to our attention and help us to apply them. While the “slave” and other appointed overseers are certainly not inspired, as were the ones used to write the Bible, yet those in the congregation show proper respect for the position they occupy by responding to counsel given because they know that this is Jehovah’s provision for instructing his people at this time.—Heb. 13:7, 17.