Overseers of Life
1. To insure all creation’s being in harmony with him, what has Jehovah arranged for, and what is necessary to have life?
JEHOVAH is the great Overseer. All his creation he faithfully oversees to ensure that his will is accomplished and that those having the right to life walk in the proper way to retain it. He is a God of purpose and a God of order. To maintain good organization, the spirit creatures and the animate and inanimate bodies were all set in their respective positions, and moral as well as physical laws were established to keep every creation in harmony with him. Although uncountable miles from some of his creation, he is still able to give close oversight. Commenting upon the far-reaching purview of Jehovah, the psalmist David exclaimed: “Jehovah is in his holy temple. Jehovah—in the heavens is his throne. His own eyes behold, his own beaming eyes examine the sons of men.” (Ps. 11:4) As the great Overseer, he inspects, directs and corrects as needed. For one to be found in harmony with his arrangements means life, whether this was in the distant past or is in this modern generation. The day for his inspection is upon us.—1 Pet. 2:12.
2. What is the meaning of the word “overseer” as taken from the Hebrew and Greek?
2 The words for “overseer” in Hebrew (pagíd) and Greek (epískopos) are both taken from root meanings suggesting one who visits for the purpose of inspecting. The visit or inspection might be a friendly one or a hostile one, depending upon the condition found and what was needed to correct it. To fulfill his responsibilities properly, an overseer would have to know what to look for, where to look and how to administer the principles of the Supreme One when faced with a given situation. Within his hand there would be as a trust the power to bestow blessing and commendation as well as punishment and correction; but he, too, would be responsible to Jehovah as to how he fulfilled this trust.
3. How did the only-begotten Son prove to be a good overseer?
3 The first creation of Jehovah, an only-begotten Son, proved himself a faithful overseer. Working along with his Father as a master Workman, he made “all other things . . . in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities.” (Col. 1:16) Because of his trustworthiness in taking care of his overseership while on earth, greater glory and power have been given to him as the King of Jehovah’s kingdom, “so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth.”—Phil. 2:10.
4. Contrast the course of the only-begotten Son with that of the covering cherub.
4 The life course of the only-begotten Son is very much in contrast to another one of Jehovah’s spirit sons, a cherub, who was placed in charge of certain operations on the planet earth. This was no insignificant assignment, even though our planet earth is, in comparison to the vast creation of the universe, a mere speck of dust. The time had come for God to create intelligent fleshly creatures who could think and act as He did, in a miniature way. “In God’s image he created him.” (Gen. 1:27) There is no indication that these creatures were to be anywhere else in the universe. They were to multiply, fill the earth and subdue it all to a paradise. The spiritual overseer should have been keenly interested in the fulfillment of God’s will on earth and in directing all praise and worship to the Creator of both him and the human creatures. This would be no time to lean to one’s own understanding.
5. (a) How did the covering cherub as well as Adam and Eve show disregard for Jehovah’s overseership? (b) What is the danger of appointing a “newly converted man” to be an overseer?
5 This perfect and obedient son of God turned against the Chief Overseer, Jehovah, and became a slanderer, an opposer, one corrupt in heart. He and the first man and woman were sentenced to death with no further privileges of oversight available to them for extending Paradise throughout the earth. The woman Eve ignored the organization arrangement of seeking direction from her head, Adam. Adam, in turn, permitted himself to be blinded by selfishness so as to be directed from a human creature lower than him organizationally rather than from Jehovah, who had given him specific instructions. They failed inspection when the great Overseer, “walking in the garden about the breezy part of the day,” came to take an accounting. (Gen. 3:8) Years later the apostle Paul made reference to the downfall of the spirit overseer of the earth, when Paul was giving instructions to the young overseer Timothy and setting forth requirements for overseers in the Christian congregation. An overseer was not to be “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 fine 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) The power given to an overseer is no cause to puff him up with pride, and a newly converted man would need to show that he could safely be entrusted with this authority. Life is involved.
6. How have the few faithful servants of Jehovah, in contrast to many unfaithful in the past, shown appreciation for his oversight?
6 The first human creatures chose not to be shepherded by Jehovah and as a result they as well as their offspring came under the condemnation of sin and death. Only a very few human creatures down through the course of human history have chosen to seek Jehovah’s favor and become reconciled with him, but these few have been glad to have Jehovah’s eyes looking upon them. They have been glad for what he has done in their behalf. When their numbers increased, so as to require organization, laws and statutes, they were glad to submit to his directions. They are glad, too, that the history of the earth, the activities of man upon it, good and bad, and God’s purposes for the future have all been recorded in a Book, under divine inspiration. Considering this, we see how God has dealt with those who have chosen to serve him and how he has rewarded those who submit to his direction.
7. Who are mentioned favorably before the flood, and what condition brought on the flood of Noah’s day?
7 Before the global flood, which occurred about sixteen hundred years after Adam’s downfall, only a very few men are mentioned favorably in the Bible. Abel, who died a faithful servant of Jehovah, and Enoch, a faithful prophet of Jehovah, were prominent among these. Noah, the great-grandson of Enoch, after he was five hundred years of age, became father to Shem, Ham and Japheth. Jehovah made a searching examination of the corrupt way in which mankind had developed upon the earth by this time, just before the great deluge, and found only eight exceptions to a condition where “every inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only bad all the time.”—Gen. 6:5.
8. How did Noah prove to be a good organizer under Jehovah’s direction, and with what result to him and his family?
8 Noah submitted himself to the oversight of Jehovah, and Jehovah organized him and his family to complete the ark for the preserving of themselves alive, along with a token number of animals, to provide a fresh new start upon the face of the earth. Good oversight would be absolutely necessary on the part of Noah in order to complete the boat before the floodwaters broke and to round up the animals and see that there was sufficient food aboard for them as well as for himself and his family. Nothing could be left to chance. Life was involved. Everything had to be checked, and it was only when everything was in order that “Jehovah shut the door behind him.” “And Noah proceeded to do according to all that God had commanded him. He did just so.” (Gen. 7:16; 6:22) This is what made Noah a successful overseer.
9. How can we take a warning from what occurred in Noah’s day?
9 This great deluge proved to be a picture of the way Jehovah will destroy wickedness in the last days and preserve alive those who wish to serve him correctly into a new world of righteousness. We are living in that day now, and we do well to remember the good example of Noah and his family in responding to the oversight of Jehovah, the Great Shepherd, and his organization.—Isa. 26:20, 21; Matt. 24:36-42.
10. How did Jehovah organize the nation of Israel in fulfillment of his promise to Abraham?
10 About 426 years after the Flood we are told of the great faith of Abraham, which led to the covenant for producing the seed of blessing for all mankind. The twelve sons of his grandson Jacob were the family heads of the nation of Israel. The great Overseer, Jehovah, proved loyal to his promise to Abraham; and even though events had taken place to maneuver these Israelites into slavery in Egypt, Jehovah organized them lovingly and oversaw their return to the land of promise. “And Jehovah was going ahead of them in the daytime in a pillar of cloud to lead them by the way, and in the nighttime in a pillar of fire.”—Ex. 13:21.
11. How did Moses organize the nation of Israel in line with divine wisdom?
11 Think of moving a caravan of two or three million people, with their possessions and all the parts of the tabernacle, without the modern facilities of transport that we have today. No small task of organizing; but the seventy organizational heads under Moses, the priests, the chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens, all knew their jobs well and cooperated as a closely knit organization. Each tribe was assigned to its place around the tabernacle and its place in the order of march. Then there was the administration of laws and principles in settling questions and disputes. The job proved too great for Moses alone, and he followed the advice of his father-in-law Jethro, which proved to be practical wisdom from God, to appoint others to help him with this work: “Select out of all the people capable men, fearing God, trustworthy men, hating unjust profit; and you must set these over them as chiefs over thousands, chiefs over hundreds, chiefs over fifties and chiefs over tens. And they must judge the people on every proper occasion; and it must occur that every big case they will bring to you, but every small case they themselves will handle as judges.”—Ex. 18:21, 22.
12. Submitting to Jehovah’s oversight would result in what benefits to the Jews?
12 The nation was to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” preparatory to the coming of the Messiah. After receiving the laws and commandments from Jehovah, “Moses came and called the older men of the people and set before them all these words that Jehovah had commanded him. After that all the people answered unanimously and said: ‘All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do.’” (Ex. 19:6-8) Faithfulness to this covenant would always bring them prosperity from Jehovah, but disobedience would bring their rejection. “For Jehovah your God is walking about within your camp to deliver you and to abandon your enemies to you; and your camp must prove to be holy, that he may see nothing indecent in you and certainly turn away from accompanying you.”—Deut. 23:14.
13. In contrast to their promise, what does Bible history show as to their living up to it?
13 For the majority their response, “All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do,” proved to be empty words. The history of the Jewish nation is one turbulent period after another, marked with disobedience, rebellion, complaint, apostasy and corruptness. On arriving in the Promised Land, they were not content with Jehovah as King and with the judges and priests who were administering the affairs of the nation. They asked for a king, only to be enslaved by him. Among other detestable things, Saul, the first king, presumptuously began to offer sacrifice to Jehovah without waiting for the prophet Samuel to arrive before the troops moved into battle. The kingship was wrested from him and given to David, a man after Jehovah’s own heart. Jehovah used David and his reign to picture the rulership of his heavenly King, Christ Jesus. David did not launch a coup d’etat to unseat Saul prematurely, but waited until Jehovah saw fit to remove this unfaithful one—a good example for us today.
14. How did Jehovah organize his people for reestablishment of true worship at Jerusalem?
14 Continual unfaithfulness led to the complete downfall of the nation and its being brought into seventy years of captivity by Babylon, the seat of false worship. True to his promise, Jehovah caused a deliverance, and instructions went forth to rebuild the house of Jehovah at Jerusalem. Temple work was organized under Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Joshua. Jehovah blessed the efforts of these faithful overseers who inspected, directed and corrected matters in connection with this vast project. On their completing the temple work an inauguration of it was held. “And they appointed the priests in their classes and the Levites in their divisions, for the service of God which is in Jerusalem, according to the prescription of the book of Moses.”—Ezra 6:18.
15. How did Ezra and Nehemiah prove to be good overseers?
15 Jehovah put it into the heart of King Artaxerxes I to direct Ezra regarding organization. “And you, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God that is in your hand appoint magistrates and judges that they may continually judge all the people that are beyond the River, even all those knowing the laws of your God; and anyone that has not known them you men will instruct.” (Ezra 7:25) The walls and remaining city work were completed under Nehemiah. Contrary to some other overseers in the past, he did not oppress the people or demand special favors. “As for me, I did not do that way on account of the fear of God. And, what is more, in the work of this wall I took a hand, and not a field did we acquire; and all my attendants were collected together there for the work.” With a clear conscience he could pray: “Do remember for me, O my God, for good, all that I have done in behalf of this people.”—Neh. 5:15, 16, 19.
16. To what extent had true worship deteriorated with the coming of Christ, and why was this a crucial time?
16 It was some 450 years to the coming of Christ, and during this time two more world powers, Greece and Rome, were to rule over Jerusalem and to impose foreign rule of oppression. There was a subtle depreciation of true worship from the top down and from the bottom up. Subsequent rebellions of the Jews did not bring relief but brought more oppression by the nations. In the first century the Jewish system of things revolved around the Sanhedrin and around the imposing of handed-down tradition rather than the pure Word of God. There were still a high priest and auxiliary priests to offer sacrifice and administer at the temple, but practices and sectarian doctrines violated completely the spirit of the Mosaic law. How greatly the people needed a leader, a faithful overseer, to lead them back to true worship! Their very lives depended upon this, for the time had come now to take an accounting.
17. As overseer of the new system of things, what did Jesus do while on earth?
17 Roman rule was represented by Governor Pilate at Jerusalem when Christ Jesus began his ministry. Jesus did not seek to set himself up as king over Israel or try to displace imperial power of Rome. He came only to “seek and to save what was lost” and to prepare the way for the new system of things that would bring fulfillment of all God’s promises to eliminate disobedience, sin, death and all the awful consequences. Jesus was to be the true overseer, and he described himself as being the Fine Shepherd. “The sheep listen to his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” “I have come that they might have life and might have it in abundance. I am the fine shepherd; the fine shepherd surrenders his soul in behalf of the sheep.”—Luke 19:10; John 10:3, 10, 11.
18. In what way did Jesus train those who responded to his message, and what resulted to those who rejected his message?
18 For three and one-half years his message went to the Jews. Besides his own vigorous preaching campaign, he trained his apostles and disciples to carry on the work after he had returned to heaven. Love was demonstrated in all his activities. Correction and chastisement were needed from time to time, but he administered these with discernment, knowing what was needed and how it should be given. He was a leader and called for his followers to come after him. As a nation the Jews rejected him as their overseer and life-giver. So he said: “How often I wanted to gather your children together in the manner that a hen gathers her brood of chicks under her wings, but you people did not want it! Look! Your house is abandoned to you.” How horrible it was in the year 70 when the Romans sacked the city, all “because you did not discern the time of your being inspected.”—Luke 13:34, 35; 19:44.
19. How did the Christian congregation develop after the death of Christ, and with what results?
19 Jesus’ death and the persecution that came upon his followers after Pentecost did not stop the work but caused the spreading of the good news. At Pentecost the promised holy spirit was received as helper. A body of older men, including the apostles, took charge of the work and sent representatives from Jerusalem to various parts of the land. “When he [Jesus] ascended on high . . . he gave gifts in men . . . some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the training of the holy ones, for ministerial work.” (Eph. 4:8, 11, 12) Congregations of holy ones were organized. Overseers were appointed over them. Instructions were sent from the governing body at Jerusalem to strengthen and confirm their faith. A notable edict from the governing body was the one described in Acts, chapter 15. Adhering closely to God’s Word and responding to the holy spirit’s direction, their decision was according to principle but not unduly restrictive. Faithful adherence to this direction from Jehovah’s earthly organization at that time resulted in the congregations’ continuing “to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.”—Acts 16:5.
20. Paul left Titus behind in Crete for what purpose, and what did he look for in considering prospective overseers?
20 As Paul, Barnabas and other faithful representatives of the governing body visited the congregations, they read this decision and served well as overseers. On one missionary journey the apostle Paul left Titus behind in Crete. He was authorized to “correct the things that were defective” and to “make appointments of older men in city after city, as I gave you orders.” (Titus 1:5-9) Similar instructions were given to the young overseer Timothy. (1 Tim. 3:1-7) The overseer must be irreprehensible in every respect. His household must be in order, and he must be bringing forth the fruitage of the spirit and “holding firmly to the faithful word as respects his art of teaching, that he may be able both to exhort by the teaching that is healthful and to reprove those who contradict.”
21. Besides being a morally respectable man, what else is required of an overseer?
21 An overseer in the Christian congregation must truly be an irreprehensible man, but he must be more than a morally clean man and one who has a good report from within and without the congregation. He must be a man full of good works and must have loving concern for all who come under his oversight. He must protect the flock as a shepherd protects the sheep under his care. The apostle Paul, on a journey by boat to Jerusalem, put into port at Miletus, and the account in Acts, chapter 20, informs us that he sent to Ephesus and called for the older men of the congregation. He put them on notice that he was clean from the blood of all men, for he had not held back from telling them all the counsel of God, and then he added: “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. . . . 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 20:27-35.
22. (a) How was the apostle John a good overseer to the congregations in the latter part of his ministry? (b) Revelation chapter 1 portrays Christ as doing what, indicating that he is a thorough overseer?
22 The apostles, right up to the last one, the apostle John, were all keenly interested in the congregations. Besides traveling to these and giving personal encouragement, instruction and correction, letters were written to the congregations, which were put into general circulation then and which we are happy to have today as part of the Holy Bible. Nevertheless, according to prophecy, the “man of lawlessness,” the apostate leaders of professed Christians, was to exercise a stronger and stronger influence upon the Christian congregation. The aged apostle John was soon to pass away, around A.D. 100, and thus the last one of those who acted as a restraint against this encroachment would be out of the way. (2 Thess. 2:1-12) There was a need for strong yet encouraging counsel to be given by Jehovah God through his Son, Christ, and in turn to John, for him to distribute it to the overseers of the congregations. The seven congregations in Asia Minor were representative of all the congregations then, but primarily of all the congregations of the spirit-begotten ones on the earth today, since John by inspiration came to be in “the Lord’s day” when receiving the vision. He saw seven lampstands, picturing all the congregations of spirit-begotten ones. Walking in among the lampstands was Christ Jesus, the faithful overseer, checking, instructing and correcting things that were standing in the way of true worship and theocratic progress. There was an overseer for each congregation, represented by a star. The seven (a complete number) were in the right hand of Christ for him to control. They must follow his direction and remember always that they are in office by holy spirit operating through Christ and that they are accountable to him. As starlight is stronger than lamplight, they must shine brightly by good works, good conduct and example.
23. In what way were some of the congregations commended, and how were some falling short?
23 Conditions in the seven congregations back there picture what may exist in the congregations today, and, by following the advice given, the overseers will know how to deal with the conditions. Some of the congregations were commended for their hard work and endurance, but they had become careless in service and meeting attendance. Some were spiritually dead because of failure to perform all features of God’s service, and there was a need to become awake, to be diligent in private study, in meeting attendance and in ministerial activity. The overseer must take the lead in directing the congregation back to its former love. Some were commended for not giving in to materialistic influences, but there was the danger of falling victim to the spirit of nationalism and religious sects. The overseer must be careful not to commercialize his position or to fall victim to sexual immorality or allow the congregation to become corrupt with it. Sisters must keep their place within the congregation and cooperate, with a quiet and mild spirit, which befits Christian women. There is no room for lukewarmness. One must be fully on Jehovah’s side and appreciate spiritual riches, which come in rendering exclusive devotion to Jehovah.—Rev., chapters 1 to 3.
24. What must be protected in the congregation, and how were the instructions dispatched to the congregations?
24 The counsel given to the overseers in the seven congregations in Asia was to be fully applied, so that the congregations might prosper and not have any condition remaining therein that would impede the full flow of Jehovah’s holy spirit. It is noteworthy here that the instructions were first given to John on earth and then they were to be transmitted to the overseers of the congregations for action on the directions. Jehovah has always worked through his organizational means in accomplishing his will. He is the God of order, the God of purpose and the God of principle. To be in harmony with his organization and to be working in harmony with his overseers, no matter what time a servant of his might have lived, has meant blessing and prosperity. Everlasting life is the reward of those who respond to the loving oversight of Jehovah.