The Overseer of a Happy Flock
“Jehovah is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing. In grassy pastures he makes me lie down; by well-watered resting places he conducts me. My soul he refreshes. He leads me in the tracks of righteousness for his name’s sake.”—Ps. 23:1-3.
1, 2. (a) Who is the Overseer of the universe, and why would it be rewarding to be in his company? (b) What evidence is there that Jehovah’s intelligent creatures are happy?
The true God Jehovah is the most celebrated Overseer in the universe. He is the Shepherd of his flock. Those privileged to be in his company are made happy, for Jehovah is called in the Holy Scriptures “the happy God.”—1 Tim. 1:11.
2 The Scriptures abound with evidence that intelligent creatures under Jehovah’s care are happy. They tell of heavenly sons rejoicing before Jehovah, “shouting in applause,” being “overjoyed” and “happy.” (Job 38:7; Rev. 19:7-9; Prov. 8:30) And on earth ‘the sheep of his pasturing, earthling men,’ are also called “happy.” “Happy is the people whose God is Jehovah!” exclaimed the psalmist. “Happy is the one who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in Jehovah his God, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Ezek. 34:31; Ps. 144:15; 146:5, 6) Yes, there is genuine happiness in this despondent twentieth century, but it is with those who belong to the flock of the happy God Jehovah. If you are a member of that flock, then you know what it is to be happy.
3, 4. (a) How has Jehovah provided for the happiness of his people, and why? (b) Why is the study of the Bible vital to the happiness of the flock?
3 Jehovah wants his people to be happy, for what is life without happiness? He realizes that, without the exhilaration that happiness brings, life itself becomes a tedious grind, a bore for many, a lonely wandering to journey’s end. So to assure his flock of an exciting, meaningful life, Jehovah as the Overseer of his flock has made elaborate arrangements for their continued happiness.
4 First he has provided a never-ending supply of food and drink for his flock. For it takes good food and good drink to keep the sheep of God happy. As the shepherd psalmist stated: “In grassy pastures he makes me lie down; by well-watered resting places he conducts me. My soul he refreshes.” (Ps. 23:2, 3) This food and drink Jehovah has supplied in the form of his written Word the Holy Bible. Therefore, a diligent study of this Word is vital to the flock of God, not only because it leads to spiritual health and happiness, but more so because it leads to life everlasting. Little wonder that Jesus Christ the Son of God told the Jewish people of his day: “Happy are those hearing the word of God and keeping it!” “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need.” For “man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.” (Luke 11:28; Matt. 5:3; 4:4) To enjoy a happy life the sheep of God must continuously draw from this divine storehouse.
5. In what way is the Bible indispensable to the man of God, and how does Jehovah’s Word prove it?
5 The Word of God is also light that is so greatly needed during these dark, trying times. As the psalmist declared to God: “Your word is a lamp to my foot, and a light to my roadway.” (Ps. 119:105) For a sheep to be lost in the dark is a cause for dread and unhappiness. The truth of the Bible acting as a lamp is Jehovah’s provision for the guidance and happiness of his sheep. To Captain Joshua, who was about to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land, Jehovah said: “This book of the law should not depart from your mouth, and you must in an undertone read in it day and night, in order that you may take care to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way successful and then you will act wisely.” (Josh. 1:8) If we want to make our way successful and act wisely, not only must we have Bibles, but we must also follow the advice that our Great Overseer Jehovah gave to Joshua. If we do follow the wise counsel, then we will be happy. The psalmist declared: “Happy are the ones faultless in their way, the ones walking in the law of Jehovah. Happy are those observing his reminders.” (Ps. 119:1, 2) Knowing the Bible and living according to its rules is what brings happiness to the flock of God.
6. In what other way are the Scriptures a blessing from Jehovah?
6 Jehovah as Shepherd of his flock has provided his Word for even a far loftier purpose, namely, that his earthly creatures might come to know Him their heavenly Shepherd. Without the Bible the sheep of God would not know of their Shepherd-God Jehovah. And without knowledge of Jehovah there can be no lasting happiness. For Jehovah is, not only “the source of life,” but also the fountain of joy. Joy is a fruitage of his spirit. (Ps. 36:9; Gal. 5:22) It is when the sheep are separated from their shepherd that they become fearful and unhappy. Note how the writer of the psalms links the need for knowing Jehovah with one’s being genuinely happy. The inspired account says: “Happy is the able-bodied man that takes refuge in him.” “Happy are the people knowing the joyful shouting. O Jehovah, in the light of your face they keep walking.” “Happy is everyone fearing Jehovah.” “Happy are those dwelling in your house!” “Happy are the men whose strength is in you.” (Ps. 34:8; 89:15; 128:1; 84:4, 5) Searchers for happiness must, therefore, turn their attention heavenward, if they would find the joy that Jehovah gives.
7. (a) How does the psalmist express the joy that comes from knowing Jehovah? (b) Where only can one find happiness and serenity?
7 The restful joy and contentment that become the reward of those knowing the heavenly Overseer Jehovah are expressed for us in David’s unforgettable twenty-third psalm 23. “Jehovah is my Shepherd,” he said. “I shall lack nothing. In grassy pastures he makes me lie down; by well-watered resting places he conducts me. My soul he refreshes. He leads me in the tracks of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the valley of deep shadow, I fear nothing bad, for you are with me; your rod and your staff are the things that comfort me. You arrange before me a table in front of those showing hostility to me. With oil you have greased my head; my cup is well filled. Surely goodness and loving-kindness themselves will pursue me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of Jehovah to the length of days.” How beautifully the psalmist expresses the need, the comfort and the restful joy that come to one who knows Jehovah! One hears no agonizing bleatings, the kind heard from sheep that are lost, in David’s words. The bleat of each of the lost sheep expresses the misery and helplessness, the utter loneliness away from the flock. It is a fearful sound filled with the sense of forfeiture of the protection and tender, loving care of the Shepherd. Far away from Jehovah there can be no happiness. Only with him and his flock can one find the happiness and the serenity that David speaks about in Psalm twenty-three.
8. Whom has Jehovah appointed to care for the flock, and what basic truth must they always keep in mind?
8 To keep his earthly flock from straying and thus becoming unhappy, Jehovah appointed men to act in the capacity of overseers and shepherds. These men were to care for the flock of God. King David of ancient Israel was one of these overseers. While he was a shepherd of the people of God, yet David realized that he had an Overseer and Shepherd over him to whom he was responsible. In Psalm sixteen, verse eight, David writes of this, saying: “I have placed Jehovah in front of me constantly.” As a shepherd goes before the flock, so King David was pleased to place his God Jehovah in front of him. “O Shepherd of Israel,” a fellow Israelite wrote, “do give ear, you who are conducting Joseph just like a flock.” (Ps. 80:1) Keeping this basic truth ever before him is what made David a fine overseer and a worthy example to the flock of God.
9. When overseers respond to Jehovah’s direction, what is the result to them and to the flock, and what does the psalmist David say about this?
9 When overseers respond to the direction of their heavenly Overseer, they are blessed, and the flock is made happy. David wrote concerning this at Psalm 144:13-15, describing the materialistic ones as saying: “Our flocks multiplying by thousands, ten thousand to one, in our streets, our cattle loaded down, without any rupture and with no abortion, and with no outcry in our public squares. Happy is the people for whom it is just like that!” Then, in contrast, David says: “Happy is the people whose God is Jehovah!” So spiritually minded overseers are a blessing from Jehovah. They are a cause for true happiness to the flock of God.
KEEPING THE FLOCK HAPPY
10. (a) Who has set the example in showing of love for the sheep, and how? (b) In what special way are overseers to imitate Jehovah in loving?
10 Nothing contributes more to the happiness of the flock than love. In showing love Jehovah has set the example. One of the sheep of God, namely, the apostle John, wrote: “He that does not love has not come to know God, because God is love. By this the love of God was made manifest in our case, because God sent forth his only-begotten Son into the world that we might gain life through him. The love is in this respect, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins. Beloved ones, if this is how God loved us, then we are ourselves under obligation to love one another.” (1 John 4:8-11) Overseers are under obligation to copy the heavenly example of love. They are to take the initiative in the demonstrating of love, even as God was first to love. “As for us,” John said, “we love, because he [God] first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) The conviction that they are loved, loved despite the knowledge of what they themselves are, is what results in great happiness to the flock.
11. (a) Why is loving the flock essential? (b) How is love an aid to the shepherd?
11 “But why is love so essential? Because “love builds up.” Love “is a perfect bond of union.” “Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 8:1; 13:4-8; Col. 3:14) Love makes the overseer approachable, kind, gentle, considerate and patient. It prevents him from dealing harshly with the sheep. Love makes him sensitively aware of their spiritual needs. For nothing is more sharp-sighted or sensitive than genuine love, in discerning, as by instinct, the feelings of another. Yes, nothing quickens the perception like true love. When a sheep is hungry, the shepherd will know it, because he loves. When the sheep are thirsty, the shepherd will perceive it because of his love. When the sheep are hurt or ill, it is the shepherd’s love that will discern it. When a sheep is lost, it is the shepherd who will be the first to know it because of his love for the sheep. It is love that excites all that is good and generous in him. Love flowing downward from God out of heaven through his “fine shepherd” Jesus Christ and through the appointed overseers of the flock is what will unite and make happy the flock of God. The shepherd should always remember that the only thing better than being loved, is loving; that love never fails.
12. How is a loving shepherd a blessing to the flock?
12 Therefore, what a blessing a loving overseer is to the congregation! The sheep feel his love in the way he talks and deals with them. The overseer’s manner is kind and inviting. The sheep are attracted to him. They know that he cares for them and has their interest at heart. Their problems they do not hesitate to bring to the overseer, because they are confident of his gentle care. His love they are assured of, because love cannot be disguised. It is a soothing oil that makes even heavy burdens and often obedience to seem lighter. Love pacifies. It is astonishing how little complaining and how much rejoicing there is in love. The overseer knows this. So he loves in imitation of his heavenly Overseers, God and Christ.
13. What fact proves that Jesus loved, and what illustration did he give in proof of the shepherd’s love?
13 The love of Jehovah God toward the sheep is expressed through Jesus Christ his “fine shepherd.” When on earth Jesus cherished the lives of the sheep and the sheep were very much aware of his care. The poor, the diseased, the oppressed and the ignorant—sinners of every description and walk of life were drawn to him. Now, the Fine Shepherd did not think himself too important to take the sheep into his arms and encourage them on the way to life. His approachableness helped sinners out of their fallen condition onto the road to salvation. (John 10:11; Luke 7:36-50) The Bible writer Luke tells us that “all the tax collectors and the sinners kept drawing near to him to hear him. Consequently both the Pharisees and the scribes kept muttering, saying: ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” Then Jesus spoke this matchless illustration to them, saying: “What man of you with a hundred sheep, on losing one of them, will not leave the ninety-nine behind in the wilderness and go for the lost one until he finds it? And when he has found it he puts it upon his shoulders and rejoices. And when he gets home he calls his friends and his neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.’ I tell you that thus there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones who have no need of repentance.” (Luke 15:1-7) What a fine example of love and understanding Jesus left for all overseers! The height of wisdom is to copy him closely.
NOURISHMENT AND HAPPINESS
14, 15. (a) What is one of the chief duties of the shepherd, and why? (b) How best can a complaining sheep be soothed?
14 Happiness is often associated with good food. What shepherd does not know that when the sheep are hungry they become unruly, irritable? But when they are fed a fine, satisfying meal, their outlook immediately becomes brighten. Their uncomfortable, complaining, irritable spirit subsides and a more relaxed and contented disposition takes over. Therefore, one of the chief duties of the overseer, is to see that the sheep are well fed.
15 When sheep complain, one of the best things to do is to lead them to the pastures of God’s Word and point out some of its refreshing, encouraging and upbuilding truths. In your discussion dwell especially on the hope that God gives and that his promises are sure. (Titus 1:2) As the complaining mind or injured heart is fed Jehovah’s Word, real satisfaction and happiness will return. For the inspired proverb says: “Happy is the man that has found wisdom, and the man that gets discernment. It is a tree of life to those taking hold of it, and those keeping fast hold of it are to be called happy.” (Prov. 3:13, 18) As the sheep of God come to this keen appreciation, they will be made happy. However, overseers must show the way.
16. What is it that brings happiness, according to Jesus?
16 But it is not only reading or listening that brings happiness. Jesus said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) True happiness is for the doer of God’s will and not just for the hearer. It is the keeping of God’s Word that results in lasting happiness. The Christian disciple Luke, therefore, made special note of the Fine Shepherd’s words: “Happy are those hearing the word of God and keeping it!” (Luke 11:28) So hearing and keeping the Word of God unite to bring happiness.
17. (a) Why is the flock deserving of personal attention from the shepherd? (b) In what way can the shepherd contribute to the happiness of the sheep?
17 The flock of God is not a collection of record cards, files and statistics, but a living organization of precious creatures whose lives are dedicated to the praise of the living God. They, therefore, need and deserve the best of attention, which means personalized attention. There is the ever-present danger of an overseer becoming so busy and involved with the bookwork that he has little or no time for the sheep. Yet each one in the flock must feel the shepherd’s care. The Christian overseer Paul wrote: “Do not forget the doing of good and the sharing of things with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Heb. 13:16) Working in the field ministry with each one of the sheep from time to time will mean more to them than many sermons. The little bit of encouragement that you give them personally builds them up. It is a way of showing that you care. This personal touch of mingling with them, commending them on their efforts and progress, contributes immeasurably to the happiness of the sheep and to their spiritual growth.
18. How can a shepherd be a joy to a hospitalized sheep?
18 Sheep often get sick and they need their shepherd. His commission says he is “to comfort all the mourning ones.” (Isa. 61:2) This means he must visit them personally. His very presence will be a joy and a stimulation to the one ill. The shepherd can bring the sheep up-to-date regarding the activities of the congregation, go over a Bible study lesson, discuss a new sermon or tell them about the latest assembly of the Lord’s people, what the program was, the information received and how they were encouraged and upbuilt by the assembly. Overseers, keep the sick one’s interest alive in Jehovah and his organization. Show him how he can and does contribute to the happiness of the flock by his steadfastness, his prayers and his interest in the flock. Comfort the mourners.—2 Cor. 1:3-7.
19. In what other ways can he express compassion for the sick, and how is the overseer rewarded?
19 Not all the sick are in hospitals; many are at home and these need the attention of the overseer as well. It is surprising how much happiness a letter or even a get-well card can bring. When one is feeling sick and all alone in the world, a little reminder by way of a card or a visit or a telephone call means so much, yet they cost so little. To hear the shepherd say, “I’ve missed you at the congregation. We want you to get well soon,” means a great deal to a sick sheep. What is more, it means much to the Owner of the sheep, Jehovah. For he reminds the overseer: “One despising his own fellow man is sinning, but happy is he who is showing favor to the afflicted ones.” (Prov. 14:21) Giving personal attention to the afflicted, not only makes them happier, but also increases the happiness of the compassionate overseer.
20. In giving personal attention to the flock, what will the overseer find necessary to do from time to time, and to whom and how will this be done?
20 Personal attention also includes the giving of counsel. From time to time old and young in the flock have need of personal counsel and Scriptural advice. The shepherd may speak to the young about proper Christian conduct toward the opposite sex. He may counsel about improper associations, the need to be properly dressed, clean speech and their concern for the ministry. Older members, too, often need the shepherd’s wise observations. They need to listen to his wisdom, for he is concerned for their lives. They may be slack in the ministry, in meeting attendance, in giving their children proper training, or they may be lacking in right conduct. The overseer is there to help them. He must give an account for your life, so be grateful for any attention that he may give.
21, 22. (a) What proves that it pays to go after the strayed sheep? (b) Why can it be said that the overseer is a blessing from Jehovah?
21 On one occasion Jesus gave the apostle Peter some personal counsel and instructions to “feed my lambs,” to “shepherd my little sheep,” to “feed my little sheep.” (John 21:15-17) This was a moving experience for Peter, one, no doubt, that he never forgot. Because Peter had strayed from the flock of God and the Fine Shepherd, Jesus reached out to rescue him. Now would Peter as overseer not want to search for other lost sheep? Surely he was grateful for being rescued, and his faithful life as a shepherd proved it. Years after this experience Peter wrote the following encouraging words to the older men of the Christian congregation: “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. And when the chief shepherd has been made manifest, you will receive the unfadable crown of glory.” (1 Pet. 5:2-4) The Fine Shepherd’s efforts were not wasted in Peter. Overseers, go after the strayed sheep. Shepherd the flock of God in your care.
22 What a blessing from Jehovah is the overseer of the flock! Following his faithful direction, the sheep dwell in peace and unity. They experience joy in living. Surely goodness and loving-kindness have pursued them throughout life. They rejoice in having a part in the vindication of Jehovah’s name. And their hope is the hope expressed by the Shepherd-King David, namely, to dwell with their Shepherd in the house of Jehovah forever.