Jehovah Shepherds the Christian Congregation
1. Like whom was Jesus and thus like whom would those he chose as qualified men be?
JESUS CHRIST gave a fine example to his followers of what a shepherd should be like in caring for the sheeplike people of the earth. Jesus one time said that those who had seen him had seen the Father, because Jesus bore such an outstanding resemblance of the Father in all he said and did. Not only did the early congregation of the Lord’s people have qualified men who were indeed interested in them, but some of these men had had the unique privilege of close association with Jesus in his earthly ministry.
2. Cite the example Jesus gave of a concerned and loving shepherd.
2 One illustration that Jesus gave of the type of shepherd he was, as a representative of his Father, and that his followers should be, is shown in Matthew 18:12-14. There Jesus gave this illustration: “What do you think? If a certain man comes to have a hundred sheep and one of them gets strayed, will he not leave the ninety-nine upon the mountains and set out on a search for the one that is straying? And if he happens to find it, I certainly tell you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that have not strayed. Likewise it is not a desirable thing with my Father who is in heaven for one of these little ones to perish.” How forcefully Jesus made the point that a shepherd truly cares for each sheep, especially for one that might stray from the fold and be endangered.
3, 4. (a) How did Peter admonish shepherds to be like Jesus and his Father, Jehovah? (b) How would such care by these earthly shepherds be strengthening to the congregation?
3 One of the twelve chosen by the Lord Jesus, and who became a shepherd of the flock of God, was a man named Peter. In his writings we are told that Peter was an apostle of Jesus Christ and his first letter was penned to the “temporary residents scattered about in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” In this letter Peter gives many words of encouragement concerning the activity and conduct of Christians. When coming to the close of this letter Peter says: “Therefore, to the older men among you I give this exhortation, for I too am an older man like them and a witness of the sufferings of the Christ, a sharer even of the glory that is to be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly; neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd has been made manifest, you will receive the unfadable crown of glory.”—1 Pet. 5:1-4.
4 These words of admonition by Peter were to the older men, the “capable men” in the congregation. They were to be taking tender care of the congregation, because it belonged to God. They were to do this, not because they were compelled to do so, but because they willingly wanted to serve the interests of the flock of God. They were not to be doing this work for any love of dishonest gain, but they were to be eager to imitate the Lord Jesus as well as Jehovah the Great Shepherd. They were to have the interests of the brothers at heart, setting a fine lead for them. This, indeed, was asking much of these shepherds. On the other hand, had not Jehovah the Great Shepherd shown such qualities by his interest in those who wanted to love and serve him? It was by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness that Peter and the other apostles, and now these older men, were being used in the capacity of shepherds. These words of counsel reached many of the early congregations and indeed must have strengthened such congregations.
5. Who did Paul say appointed the shepherds in the congregation, and what did he say would happen in time?
5 The apostle Paul, also one of the apostles chosen to shepherd the congregations, especially being used to go to the non-Jewish peoples, had in mind the need for a proper view of this shepherding activity. In speaking to the older men of the congregation in Ephesus, Paul said: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.” (Acts 20:28) Paul, as Peter, realized the need for proper shepherding by the older men. And the apostles knew that when they were not there to give the fine shepherding lead to the congregation, difficulties would enter in among the people, even as Israel itself had drifted from pure worship. In fact, it was Paul who said: “I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.”—Acts 20:29, 30.
6. How did “oppressive wolves” enter in among the flock of God, and with what results?
6 It was shortly after the death of the apostles, the last of whom died around the year 100 C.E., that these “oppressive wolves” began to enter in among the flock and ceased following the fine instructions for shepherds as given by the apostles and other older men in the first-century congregation. Within not too many years the congregation of God came under the oppressive rule of false shepherds, and great darkness came upon the Christian congregation. The book History of the Christian Church, by Henry C. Sheldon (copyright 1894, page 239), says this concerning the early church: “While the Church had its special officers from the outset, these were not at first, with the exception of the apostles, widely distinguished from the general body of believers. A priesthood in the more emphatic sense was not congenial to the thought of the first generations of Christians. . . . ‘The distinction,’ says Ritschl, ‘between the active and the passive members of the congregation—in other words, the Catholic conception of priesthood,—is foreign to the first two centuries.’” The development of the episcopacy, or the government of the church by a hierarchy of bishops was gradual, but it brought with it “oppressive wolves” from among the flock of God who rose and who spoke twisted things to draw away disciples after themselves, even as the apostle Paul by holy spirit had warned would happen. History shows that as apostate Christianity came into favor with the political government it became more and more a part of this wicked system and drifted farther and farther from the teachings of Jesus Christ.
7. What advice of the fine shepherd, Jesus, did the now false shepherds not heed, and what was the result to the Christian congregation?
7 It was the Lord Jesus who said in prayer to his heavenly Father that his followers were no part of the world just as he was no part of the world and that his kingdom was no part of this world. (John 17:16; 18:36) But by the fourth century the union of church and state shows that the apostles’ warning came true. Those left as shepherds of the flock turned to the world and became part of it. Writing of this union, the above-mentioned publication continues: “Church and State felt the uniting bond of common interests. The emperor saw that a measure of influence and agency in the affairs of the State might profitably be conceded to the Church. The Church felt that so useful an ally as the emperor ought to be allowed considerable prerogatives in her domain, that he might the more perfectly forward her interests. The extent to which imperial interference might properly go was not stated or understood; but in an age of despotic rule the concession to the temporal prince to interfere at all, in a sovereign capacity, would naturally enable him in a short time to become a most powerful factor in the affairs of the Church.”—Pages 379, 380.
8. To what extent did Constantine the Roman emperor come to speak for the apostate Christian congregation?
8 Under Constantine this union of church and state indeed did prove to be to Constantine’s advantage and to the weakening of the true Christian principles laid down by Jesus for his followers. It was Constantine who is reported to have said to a company of bishops: “You are bishops whose jurisdiction is within the Church; I, also, am a bishop, ordained by God to overlook whatever is external to the Church.” We are told: “He [Constantine] published decrees confirming the decisions of the bishops on questions of doctrine and worship, banished ecclesiastics who refused to subscribe the standard creed, ordered the restoration of excommunicated persons in the face of episcopal opposition, and prohibited the assemblies of various heretical and schismatic parties.”—History of the Christian Church, Sheldon, pages 380, 381.
9. What now happened to the flocklike organization of God’s people, and how long was it to last?
9 It was not long before all types of persons wanted to become “Christians” because of the favor being shown them by the political state. These persons had no intention of living lives in harmony with the example set by Christ Jesus, but were only interested in personal gain. The false shepherds who crept into the congregation had indeed spoken twisted things and had led astray many who wanted to follow the fine shepherd, Jesus Christ, and be under the watchful care of the Great Shepherd, Jehovah God. This was to last for many centuries. In fact, it was not until the latter part of the nineteenth century in the midst of great religious confusion that Jehovah again would have a faithful shepherd organization among mankind to guide and direct the efforts of his people in the time of the end of this wicked system of things. Jehovah through the apostle Paul gave inspired information that is part of the Holy Scriptures, so that in the time of the end man would know there would be a reestablishment of right worship under the watchful care of loving earthly shepherds imitating Jehovah and his fine shepherd Jesus Christ.—Eph. 1:8-10.
10. How does Ezekiel 34:2-6 describe false shepherds, and what happened to the Great Shepherd’s sheep?
10 After literally hundreds of years of activity by false shepherds, who fleeced the sheep and ruined the flock, Jehovah again has faithful shepherds to care for those of mankind who want to come under his loving care. Christendom’s shepherds can well be likened to the false shepherds in ancient Israel, and Jehovah’s word equally applies to them as spoken by the mouth of Ezekiel: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have become feeders of themselves! Is it not the flock that the shepherds ought to feed? The fat is what you eat, and with the wool you clothe your own selves. The plump animal is what you slaughter. The flock itself you do not feed. The sickened ones you have not strengthened, and the ailing one you have not healed, and the broken one you have not bandaged, and the dispersed one you have not brought back, and the lost one you have not sought to find, but with harshness you have had them in subjection, even with tyranny. And they were gradually scattered because of there being no shepherd, so that they became food for every wild beast of the field, and they continued to be scattered. My sheep kept straying on all the mountains and on every high hill; and on all the surface of the earth my sheep were scattered, with no one making a search and with no one seeking to find.”—Ezek. 34:2-6.
11, 12. But what would Jehovah eventually do for his sheep?
11 Then, telling what he would do, Jehovah through Ezekiel continues: “And I will raise up over them [his sheep] one shepherd, and he must feed them, even my servant David. He himself will feed them, and he himself will become their shepherd. And I myself, Jehovah, will become their God, and my servant David a chieftain in the midst of them. I myself, Jehovah, have spoken.” (Ezek. 34:23-25) Jehovah’s Greater David, his Son, Christ Jesus, has indeed become in these days a fine shepherd for the sheep of Jehovah, and working closely with him are undershepherds, faithful men, capable men, fearers of God, and haters of unjust profit. In this twentieth century Jehovah has again raised up shepherds to care for his sheep.
12 Those whom Jehovah has chosen through Christ Jesus have proved themselves to be capable men. Because Jehovah has chosen such kind of men, he once again is having his sheep gathered together into his fold, and they, in turn, are aiding many others to walk on the roadway to life.
WHERE TO LOOK NOW
13. Why have many lost confidence in any apostate religious movement, but what are we asked to do?
13 You may now ask, Where should one look to find such faithful earthly shepherds, and among what organization of people will one find persons truly interested in caring for the spiritual needs of the Lord’s sheep? Recognizing the way the religious organizations of Christendom have turned their backs on God’s Word and have watered down God’s commandments and teachings, many have become disgusted with apostate religion, and feel that it is not being used by God to help the people. Knowing of the responsibilities resting upon those who would be shepherds, and those who would be sheep, we call upon you to investigate the organization of Jehovah’s witnesses to see what it is doing to help people come under the loving care of the Great Shepherd, Jehovah God.
14. How is the Watch Tower Society organized, and what qualifications must shepherds today meet?
14 Incorporated in 1884 the Watch Tower Society has been carrying on a shepherding work for over eighty years. This Society is today organized theocratically, with Jehovah the Great Shepherd, operating through his fine shepherd and by holy spirit making appointments of qualified men on this earth to act as shepherds of God’s flock. Those appointed as shepherds of the flock must be, as were those chosen in the days of Moses, capable men, fearers of God, trustworthy and not looking for unjust profit. They must meet the requirements set out by holy spirit through the apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy. Such qualifications are these: “If any man is reaching out for an office of overseer, he is desirous of a fine work. The overseer should therefore be irreprehensible, a husband of one wife, moderate in habits, sound in mind, orderly, hospitable, qualified to teach, not a drunken brawler, not a smiter, but reasonable, not belligerent, not a lover of money, a man presiding over his own household in a fine manner, having children in subjection with all seriousness.”—1 Tim. 3:1-4.
15. How are the shepherds or overseers today no different from the rest of the sheep in the congregation?
15 The shepherds are a part of the congregation and not separate from it. This means these shepherds share in all of the activity of the congregation and take the lead for the benefit of the sheep, so that they will have a fine example to follow. One sharing as a shepherd of the Lord’s sheep must show by his conduct and by his love for Jehovah and the sheep that his concern is for those whom Jehovah loves and is leading, namely, his sheeplike people. Paul shows the shepherd should set the lead in upright conduct. Those charged with shepherding the Lord’s flock do not simply tell others what they must do, but they take the lead in doing the same work, including preaching the good news of God’s kingdom, as did the fine shepherd Jesus Christ, when on earth. There exists no clergy-laity distinction, but all together are brothers and servants of Jehovah and one another. The appointment of all overseers, or shepherds, in the congregation conforms with the standard of instruction given by holy spirit as outlined in God’s Word.
16. (a) Whom must the shepherds today imitate? (b) By his remembering God’s tender care for Israel of ancient times, what will the overseer or shepherd today seek to do?
16 As overseer, or shepherd of God’s sheeplike people, he has great responsibility in a congregation and is charged with looking after the welfare of those associated with the congregation. He must remember that in dealing with the sheeplike ones he cannot be harsh or oppressive. Rather, he must imitate the qualities that Jesus showed and that made him such an outstanding representative of his Father, Jehovah. An overseer who recalls the tender way in which the Lord Jehovah dealt with the people of Israel for many hundreds of years, in spite of their wayward course of action and their failing to keep His commandments, will recognize the necessity of being long-suffering and patient in dealing with those who belong to the Lord. While the overseer will want the congregation of sheeplike persons to operate efficiently, and he will make every effort to see that things in the congregation are done in a right way, he will never sacrifice love, understanding and compassion, for efficiency. In the congregation the overseer will find that he must spend time visiting those who are sick physically and spiritually. He wants to be upbuilding and helpful to them. He has to realize that, while something may not appear to be a problem to him, it may well be a problem for someone else. Not everyone sees everything in exactly the same way. Therefore, the overseer has to be understanding, knowing that each servant of Jehovah is a different person and has to be dealt with oftentimes in a different way in order to get a right and loving response from such individual.
17. Outline how responsibility for the Lord’s sheep today has been distributed to many.
17 Because of the serious problems that do arise in life that require the attention of mature older men, the organization has by holy spirit been made aware of the need of distributing the load of responsibility in the congregation. Even as Moses had to have help, so in modern times those serving the interests of their fellow Christians need assistance. So while there is a governing body of Christians charged with the oversight of the work, they alone could not handle all of the problems that arise in the lives of the Great Shepherd’s people around the earth. Therefore, by holy spirit some are appointed as supervisors, or shepherds in countries and islands throughout the earth. In modern times we refer to such shepherds as branch servants. Within countries appointments of older men are made to fill other positions, such as district and circuit servants. They have certain responsibilities to fulfill toward groups or congregations of God’s people in a particular area. Still others are appointed as congregation shepherds or overseers of perhaps 10 to 100 or 150 persons, and, in turn, there are some appointed as assistants to these congregation shepherds to help with the needs of the people in the congregations. All of this is done with the end in view of aiding the sheep belonging to the fine shepherd Jesus Christ and his Father Jehovah God.
18. (a) How do today’s shepherds in congregations show they are dependent upon Jehovah for help? (b) What do faithful shepherds prove to be, according to Isaiah 32:1, 2?
18 All of these older men serving the interests of the Lord’s sheep seek the direction of the Great Shepherd and his Son in dealing with the problems that arise. These shepherds carefully consider all problems of a serious nature that arise in congregations and they search the Word of God for direction and help, so as to make proper decisions. They are shepherds of God’s people and therefore need to have a sound knowledge of God’s Word. They need to be able to handle that Word in a right and worthy manner. (2 Tim. 2:15) Those serving as shepherds need to be the type of men who are swift about hearing, slow about speaking and slow about wrath. (Jas. 1:19) They should prove to be like those spoken of by Isaiah: “Look! A king will reign for righteousness itself; and as respects princes, they will rule as princes for justice itself. And each one must prove to be like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.” (Isa. 32:1, 2) Such men are themselves greatly respected and dearly loved by those associated with them in the congregations.
19. How can we be confident now that Jehovah the Great Shepherd cares for us?
19 It was the Lord Jesus who said: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me,” and so it must be that the shepherds of God’s sheep, which in turn are Christ’s sheep, must know those in the congregation and be known by them. In that way we will know that it is Jehovah, God of the universe, who cares for us and feeds us through faithful undershepherds even today in the time for the conclusion of the present wicked system of things.
[Picture on page 408]
A loving overseer of God’s people finds time to help those with problems; he never sacrifices love, understanding and compassion for efficiency