Showing Concern for the “Flock of God”
“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.
1. How did Jesus Christ show great concern for those whom he likened to sheep?
NO ONE on earth ever showed greater concern for members of the human family than did Jesus Christ, the Great Exemplar. He referred to those who listened to his voice as his “sheep.” And, as the Fine Shepherd, he surrendered his soul or laid down his life in their behalf. (John 10:11, 27) Following his resurrection from the dead, Jesus impressed upon his apostle Simon Peter the need to give these “sheep” special attention. How did Jesus do this? In a way that truly motivated Peter throughout the rest of his earthly life.
2. (a) According to John 21:15-17, how did Peter react to the questions posed by his Master? (b) What did Jesus emphasize in this case? How?
2 Three times Jesus put a similar question to Peter. Twice, he asked: ‘Simon, do you love me?’ Finally, Jesus inquired: “Simon son of John, do you have affection for me?” After being asked virtually the same question the third time, Peter became grieved and emphatically assured his Lord: “You know all things; you are aware that I have affection for you.” Yes, Jesus was fully aware of Peter’s love and affection for him. But the point was that the apostle would have to prove this over a long period of time. How? By showing concern for the “sheep.” In each instance, after Peter had replied affirmatively to the question posed, Jesus intensified the point, saying: (1) “Feed my lambs”; (2) “Shepherd my little sheep”; (3) “Feed my little sheep.” (John 21:15-17) Thus, Jesus most effectively emphasized not only his personal concern for the “sheep” but Peter’s heavy future responsibility to care for them, even as his Lord had pointed out so emphatically.
3. (a) How did Peter give proof of his love for the “fine shepherd”? (b) What shows that Peter was not alone in showing concern for “the flock”?
3 That was an unforgettable experience for Peter. Unquestionably, Jesus had reached deep into the apostle’s heart. In proof of his love for the Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ, never would Peter neglect to feed the “sheep.” Lovingly and conscientiously he would endeavor to shepherd “the flock.” About 30 years later, Peter wrote “to the temporary residents scattered about,” that is, to those who had become disciples of Jesus Christ. As part of the “flock of God” they were reminded of a deliverance from their previous fruitless form of conduct. How had this been accomplished? Not with a purchase based on such ordinary things as silver or gold, but “with precious blood, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, even Christ’s.” (1 Pet. 1:1, 18, 19) Peter appreciated that this had been a heavy price to pay. It had cost Jehovah God the sacrifice of his only-begotten Son, whom he had sent to this earth to provide a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:28; John 3:16) By the time Peter had written his first letter, the purchased members of “the flock” had grown to many thousands. So there then were more “sheep” than Peter could care for on his own. Along with Peter, however, other qualified men had been raised up who showed concern for “the flock” by feeding, leading and protecting it. They, too, appreciated that “the flock” belonged to Jehovah. And in our day this point is fully realized by the tens of thousands of spiritual undershepherds who have been given the responsibility of shepherding the “flock of God” in their care.
4. What fitting counsel on shepherding did Peter give when writing to older men in the Christian congregation?
4 When Peter was inspired to write his first letter, no doubt he could recall what Jesus had impressed upon his mind and heart with regard to shepherding the “sheep.” This is evident from the apostle’s words of exhortation directed not only to those first-century undershepherds but to spiritually older men among God’s people today. Peter wrote: “Therefore, to the older men among you I give this exhortation, for I too am an older man with 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.
Caring Lovingly for the “Flock of God”
5. (a) To be effective, what attitude should a Christian overseer have in order to fulfill his responsibility toward “the flock”? (b) Why can an overseer today view matters as Peter did?
5 As an eyewitness of the sufferings of the Christ, Peter was moved to emphasize the importance of showing concern for the “flock of God.” Just as the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, demonstrated such concern, so it should be with all those shepherding “the flock.” But a Christian overseer certainly could not do this if he felt that he was serving under compulsion. No appointed elder today should feel that he must serve due to being put under pressure. While there is much work involved in shouldering this privileged responsibility, the loving undershepherd will display a desire to help and to be of service. But he will manifest that spirit only if he has the same mental attitude as that possessed by Christ Jesus, who displayed humility and willingness to endure suffering. (Phil. 2:5-8; 1 Pet. 4:1) If an elder recognizes himself to be part of “the flock” under the care of the Great Shepherd, Jehovah God, being accountable to Him and to the Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and not to some human, then he will serve eagerly, uncomplainingly. (1 Pet. 2:25) Even though they have not been eyewitnesses of Jesus’ sufferings as Peter was, overseers today are favored with the detailed Bible accounts of Christ’s life and ministry. So they can view matters as Peter did and thus have the same spirit as that of the apostle when it comes to shepherding “the flock.”
6. What should overseers keep in mind when dealing with “the flock”?
6 To be a proper example, a Christian undershepherd must not be interested in dishonest or selfish gain, or in the attaining of undue prominence. Any ‘greatness’ involved comes from placing himself at the disposal of his brothers, being approachable, serving their spiritual interests. Knowing that “the flock” belongs to Jehovah, who purchased it with the blood of his Son, exemplary older men do not ‘lord it over those who are God’s inheritance.’ Rather, these undershepherds treat “the flock” tenderly and protectively, thus following the counsel and pattern furnished by the Fine Shepherd.—Matt. 20:25-27; Titus 1:7; contrast Ezekiel 34:2-4; Jude 16.
7. In what ways do many overseers show real concern for “the flock”?
7 It must truly be acknowledged that by far the majority of Christian overseers today are showing proper concern for “the flock” in a variety of ways. The time and effort spent in feeding the “sheep,” by giving personal attention to individuals, and in presiding at congregation meetings provide fine examples for fellow believers. (1 Tim. 5:17) Consider, too, the fine lead that conscientious undershepherds give in the field activity, seeking out other sheeplike persons and making disciples. (Matt. 28:19, 20; 2 Tim. 4:5) And what about the concern shown in protecting “the flock” from worldly elements and from those who would prey upon “the flock”? (Eph. 4:11-14; Col. 2:8; Jude 22, 23) In these and many other ways the “flock of God” benefits from those shepherding them out of loving concern for their spiritual welfare.
Valuable Lessons for Us Today
8. To provide spiritual encouragement, what did the apostle Paul arrange in behalf of the older men from Ephesus?
8 In reading Biblical accounts of what first-century overseers accomplished in behalf of “the flock,” we are impressed with the fine example of the apostle Paul. He also gave encouragement to older men, just as Peter did. While journeying to Jerusalem, Paul called for a meeting of the older men from Ephesus. No doubt they greatly appreciated the opportunity to spend some time with Paul, even as overseers today meet periodically to exchange helpful experiences, to be mutually built up in the faith and to receive Scriptural admonition.
9. How does the account at Acts 20:18-21 show that Paul was a self-sacrificing man of God?
9 We can learn some valuable lessons from Paul’s discussion with those overseers from Ephesus. The record at Acts 20:17-38 provides us with a deeper insight into the kind of example the apostle had set for his brothers, including those older men from Ephesus. Was Paul a self-sparing minister who just enjoyed traveling about to the various parts of the district of Asia? Not at all. He was a self-sacrificing man of God who was “slaving for the Lord with the greatest lowliness of mind and tears and trials” during the whole time that he was there. (Acts 20:18, 19) He did not hold back from “teaching . . . publicly and from house to house,” and that in the face of dangers. Nor was he fearful of what some residents of the community thought of him, or of the threats made by any opposers. Paul gave a thorough witness in the territory.—Acts 20:20, 21; compare Acts 19:1–20:1; 2 Corinthians 1:8-11.
Shepherding in Times of Persecution
10. How have many present-day overseers imitated Paul in their efforts to aid “the flock” despite personal suffering?
10 Now the apostle was heading for Jerusalem, undaunted by the prospect that “bonds and tribulations” were awaiting him there. He was prepared to lay down his life, if necessary, in order to finish his course in faithfulness and fulfill the ministry he had received from the Lord Jesus. (Acts 20:22-24) What a fine example that was for those Ephesian overseers! Paul’s concern was not only for those who needed to hear the “good news” but for the individuals bearing the responsibility to spread the message to others. Is this not the kind of concern that all appointed Christian elders should have today? Happily, we do have men who are imitating Paul in that they are willing to risk their very lives for the sake of the “good news” and to protect their brothers. Indeed, in lands where Christians suffer intense persecution, many faithful undershepherds loyally have stayed with “the flock,” even though the way may have opened up for these responsible men to go to countries where such sufferings apparently could have been avoided. To illustrate: Recently an elder who has already undergone years of imprisonment and cruel beatings visited the United States to receive training provided for the Watch Tower Society’s branch personnel. The opportunity was open to him to go to a country where there is at present no persecution. But he chose to return to the land in which he had been serving even though imprisonment and harsh persecution seemed certain for him there. Like so many other Christian undershepherds, he regards caring for “the flock” to be a privilege more precious than his own personal freedom. Truly, such overseers are to be commended. How fine that they continue to provide care for ‘sheep in distress’!—Compare Isaiah 32:1, 2.
11. (a) In view of Acts 20:25-27, what was Paul’s position regarding bloodguilt, and how can overseers today maintain a similar position? (b) Understandably, how do overseers feel toward persons whom they initially helped to become disciples?
11 It was among those who were now overseers in Ephesus that Paul had gone “preaching the kingdom.” They themselves had heard the message from his own lips. He had poured out his heart to them and others in declaring “all the counsel of God,” not his own ideas. So his conscience was clear. There would be no bloodguilt chargeable to his account for failing to give the witness. (Acts 20:25-27) So it should be with overseers in this time of trial, difficulty and hardship in finishing the work of giving a widespread Kingdom witness. Overseers today know that much depends on their zealous example in taking the lead in the work. For this reason, they endeavor to have as great a share as possible in declaring the “good news.” Thus they, too, keep clean and free of any bloodguilt. Others in the congregation observe that these elders take the lead in warning the wicked and searching out the honesthearted. Accordingly, such fellow believers are encouraged to follow their fine example. As in the case of those whom Paul helped, many today making up “the flock” are persons first contacted by overseers who were witnessing in their territory. Now that such individuals are in the congregation, the overseers show even greater concern for them.—1 Thess. 1:5, 6; 2:7, 8.
12. How are we to understand Paul’s statement at Acts 20:28?
12 Paul’s great concern for those older men from Ephesus, as well as for “the flock” in their care, is indicated by his words: “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) Each one of those men surely felt the need to examine himself in view of the serious responsibility involved in shepherding “the flock.” Also, those overseers needed to apply Paul’s counsel to themselves as a body of older men. They had to cooperate and work together in caring for “the flock.” For best results, there had to be unity of thought and action on their part. This, in itself, would show that they had deep concern for “the flock.”
13. What can be said about the application of Acts 20:28 today?
13 How appropriate it is to use Paul’s admonition for the benefit of Christian older men today! Often, as when traveling overseers meet with congregation elders, those words recorded at Acts 20:28 have served as a basis for sound counsel. Let it be noted that what is said there does not mean paying attention only to oneself. Rather, the entire body of elders in each congregation has the responsibility of caring for the specific needs of “the flock.” This is true even though each elder may have a definite assignment that contributes toward this overall objective. Overseers must fulfill their shepherding responsibilities conscientiously and with loving concern, recognizing that “the flock” is precious to Jehovah in view of the price paid for its purchase.—Eph. 1:7.
Guarding Against Apostate “Wolves”
14. (a) What warning is found at Acts 20:29, 30? (b) Why was it timely for Paul to warn the Ephesian overseers?
14 Knowing what would develop after his death and that of the other apostles, Paul issued this warning: “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) Later, the apostle Peter warned that there would be opportunists and promoters of sects preying upon the unwary, untaught and unsteady ones. (2 Pet. 2:1-3; 3:15, 16) As long as the apostles were present, they acted as a restraint against tendencies in that direction. But the Scriptures plainly foretold a major apostasy, and it did, in fact, eventuate. It still continues in the form of Christendom.—2 Thess. 2:6-10.
15. (a) Why should those now shepherding “the flock” be watchful? (b) At times, why is it necessary for elders to act on the direction given at Romans 16:17-19?
15 In this “time of the end” the Christian witnesses of Jehovah are pointedly warned against apostatizing or falling away. (Dan. 12:4; Matt. 24:9-13) Hence, faithful Christian undershepherds must show concern for “the flock” by being watchful. They should be alert so as to protect members of “the flock” from slipping into bad associations. (1 Cor. 15:33) Maintaining a healthy spiritual outlook and attitude is not easy in view of the constant pressures from the unclean world. That is why each person in the congregation should heed the admonition: “Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.” (Heb. 13:7) At times older men may find it necessary to offer Scriptural counsel and to caution fellow believers against being influenced by those who seek their own selfish interests and pleasure rather than the spiritual good of “the flock” as a whole. The firm direction given by Paul at Romans 16:17-19 applies in such cases. He stated: “Now I exhort you, brothers, to keep your eye on those who cause divisions and occasions for stumbling contrary to the teaching that you have learned, and avoid them. For men of that sort are slaves, not of our Lord Christ, but of their own bellies; and by smooth talk and complimentary speech they seduce the hearts of guileless ones. For your obedience has come to the notice of all. I therefore rejoice over you. But I want you to be wise as to what is good, but innocent as to what is evil.”
Laboring in Behalf of “the Flock”
16. (a) What is indicated by the fact that Paul sometimes gave admonition with tears? (b) In showing concern, overseers today work diligently to do what for “the flock”?
16 Because Paul traveled extensively, he had a broad view of what was taking place in the congregations of his time. He knew that there were various problems and dangers. So it is understandable that he should urge the older men of Ephesus to keep awake spiritually. Over a period of three years Paul had demonstrated his love and concern by continuously admonishing them, even with tears. (Acts 20:31) Evidently there was an emotional strain involved in such shepherding. It took something out of Paul to render that watchful and loving attention. It is not surprising, therefore, that overseers today go through a similar experience at times, especially when there are serious problems to handle. (Compare 2 Corinthians 2:4.) In such situations their foremost concern is for “the flock.” They labor diligently to keep it spiritually clean and healthy, free from leaven.—1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:7-10; Titus 2:1.
17. (a) What important point should be learned from Paul’s words at Acts 20:32? (b) Committing persons and their interests to Jehovah allows for what outcome?
17 In committing the Ephesian overseers “to God and to the word of his undeserved kindness,” Paul could feel confident that they were in the best of hands. (Acts 20:32) Likewise today, after overseers have done all that they can in giving counsel and help, or in taking whatever other disciplinary action is Scripturally advisable, they can leave matters in God’s hands. In situations where our dear brothers and sisters in the faith are beset by serious problems, it is always comforting to know that by committing them and their interests to Jehovah in prayer and letting his Word, spirit and organization provide the needed direction, the outcome will be according to his will. Under those circumstances, whatever occurs will be by God’s permission. (Compare 1 Peter 2:23.) Again, this shows concern for “the flock,” for it turns attention to the One who can do the most good in every situation.
18. (a) What was Paul’s view concerning his material provisions? (b) By imitating Paul’s example in this, how do overseers show concern for “the flock”?
18 With a clear conscience, Paul could point to the evidence that he had not sought to enrich himself at the expense of his brothers. He had worked with his own hands and thus had the satisfaction of caring for his necessities. (Acts 20:33, 34) True, when in need he did accept something from the Philippian Christians. He did not seek such gifts, but, rather, the fruitage that is associated with such giving. (Phil. 4:14-17) As Paul was industrious and did not serve for dishonest gain, so overseers of our day can set a fine example by showing that they are not lazy, or that they are not seeking to avoid hard work. Their concern for “the flock” prevents them from becoming a burden on the congregation.—2 Thess. 3:6-10.
19. Acting in harmony with the principle stated at Acts 20:35 has what effect on overseers and the congregation as a whole?
19 Having noted what Paul had exhibited in his own life and service, those Ephesian overseers had something to go by as they endeavored to assist the weak and to give of themselves in building up the congregation. Acting in harmony with the principle that “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving,” present-day Christian overseers furnish a fine example for others. (Acts 20:35) Indeed, they not only give much but are giving unstintingly. Their continuing to do so contributes to the happiness of all in the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Anxiety for All the Congregations”
20. To what extent were Peter and Paul concerned with “the flock”?
20 It is obvious that the fine examples provided by such faithful apostles as Peter and Paul were outstanding. They expended themselves in behalf of fellow Christians and showed deep concern not just for one congregation but for the whole association of their brothers. (1 Pet. 2:17) Despite many inconveniences, problems and trials, the apostles kept the spiritual welfare of “the flock” uppermost in mind.
21. (a) According to 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, what were some of “those things of an external kind” that Paul experienced? (b) How did Paul show his deep concern for others?
21 In writing to fellow believers at Corinth, Paul cited beatings, imprisonments, trying experiences and various dangers that he had encountered in serving as a minister. The apostle then added: “Besides those things of an external kind, there is what rushes in on me from day to day, the anxiety for all the congregations.” (2 Cor. 11:23-28) We can only imagine the pressures Paul had and the concern he felt for “all the congregations,” for he kept in touch with a number of Christian associates. (2 Tim. 4:9-13) He traveled extensively in the course of his missionary tours and made a number of return visits to the congregations. (Acts 15:36) His activities in behalf of others were demanding indeed. He gave talks for extended periods and regularly witnessed in synagogues, public places and from house to house. (Acts 17:2; 19:9, 10; 20:20) To care for his material needs and to avoid burdening the congregation, it was necessary for Paul to engage in secular work. (Acts 18:1-3; 2 Thess. 3:8, 9) Obviously, the apostle also spent considerable time studying God’s Word, and the knowledge thus acquired doubtless served him well when he was divinely inspired to write some 14 of the 27 books comprising the Christian Greek Scriptures. Truly, Paul was a very busy man, but he carried on, always displaying great concern for “the flock.”
22, 23. (a) In our time, what are some ways in which provision is made for the “flock of God”? (b) All these provisions furnish evidence of what, and how should we be affected thereby?
22 There is a vast amount of work being done today in behalf of the “flock of God.” With over 42,000 congregations of Jehovah’s people, think of the attention that must be given to their needs. A regular flow of spiritual food is being provided by the “faithful and discreet slave.” (Matt. 24:45-47) Programs for congregation meetings, circuit assemblies and district conventions are arranged regularly to enable Christians to come together for spiritually upbuilding study, worship and association. (Heb. 10:23-25) Traveling overseers are sent to visit and care for the special needs of all the congregations (Compare Acts 16:4, 5.) Communications containing counsel and encouragement are sent to congregations and bodies of elders. (Compare Philippians 1:1; 1 Peter 5:12; Jude 3.) Other arrangements, too numerous to mention, are made to benefit the “flock of God” spiritually and otherwise.
23 This work involves a tremendous amount of time, effort and expense. But of what is it an evidence? It shows that Jehovah cares for his people. Through his Son, the Fine Shepherd, God demonstrates superb shepherding ability. (Isa. 40:10, 11) Tens of thousands of undershepherds have been appointed by holy spirit and they are sharing in shepherding the “flock of God.” All of this shows loving concern for “the flock” as a whole and for the individuals that make up “the flock.” May we personally display heartfelt appreciation for the love shown by the Great Shepherd, Jehovah God, and his Son, Jesus Christ, in all their tender care for us.
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“Feed My Little Sheep”