Elders—Treat God’s Flock With Tenderness!
“We became gentle in the midst of you, as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children.”—1 THESSALONIANS 2:7.
1. Why can every loyal Witness of Jehovah feel secure?
JEHOVAH is the Great Shepherd. He makes abundant provision for his sheeplike servants and leads them “in the tracks of righteousness” for the sake of his holy name. Hence, those doing his will need fear nothing bad and can look to their compassionate God for comfort. Indeed, every loyal Witness of Jehovah has sound reason to feel secure in God’s loving care.—Psalm 23:1-4.
2. As the reflection of God’s glory, what qualities does Jesus display?
2 Jesus Christ “is the reflection of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of his very being.” (Hebrews 1:1-4) So Jesus, the Fine Shepherd, also displays love and compassion. (John 10:14, 15) For instance, on one occasion “he saw a great crowd, but he was moved with pity for them, because they were as sheep without a shepherd. And he started to teach them many things.”—Mark 6:34.
3. (a) Like Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, Christian undershepherds should display what qualities? (b) What counsel and warning did the apostle Paul give overseers?
3 All Christians should ‘imitate God and go on walking in love just as Christ loved them.’ (Ephesians 5:1, 2) So they should be loving and compassionate. Especially should this be true of undershepherds of God’s flock. The apostle 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. 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 20:28-30.
4. (a) In time, what happened in keeping with Paul’s warning at Acts 20:29, 30? (b) What questions now merit consideration?
4 In time, apostate “oppressive wolves” appeared and did “not treat the flock with tenderness.” But how glad we are that elders among Jehovah’s Witnesses do not practice such tyranny! Yet, what kind of treatment can fellow believers expect to receive from these spirit-appointed overseers? And how can such appointees show tender regard for Jehovah’s sheep?
Not to Lord It Over the Flock
5. (a) How do worldly leaders often treat their subjects? (b) How did Jesus show that tyranny has no place among his followers?
5 We can rightly expect Christian elders to treat us in a compassionate way. They are not like worldly rulers, who often lord it over their subjects. For instance, it is reported that the Frankish king Charlemagne (who ruled 768-814 C.E.) “compelled the Saxons, under pain of death, to receive baptism, condemned to the severest punishments the breakers of Lent, and everywhere substituted force for persuasion.” (The History of the Christian Church, by William Jones) Tyranny has no place among Jesus’ followers, for he said: “You know that the rulers of the heathen lord it over them, and their great men tyrannize over them. It is not to be so among you, but whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to hold the first place among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man has come not to be waited on, but to wait on other people, and to give his life to ransom many others.”—Matthew 20:25-28, An American Translation.
6. (a) As regards elders, what basic factors stand out? (b) The congregation has reason to expect what of elders, and how should these men view themselves?
6 A Christian man who is ‘reaching out for an office of overseer is desirous of a fine work.’ (1 Timothy 3:1) When we consider this and Jesus’ counsel just cited, these basic factors stand out: (1) Christian elders must not tyrannize over others; (2) those shouldering responsibility among Jesus’ followers must be their slaves, not their masters; and (3) men reaching out for an overseer’s office should look upon it as “a fine work,” not as an exalted position. (Proverbs 25:27; 1 Corinthians 1:31) The term “elder” does not elevate any man above other worshipers of Jehovah. Rather, the congregation has reason to expect all elders to be spiritually mature, experienced, and humble men who take the lead in sacred service. Indeed, elders should view themselves as humble slaves of Jehovah God, Jesus Christ, and fellow Christians.—Romans 12:11; Galatians 5:13; Colossians 3:24.
7. (a) How should elders apply 2 Corinthians 1:24 in dealing with others? (b) What should elders do about instructions received from the Governing Body?
7 Humbly slaving in behalf of others naturally restrains an elder from trying to “lord it over” them. And how good it is that our overseers display an attitude similar to that of Paul! He told Christians at Corinth: ‘We are not the masters over your faith, but we are fellow workers for your joy.’ (2 Corinthians 1:24) Accordingly, those who exercise loving oversight do not burden fellow believers with unnecessary human regulations. Instead, overseers among Jehovah’s Witnesses are governed by Scriptural principles and render kind, helpful service. They also show deep regard for God’s flock by quickly applying instructions received from the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Acts, chapter 15.
8. What attitude did Paul have toward fellow believers, and how should this affect 20th-century elders?
8 Because Paul had tender regard for God’s flock, he could tell Christians at Thessalonica: “We became gentle in the midst of you, as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, having a tender affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not only the good news of God, but also our own souls, because you became beloved to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7, 8) Paul acted as does a nursing mother, who loves her children so deeply that she puts their interests ahead of her own and has tender regard for them. How this should move 20th-century elders to treat God’s flock with tenderness!
Sources of Relief and Refreshment
9. What circumstances of Jehovah’s present-day people were foretold at Isaiah 32:1, 2?
9 Pointing to this day of Kingdom rule by Jesus Christ, the prophet Isaiah foretold that a king would “reign for righteousness itself” and “princes” would rule “for justice itself.” Hence, elders in the present-day theocratic organization are handling the interests of the established heavenly Kingdom—princely service indeed! To these responsible men apply Isaiah’s further prophetic words: “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.”—Isaiah 32:1, 2.
10. Each elder among Jehovah’s Witnesses should be a source of what?
10 Unlike Christendom’s oppressive religious leaders, elders among Jehovah’s Witnesses are sources of relief and refreshment. As bodies of older men, they promote peace, tranquillity, and security among Jehovah’s people. Individually, each elder can contribute to this fine condition by treating God’s flock with tenderness.
With Justice and Righteousness
11. (a) What general state existing among first-century Christians prevails in most congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses today? (b) Overseers have what responsibility toward the congregation, and why?
11 Although problems arose in some first-century Christian congregations, their general state was that of peace, unity, and joy. (1 Corinthians 1:10-12; 3:5-9; Ephesians 1:2; James 2:1-9; 3:2-12; 4:11, 12; 1 John 1:3, 4) A fine spiritual condition also exists in most congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses today because of God’s blessing, Christ’s leadership, and the faithful work of appointed overseers. To ensure congregational peace, unity, and joy, these men seek divine help and diligently strive to keep God’s organization clean, morally and spiritually. (Isaiah 52:11) An unclean organization could never be peaceful and joyous, and it surely would not have God’s approval and blessing. He is “too pure in eyes to see what is bad,” to tolerate wrongdoing. (Habakkuk 1:13) Among other things, then, elders are expected to care for judicial matters in an upright, Scriptural manner. But what are some factors to remember when handling such cases?
12. Although elders are not required to look into personal affairs that do not violate Bible laws or principles, what should be done in view of Galatians 6:1?
12 For one thing, in cases involving personal differences, it may be possible for individuals to settle matters privately. (Matthew 18:15-17) Since elders are not ‘masters over our faith,’ they are not expected to look into purely personal affairs that do not involve serious violations of Bible laws or principles. Naturally, if there is evidence that a person has taken “some false step before he is aware of it,” those having spiritual qualifications should “try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.”—Galatians 6:1.
13. How do the Scriptures show that elders should act only on evidence of wrongdoing, not on hearsay?
13 Elders are to serve “for justice itself,” always being impartial. So they should act on evidence of wrongdoing, not on mere hearsay. Paul counseled: “Do not admit an accusation against an older man, except only on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:19) According to Jehovah’s standard, in ancient Israel a person charged with a capital sin was to be put to death ‘at the mouth of two or three witnesses, not one.’ Moreover, the accused apparently had the opportunity to face his accusers, and if the evidence was adequate, ‘the hand of the witnesses first of all was to come upon him to put him to death.’—Deuteronomy 17:6, 7.
14. (a) What did Diotrephes wrongly try to do? (b) God expects what of elders when they are handling judicial matters?
14 There must be a sound Scriptural basis for judicial action. How glad we are that congregation overseers are not like proud Diotrephes of the first century C.E.! He wrongly tried “to throw out of the congregation” those wishing to receive traveling brothers hospitably. The apostle John did not view this and other misdeeds lightly but warned: “If I come, I will call to remembrance his works.” (3 John 9, 10) Thus, a present-day judicial committee must be sure that there is a Biblical basis for any disfellowshipping action they take.* Of course, God expects Christian elders to be just in dealing with others. Indeed, those administering the affairs of Jehovah’s earthly organization must be “capable men, fearing God, trustworthy men.”—Exodus 18:21.
15. What role should prayer play at judicial hearings?
15 Every Christian judicial committee should seek Jehovah’s help in heartfelt prayer. A meeting with a brother or a sister accused of serious wrongdoing should be opened with prayer. In fact, it would be proper to pray at any time during the discussion that a particular need for God’s help should arise.—James 5:13-18.
16. In what manner should elders conduct judicial hearings, and why?
16 Elders know that a fellow believer accused of wrongdoing is a “sheep” in God’s flock and should be treated with tenderness. (Compare Ezekiel 34:7-14.) Literal sheep need tender care, for they are timid creatures dependent on their shepherd for protection. So, what about the figurative sheep in the local congregation? They undoubtedly feel secure in the care of the Great Shepherd, Jehovah God, and the Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ. But undershepherds of the flock must act in ways that contribute to the inner peace and sense of security of sheeplike servants of Jehovah. If you are a Christian undershepherd, then, do your brothers and sisters feel secure and tranquil in your care? True, elders must firmly uphold Bible laws and principles. But they are Scripturally required to deal with the sheep in a loving way and to conduct judicial hearings in a calm, orderly, kind, and considerate manner.
17. What Scriptural points should elders keep in mind, especially during judicial hearings?
17 Being imperfect, “we all stumble many times” in what we say. (James 3:2) Each one of us needs God’s mercy and Christ’s “propitiatory sacrifice.” (1 John 1:8–2:2; Psalm 130:3) So a Christian undershepherd ought to take a humble view of himself. He should also remember Jesus’ words: “Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.” (Luke 6:31) Especially should this counsel be applied during judicial hearings. Spiritually qualified men should try to readjust an erring Christian ‘in a spirit of mildness, as they each keep an eye on themselves, for fear they also may be tempted.’—Galatians 6:1; 1 Corinthians 10:12.
18. (a) What might result if elders treated others harshly during judicial hearings? (b) In view of Mark 9:42, against doing what should elders and other Christians be on guard?
18 If elders were to treat others harshly during judicial hearings, this might prove harmful to such individuals. But even if emotional or physical harm did not result, there could be grave spiritual injury, and the qualifications of the overseers could also be called into question. (Compare James 2:13.) Hence, during judicial hearings and at all other times, elders should be kind and must guard against stumbling others. Of course, all Christians need to exercise care in this regard, for Jesus said: “Whoever stumbles one of these little ones that believe, it would be finer for him if a millstone such as is turned by an ass were put around his neck and he were actually pitched into the sea.” (Mark 9:42) An upper millstone could be so large that an animal’s strength was normally needed to turn it, and nobody cast into the sea with such a weight around his neck could survive. Surely, then, an elder should be careful not to cause stumbling that could result in lasting spiritual harm to himself and any individual thus stumbled.—Philippians 1:9-11.
Continue Showing Tender Regard
19. What counsel did Peter give fellow elders, and what bearing does properly responding to it have on their prospects?
19 The apostle Peter showed how fellow overseers were to shepherd the flock when he wrote: “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 Peter 5:2-4) Only by applying such counsel and by manifesting tender regard for the flock of God can anointed overseers obtain their heavenly reward as immortal spirit creatures and can elders with earthly hopes receive eternal life in the coming global Paradise.
20. (a) How must Christian undershepherds deal with their fellow believers? (b) How do you feel about the exemplary service and tender care of loving elders?
20 Both Jehovah God and Jesus Christ are loving, compassionate Shepherds. So while Christian undershepherds firmly uphold divine standards, they must show love and compassion in dealing with their sheeplike fellow believers. Surely, all loyal Witnesses of Jehovah deeply appreciate the exemplary service of such self-sacrificing elders who guard their trust and treat God’s flock with tenderness. That appreciation, along with proper respect, can be shown by being obedient to those taking the lead among us.
A person can appeal a decision to disfellowship him if he believes that a serious error in judgment has been made.
What Is Your Thought?
□ How did Jesus Christ show that tyranny has no place among his followers?
□ What should elders do when instructions are received from the Governing Body?
□ According to Isaiah 32:1, 2, elders should be sources of what?
□ How do the Scriptures show that elders should not act on mere hearsay?
□ How should Christian undershepherds treat the flock?
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Heartfelt prayer is vital when a judicial committee meets with a fellow believer