Elders, Judge With Righteousness
“When having a hearing between your brothers, you must judge with righteousness.”—DEUTERONOMY 1:16.
1. In the matter of judgment, what delegation of authority has taken place, and what does this imply for human judges?
AS SUPREME Judge, Jehovah has delegated judicial authority to his Son. (John 5:27) In turn, as Head of the Christian congregation, Christ uses the faithful and discreet slave class and its Governing Body to appoint elders, who at times have to act as judges. (Matthew 24:45-47; 1 Corinthians 5:12, 13; Titus 1:5, 9) As surrogate judges, these are under an obligation to follow closely the example of the heavenly Judges, Jehovah and Christ Jesus.
Christ—The Exemplary Judge
2, 3. (a) What Messianic prophecy reveals Christ’s qualities as Judge? (b) What points are particularly worthy of note?
2 Of Christ as Judge, it was written prophetically: “Upon him the spirit of Jehovah must settle down, the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of mightiness, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah; and there will be enjoyment by him in the fear of Jehovah. And he will not judge by any mere appearance to his eyes, nor reprove simply according to the thing heard by his ears. And with righteousness he must judge the lowly ones, and with uprightness he must give reproof in behalf of the meek ones of the earth.”—Isaiah 11:2-4.
3 Note in that prophecy the qualities that enable Christ to “judge the inhabited earth in righteousness.” (Acts 17:31) He judges in accordance with Jehovah’s spirit, divine wisdom, understanding, counsel, and knowledge. Notice, too, that he judges in the fear of Jehovah. Thus, “the judgment seat of the Christ” is, representatively, “the judgment seat of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10) He is careful to judge matters the way God judges them. (John 8:16) He does not judge simply by appearances or by mere hearsay. He judges with uprightness in behalf of the meek and the lowly ones. What a wonderful Judge! And what a wonderful example for imperfect humans who are called upon to act in a judicial capacity today!
4. (a) What will be one of the functions of the 144,000 during the Millennial Reign of Christ? (b) What prophecy shows that some anointed Christians would be appointed as judges while still on earth?
4 The Scriptures indicate that the relatively small number of anointed Christians, beginning with the 12 apostles, will be associate judges with Christ Jesus during the Millennium. (Luke 22:28-30; 1 Corinthians 6:2; Revelation 20:4) A remnant of anointed members of spiritual Israel on earth were themselves judged and restored in 1918-19. (Malachi 3:2-4) Concerning this restoration of spiritual Israel, it was prophesied: “I will bring back again judges for you as at the first, and counselors for you as at the start.” (Isaiah 1:26) Thus, just as he had done “at the start” of fleshly Israel, Jehovah has given the restored remnant righteous judges and counselors.
5. (a) Who were “put in as judges” after the restoration of spiritual Israel, and how are they depicted in the book of Revelation? (b) By whom are anointed overseers now being assisted in judicial work, and how are these being trained to become better judges?
5 To begin with, the ‘wise men’ who were “put in as judges” were all anointed older men, or elders. (1 Corinthians 6:4, 5) Faithful, respected anointed overseers are depicted in the book of Revelation as being held in Jesus’ right hand, that is, under his control and direction. (Revelation 1:16, 20; 2:1) Since 1935 the anointed have received the loyal support of an ever-increasing “great crowd,” whose hope is to survive “the great tribulation” and live forever on a paradise earth. (Revelation 7:9, 10, 14-17) As “the marriage of the Lamb” approaches, more and more of these are being appointed by the anointed Governing Body to serve as elders and judges in the upwards of 66,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the earth.* (Revelation 19:7-9) By means of special schools, they are being trained to handle responsibility in the “new earth” society. (2 Peter 3:13) The Kingdom Ministry School, conducted at the end of 1991 in many countries, placed emphasis on the proper handling of judicial cases. Elders who serve as judges are duty bound to imitate Jehovah and Christ Jesus, whose judgments are true and righteous.—John 5:30; 8:16; Revelation 19:1, 2.
Judges Who ‘Conduct Themselves With Fear’
6. Why should elders who serve on judicial committees ‘conduct themselves with fear’?
6 If Christ himself judges in the fear of Jehovah and with the help of His spirit, how much more should imperfect elders do so! When assigned to serve on a judicial committee, they need to ‘conduct themselves with fear,’ calling “upon the Father who judges impartially” to help them judge in righteousness. (1 Peter 1:17) They should remember that they are dealing with people’s lives, their “souls,” as those who “will render an account.” (Hebrews 13:17) In view of this, surely they will also be accountable before Jehovah for any avoidable judicial mistakes they may make. In his commentary on Hebrews 13:17, J. H. A. Ebrard wrote: “It is the duty of the shepherd to watch over the souls committed to his care, and . . . he must render an account of them all, of those also who have been lost through his fault. This is a solemn word. Let every minister of the word consider, that he has voluntarily undertaken this awfully [formidably] responsible office.”—Compare John 17:12; James 3:1.
7. (a) What should modern-day judges remember, and what should be their aim? (b) What lessons should elders draw from Matthew 18:18-20?
7 Elders acting in a judicial capacity should remember that the real Judges of each case are Jehovah and Christ Jesus. Recall what the judges in Israel were told: “It is not for man that you judge but it is for Jehovah; and he is with you in the matter of judgment. And now let the dread of Jehovah come to be upon you. . . . This is how you should do that you may not incur guilt.” (2 Chronicles 19:6-10) With reverential fear, the elders judging a case should do their utmost to be sure that Jehovah is really ‘with them in the matter of judgment.’ Their decision should accurately reflect the way Jehovah and Christ consider the matter. What they symbolically ‘bind’ (find guilty) or ‘loose’ (find innocent) on earth should be what has already been bound or loosed in heaven—as revealed by what is written in the inspired Word of God. If they pray to Jehovah in Jesus’ name, Jesus will be “in their midst” to help them. (Matthew 18:18-20, footnote; The Watchtower, February 15, 1988, page 9) The atmosphere at a judicial hearing should show that Christ is truly in their midst.
8 Elders do not judge full-time. They are full-time shepherds. They are healers, not punishers. (James 5:13-16) The basic idea behind the Greek word for overseer (e·piʹsko·pos) is that of protective care. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament states: “Supplementing shepherd [at 1 Peter 2:25], the term [e·piʹsko·pos] suggests the pastoral work of watching over or guarding.” Yes, their primary responsibility is watching over the sheep and guarding them, keeping them inside the flock.
9, 10. (a) How did Paul emphasize the first duty of elders, so what question might well be posed? (b) What do Paul’s words at Acts 20:29 imply, so how may elders try to reduce the number of judicial cases?
9 Speaking to the elders of the Ephesus congregation, the apostle Paul put the emphasis where it belongs: “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 highlights shepherding, not punishing. Some elders might do well to ponder over the following question: ‘Could we save the considerable amount of time needed to investigate and handle judicial cases if we devoted more time and effort to shepherding?’
10 True, Paul warned against “oppressive wolves.” But did he not reproach these for ‘not treating the flock with tenderness’? (Acts 20:29) And while he implied that the faithful overseers should expel these “wolves,” do his words not show that the elders should treat the other members of the flock “with tenderness”? When a sheep becomes spiritually weak and falls by the wayside, what does he or she need—beating or healing, punishing or shepherding? (James 5:14, 15) Therefore, elders should regularly schedule time for the shepherding work. This may bring the happy result of less time spent in time-consuming judicial cases involving Christians who have been overtaken by sin. Certainly, the elders’ first concern should be to provide a source of relief and refreshment, thus promoting peace, tranquillity, and security among Jehovah’s people.—Isaiah 32:1, 2.
Serving as Beneficent Shepherds and Judges
11. Why do elders who serve on judicial committees need impartiality and “the wisdom from above”?
11 More intensive shepherding before a Christian takes a false step might well reduce the number of judicial cases among Jehovah’s people. (Compare Galatians 6:1.) Nevertheless, because of human sin and imperfection, Christian overseers may from time to time have to deal with cases of wrongdoing. What principles should guide them? These have not changed since the time of Moses or that of the early Christians. Moses’ words addressed to the judges in Israel are still valid: “When having a hearing between your brothers, you must judge with righteousness . . . You must not be partial in judgment.” (Deuteronomy 1:16, 17) Impartiality is a characteristic of “the wisdom from above,” the wisdom that is so vital for elders serving on judicial committees. (James 3:17; Proverbs 24:23) Such wisdom will help them to discern the difference between weakness and wickedness.
12. In what sense do judges need to be not only righteous men but good men?
12 Elders “must judge with righteousness,” in accordance with Jehovah’s standards of right and wrong. (Psalm 19:9) Yet, while endeavoring to be righteous men, they should also try to be good men, in the sense of the distinction Paul makes at Romans 5:7, 8. Commenting on these verses in its article on “Righteousness,” the work Insight on the Scriptures states: “The use of the Greek term shows that the person noteworthy for, or distinguished by, goodness is one who is benevolent (disposed to do good or bring benefit to others) and beneficent (actively expressing such goodness). He is not merely concerned with doing what justice requires but goes beyond this, being motivated by wholesome consideration for others and the desire to benefit and help them.” (Volume 2, page 809) Elders who are not only righteous but also good will treat wrongdoers with kind consideration. (Romans 2:4) They should want to show mercy and compassion. They should do what they can to help the wrongdoer to see the need to repent, even though he may at first seem not to respond to their efforts.
Proper Attitude at Hearings
13. (a) When an elder acts as a judge, what does he not cease to be? (b) What counsel by Paul applies also at judicial hearings?
13 When a situation requires a judicial hearing, overseers should not forget that they are still shepherds, dealing with Jehovah’s sheep, under “the fine shepherd.” (John 10:11) The counsel Paul gave for regular help given to sheep who are in difficulty applies with equal force at judicial hearings. He wrote: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted. Go on carrying the burdens of one another, and thus fulfill the law of the Christ.”—Galatians 6:1, 2.*
14. How should overseers view judicial hearings, and what should be their attitude toward a wrongdoer?
14 Rather than considering themselves to be superior judges meeting to administer punishment, elders serving on a judicial committee should view the hearing as another aspect of their shepherding work. One of Jehovah’s sheep is in trouble. What can they do to save him or her? Is it too late to help this sheep that has strayed from the flock? We would hope not. Elders should keep a positive view toward showing mercy where this would be proper. It is not that they should lower Jehovah’s standards if a serious sin has been committed. But their being conscious of any mitigating circumstances will help them to extend mercy where possible. (Psalm 103:8-10; 130:3) Sad to say, some wrongdoers are so stubborn in their attitude that the elders are obliged to show firmness, though never harshness.—1 Corinthians 5:13.
The Purpose of Judicial Hearings
15. When a serious problem arises between individuals, what should first be determined?
15 When a serious problem arises between individuals, wise elders will first determine whether those involved have tried to settle the matter privately, in the spirit of Matthew 5:23, 24 or Matthew 18:15. If this has failed, perhaps counsel by one or two elders will suffice. Judicial action is necessary only if a gross sin has been committed that could lead to disfellowshipping. (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:11) There must be a sound Scriptural basis for forming a judicial committee. (See The Watchtower, September 15, 1989, page 18.) When one is formed, the best qualified elders should be selected for the particular case.
16. What do elders try to achieve by means of judicial hearings?
16 What do elders try to achieve by means of judicial hearings? First, it is impossible to judge with righteousness unless the truth is known. As in Israel, serious matters must be ‘searched thoroughly.’ (Deuteronomy 13:14; 17:4) So one aim of a hearing is to find out the facts of the case. But this can and should be done with love. (1 Corinthians 13:4, 6, 7) Once the facts are known, the elders will do whatever is necessary to protect the congregation and maintain within it Jehovah’s high standards and the free flow of his spirit. (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8) However, one of the purposes of a hearing is to save, if at all possible, an endangered sinner.—Compare Luke 15:8-10.
17. (a) How should an accused person be treated during a hearing, and with what purpose? (b) What will this require on the part of the members of the judicial committee?
17 An accused person should never be treated otherwise than as a sheep of God. He or she should be treated with tenderness. If a sin (or sins) has been committed, the purpose of the righteous judges will be to help the sinner to readjust, to understand the error of his way, to repent, and thus to be snatched from “the snare of the Devil.” It will require “art of teaching,” “instructing with mildness.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26; 4:2) What if the sinner then recognizes that he has sinned, is truly stabbed to the heart, and asks Jehovah for forgiveness? (Compare Acts 2:37.) If the committee is convinced that he sincerely wants help, generally there would be no need to disfellowship him.—See The Watchtower, January 1, 1983, page 31, paragraph 1.
18. (a) When should a judicial committee show firmness in disfellowshipping a wrongdoer? (b) In view of what heartrending situation should elders exert themselves in behalf of straying sheep?
18 On the other hand, when members of a judicial committee are confronted with a clear case of remorseless apostasy, willful rebellion against Jehovah’s laws, or sheer wickedness, their duty is to protect the other members of the congregation by disfellowshipping the unrepentant offender. The judicial committee is not obliged to meet repeatedly with the wrongdoer or put words in his mouth, trying to force him to repent, if it is obvious he lacks godly sorrow.* In recent years disfellowshippings worldwide have been approximately 1 percent of publishers. That means that out of about a hundred sheep that remain in the fold, one is lost—at least temporarily. Considering the time and effort it takes to bring a person into the fold, is it not heartrending to know that tens of thousands are ‘handed back to Satan’ every year?—1 Corinthians 5:5.
19. What should elders serving on a judicial committee never forget, so what will be their aim?
19 Elders starting out on a judicial case should remember that most cases of sin in the congregation involve weakness, not wickedness. They should never forget Jesus’ illustration of the lost sheep, which he concluded with the words: “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 15:7) Truly, “Jehovah . . . does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) With Jehovah’s help, may judicial committees throughout the world do their utmost to cause joy in heaven by helping wrongdoers see the need to repent and start their feet back on the narrow road that leads to everlasting life.—Matthew 7:13, 14.
For the position of elders from among the other sheep with regard to Christ’s right hand, see the book Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand!, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., page 136, footnote.
□ Following the example of the Great Shepherd and the Fine Shepherd, what should be the main interest of the elders?
□ In what way can elders endeavor to reduce the number of judicial cases?
□ In what sense do judges need to be not only righteous but also good?
□ How should a wrongdoer be treated during a hearing, and with what purpose?
□ Why is disfellowshipping a last resort?
[Picture on page 16]
Where advance shepherding is done, many judicial cases may be avoided
[Picture on page 18]
Even during a judicial hearing, elders should try to readjust a wrongdoer in a spirit of mildness