Shepherding God’s Flock With Love
“Shepherd the flock of God in your care.”—1 PETER 5:2.
1, 2. What is Jehovah’s dominant quality, and how does it manifest itself?
THROUGHOUT the Holy Scriptures, it is made plain that love is God’s dominant quality. “God is love,” states 1 John 4:8. Since his love is expressed in action, 1 Peter 5:7 says that God “cares for you.” In the Bible the way that Jehovah cares for his people is likened to the way that a loving shepherd tenderly cares for his sheep: “Look! The Sovereign Lord Jehovah himself . . . will shepherd his own drove. With his arm he will collect together the lambs; and in his bosom he will carry them. Those giving suck he will conduct with care.” (Isaiah 40:10, 11) How comforted David was to be able to say: “Jehovah is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing”!—Psalm 23:1.
2 It is appropriate that the Bible likens people whom God favors to sheep, for sheep are peaceful, submissive, obedient to their caring shepherd. As a loving Shepherd, Jehovah deeply cares for his sheeplike people. He shows it by providing for them materially and spiritually and by guiding them through the difficult “last days” of this evil world toward his incoming righteous new world.—2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13; Matthew 6:31-34; 10:28-31; 2 Peter 3:13.
3. How did the psalmist describe the way Jehovah cares for his sheep?
3 Note Jehovah’s loving care for his sheep: “The eyes of Jehovah are toward the righteous ones, and his ears are toward their cry for help. . . . They cried out, and Jehovah himself heard, and out of all their distresses he delivered them. Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. Many are the calamities of the righteous one, but out of them all Jehovah delivers him.” (Psalm 34:15-19) What great comfort the Universal Shepherd provides for his sheeplike people!
The Fine Shepherd’s Example
4. What is the role of Jesus in caring for God’s flock?
4 God’s Son, Jesus, learned well from his Father, for the Bible calls Jesus “the fine shepherd.” (John 10:11-16) His vital service to God’s flock is noted in Revelation chapter 7. In Re 7 verse 9, God’s servants of our day are called “a great crowd . . . out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” Then Re 7 verse 17 states: “The Lamb [Jesus] . . . will shepherd them, and will guide them to fountains of waters of life. And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes.” Jesus guides God’s sheep to the waters of truth that lead to everlasting life. (John 17:3) Note that Jesus is called “the Lamb,” indicating his own sheeplike qualities, he being the chief example of submissiveness to God.
5. How did Jesus feel about people?
5 On earth Jesus walked among the people and saw their pathetic condition. How did he respond to their plight? “He felt pity for them, because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) Sheep without a shepherd suffer greatly at the hands of predators, as do sheep who have uncaring shepherds. But Jesus cared very much, for he said: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.”—Matthew 11:28-30.
6. What consideration did Jesus show for the downtrodden?
6 Bible prophecy foretold that Jesus would deal lovingly with people: “Jehovah has anointed me . . . to bind up the brokenhearted, . . . to comfort all the mourning ones.” (Isaiah 61:1, 2; Luke 4:17-21) Never did Jesus look down upon the poor and unfortunate. Rather, he fulfilled Isaiah 42:3: “No crushed reed will he break; and as for a dim flaxen wick, he will not extinguish it.” (Compare Matthew 12:17-21.) Afflicted ones were like crushed reeds, like lamp wicks about to go out for lack of fuel. Recognizing their pitiable state, Jesus showed them compassion and infused them with strength and hope, healing them spiritually and physically.—Matthew 4:23.
7. Where did Jesus direct people who responded to him?
7 Sheeplike people responded to Jesus in droves. So appealing was his teaching that officers who were sent out to arrest him reported: “Never has another man spoken like this.” (John 7:46) Why, the hypocritical religious leaders complained: “The world has gone after him”! (John 12:19) But Jesus did not want honor or glory for himself. He directed people to his Father. He taught them to serve Jehovah out of love for His admirable qualities: “You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole strength and with your whole mind.”—Luke 10:27, 28.
8. How is the obedience that God’s people give to him different from what others give to worldly rulers?
8 Jehovah glories in that his universal sovereignty is supported by his sheeplike people, based on their love for him. They willingly choose to serve him because of their knowledge of his lovable qualities. How different from this world’s leaders whose subjects obey them only out of fear, or begrudgingly, or because they have some ulterior motive! Never could it be said of Jehovah or of Jesus what was said of a pope of the Roman Catholic Church: “He was admired by many, feared by all, loved by none.”—Vicars of Christ—The Dark Side of the Papacy, by Peter De Rosa.
Cruel Shepherds in Israel
9, 10. Describe the leaders of ancient Israel and of the first century.
9 Unlike Jesus, the religious leaders of Israel in his day had no love for the sheep. They were like the earlier rulers in Israel of whom Jehovah had said: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have become feeders of themselves! Is it not the flock that the shepherds ought to 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.”—Ezekiel 34:2-4.
10 Like those political shepherds, the Jewish religious leaders of the first century were hardhearted. (Luke 11:47-52) To illustrate this, Jesus told of a Jew who had been robbed, beaten, and left half-dead on the roadside. An Israelite priest came by, but upon seeing the Jew, he went by on the opposite side of the road. A Levite did the same. Then a non-Israelite, a despised Samaritan, came by and took pity on the victim. He bound up his wounds, took him upon a beast to an inn, and cared for him. He paid the innkeeper and said he would be back to pay any additional costs.—Luke 10:30-37.
11, 12. (a) How did the wickedness of the religious leaders reach a peak in Jesus’ day? (b) What did the Romans finally do to the religious leaders?
11 So corrupt were the religious leaders of Jesus’ day that when Jesus resurrected Lazarus from the dead, the chief priests and the Pharisees called the Sanhedrin together and said: “What are we to do, because this man [Jesus] performs many signs? If we let him alone this way, they will all put faith in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:47, 48) They did not care about the good that Jesus had done in behalf of the dead man. They were concerned about their positions. So “from that day on they took counsel to kill [Jesus].”—John 11:53.
12 To compound their wickedness, the chief priests then “took counsel to kill Lazarus also, because on account of him many of the Jews were going there and putting faith in Jesus.” (John 12:10, 11) Their selfish efforts to protect their positions were of no avail, for Jesus had told them: “Your house is abandoned to you.” (Matthew 23:38) True to those words, in that generation the Romans came and took away ‘their place and their nation,’ and their lives as well.
Loving Shepherds in the Christian Congregation
13. Whom did Jehovah promise to send to shepherd his flock?
13 Instead of the cruel, selfish shepherds, Jehovah would raise up the Fine Shepherd, Jesus, to care for His flock. He also promised to raise up loving undershepherds to care for the sheep: “I will raise up over them shepherds who will actually shepherd them; and they will be afraid no more.” (Jeremiah 23:4) Thus, as in first-century Christian congregations so today, “appointments of older men in city after city” are made. (Titus 1:5) These spiritually older men who meet the qualifications set out in the Scriptures are to “shepherd the flock of God.”—1 Peter 5:2; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9.
14, 15. (a) What attitude did the disciples find it difficult to develop? (b) What did Jesus do to show them that elders should be humble servants?
14 In caring for the sheep, elders must “above all things” have “intense love” for them. (1 Peter 4:8) But the disciples of Jesus, being too concerned about prestige and position, had to learn this. So when the mother of two disciples said to Jesus: “Give the word that these my two sons may sit down, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom,” the other disciples became indignant. Jesus said to them: “The rulers of the nations lord it over them and the great men wield authority over them. This is not the way among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.”—Matthew 20:20-28.
15 On another occasion, after the disciples “had argued among themselves who is greater,” Jesus said to them: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and minister of all.” (Mark 9:34, 35) Lowliness of mind and a willingness to serve had to become part of their personality. Yet the disciples kept having difficulty with those ideas, for the very night before Jesus died, at his last evening meal, “a heated dispute” arose among them over who was the greatest! That occurred despite Jesus’ having shown them how an elder must serve the flock; he had humbled himself and washed their feet. He said: “If I, although Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another. For I set the pattern for you, that, just as I did to you, you should do also.”—Luke 22:24; John 13:14, 15.
16. In 1899, what comments did the Watch Tower make on the most important quality of elders?
16 Jehovah’s Witnesses have always taught that elders must be like this. Nearly a century ago, the April 1, 1899, Watch Tower noted Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 and then said: “The Apostle points out distinctly that knowledge and oratory are not the most vital tests, but that love permeating the heart and extending out through all the course of life, and actuating and operating our mortal bodies, is the real test—the real proof of our divine relationship. . . . The leading characteristic to be looked for in every one accepted as a servant of the church, to minister in holy things, should be first of all the spirit of love.” It noted that men who would not humbly serve out of love “are unsafe teachers, and are likely to do more harm than good.”—1 Corinthians 8:1.
17. How does the Bible emphasize the qualities elders must have?
17 Thus, older men must not ‘lord it over’ the sheep. (1 Peter 5:3) Instead, they are to take the lead in being “kind to one another, tenderly compassionate.” (Ephesians 4:32) Paul emphasized: “Clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering. . . . But, besides all these things, clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union.”—Colossians 3:12-14.
18. (a) What fine example did Paul set in dealing with the sheep? (b) Why must elders not ignore the needs of the sheep?
18 Paul learned to do this, saying: “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) In harmony with that, he said: “Speak consolingly to the depressed souls, support the weak, be long-suffering toward all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Regardless of the type of problem the sheep may bring to them, elders should remember Proverbs 21:13: “As for anyone stopping up his ear from the complaining cry of the lowly one, he himself also will call and not be answered.”
19. Why are loving elders a blessing, and how do the sheep respond to such love?
19 Older men who lovingly shepherd the flock are a blessing to the sheep. Isaiah 32:2 foretold: “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.” We are happy to know that many of our elders today fit into that beautiful picture of refreshment. They have learned to apply the following principle: “In brotherly love have tender affection for one another. In showing honor to one another take the lead.” (Romans 12:10) When elders show this kind of love and humility, the sheep respond by giving them “more than extraordinary consideration in love because of their work.”—1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13.
Respect the Use of Free Will
20. Why must elders respect free will?
20 Jehovah created humans with free will to make their own decisions. While elders are to counsel and even to discipline, they are not to take over the life or faith of another. Paul said: “Not that we are the masters over your faith, but we are fellow workers for your joy, for it is by your faith that you are standing.” (2 Corinthians 1:24) Yes, “each one will carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:5) Jehovah has given us much freedom within the bounds of his laws and principles. Thus elders should avoid setting rules where Scriptural principles are not violated. And they should resist any tendency to offer their own personal opinions as dogma or to let their ego get in the way if someone disagrees with such views.—2 Corinthians 3:17; 1 Peter 2:16.
21. What can be learned from Paul’s attitude toward Philemon?
21 Note how Paul, while imprisoned in Rome, dealt with Philemon, a Christian slave owner at Colossae in Asia Minor. Philemon’s slave named Onesimus fled to Rome, became a Christian, and was helping Paul. Paul wrote to Philemon: “I would like to hold him back for myself that in place of you he might keep on ministering to me in the prison bonds I bear for the sake of the good news. But without your consent I do not want to do anything, so that your good act may be, not as under compulsion, but of your own free will.” (Philemon 13, 14) Paul returned Onesimus, asking Philemon to treat him as a Christian brother. Paul knew that the flock was not his; it was God’s. He was not its master but its servant. Paul did not dictate to Philemon; he respected his free will.
22. (a) What should elders understand their position to be? (b) What kind of organization is Jehovah developing?
22 As God’s organization grows, more elders are appointed. They, as well as the more experienced elders, must understand that their position is one of humble service. In this way, as God moves his organization toward the new world, it will continue to grow as he wants—well organized but not sacrificing love and compassion for efficiency. Thus, his organization will become increasingly attractive to sheeplike ones who will see in it evidence that “God makes all his works cooperate together for the good of those who love God.” That is to be expected from an organization founded on love, because “love never fails.”—Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 13:8.
How Would You Answer?
□ How does the Bible describe Jehovah’s care for his people?
□ What role does Jesus play in caring for God’s flock?
□ What chief characteristic must elders have?
□ Why must elders consider the free will of the sheep?
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Jesus, the “fine shepherd,” showed compassion
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The corrupt religious leaders conspired to kill Jesus