“Gifts in Men” to Care for Jehovah’s Sheep
“When he ascended on high he carried away captives; he gave gifts in men.”—EPHESIANS 4:8.
1. What expression did a Christian sister make about the elders in her congregation?
“THANK you for caring so much about us. Your smiles, your warmth, and your concern are so genuine. You are always there to lend a hearing ear and share words from the Bible that lift our spirits. I pray that I never take you for granted.” So wrote a Christian sister to the elders in her congregation. Clearly, the love shown by caring Christian shepherds had touched her heart.—1 Peter 5:2, 3.
2, 3. (a) According to Isaiah 32:1, 2, how do compassionate elders care for Jehovah’s sheep? (b) When can an elder be considered a gift?
2 Elders are a provision from Jehovah to look after his sheep. (Luke 12:32; John 10:16) Jehovah’s sheep are dear to him—so dear, in fact, that he purchased them with the precious blood of Jesus. Little wonder, then, that Jehovah is pleased when elders treat his flock with tenderness. (Acts 20:28, 29) Notice the prophetic description of these elders, or “princes”: “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) Yes, they are to protect, refresh, and comfort his sheep. Elders who compassionately shepherd the flock are thus endeavoring to live up to what God expects of them.
3 Such elders are referred to in the Bible as “gifts in men.” (Ephesians 4:8) When you think of a gift, you think of something given to fill a need or to bring happiness to the one receiving it. An elder can be considered a gift when he uses his abilities to provide needed assistance and to contribute to the happiness of the flock. How can he do this? The answer, found in Paul’s words at Ephesians 4:7-16, magnifies Jehovah’s loving concern for his sheep.
“Gifts in Men”—From Where?
4. In fulfillment of Psalm 68:18, in what way did Jehovah ‘ascend on high,’ and who were the “gifts in the form of men”?
4 When Paul used the expression “gifts in men,” he was quoting King David, who had said of Jehovah: “You have ascended on high; you have carried away captives; you have taken gifts in the form of men.” (Psalm 68:18) After the Israelites had been in the Promised Land for some years, Jehovah figuratively “ascended” Mount Zion and made Jerusalem the capital of the kingdom of Israel with David as its king. But who were the “gifts in the form of men”? They were men taken captive during the conquest of the land. Some of these captives were later made available to the Levites to help with the work at the tabernacle.—Ezra 8:20.
5. (a) How does Paul indicate that Psalm 68:18 has a fulfillment in the Christian congregation? (b) In what way did Jesus ‘ascend on high’?
5 In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul indicates that the psalmist’s words have a greater fulfillment in the Christian congregation. Paraphrasing Psalm 68:18, Paul writes: “Now to each one of us undeserved kindness was given according to how the Christ measured out the free gift. Wherefore he says: ‘When he ascended on high he carried away captives; he gave gifts in men.’” (Ephesians 4:7, 8) Paul here applies this psalm to Jesus as God’s representative. Jesus “conquered the world” by his faithful course. (John 16:33) He also triumphed over death and over Satan by reason of God’s resurrecting him from the dead. (Acts 2:24; Hebrews 2:14) In 33 C.E., the resurrected Jesus ascended “far above all the heavens”—higher than all other heavenly creatures. (Ephesians 4:9, 10; Philippians 2:9-11) As a conqueror, Jesus took “captives” from the enemy. How so?
6. Starting at Pentecost 33 C.E., how did the ascended Jesus begin despoiling Satan’s house, and what did he do with the “captives”?
6 When on earth, Jesus demonstrated his power over Satan by delivering those held in bondage to the demons. It was as if Jesus invaded Satan’s house, bound him, and seized his goods. (Matthew 12:22-29) Just think, once resurrected and entrusted with ‘all authority in heaven and on earth,’ what plundering Jesus could then do! (Matthew 28:18) Starting at Pentecost 33 C.E., the ascended Jesus, as God’s representative, began despoiling Satan’s house by ‘carrying away captives’—men who had long been in slavery to sin and death and under Satan’s control. These “captives” willingly became “Christ’s slaves, doing the will of God whole-souled.” (Ephesians 6:6) Jesus, in effect, wrenched them from Satan’s control and, on Jehovah’s behalf, gave them to the congregation as “gifts in men.” Imagine Satan’s helpless rage as they were snatched from under his very nose!
7. (a) In what capacities do the “gifts in men” serve in the congregations? (b) What opportunity has Jehovah given to each man who serves as an elder?
7 Do we find such “gifts in men” in the congregation today? Indeed, we do! We find them serving as elders, working hard as ‘evangelizers, shepherds, and teachers’ in the more than 87,000 congregations of God’s people earth wide. (Ephesians 4:11) Satan would like nothing better than for them to mistreat the flock. But that is not why God through Christ has given them to the congregation. Rather, Jehovah has provided these men for the well-being of the congregation, and they are accountable to him for the sheep entrusted to them. (Hebrews 13:17) If you serve as an elder, Jehovah has given you a wonderful opportunity to prove yourself a gift, or blessing, to your brothers. You can do so by fulfilling four important responsibilities.
When There Is a Need for “Readjustment”
8. In what ways do we all need to be readjusted at times?
8 First, the “gifts in men” are provided “with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones,” says Paul. (Ephesians 4:12) The Greek noun rendered “readjustment” refers to putting something “into proper alignment.” As imperfect humans, we all need to be readjusted from time to time—to have our thinking, attitudes, or conduct brought “into proper alignment” with God’s thinking and will. Jehovah has lovingly provided “gifts in men” to help us make the needed adjustments. How do they do this?
9. How can an elder help to readjust a sheep who has erred?
9 At times, an elder may be called upon to help a sheep who has erred, who perhaps has ‘taken some false step before he is aware of it.’ How can an elder help? “Try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness,” says Galatians 6:1. Hence, when offering counsel, an elder would not scold the erring one, employing harsh words. Counsel should encourage, not “terrify,” the one receiving it. (2 Corinthians 10:9; compare Job 33:7.) The individual may already feel ashamed, so a loving shepherd avoids crushing that one’s spirit. When counsel, even firm reproof, is clearly motivated by and given in love, it is likely to realign the thinking or conduct of the erring one, thus restoring him.—2 Timothy 4:2.
10. What does readjusting others involve?
10 In providing “gifts in men” for our readjustment, Jehovah had in mind that elders be refreshing spiritually and worthy of imitation by his people. (1 Corinthians 16:17, 18; Philippians 3:17) Readjusting others involves not only correcting those taking a wrong course but also helping faithful ones to stick to the right course.* Today, with so many problems that tend to dishearten, many need encouragement to hold on. Some may need tender help to align their thinking with God’s. For example, some faithful Christians struggle with deep feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness. Such “depressed souls” may feel that Jehovah could never love them and that even their best efforts to serve God could never be acceptable to him. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) But this way of thinking is not in alignment with how God truly feels about his worshipers.
11. What can elders do to help those who struggle with feelings of unworthiness?
11 Elders, what can you do to help such ones? Kindly share with them Scriptural proof that Jehovah cares for each of his servants and reassure them that these Bible texts apply to them personally. (Luke 12:6, 7, 24) Help them to see that Jehovah has ‘drawn’ them to serve him, so surely he must see value in them. (John 6:44) Assure them that they are not alone—many faithful servants of Jehovah have had similar feelings. The prophet Elijah was once so deeply depressed that he wanted to die. (1 Kings 19:1-4) Some anointed Christians in the first century felt ‘condemned’ by their own hearts. (1 John 3:20) There is comfort in knowing that faithful ones in Bible times had “feelings like ours.” (James 5:17) You can also review encouraging articles in The Watchtower and Awake! with the downhearted. Your loving efforts to restore the confidence of such ones will not go unnoticed by the God who has given you as “gifts in men.”—Hebrews 6:10.
“Building Up” the Flock
12. What is indicated by the expression “the building up of the body of the Christ,” and what is the key to building up the flock?
12 Second, the “gifts in men” are given with a view to “the building up of the body of the Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12) Paul here employs a figure of speech. “Building up” calls to mind construction, and “the body of the Christ” refers to people—the members of the anointed Christian congregation. (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:23, 29, 30) Elders need to help their brothers to grow strong spiritually. Their objective is ‘to build up and not to tear down’ the flock. (2 Corinthians 10:8) The key to building up the flock is love, for “love builds up.”—1 Corinthians 8:1.
13. What does it mean to be empathetic, and why is it important for elders to show empathy?
13 One facet of love that helps elders to build up the flock is empathy. To be empathetic means to feel for others—to identify with their thoughts and feelings, considering their limitations. (1 Peter 3:8) Why is it important for elders to have empathy? Above all because Jehovah—the one who gives the “gifts in men”—is a God of empathy. When his servants are suffering or in pain, he feels for them. (Exodus 3:7; Isaiah 63:9) He is considerate of their limitations. (Psalm 103:14) How, then, can elders show empathy?
14. In what ways can elders show empathy to others?
14 When someone discouraged comes to them, they listen, acknowledging that one’s feelings. They try to understand the background, personality, and circumstances of their brothers. Then when elders give upbuilding Scriptural help, the sheep will find it easy to accept because it comes from shepherds who truly understand and care about them. (Proverbs 16:23) Empathy also moves elders to consider the limitations of others and the feelings that may result therefrom. For example, some conscientious Christians may feel guilty because they are not able to do more in serving God, perhaps because of old age or poor health. On the other hand, some may need encouragement to improve their ministry. (Hebrews 5:12; 6:1) Empathy will move elders to find “delightful words” that build others up. (Ecclesiastes 12:10) When Jehovah’s sheep are built up and motivated, their love for God will move them to do all they can in serving him!
Men Who Promote Unity
15. What is signified by the expression “oneness in the faith”?
15 Third, the “gifts in men” are provided so that “we all attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God.” (Ephesians 4:13) The phrase “oneness in the faith” signifies unity not only of beliefs but also of believers. This, then, is another reason why God has given us “gifts in men”—to promote unity among his people. How do they do this?
16. Why is it important for elders to maintain unity among themselves?
16 To begin with, they must maintain unity among themselves. If the shepherds are divided, the sheep may suffer neglect. Precious time that could be spent in shepherding the flock may be unnecessarily taken up by lengthy meetings and debates over incidental matters. (1 Timothy 2:8) Elders may not automatically agree on every matter they discuss, for they are men having personalities that may vary widely. Unity does not preclude their having different opinions or even expressing them in a balanced way during an open-minded discussion. Elders preserve their unity by listening respectfully to one another without prejudgment. And as long as no Bible principle is being violated, each should be willing to yield to and support the final decision of the body of elders. A yielding spirit shows that they are guided by the “wisdom from above,” which is “peaceable, reasonable.”—James 3:17, 18.
17. How can the elders help to preserve unity in the congregation?
17 Elders are also alert to promote unity in the congregation. When divisive influences—such as hurtful gossip, a tendency to impute wrong motives, or a contentious spirit—threaten peace, they readily offer helpful counsel. (Philippians 2:2, 3) For instance, elders may be aware of individuals who are overly critical or who are prone to meddle in the affairs of others, thus becoming busybodies. (1 Timothy 5:13; 1 Peter 4:15) The elders will try to help such ones to recognize that this course is contrary to what we have been taught by God and that each one must “carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:5, 7; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12) Using the Scriptures, they will explain that Jehovah leaves many things to our individual conscience, and none of us should judge others over such matters. (Matthew 7:1, 2; James 4:10-12) To serve together in unity, there must be an atmosphere of trust and respect in the congregation. By offering Scriptural counsel when needed, the “gifts in men” help us to preserve our peace and unity.—Romans 14:19.
Protecting the Flock
18, 19. (a) The “gifts in men” protect us from whom? (b) From what other danger do the sheep need to be protected, and how do elders act to protect the sheep?
18 Fourth, Jehovah provides the “gifts in men” to protect us from being influenced “by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in contriving error.” (Ephesians 4:14) The original word for “trickery” is said to mean “cheating at dice” or “skill in manipulating the dice.” Does that not remind us of how clever apostates operate? Using slick arguments, they manipulate the Scriptures in an attempt to lure true Christians away from their faith. Elders must be on the watch for such “oppressive wolves”!—Acts 20:29, 30.
19 Jehovah’s sheep need to be protected from other dangers as well. The ancient shepherd David fearlessly protected his father’s flock from predators. (1 Samuel 17:34-36) Today, too, occasions may arise when concerned Christian shepherds have to show courage in order to protect the flock from any who might mistreat or oppress Jehovah’s sheep, particularly the more vulnerable ones. Elders will be quick to remove from the congregation willful sinners who deliberately use trickery, deceit, and scheming in order to perpetrate wickedness.*—1 Corinthians 5:9-13; compare Psalm 101:7.
20. Why can we feel secure in the care of the “gifts in men”?
20 How thankful we are for the “gifts in men”! In their loving care, we can feel secure, for they tenderly readjust us, lovingly build us up, readily preserve our unity, and courageously protect us. But how should the “gifts in men” view their role in the congregation? And how can we show that we appreciate them? These questions will be discussed in the next article.
In the Greek Septuagint version, this same verb rendered “readjust” was used at Psalm 17:5, where faithful David prayed that his steps might hold fast to Jehovah’s tracks.
For example, see “Questions From Readers” in the November 15, 1979, issue of The Watchtower, pages 31-2, and “Let Us Abhor What Is Wicked” in the January 1, 1997, issue, pages 26-9.
Do You Recall?
□ Who are the “gifts in men,” and why has God through Christ given them to the congregation?
□ How do elders fulfill their responsibility to readjust the flock?
□ What can elders do to build up their fellow believers?
□ How can elders preserve the unity of the congregation?
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Empathy helps elders to encourage those who are downhearted
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Unity among elders promotes unity in the congregation