Christ Leads His Congregation
“Look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”—MATTHEW 28:20.
1, 2. (a) When giving the command to make disciples, what did the resurrected Jesus promise his followers? (b) How did Jesus actively lead the early Christian congregation?
BEFORE ascending to heaven, Jesus Christ, our resurrected Leader, appeared to his disciples and said: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth. Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”—Matthew 23:10; 28:18-20.
2 Jesus not only assigned his disciples the life-saving work of making more disciples but also promised to be with them. The history of early Christianity, as recorded in the Bible book of Acts, shows beyond a doubt that Christ used the authority given him to lead the newly formed congregation. He sent the promised “helper”—the holy spirit—to strengthen his followers and to guide their efforts. (John 16:7; Acts 2:4, 33; 13:2-4; 16:6-10) The resurrected Jesus employed angels at his command to support his disciples. (Acts 5:19; 8:26; 10:3-8, 22; 12:7-11; 27:23, 24; 1 Peter 3:22) Moreover, our Leader provided direction to the congregation by arranging for qualified men to serve as a governing body.—Acts 1:20, 24-26; 6:1-6; 8:5, 14-17.
3. What questions will be discussed in this article?
3 What, though, about our time, “the conclusion of the system of things”? How is Jesus Christ leading the Christian congregation today? And how can we show that we accept this leadership?
The Master Has a Faithful Slave
4. (a) Who make up “the faithful and discreet slave”? (b) What has the Master committed to the care of the slave?
4 When giving the prophecy about the sign of his presence, Jesus said: “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.” (Matthew 24:45-47) The “master” is our Leader, Jesus Christ, and he has appointed “the faithful and discreet slave”—the body of anointed Christians on earth—over all his earthly interests.
5, 6. (a) In a vision that the apostle John received, what do “the seven golden lampstands” and “the seven stars” picture? (b) What is indicated by the fact that “the seven stars” are in Jesus’ right hand?
5 The Bible book of Revelation shows that the faithful and discreet slave is directly under the control of Jesus Christ. In a vision of “the Lord’s day,” the apostle John saw “seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands someone like a son of man” who “had in his right hand seven stars.” Explaining the vision to John, Jesus said: “As for the sacred secret of the seven stars that you saw upon my right hand, and of the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars mean the angels of the seven congregations, and the seven lampstands mean seven congregations.”—Revelation 1:1, 10-20.
6 “The seven golden lampstands” picture all the true Christian congregations existing in “the Lord’s day,” which began in 1914. But what about “the seven stars”? In the first place, they symbolized all the spirit-begotten, anointed overseers caring for the first-century congregations.* The overseers were in Jesus’ right hand—under his control and direction. Yes, Christ Jesus led the composite slave class. Now, however, the anointed overseers are few in number. How does Christ’s leadership reach out to over 93,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the globe?
7. (a) How does Jesus use the Governing Body to provide leadership in the congregations throughout the earth? (b) Why can it be said that Christian overseers are appointed by holy spirit?
7 As in the first century, a small group of qualified men from among the anointed overseers now serve as the Governing Body, representing the composite faithful and discreet slave. Our Leader uses this Governing Body to appoint qualified men—whether spirit-anointed or not—as elders in the local congregations. In this regard, the holy spirit, which Jehovah has given Jesus authority to employ, plays a pivotal role. (Acts 2:32, 33) First of all, these overseers must meet the requirements set out in God’s Word, which was inspired by holy spirit. (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 2 Peter 1:20, 21) The recommendations and appointments are made after prayer and under the guidance of the holy spirit. Additionally, the individuals appointed give evidence of producing the fruitage of that spirit. (Galatians 5:22, 23) Paul’s counsel, then, applies with equal force to all elders, whether anointed or not: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers.” (Acts 20:28) These appointed men receive direction from the Governing Body and willingly shepherd the congregation. In this way, Christ is with us now and is actively leading the congregation.
8. How does Christ use angels to lead his followers?
8 Jesus also uses actual angels to lead his followers today. According to the illustration of the wheat and the weeds, harvesttime would come at “the conclusion of the system of things.” Whom would the Master use to do the harvesting? “The reapers are angels,” said Christ. He added: “The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness.” (Matthew 13:37-41) Moreover, just as an angel directed the steps of Philip to find the Ethiopian eunuch, so there is abundant evidence today that Christ uses his angels to direct the work of true Christians in locating honesthearted ones.—Acts 8:26, 27; Revelation 14:6.
9. (a) Through what means does Christ lead the Christian congregation today? (b) What question should we consider if we want to benefit from Christ’s leadership?
9 How reassuring to know that Jesus Christ provides leadership to his disciples today through the Governing Body, the holy spirit, and the angels! Even if some of Jehovah’s worshipers were to become temporarily isolated from the Governing Body because of persecution or the like, Christ would still provide leadership by means of the holy spirit and angelic support. However, we benefit from his leadership only when we accept it. How may we show that we do accept Christ’s leadership?
“Be Obedient . . . Be Submissive”
10. How can we show regard for the appointed elders in the congregation?
10 Our Leader has given the congregations “gifts in men”—“some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers.” (Ephesians 4:8, 11, 12) Our attitude and actions toward them speak volumes as to whether we accept Christ’s leadership. It is only right that we ‘show ourselves thankful’ for the spiritually qualified men that Christ has given. (Colossians 3:15) They also deserve our respect. “Let the older men who preside in a fine way be reckoned worthy of double honor,” wrote the apostle Paul. (1 Timothy 5:17) How can we display our gratitude and esteem for the older men—elders, or overseers—in the congregation? Paul answers: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive.” (Hebrews 13:17) Yes, we are to obey them and be submissive, to yield, to them.
11. Why is respect for the elder arrangement a matter of living up to our baptism?
11 Our Leader is perfect. The men he has given as gifts are not. So they may err at times. Yet, it is vital that we remain loyal to Christ’s arrangement. In fact, living up to our dedication and baptism means that we recognize the legitimacy of spirit-appointed authority in the congregation and willingly submit to it. Our baptism ‘in the name of the holy spirit’ is a public declaration that we recognize the holy spirit and acknowledge the role it plays in Jehovah’s purposes. (Matthew 28:19) Such a baptism implies that we cooperate with the spirit and do nothing to hinder its operation among Christ’s followers. Since the holy spirit plays a vital role in the recommendation and appointment of elders, can we really be faithful to our dedication if we fail to cooperate with the elder arrangement in the congregation?
12. What examples regarding disrespect for authority does Jude cite, and what do they teach us?
12 The Scriptures contain examples that teach us the value of obedience and submission. Referring to those who spoke abusively of the appointed men in the congregation, the disciple Jude pointed to three warning examples, saying: “Too bad for them, because they have gone in the path of Cain, and have rushed into the erroneous course of Balaam for reward, and have perished in the rebellious talk of Korah!” (Jude 11) Cain ignored Jehovah’s loving counsel and willfully pursued a course of murderous hatred. (Genesis 4:4-8) Despite receiving repeated divine warnings, Balaam tried to curse God’s people for a financial reward. (Numbers 22:5-28, 32-34; Deuteronomy 23:5) Korah had his own fine responsibility in Israel, but it was not enough for him. He fomented rebellion against God’s servant Moses, the meekest man on earth. (Numbers 12:3; 16:1-3, 32, 33) Calamity befell Cain, Balaam, and Korah. How vividly these examples teach us to listen to the counsel of those whom Jehovah uses in positions of responsibility and to respect them!
13. What blessings did the prophet Isaiah foretell for those who submit to the elder arrangement?
13 Who would not want to benefit from the grand arrangement of oversight that our Leader has instituted in the Christian congregation? The prophet Isaiah foretold its blessings, saying: “Look! A king will reign for righteousness itself; and as respects princes, they will rule as princes for justice itself. And 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) Each one of the elders is to be such “a place” of protection and safety. Even if submitting to authority is difficult for us, let us prayerfully apply ourselves to being obedient and submissive to the divinely constituted authority within the congregation.
How Elders Submit to Christ’s Leadership
14, 15. How do those taking the lead in the congregation show that they submit to Christ’s leadership?
14 Every Christian—particularly the elders—must follow Christ’s leadership. The overseers, or elders, have a measure of authority in the congregation. But they do not seek to be ‘the masters over the faith of their fellow believers’ by trying to control their lives. (2 Corinthians 1:24) The elders take to heart Jesus’ words: “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them and the great men wield authority over them. This is not the way among you.” (Matthew 20:25-27) As elders fulfill their responsibility, they sincerely try to serve others.
15 Christians are urged: “Remember those who are taking the lead among you, . . . and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7) This is not required because elders are leaders. Jesus said: “Your Leader is one, the Christ.” (Matthew 23:10) It is the faith of the elders that is to be imitated because they are imitators of our real Leader, Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1) Consider some ways in which elders strive to be Christlike in their relationship with others in the congregation.
16. Despite the authority he possessed, how did Jesus treat his followers?
16 Even though Jesus was superior to imperfect humans in every way and possessed unmatched authority from his Father, he was modest in his dealings with his disciples. He did not overwhelm his listeners with an impressive display of knowledge. Jesus showed sensitivity and compassion toward his followers, taking their human needs into consideration. (Matthew 15:32; 26:40, 41; Mark 6:31) He never demanded more of his disciples than they could give, and he never put upon them more than they could bear. (John 16:12) Jesus was “mild-tempered and lowly in heart.” Not surprisingly, therefore, many found him to be refreshing.—Matthew 11:28-30.
17. How should elders show Christlike modesty in their relationship with others in the congregation?
17 If Christ the Leader displayed modesty, how much more so should those taking the lead in the congregation! Yes, they are careful not to abuse any authority entrusted to them. And they do “not come with an extravagance of speech,” trying to impress others. (1 Corinthians 2:1, 2) Rather, they endeavor to speak words of Scriptural truth with simplicity and sincerity. Moreover, elders strive to be reasonable in their expectations of others and to be considerate of their needs. (Philippians 4:5) Being aware that everyone has limitations, they lovingly make allowances for these in their brothers. (1 Peter 4:8) And are not elders who are humble and mild-tempered truly refreshing? They are indeed.
18. What can elders learn from the way Jesus treated children?
18 Jesus was approachable and accessible, even to lesser ones. Consider his response when his disciples reprimanded people for “bringing him young children.” “Let the young children come to me,” said Jesus, “do not try to stop them.” Then “he took the children into his arms and began blessing them, laying his hands upon them.” (Mark 10:13-16) Jesus was warm and kind, and others were attracted to him. People were not afraid of Jesus. Even children were at ease in his presence. Elders too are approachable, and as they show warm affection and kindness, others—even children—feel at ease with them.
19. What is involved in having “the mind of Christ,” and what effort does this require?
19 The extent to which elders can imitate Christ Jesus depends upon how well they know him. “Who has come to know the mind of Jehovah, that he may instruct him?” asked Paul. Then he added: “But we do have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16) Having the mind of Christ entails knowing the pattern of his thinking and the full range of his personality so that we know what he might do in a particular situation. Imagine getting to know our Leader that well! Yes, this requires paying close attention to the Gospel accounts and regularly filling our minds with understanding of Jesus’ life and example. When elders put forth effort to follow Christ’s leadership to that degree, those in the congregation are more inclined to imitate their faith. And the elders have the satisfaction of seeing others joyfully follow the footsteps of the Leader.
Continue Under Christ’s Leadership
20, 21. As we look ahead to the promised new world, what should be our determination?
20 It is vital that all of us remain under Christ’s leadership. As we approach the end of this system of things, our position is comparable to that of the Israelites on the Plains of Moab in 1473 B.C.E. They were at the threshold of the Promised Land, and through the prophet Moses, God declared: “You [Joshua] will bring this people into the land that Jehovah swore to their forefathers to give to them.” (Deuteronomy 31:7, 8) Joshua was the appointed leader. To enter into the Promised Land, the Israelites had to submit to Joshua’s leadership.
21 To us the Bible says: “Your Leader is one, the Christ.” Only Christ will lead us into the promised new world in which righteousness is to dwell. (2 Peter 3:13) Let us therefore be determined to submit to his leadership in all areas of life.
The “stars” here do not symbolize literal angels. Jesus would hardly use a human to record information for invisible spirit creatures. The “stars” must therefore represent the human overseers, or elders, in the congregations, viewed as Jesus’ messengers. Their number being seven signifies divinely determined completeness.
Do You Remember?
• How did Christ lead the early congregation?
• How does Christ lead his congregation today?
• Why should we be submissive to those taking the lead in the congregation?
• In what ways can elders demonstrate that Christ is their Leader?
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Christ leads his congregation and holds overseers in his right hand
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“Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive”
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Jesus was warm and approachable. Christian elders endeavor to be like him