“Shepherd the Flock of God in Your Care”
“Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly.”—1 PET. 5:2.
1. What circumstances were Christians facing when Peter wrote his first letter?
SOMETIME before Nero launched his persecution against Christians in Rome, the apostle Peter wrote his first letter. He wanted to strengthen his fellow believers. The Devil was ‘walking about,’ seeking to devour Christians. To stand firm against him, they needed to ‘keep their senses’ and to ‘humble themselves under the mighty hand of God.’ (1 Pet. 5:6, 8) They also needed to stay united. They could not afford to be “biting and devouring one another,” for that could result in their being “annihilated by one another.”—Gal. 5:15.
2, 3. Against whom should we be fighting, and what are we going to consider in this series?
2 Today, we face a similar situation. The Devil is looking for opportunities to devour us. (Rev. 12:12) And ahead of us looms a “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning.” (Matt. 24:21) Just as first-century Christians had to guard against squabbling among themselves, so must we. To accomplish this, at times we need help from qualified older men.
3 Let us consider how elders can enhance their appreciation for the privilege of shepherding ‘the flock of God in their care.’ (1 Pet. 5:2) Thereafter, we will reflect on the proper way of carrying out the shepherding work. In the next article, we will examine how the congregation can ‘have regard for those who are working hard and presiding over’ the flock. (1 Thess. 5:12) A consideration of these matters will help us to take a firm stand against our chief Adversary, recognizing that he is the one with whom we have a wrestling.—Eph. 6:12.
Shepherd the Flock of God
4, 5. How should the older men view the flock? Illustrate.
4 Peter encouraged the older men among the first-century Christians to have a godly view of the flock entrusted to them. (Read 1 Peter 5:1, 2.) Although he was considered a pillar in the congregation, Peter did not talk condescendingly to the elders. Rather, he admonished them as fellow elders. (Gal. 2:9) With a spirit like Peter’s, the Governing Body today exhorts congregation elders to strive to fulfill the heavy responsibility of shepherding God’s flock.
5 The apostle wrote that the older men were to ‘shepherd the flock of God in their care.’ It was most important for them to recognize that the flock belongs to Jehovah and Jesus Christ. The elders had to render an account about how they kept watch over God’s sheep. Suppose that a close friend of yours asked you to look after his children while he was away. Would you not take good care of them and feed them? If one child got sick, would you not make sure that he received any needed medical help? Similarly, the elders in the congregation are “to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.” (Acts 20:28) They keep in mind that each sheep was bought with the precious blood of Christ Jesus. Being accountable, the elders feed, protect, and care for the flock.
6. What was the responsibility of ancient shepherds?
6 Think of the responsibilities that literal shepherds had in Bible times. They had to put up with the heat of the day and the cold of the night in order to tend the flock. (Gen. 31:40) They even risked their life for the sheep. The shepherd boy David rescued his flock from wild beasts, including a lion and a bear. With regard to each one, David said that he “grabbed hold of its beard and struck it down and put it to death.” (1 Sam. 17:34, 35) What bravery! How close he must have come to the beast’s jaws! Still, he did not hold back from saving the sheep.
7. How may elders snatch the sheep from Satan’s jaws, figuratively speaking?
7 Today, elders need to be on guard against the lionlike attacks of the Devil. This may involve a courageous act of figuratively snatching the sheep from the Devil’s jaws. By taking hold of the wild beast by the beard, so to speak, elders can rescue the sheep. They may reason with unwary brothers who are tempted by Satan’s snares. (Read Jude 22, 23.) Elders, of course, do not accomplish this without Jehovah’s help. They handle an injured sheep tenderly, bandaging him and applying the soothing balm of God’s Word.
8. To where do elders guide the flock, and how?
8 A literal shepherd also guided the flock to an appropriate pasture and a watering place. Likewise, elders direct the flock to the congregation, encouraging regular meeting attendance so that the flock can be well-fed and receive “their food at the proper time.” (Matt. 24:45) The elders may need to spend extra time helping those who are spiritually sick to accept nourishment from God’s Word. A stray sheep may be trying to return to the flock. Instead of intimidating their brother, the elders tenderly explain Scriptural principles and show him how he can apply these in his life.
9, 10. How should elders care for spiritually ailing ones?
9 When you are sick, what kind of doctor do you prefer? One who spends little time listening to you and then quickly prescribes medication so as to be free to see the next patient? Or would you rather consult a doctor who hears you out, explains what might be wrong with you, and outlines possible treatments?
10 Likewise, the elders can listen to the spiritually sick person and help to heal the wound, thus figuratively “greasing him with oil in the name of Jehovah.” (Read James 5:14, 15.) Like the balsam from Gilead, God’s Word can soothe the ailing one. (Jer. 8:22; Ezek. 34:16) When applied, Bible principles can help the faltering one to regain spiritual balance. Yes, the elders do much good once they hear the ailing sheep’s concerns and pray with him.
Not Under Compulsion but Willingly
11. What moves elders to shepherd the flock of God willingly?
11 Peter next reminded the older men how the shepherding work should and should not be done. Elders are to shepherd the flock of God, “not under compulsion, but willingly.” What moves elders to serve their brothers willingly? Well, what moved Peter to shepherd and feed Jesus’ sheep? A key was his love and affection for the Lord. (John 21:15-17) Because of love, elders “live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them.” (2 Cor. 5:14, 15) This love, combined with their love for God and their brothers, compels elders to serve the flock, devoting their efforts, resources, and time to doing so. (Matt. 22:37-39) They give of themselves, not grudgingly, but willingly.
12. To what extent did the apostle Paul give of himself?
12 To what extent should the elders give of themselves? In caring for the sheep, they imitate the apostle Paul, even as he imitated Jesus. (1 Cor. 11:1) Having tender affection for the Thessalonian brothers, Paul and his companions were well-pleased to impart to them ‘not only the good news of God but also their own souls.’ When doing so, they became gentle, “as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children.” (1 Thess. 2:7, 8) Paul understood how a nursing mother felt about her children. She would do anything for them, including getting up in the middle of the night to feed them.
13. Elders need to maintain what balance?
13 The elders need to take care to maintain balance between shepherding responsibilities and obligations to their own family. (1 Tim. 5:8) The time that elders spend with the congregation is precious time away from their family. One way to balance the two responsibilities is to invite others to their Family Worship evening on occasion. Over the years, Masanao, an elder in Japan, invited single ones and spiritually fatherless families to his family’s study. In time, some who were helped became elders themselves and imitated Masanao’s fine example.
Shun Dishonest Gain—Shepherd the Flock Eagerly
14, 15. Why should elders guard against the “love of dishonest gain,” and how can they imitate Paul in this regard?
14 Peter also encouraged elders to shepherd the flock, “neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly.” The work of the elders takes up a considerable amount of time, yet they do not expect any financial compensation. Peter saw the need to warn his fellow older men about the danger of shepherding the flock out of “love of dishonest gain.” That danger is evident in the life of luxury led by religious leaders of “Babylon the Great” while many people are forced to lead a life of poverty. (Rev. 18:2, 3) The elders today have good reason to be on guard against any tendency in that direction.
15 Paul set a fine example for Christian elders. Though he was an apostle and could have been “an expensive burden” on Christians in Thessalonica, he did not “eat food from anyone free.” Rather, he ‘labored and toiled night and day.’ (2 Thess. 3:8) Many present-day elders, including those who are in the traveling work, set a fine example in this regard. Although they accept hospitality from fellow believers, they do not “put an expensive burden” upon anyone.—1 Thess. 2:9.
16. What does it mean to shepherd the flock “eagerly”?
16 The elders shepherd the flock “eagerly.” Their eagerness is evident in their self-sacrificing attitude in helping the flock. However, that does not mean that they force the flock to serve Jehovah; nor do loving elders encourage others to serve God out of a competitive spirit. (Gal. 5:26) Elders appreciate that each sheep is unique. They are eager to help their brothers to serve Jehovah happily.
Not Lording It Over the Flock but Being Examples
17, 18. (a) Why did the apostles at times have difficulty grasping Jesus’ teaching on humility? (b) In what similar situation might we find ourselves?
17 As we have discussed, the elders should keep in mind that the flock they are shepherding is God’s, not their own. They are careful not ‘to lord it over those who are God’s inheritance.’ (Read 1 Peter 5:3.) At times, Jesus’ apostles reached out with the wrong motive. Like those who were ruling the nations, they wanted to have a prominent position.—Read Mark 10:42-45.
18 Today, brothers who are “reaching out for an office of overseer” do well to examine themselves as to why they are reaching out. (1 Tim. 3:1) Those who are now elders may want to ask themselves frankly whether they have a desire for authority or prominence as some of the apostles did. If the apostles had difficulty in this area, then elders can appreciate that they need to work hard to avoid any worldly tendency to enjoy having authority over others.
19. What should elders remember when taking action to protect the flock?
19 Granted, there are times when the elders need to be firm, such as when protecting the flock from “oppressive wolves.” (Acts 20:28-30) Paul told Titus to keep “exhorting and reproving with full authority.” (Titus 2:15) Yet, even when having to take such action, the elders try to dignify the ones who are involved. They appreciate that rather than harsh criticism, gentle persuasion is usually more effective in reaching hearts and in moving someone to follow a right course.
20. How can elders imitate Jesus in setting a fine example?
20 Christ’s fine example motivates elders to love the flock. (John 13:12-15) Our hearts are warmed as we read how he taught his disciples in the preaching and disciple-making work. His pattern of humility touched the hearts of his disciples, motivating them to follow a course reflecting ‘lowliness of mind considering that the others were superior to them.’ (Phil. 2:3) Elders today are likewise moved to follow Jesus’ example, and they, in turn, want to be “examples to the flock.”
21. To what reward can elders look forward?
21 Peter concluded his admonition to the older men by referring to a promise for the future. (Read 1 Peter 5:4.) The anointed overseers “will receive the unfadable crown of glory” with Christ in heaven. The undershepherds of the “other sheep” will have the privilege of shepherding the flock of God on earth under the rulership of “the chief shepherd.” (John 10:16) The next article will discuss ways in which congregation members can support those appointed to take the lead.
By Way of Review
• Why was it appropriate for Peter to admonish fellow elders to shepherd the flock of God in their care?
• How should elders shepherd spiritually ailing ones?
• What moves elders to shepherd the flock of God in their care?
[Picture on page 21]
Like shepherds in ancient times, elders today must protect the “sheep” in their care