“Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls.”—HEB. 13:17.
1, 2. Why is it significant that Jehovah likens himself to a shepherd?
JEHOVAH compares himself to a shepherd. (Ezek. 34:11-14) That is significant because it helps us to understand what Jehovah is like. A loving human shepherd takes full responsibility for the survival and welfare of the flock of sheep under his care. He leads them to pasture and to water sources (Ps. 23:1, 2); watches over them by day and by night (Luke 2:8); protects them from predators (1 Sam. 17:34, 35); carries the newborn (Isa. 40:11); searches for strays, and cares well for sheep that are injured.—Ezek. 34:16.
2 Because Jehovah’s people of ancient times lived in a predominantly pastoral and agricultural society, they readily understood the significance of comparing Jehovah God to a loving shepherd. They knew that sheep need care and attention in order to thrive. In a spiritual sense, it is the same with people. (Mark 6:34) Without good spiritual care and leadership, people suffer. They become vulnerable and stray morally—just as the “sheep that have no shepherd” scatter. (1 Ki. 22:17) However, Jehovah lovingly provides for the needs of his people.
3. What will we discuss in this article?
3 The portrayal of Jehovah as a shepherd carries meaning even in modern times. Jehovah is still providing for his sheeplike people. Let us see how he directs his sheep and satisfies their needs today. We will also consider how the sheep should respond to Jehovah’s loving interest in them.
THE FINE SHEPHERD PROVIDES UNDERSHEPHERDS
4. What role does Jesus play in providing for Jehovah’s sheep?
4 Jehovah has appointed Jesus as Head of the Christian congregation. (Eph. 1:22, 23) As “the fine shepherd,” Jesus reflects his Father’s interests, purposes, and qualities. Jesus even ‘surrendered his soul in behalf of the sheep.’ (John 10:11, 15) What a blessing Christ’s ransom sacrifice is for mankind! (Matt. 20:28) Why, it is Jehovah’s purpose that “everyone exercising faith in [Jesus] might not be destroyed but have everlasting life”!—John 3:16.
5, 6. (a) Whom has Jesus appointed to care for his sheep, and what does benefiting from this arrangement require of the sheep? (b) What should be the foremost reason for our wanting to obey congregation elders?
5 How do the sheep respond to the Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ? “My sheep listen to my voice,” said Jesus, “and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) Listening to the Fine Shepherd’s voice means following his guidance in all things. This includes cooperating with the spiritual undershepherds whom he has appointed. Jesus indicated that his apostles and disciples were to continue the work that he had begun. They were to ‘teach’ and to ‘feed Jesus’ little sheep.’ (Matt. 28:20; read John 21:15-17.) As the good news spread and the number of disciples increased, Jesus arranged for mature Christians to shepherd the congregations.—Eph. 4:11, 12.
6 When addressing the overseers of the first-century congregation in Ephesus, the apostle Paul pointed out that holy spirit had appointed them overseers “to shepherd the congregation of God.” (Acts 20:28) The same is true of Christian overseers today, since they too are appointed on the basis of Scriptural requirements inspired by the holy spirit. Thus, obeying Christian overseers shows our respect for Jehovah and Jesus, the two greatest Shepherds. (Luke 10:16) Surely this should be the foremost reason why we desire to be submissive to the elders. However, there are also other factors that make such compliance wise.
7. How do the elders help you to maintain a good relationship with Jehovah?
7 In giving direction to fellow believers, elders provide encouragement and counsel based either on the Scriptures themselves or on Scriptural principles. Their objective in providing such guidance is not to dictate how their brothers should live their lives. (2 Cor. 1:24) Rather, it is to give their fellow Christians Scriptural guidelines to help them make good decisions and to promote order and peace in the congregation. (1 Cor. 14:33, 40) The elders are ‘watching over souls’ in the sense that they desire to help each member of the congregation maintain a good relationship with Jehovah. They will thus be quick to offer assistance if they perceive that a brother or a sister is about to take, or has already taken, a “false step.” (Gal. 6:1, 2; Jude 22) Are these not good reasons for being “obedient to those who are taking the lead”?—Read Hebrews 13:17.
8. How do the elders defend the flock of God?
8 The apostle Paul, a spiritual shepherd himself, wrote to his brothers in Colossae: “Look out: perhaps there may be someone who will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8) This warning draws attention to another good reason for paying attention to the Scriptural counsel of the elders. They defend the flock by putting their brothers on guard against any who might attempt to undermine their faith. The apostle Peter warned of “false prophets” and “false teachers” who would try to “entice unsteady souls” into wrongdoing. (2 Pet. 2:1, 14) Present-day elders must give similar warnings when necessary. As mature Christian men, they have experience in life. Further, before being appointed, they demonstrated that they had a clear understanding of the Scriptures and that they were qualified to teach what is healthful. (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9) Their maturity, balance, and Bible-based wisdom enable them to give skillful direction to the flock.
THE FINE SHEPHERD FEEDS AND PROTECTS THE SHEEP
9. How does Jesus direct and feed the Christian congregation today?
9 Through his organization, Jehovah provides an abundance of spiritual food to the whole association of brothers worldwide. Much Scriptural counsel is provided by means of our publications. In addition, at times the organization gives guidance directly to congregation elders, either through letters or through instructions delivered by traveling overseers. In such ways, the sheep receive clear direction.
10. What responsibility do spiritual shepherds have regarding those who have strayed from the flock?
10 In a spiritual sense, overseers have the responsibility of protecting, nursing, and caring for the health of members of the congregation, especially those who have hurt themselves or who have fallen sick spiritually. (Read James 5:14, 15.) Some of these individuals may have strayed from the flock and have stopped engaging in Christian activities. In such a case, would not a caring elder do all in his power to find each lost sheep and urge that one to return to the fold, that is, to the congregation? Of course he would! “It is not a desirable thing with my Father who is in heaven for one of these little ones to perish,” explained Jesus.—Matt. 18:12-14.
HOW SHOULD WE VIEW SHORTCOMINGS OF UNDERSHEPHERDS?
11. Why may some find it challenging to follow the elders’ lead?
11 Jehovah and Jesus are perfect Shepherds. The human undershepherds to whom they entrust the care of the congregations are not. This reality may make it challenging for some to follow the elders’ lead. Such individuals may reason: ‘They are imperfect humans just like us. Why should we listen to their counsel?’ True, the elders are imperfect. However, we need to have a proper view of their shortcomings and weaknesses.
12, 13. (a) What can be said about the failings of some whom Jehovah has used in responsible positions? (b) Why were the shortcomings of responsible men recorded in the Bible?
12 The Scriptures candidly acknowledge the failings of those whom Jehovah used to lead his people in the past. For example, David was anointed as king and leader of Israel. Yet, he succumbed to temptation and became guilty of adultery and murder. (2 Sam. 12:7-9) Also consider the apostle Peter. Although entrusted with great responsibility in the first-century Christian congregation, he made serious mistakes. (Matt. 16:18, 19; John 13:38; 18:27; Gal. 2:11-14) With the exception of Jesus, no humans since Adam and Eve have been perfect.
13 Why did Jehovah have Bible writers record accounts of the shortcomings of men whom he had commissioned? Among other reasons, God did this to show that he can use imperfect men to lead his people. In fact, he has always done so. Hence, we should not use the imperfections of those who take the lead among us today as an excuse to murmur against them or to ignore their authority. Jehovah expects us to respect such brothers and to obey them.—Read Exodus 16:2, 8.
14, 15. What can we learn from the way Jehovah communicated with his people in the past?
14 Obedience to those who today are taking the lead among us is vital. Think of how Jehovah communicated with his people during critical times in the past. When the people of Israel left ancient Egypt, God’s orders for them came through Moses and Aaron. To survive the tenth plague, the Israelites had to obey the instructions to have a special meal and to splash some of the blood of a slaughtered sheep on the doorposts and lintels of their houses. That direction did not come to them by means of a voice out of heaven. No, they had to listen to the older men of Israel, who in turn received specific instructions from Moses. (Ex. 12:1-7, 21-23, 29) In those circumstances, Moses and the older men acted as bearers of Jehovah’s instructions to his people. Christian elders fulfill a comparably vital function today.
15 Very likely, you can think of numerous other occasions in Bible history when Jehovah provided life-saving instructions through human or angelic representatives. In all these cases, God saw fit to delegate authority. Messengers spoke in his name, and they told his people what they needed to do in order to survive a crisis. Can we not imagine that Jehovah might do something similar at Armageddon? Naturally, any elders today who are delegated the responsibility of representing Jehovah or his organization must be exceptionally careful never to abuse the authority entrusted to them.
“ONE FLOCK, ONE SHEPHERD”
16. To what “word” do we need to be attentive?
16 Jehovah’s people constitute “one flock” under “one shepherd,” Jesus Christ. (John 10:16) Jesus indicated that he would be with his disciples “all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matt. 28:20) As heavenly King, he is in full control of all the developments that will lead to the execution of judgment against Satan’s world. In order to remain united and safe within the flock of God, we need to listen to ‘a word behind us,’ telling us which way to go. This “word” includes what God’s holy spirit says as expressed through the Bible and what Jehovah and Jesus say through those whom they have appointed as undershepherds.—Read Isaiah 30:21; Revelation 3:22.
17, 18. (a) What danger threatens the flock, but of what can we be confident? (b) What will be discussed in the next article?
17 Satan is said to be walking about “like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” (1 Pet. 5:8) Like a wild and ravenous predator, he is stalking the flock, waiting for an opportunity to pounce on the unwary or on those who stray. That is all the more reason why we should stay very close to the rest of the flock and to “the shepherd and overseer of [our] souls.” (1 Pet. 2:25) Concerning the survivors of the great tribulation, Revelation 7:17 says: “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.” What better promise could there possibly be?
18 Having considered the very important role of Christian elders as spiritual undershepherds, we do well to ask, How can these appointed men make sure that they treat Jesus’ sheep in an appropriate manner? The answer will be discussed in the following article.