“Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls.”—HEBREWS 13:17.
1, 2. Why does Jehovah compare himself to a shepherd?
JEHOVAH compares himself to a shepherd. (Ezekiel 34:11-14) This helps us to understand what Jehovah is like. A loving shepherd feels responsible for the lives of the sheep he cares for. He leads them to where there is food and water and carries their newborn. (Psalm 23:1, 2; Isaiah 40:11) He watches over the sheep day and night and protects them from wild animals. (1 Samuel 17:34, 35; Luke 2:8) He searches for any sheep that have wandered away from the flock and cares for those that are injured.—Ezekiel 34:16.
2 In ancient times, most of God’s people were shepherds and farmers. So they understood why Jehovah compared himself to a shepherd. They knew that sheep need care and attention to be healthy and to survive. In a similar way, people need care and direction from Jehovah. (Mark 6:34) Without Jehovah’s care and direction, people suffer. They do not know what is right and what is wrong, and they have no one to protect them. They are like “sheep that have no shepherd.” (1 Kings 22:17) But those who allow Jehovah to shepherd them have everything they need.
3. What will we learn in this article?
3 We too understand how Jehovah is like a shepherd. We see that he is caring very well for his people today. We will learn how he directs us and cares for our needs. Then we will discuss what we must do to benefit from Jehovah’s direction and care.
THE FINE SHEPHERD APPOINTS OTHERS TO HELP HIM
4. How does Jesus care for Jehovah’s sheep?
4 Jehovah has appointed Jesus to be Head of the Christian congregation. (Ephesians 1:22, 23) Jesus, “the fine shepherd,” is just like his Father. Jesus loves the sheep and cares for them. He even gave his life for the sheep. (John 10:11, 15) What a wonderful gift the ransom is for all humans! (Matthew 20:28) Jehovah’s purpose is that everyone who shows faith in Jesus “might not be destroyed but have everlasting life”!—John 3:16.
5, 6. (a) Whom has Jesus chosen to care for his sheep? What must the sheep do to benefit from Jesus’ care? (b) What is the main reason we want to follow the direction of the elders?
5 How do the sheep show that Jesus Christ is their Shepherd? Jesus said: “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) The sheep listen to the Fine Shepherd’s voice by always following his direction. This includes obeying those he has appointed to help him shepherd the flock. In the first century, Jesus chose his apostles and disciples to shepherd his followers. He told them to teach and feed his “little sheep.” (Read John 21:15-17; Matthew 28:20) As the good news continued to be preached, more and more people became disciples of Christ. So Jesus made sure that there would be mature shepherds to care for the congregations.—Ephesians 4:11, 12.
6 Later, Paul wrote to the elders in the congregation of Ephesus and told them: “The holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God.” (Acts 20:28) Elders today have also been appointed by holy spirit. Why can we say that? Because they have been appointed based on requirements written in God’s inspired Word. So when we obey the elders, we show respect for Jehovah and Jesus, the two greatest Shepherds. (Luke 10:16) This is the main reason why we willingly obey the elders. But there are other reasons we should follow their direction.
When we obey the elders, we show respect for Jehovah and Jesus
7. How do the elders help you keep your friendship with Jehovah strong?
7 The encouragement and direction elders give their brothers and sisters is always based on what the Bible says. The elders do not want to tell their brothers how to live their lives. (2 Corinthians 1:24) Instead, they want to help them to make their own decisions based on Bible principles. By doing so, the elders help the congregation to be united and peaceful. (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40) The Bible says that the elders “are keeping watch over your souls.” This means that the elders want to help each person in the congregation to stay close to Jehovah. So they are quick to help a brother or a sister who is about to make, or has already made, a bad decision. (Galatians 6:1, 2; Jude 22) We have so many good reasons for being “obedient to those who are taking the lead.”—Read Hebrews 13:17.
8. How do the elders protect the congregation?
8 The apostle Paul, as a caring shepherd, warned 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.” (Colossians 2:8) This warning helps us to see another reason why it is important to obey the elders’ direction. They protect their brothers from those who want to lead them away from Jehovah. The apostle Peter warned that “false prophets” and “false teachers” would try to get weak Christians to disobey Jehovah. (2 Peter 2:1, 14) Today, elders must give similar warnings when needed. The elders are wise Christians who have experience in life. They were appointed as elders because they have shown that they clearly understand the Scriptures and are qualified to teach the truth from the Bible. (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9) Their maturity, balance, and Bible-based wisdom help them to give good direction to their brothers and sisters.
THE FINE SHEPHERD FEEDS AND PROTECTS THE SHEEP
9. How does Jesus feed and direct the congregation today?
9 Jehovah uses his organization to teach and direct all the brothers and sisters worldwide. We receive much Scriptural counsel in our publications. At times, the organization also gives guidance directly to congregation elders. The elders receive this guidance from letters or from instructions delivered by traveling overseers. In all these ways, the sheep receive clear direction.
10. What responsibility do caring shepherds have when a brother or a sister has left the congregation?
10 Caring shepherds have the responsibility of protecting and caring for the sheep. Christian elders are especially concerned about those whose faith has become weak or those who have made serious mistakes. (Read James 5:14, 15.) Some may even have wandered away from the congregation and stopped serving God. What will a caring shepherd do to help? He will do all that he can to search for these ones and encourage them to return to the congregation. Jesus said: “It is not a desirable thing with my Father who is in heaven for one of these little ones to perish.”—Matthew 18:12-14.
Caring shepherds do all they can to search for any who have left the congregation
HOW SHOULD WE VIEW THE IMPERFECTIONS OF THE ELDERS?
11. Why may some find it difficult to obey the elders?
11 Jehovah and Jesus are perfect Shepherds. The human shepherds they use to care for the congregation are not. This fact may make it difficult for some to obey the elders. They may think: ‘The elders are imperfect humans just like us. Why should we listen to their counsel?’ True, the elders are imperfect. But we must not focus on their imperfections and mistakes.
12, 13. (a) In the past, what mistakes did responsible servants of God make? (b) Why did Jehovah want the mistakes of responsible men written in the Bible?
12 The Scriptures are honest about the mistakes of men whom Jehovah used to lead his people in the past. For example, David was anointed as king of Israel, but he later sinned against God. He slept with a married woman and then killed her husband. (2 Samuel 12:7-9) Also think about the apostle Peter. Even though he was given great responsibility in the Christian congregation, he too made serious mistakes. (Matthew 16:18, 19; John 13:38; 18:27; Galatians 2:11-14) Except for Jesus, no humans since Adam and Eve have been perfect.
Except for Jesus, no humans since Adam and Eve have been perfect
13 Why did Jehovah have the mistakes of some of his responsible servants written in the Bible? One reason was to show that he can use imperfect men to lead his people. In fact, he has always done this. So we should not use the imperfections of the elders today as an excuse to complain against them or to ignore their authority. Jehovah expects us to respect and obey them.—Read Exodus 16:2, 8.
14, 15. What can we learn from the way Jehovah gave instructions to his people in the past?
14 It is extremely important for us to obey the elders. Why? Think of how Jehovah gave instructions to his people so that they could survive difficult times in the past. For example, when the people of Israel left Egypt, God used Moses and Aaron to give important instructions to the people. Also, to survive the tenth plague, the Israelites had to obey instructions. They were told to have a special meal, slaughter a sheep, and splash some of its blood on their doorposts and right above their doors. Did God speak directly to the people? No, the people had to listen to the older men who received instructions from Moses. (Exodus 12:1-7, 21-23, 29) In this way, Jehovah used Moses and the older men to direct the people. Today, Jehovah uses Christian elders to do this.
15 You can probably think of many other times in the Bible when Jehovah used humans or angels to give instructions to his people. In many cases, these instructions saved their lives. In all these situations, God decided to give others the authority to speak in his name and to tell his people what they needed to do in dangerous times. We have every reason to expect that Jehovah will do the same for his people at Armageddon. Of course, elders who have the responsibility of representing Jehovah or his organization today must be very careful never to go beyond the authority that has been given to them.
“ONE FLOCK, ONE SHEPHERD”
16. What is the “word” we need to listen to?
16 Jehovah’s people are “one flock” under “one shepherd,” Jesus Christ. (John 10:16) Jesus said that he would be with his disciples “all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:20) As King in heaven, he is in full control of all the events that will happen before he comes to destroy Satan’s world. How can we stay united and safe in God’s organization? The Bible answers: “Your own ears will hear a word behind you saying: ‘This is the way. Walk in it, you people.’” This “word” includes what Jehovah teaches us in the Bible and what he and Jesus say through the shepherds they have appointed.—Read Isaiah 30:21; Revelation 3:22.
17, 18. (a) How are God’s people in danger? What can we be sure of? (b) What will we learn in the next article?
17 The Bible says that Satan is “like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” (1 Peter 5:8) Like a wild and hungry animal, he hunts the flock, waiting for the right moment to attack a sheep who is weak or who has wandered away from the flock. This is one good reason why we should always stay very close to the congregation and to our “shepherd and overseer.” (1 Peter 2:25) Revelation 7:17 talks about those who survive the great tribulation. It says that 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 a wonderful promise this is!
18 The responsibility of Christian elders to shepherd the congregation is very important. How can these appointed men make sure that they treat Jesus’ sheep with care? We will answer this question in the next article.
We should always stay very close to the congregation and to our “shepherd and overseer”