9. What is illustrated by the concern shown by the shepherd and the woman?
9 Note Jesus’ conclusion in both cases: “Thus there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents” and “thus, I tell you, joy arises among the angels of God over one sinner that repents.” The concern of the shepherd and the woman reflects, therefore, in its own small way, the feelings of Jehovah and his heavenly creatures. Just as what was lost remained precious in the eyes of the shepherd and of the woman, so those who have drifted away and lost contact with God’s people remain precious in Jehovah’s eyes. (Jeremiah 31:3) Such individuals may be spiritually weak, yet they are not necessarily rebellious. Despite their weakened state, to some extent they may still be keeping Jehovah’s requirements. (Psalm 119:176; Acts 15:29) Hence, as in times past, Jehovah is slow to “cast them away from before his face.”—2 Kings 13:23.
10, 11. (a) How do we want to view those who have drifted away from the congregation? (b) According to Jesus’ two illustrations, how can we express our concern for them?
10 Like Jehovah and Jesus, we too are deeply concerned about those who are weak and missing from the Christian congregation. (Ezekiel 34:16; Luke 19:10) We view a spiritually weak individual as a lost sheep—not a lost cause. We do not reason: ‘Why worry about a weak one? The congregation is getting along just fine without him.’ Rather, like Jehovah, we view those who have drifted away but who want to return as being valuable.
11 How, though, can we express our feelings of concern? Jesus’ two illustrations indicate that we can do so (1) by taking the initiative, (2) by being gentle, and (3) by being earnest. Let us look at these aspects one at a time.
Take the Initiative
12. What do the words “go for the lost one” tell us about the shepherd’s attitude?
12 In the first of the two illustrations, Jesus says that the shepherd will “go for the lost one.” The shepherd takes the initiative and makes a deliberate effort to find the missing sheep. Hardship, danger, and distance do not hold him back. On the contrary, the shepherd persists “until he finds it.”—Luke 15:4.
13. How did faithful men of old respond to the needs of weak ones, and how can we imitate such Bible examples?
13 Similarly, reaching out to a person in need of encouragement often requires that the stronger one take the initiative. Faithful men of old understood this. For instance, when Jonathan, King Saul’s son, noticed that his bosom friend David was in need of encouragement, Jonathan “rose up and went to David at Horesh, that he might strengthen his hand in regard to God.” (1 Samuel 23:15, 16) Centuries later, when Governor Nehemiah saw that some of his Jewish brothers had grown weak, he too “immediately rose” up and encouraged them ‘to keep Jehovah in mind.’ (Nehemiah 4:14) We today will also want to ‘rise up’—take the initiative—to strengthen those who are weak. But who in the congregation should do so?
14. Who in the Christian congregation should reach out to those who are weak?
14 Christian elders, in particular, have the responsibility to “strengthen the weak hands . . . and make the knees that are wobbling firm” and to “say to those who are anxious at heart: ‘Be strong. Do not be afraid.’” (Isaiah 35:3, 4; 1 Peter 5:1, 2) Note, however, that Paul’s admonition to “speak consolingly to the depressed souls” and to “support the weak” was not given to elders only. Rather, Paul’s words were directed to the entire “congregation of the Thessalonians.” (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 5:14) Reaching out to those who are weak is thus a task for all Christians. Like the shepherd in the illustration, each Christian should be moved to “go for the lost one.” Of course, this is done most effectively in cooperation with the elders. Could you take some steps to assist a weak one in your congregation?
15. Why may the shepherd have acted in the way that he did?
15 What does the shepherd do when he finally finds the lost sheep? “He puts it upon his shoulders.” (Luke 15:5) What a touching and telling detail! The sheep may have wandered for days and nights through unfamiliar territory, perhaps even being exposed to the threat of stalking lions. (Job 38:39, 40) No doubt the sheep is weakened by a lack of food. It is simply too frail to overcome in its own strength the hurdles it will encounter on the way back to the fold. Therefore, the shepherd bends down, gently lifts up the sheep, and carries it across all obstacles back to the flock. How can we reflect the care shown by this shepherd?
16. Why should we reflect the tenderness that the shepherd showed toward the strayed sheep?
16 A person who has lost contact with the congregation may be exhausted in a spiritual sense. Like the sheep separated from the shepherd, such an individual may have wandered aimlessly through this world’s hostile territory. Without the protection provided by the fold, the Christian congregation, he is exposed more than ever to the attacks of the Devil, who “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” (1 Peter 5:8) Additionally, he is weakened by a lack of spiritual food. Hence, on his own he likely is too weak to overcome the hurdles he will encounter on his journey back to the congregation. Therefore, we need to bend down, so to speak, gently lift up the weak one, and carry him back. (Galatians 6:2) How may we accomplish that?
17. How can we imitate the apostle Paul when we visit someone who is weak?
17 The apostle Paul said: “If anyone is weak, do I not share his weakness?” (2 Corinthians 11:29, The New English Bible; 1 Corinthians 9:22) Paul had empathy for people, including the weak. We want to display similar fellow feeling for those who are weak. When visiting a spiritually weak Christian, reassure him that he is valuable in Jehovah’s eyes and dearly missed by his fellow Witnesses. (1 Thessalonians 2:17) Let him know that they are ready to give him support and are willing to be for him “a brother that is born for when there is distress.” (Proverbs 17:17; Psalm 34:18) Our heartfelt expressions may gently and gradually lift him up to the point that he is able to return to the flock. What should we do next? The illustration of the woman and the lost coin gives us guidance.
18. (a) Why did the woman in the illustration not feel hopeless? (b) What earnest efforts did the woman put forth, and with what result?
18 The woman who loses the coin knows that the situation is challenging but not hopeless. Had the coin been dropped in a large, bushy field or in a deep, muddy lake, she probably would have given it up as lost beyond recovery. However, knowing that the coin must be somewhere in her house, within reach, she begins a thorough and earnest search. (Luke 15:8) First, she lights a lamp to brighten her dark house. Then, she sweeps the floor with her broom, hoping to hear a tinkling sound. Finally, she carefully searches every nook and cranny until the lamp catches a glint of a silver coin. The woman’s earnest effort is rewarded!
19. What lessons in helping weak ones can we draw from the actions of the woman in the illustration of the lost coin?
19 As this detail of the illustration reminds us, the Scriptural obligation to help a weak Christian is not beyond our abilities. At the same time, we realize that it requires effort. After all, the apostle Paul said to the Ephesian elders: “By thus laboring you must assist those who are weak.” (Acts 20:35a) Keep in mind that the woman does not find the coin by looking around her house casually, just here and there, or incidentally, just now and then. No, she succeeds because she systematically searches “until she finds it.” Likewise, when we endeavor to regain a spiritually weak individual, our approach needs to be earnest and purposeful. What can we do?
20. What can be done to help weak ones?
20 How can we help a weak one build up faith and appreciation? A personal Bible study in an appropriate Christian publication may be just what is needed. Indeed, conducting a Bible study with a weak individual allows us to assist him in a consistent and thorough way. It is likely that the service overseer could best determine who might provide the needed assistance. He may suggest what subjects could be studied and which publication would be most helpful. Just as the woman in the illustration uses helpful tools to accomplish her task, so today we have tools that help us to accomplish our God-given responsibility to assist those who are weak. Two of our new tools, or publications, will be especially helpful in this endeavor. They are the books Worship the Only True God and Draw Close to Jehovah.*
21. How does helping those who are weak bring blessings to all?
21 Assisting those who are weak brings blessings to all. The one being helped enjoys the happiness of becoming reunited with true friends. We experience the heartfelt joy that only giving can bring. (Luke 15:6, 9; Acts 20:35b) The congregation as a whole grows in warmth as each member takes a loving interest in others. And above all, honor goes to our caring Shepherds, Jehovah and Jesus, as their desire to support the weak is reflected in their earthly servants. (Psalm 72:12-14; Matthew 11:28-30; 1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:1) What good reasons we have, therefore, to continue ‘having love among ourselves’!
“Keep Bearing Much Fruit”
“Keep bearing much fruit and prove yourselves my disciples.”—JOHN 15:8.
1. (a) What requirement of discipleship did Jesus mention to his apostles? (b) What question should we ask ourselves?
IT WAS the evening before his death. Jesus had taken ample time to encourage his apostles with a heart-to-heart talk. By now, it must have been past midnight, but Jesus, moved by love for his close friends, continued speaking. Then, in the midst of his conversation, he reminded them of one more requirement they needed to meet to remain his disciples. He said: “My Father is glorified in this, that you keep bearing much fruit and prove yourselves my disciples.” (John 15:8) Do we today meet this requirement of discipleship? What does it mean to be “bearing much fruit”? To find out, let us return to the conversation that evening.
2. What illustration about fruit does Jesus relate on the evening before his death?
2 The admonition to bear fruit is part of an illustration that Jesus related to his apostles. He said: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the cultivator. Every branch in me not bearing fruit he takes away, and every one bearing fruit he cleans, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in union with me, and I in union with you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it remains in the vine, in the same way neither can you, unless you remain in union with