Humbly Submitting to Loving Shepherds

“Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive.”​—HEBREWS 13:17.

1, 2. What scriptures show that Jehovah and Jesus are loving Shepherds?

JEHOVAH GOD and his Son, Jesus Christ, are loving Shepherds. Isaiah prophesied: “Look! The Sovereign Lord Jehovah himself will come even as a strong one, and his arm will be ruling for him. . . . Like a shepherd he will shepherd his own drove. With his arm he will collect together the lambs; and in his bosom he will carry them. Those giving suck he will conduct with care.”​—Isaiah 40:10, 11.

2 That prophecy of restoration was first fulfilled when a Jewish remnant returned to Judah in 537 B.C.E. (2 Chronicles 36:22, 23) It was again fulfilled when the anointed remnant were delivered from “Babylon the Great” in 1919 by the Greater Cyrus, Jesus Christ. (Revelation 18:2; Isaiah 44:28) He is Jehovah’s “arm” for ruling, collecting together the sheep and shepherding them with tender care. Jesus himself stated: “I am the fine shepherd, and I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”​—John 10:14.

3. How does Jehovah show loving concern for the way his sheep are treated?

3 The prophecy of Isaiah 40:10, 11 emphasizes the tenderness with which Jehovah shepherds his people. (Psalm 23:1-6) During his earthly ministry, Jesus too showed tender concern for his disciples and for people in general. (Matthew 11:28-30; Mark 6:34) Both Jehovah and Jesus deplored the ruthlessness of the shepherds, or leaders, of Israel, who shamelessly neglected and exploited their flocks. (Ezekiel 34:2-10; Matthew 23:3, 4, 15) Jehovah promised: “I will save my sheep, and they will no longer become something for plunder; and I will judge between a sheep and a sheep. And I will raise up over them one shepherd, and he must feed them, even my servant David. He himself will feed them, and he himself will become their shepherd.” (Ezekiel 34:22, 23) In this time of the end, Jesus Christ, the Greater David, is the “one shepherd” whom Jehovah has appointed over all His servants  on earth, both the spirit-anointed Christians and the “other sheep.”​—John 10:16.

Heavenly Gifts to the Congregation

4, 5. (a) What precious gift has Jehovah given to his people on earth? (b) What gift has Jesus given to his congregation?

4 By raising up over His servants on earth “one shepherd”​—Jesus Christ—​Jehovah gave a precious gift to the Christian congregation. This gift of a heavenly Leader was prophesied at Isaiah 55:4: “Look! As a witness to the national groups I have given him, as a leader and commander to the national groups.” Both anointed Christians and members of the “great crowd” are gathered from among all national groups, tribes, peoples, and tongues. (Revelation 5:9, 10; 7:9) They make up an international congregation, “one flock,” under the leadership of “one shepherd,” Christ Jesus.

5 Jesus, in turn, has given a precious gift to his congregation on earth. He has provided faithful undershepherds who, in imitation of Jehovah and Jesus, shepherd the flock with tender care. The apostle Paul spoke of this loving gift in his letter to Christians in Ephesus. He wrote: “‘When he ascended on high he carried away captives; he gave gifts in men.’ . . . He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, for the building up of the body of the Christ.”​—Ephesians 4:8, 11, 12.

6. How were anointed overseers who served on bodies of elders depicted at Revelation 1:16, 20, and what can be said of appointed elders who are of the other sheep?

6 These “gifts in men” are overseers, or elders, appointed by Jehovah and his Son, through holy spirit, to shepherd the sheep with tenderness. (Acts 20:28, 29) To begin with, these overseers were all anointed Christian men. At Revelation 1:16, 20, those who served on bodies of elders within the anointed congregation were symbolized by “stars” or “angels” in Christ’s right hand, that is, under his control. In this time of the end, however, with the number of anointed overseers still on earth ever dwindling, the vast majority of Christian elders in the congregations are of the other sheep. Since these are appointed by representatives of the Governing Body under the leadings of the holy spirit, they too can be said to be under the right hand (or, under the direction) of the Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ. (Isaiah 61:5, 6) Since the elders in our congregations submit to Christ, the Head of the congregation, they deserve our full cooperation.​—Colossians 1:18.

 Obedience and Submission

7. What counsel did the apostle Paul give with regard to our attitude toward Christian overseers?

7 Our heavenly Shepherds, Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, expect us to be obedient and submissive to the undershepherds whom they have placed in positions of responsibility within the congregation. (1 Peter 5:5) Under inspiration, the apostle Paul wrote: “Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith. Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.”​—Hebrews 13:7, 17.

8. What does Paul invite us to “contemplate,” and how should we “be obedient”?

8 Notice that Paul invites us to “contemplate,” or carefully observe, the outcome of the faithful conduct of the elders and to follow such examples of faith. Furthermore, he counsels us to be obedient and to submit to the direction of these appointed men. Bible scholar R. T. France explains that in the original Greek, the word here translated “be obedient” is not “the normal term for obedience, but literally ‘be persuaded,’ implying a willing acceptance of their leadership.” We obey the elders not only because we are directed to do so in God’s Word but also because we are persuaded that they have Kingdom interests and our best interests at heart. We will certainly be happy if we willingly accept their leadership.

9. Why is it necessary for us to “be submissive” in addition to being obedient?

9 What, though, if we are not convinced that in a certain case the elders’ direction is the best way of doing things? That is where submission comes into play. It is easy to obey when everything is clear and we agree, but we will show that we are truly submissive if we yield even when we do not personally understand the direction provided. Peter, who later became an apostle, showed this kind of submission.​—Luke 5:4, 5.

Four Reasons for Willing Cooperation

10, 11. In what way have overseers “spoken the word of God” to their fellow Christians in the first century and today?

10 At Hebrews 13:7, 17, quoted above, the apostle Paul gives four reasons why we should be obedient and submissive to Christian overseers. The first is that they “have spoken the word of God” to us. Recall that the “gifts in men” that Jesus gives to the congregation are for “the readjustment of the holy ones.” (Ephesians 4:11, 12) He readjusted the thinking and conduct of first-century Christians by means of faithful undershepherds, some of whom were inspired to write letters to the congregations. He used such spirit-appointed overseers to guide and build up the early Christians.​—1 Corinthians 16:15-18; 2 Timothy 2:2; Titus 1:5.

11 Today, Jesus directs us by means of “the faithful and discreet slave,” represented by its Governing Body and the appointed elders. (Matthew 24:45) Out of respect for “the chief shepherd,” Jesus Christ, we heed Paul’s counsel: “Have regard for those who are working hard among you and presiding over you in the Lord and admonishing you.”​—1 Peter 5:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:17.

12. How are overseers “keeping watch over [our] souls”?

12 A second reason for cooperating with Christian overseers is that “they are keeping watch over [our] souls.” If they detect anything in our attitude or behavior that might endanger our spirituality, they are quick to  give us needed counsel with a view to our readjustment. (Galatians 6:1) The Greek word translated “keeping watch” literally means “abstaining from sleep.” According to one Bible scholar, it “implies the unflagging vigilance of the shepherd.” In addition to their maintaining spiritual vigilance, elders may even lose sleep out of concern for our spiritual well-being. Should we not willingly cooperate with such loving undershepherds, who do their best to imitate the tender care given by Jesus Christ, “the great shepherd of the sheep”?​—Hebrews 13:20.

13. To whom and in what ways are the overseers and all Christians accountable?

13 A third reason for our willingly cooperating with the overseers is that they keep watch over us “as those who will render an account.” Overseers remember that they are undershepherds, serving under the heavenly Shepherds, Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. (Ezekiel 34:22-24) Jehovah is the Owner of the sheep, whom “he purchased with the blood of his own Son,” and He holds the appointed overseers accountable for the way they treat His flock, which should be “with tenderness.” (Acts 20:28, 29) Hence, all of us are answerable to Jehovah for the way we respond to his direction. (Romans 14:10-12) Our obedience to the appointed elders also gives evidence of our submission to Christ, the Head of the congregation.​—Colossians 2:19.

14. What could lead to Christian overseers’ serving “with sighing,” and with what results?

14 Paul gave a fourth reason why we should humbly submit to Christian overseers. He wrote: “That they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.” (Hebrews 13:17) With their weighty responsibilities of teaching, shepherding, taking the lead in the preaching work, raising their families, and handling problems in the congregation, Christian elders carry a heavy load. (2 Corinthians 11:28, 29) If we fail to cooperate with them, we only add to their load. This would result in their “sighing.” Our showing an uncooperative spirit is displeasing to Jehovah and could prove to be damaging to  us. Instead, when we show proper respect and cooperation, the elders can carry out their duties with joy, and this contributes to unity and joyful participation in the Kingdom-preaching work.​—Romans 15:5, 6.

Demonstrating Our Submission

15. How can we demonstrate our obedience and submission?

15 There are many practical ways in which we can cooperate with appointed overseers. With a view to adapting to new circumstances in the territory, have the elders arranged to hold meetings for field service on days and at times that require changes in our routine? Let us put forth an effort to support the new arrangements. We may receive unexpected blessings. Is the service overseer visiting our Congregation Book Study? Let us have as full a share as possible in the preaching work that week. Have we received an assignment in the Theocratic Ministry School? We should make it a point to be present and to carry out our assignment. Has the Congregation Book Study overseer announced that it is our group’s turn to clean the Kingdom Hall? Let us give him full support, within the limits of our health and strength. In these and many other ways, we demonstrate our submission to the men whom Jehovah and his Son have appointed to care for the flock.

16. If an elder does not do things as directed, why would this not justify rebellion on our part?

16 At times, an elder may not do things as directed by the faithful slave class and its Governing Body. If he continues acting this way, he will have to render an account to Jehovah, “the shepherd and overseer of [our] souls.” (1 Peter 2:25) But any failure or mistakes on the part of certain elders would not justify an insubordinate attitude on our part. Jehovah does not bless disobedience and rebellion.​—Numbers 12:1, 2, 9-11.

Jehovah Blesses Willing Cooperation

17. What should be our attitude toward our overseers?

17 Jehovah God knows that the men he has appointed as overseers are imperfect. Yet, he is using them, and by means of his spirit, he shepherds his people on earth. It is true of the elders​—and of us all—​that “the power beyond what is normal [is] God’s and not that out of ourselves.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) We should therefore thank Jehovah for what he is accomplishing by means of our faithful overseers, and we should show them willing cooperation.

18. By submitting to our overseers, what, in fact, are we doing?

18 Overseers do their best to live up to Jehovah’s description of shepherds appointed over his flock in the last days, as found at Jeremiah 3:15: “I will give you shepherds in agreement with my heart, and they will certainly feed you with knowledge and insight.” Surely the elders in our midst are doing a fine job of teaching and protecting Jehovah’s sheep. May we continue to show our appreciation for their hard work through our willing cooperation, our obedience, and our submission. In so doing, we will demonstrate our appreciation for our heavenly Shepherds, Jehovah God and Jesus Christ.

By Way of Review

• How have Jehovah and Jesus Christ proved themselves to be loving Shepherds?

• In addition to obedience, why is submission needed?

• In what practical ways can we demonstrate our submission?

[Study Questions]

[Picture on page 27]

Christian elders submit to Christ’s leadership

[Pictures on page 29]

There are many ways to demonstrate our submission to Jehovah’s appointed shepherds