The Believer as a Servant
Ken Totton, Cambridge, England
The Glory of Service
In this article, we survey the essentials of what it means to be a servant of God. We were once the slaves of sin and Satan, but, by God’s infinite mercy and grace, we have been redeemed, and now belong to Him.1 This is prefigured by the experience of Israel in the days of the exodus. They once groaned under the tyranny of Pharaoh, but God, in fulfilment of His covenant promises to Abraham, sent them a deliverer in Moses, judged the Egyptians and their gods, and liberated His people to serve Him thenceforth.2 Thus, they embarked on a completely new era with the dignified status of His servant-people, and the glorious privilege of approaching Him in worship. Whilst the term is sometimes applied to spiritual leaders,3 it should be understood that every believer is a servant,4 and the constant realization of our dignity and responsibilities as God’s servants is of the utmost practical importance. God’s delight in faithful service is seen in the honorific way the term ‘my servant’, or ‘servant of the Lord’ is applied to Job, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Caleb, David, Eliakim, and, especially, the Lord Jesus.5
The Servant and His Master
‘Servant’ is a relational term and points to the fact that Jesus is our Master and Lord, John 13. 14, ‘If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet’. In their letters, the apostles Paul, James, Peter, and Jude each delighted to introduce themselves as ‘a (bond)servant of Jesus Christ’. As we ponder the lordship of Christ in relation to our servant calling, the following should be noted:
Our Master has exclusive ownership of us. He has redeemed us by the shedding of His own precious blood.6 He has emancipated us from slavery to sin, and now we belong to Him – absolutely.
We are to be totally available to the Master, in every department of life, and at all times.7
It should be our priority to please Christ,8 and we should allow this to take precedence over lesser pursuits.
We live in a culture where people are fixated by their own rights – human rights , consumer rights, civil rights, marital rights. Yet, for the believer all rights over our lives belong to the Lamb of God who has purchased us by His death.9
Our Lord Jesus is Himself the perfect Servant of the Lord. Eternally God’s equal and fellow, He entered this world in the form of a bondservant. He ‘became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross’, Phil. 2. 8. A major part of serving Christ is serving others, and not only our fellow-believers, emulating One who ‘did not come to be served, but to serve’, Mark 10. 43-45. As the fulfilment of the suffering Servant in Isaiah’s prophecy, and in His service to God and needy men, the Lord Jesus modelled true and costly service – He left us an example, that we should follow His steps.
Spheres of Service
The Lord is sovereign in relation to the equipment, endowment, direction, and sphere of duty of His servants.10 With this in mind, the Parables of the Pounds and Talents will repay careful study. Some are called to serve Christ in a comparatively restricted sphere. The liberated demoniac aspired to follow Jesus, but was sent back to his own locality to tell them what great things the Lord had done for him.11 Others are called to a much more expansive ministry, for example, Paul.12
The key question to ask is, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’ Acts 9. 6, and then to respond with Mary, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’, Luke 1. 38 ESV. No one need feel exempt on grounds of old age, for we read concerning Anna that she ‘was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day’, Luke 2. 37.
The following contexts are worth noting in relation to our service for Christ:
The local church. The local church is likened to a tilled field.13 As in the field of Boaz, there is work for every believer. Gifts and functions differ, but happy is the assembly that is busily, and unitedly, serving the Lord Christ! Elders, whilst modelling the servant mindset of the Lord Jesus, should be concerned to ensure that all are engaged. The worship of the church, and the preaching of the gospel, are two very precious forms of service, each priestly in character.14
The home. Our homes are places where the Lord’s presence and peace can be enjoyed. Neighbours should sense this when they come under our roof. Mary and Martha placed themselves, and their home at Bethany, at the Lord’s disposal, and how precious this must have been during His final days on earth! Our homes are resources to be used for evangelism, pastoral work, and hospitality to strangers.15 Note, for example, how Priscilla and Aquila used their home to great advantage in relation to the instruction of Apollos.16
The world. Our workaday lives are integral to our mission in this world. God desires to have His servants everywhere, and in every legitimate walk of life. This conviction revolutionizes how we view our secular callings. Paul could direct slaves at Colossae, ‘Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ’, Col. 3. 23, 24. How often the gospel is promoted when a Christ-like employee ‘goes the second mile’, not by coercion but in the joyful consciousness that the eye of his Master is ever upon him!
What features should characterize the servant of God? At the top of the list must be obedience. In the beautifully suggestive passage in Exodus chapter 21, the Hebrew servant has the option to walk free, but, instead, chooses to remain in devoted service to his master. His ear is drilled with an awl at the door of the house. The servant’s ear is most important, as the channel for receiving the master’s commands. The pierced ear testifies not only to a devoted servant, but also a worthy master. He delights to abide under his master’s direction and control.
A further feature of the ideal servant is maintenance of focus. The behaviour of Abraham’s servant in Genesis chapter 24 provides a master-class in seeing the assigned task through to successful completion. We can so easily get distracted into time-wasting trivia in this bewitching world!
The Parable of the Pounds, Luke chapter 19, suggests that each servant, by trading, could gain further resources wherewith to serve the master. Conversely, the man who abused his trust had the pound taken from him.17 This implies that we should be concerned to develop our gifts, and opportunities to enhance our usefulness to the Lord.18
Humility should be a marked feature of any servant of Christ. As the Lord Jesus said, ‘So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do”’, Luke 17. 10. Concerning those who serve in spiritual leadership, we read, ‘a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will’, 2 Tim. 2. 24-26.
The Servant’s Future
Our lives in this world provide unique opportunities for the service of God.19 We should be concerned not only to start well, and continue, but also to finish well. Archippus was exhorted to complete his ministry, whereas Paul could look forward to ‘the crown of righteousness’.20 In this respect, the conscientious servant will always have the judgement seat of Christ in view – the solemn day of review and reward. What consummate joy for those who receive their Lord’s commendation, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord’, Matt. 25. 23! It is clear from these words that the present life is ‘training for reigning’. In Revelation chapter 22 verses 3 to 5 we read, ‘and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads . . . And they shall reign forever and ever’. What a delightful paradox; it is precisely in being His bondservants and engaging in priestly service that we shall reign! To know Him is life eternal; to serve Him is perfect freedom.21
My Master lead me to Thy door,
Pierce this now
Thy bonds are freedom - let me stay
With Thee, to toil,
[H. C. G. Moule]
- Rom. 6. 17-18; Rev. 1. 1; 2. 20.
- Exod. 8. 1.
- 2 Tim. 2. 24.
- 1 Thess. 1. 9.
- Job. 1. 8; Gen. 26. 24; Num. 12. 7-8; Josh. 24. 29; Num. 14. 24; 2 Sam. 3. 18; Isa. 22. 20; Matt. 12. 18.
- 1 Pet. 1. 19.
- 2 Tim. 2. 21.
- 2 Cor. 5. 9.
- Rev. 5. 9.
- 1 Cor. 12. 4-7.
- Mark 5. 19.
- Rom. 15. 19.
- 1 Cor. 3. 9.
- Phil. 3. 3; Rom. 15. 16.
- Heb. 13. 2.
- Acts 18. 26.
- Luke 19. 26.
- 2 Tim. 1. 6; 1 Cor. 14. 13.
- John 9. 4 ESV.
- Col. 4. 17; 2 Tim. 4. 8.
- John 8. 36; 1 Cor. 7. 22; Gal. 5. 1.