What kind of servant should we be?
In the Greek of the New Testament, there are two sorts of servants. One is a bondservant, a slave. More than one Greek word has this connotation, the most commonly used being doulos.
We are supposed to be this kind of servant—Paul, Peter, Jude and John each identifies himself as a “servant (bondservant) of Jesus Christ”, and Paul describes us “having been freed from sin and have become servants (slaves) of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). There are lots more examples.
The other kind of servant most often comes from the Greek diakonos, sometimes transliterated as “deacon” or “deaconess”, but more often translated “servant” or “minister”. This service is not slavery. It is rendered voluntarily, for the purpose of helping others. We are commanded to be this kind of servant too!
“He that is greatest among you shall be your servant (minister)” (Matthew 23:11). Paul is tremendously thankful that “Christ Jesus our Lord…judged me faithful, appointing me to his service (ministry)” (1 Timothy 1:12). Again, lots of examples.
We are called to be both kind of servants.
So what kind of servant should we be? Given the abundant appearance of both kinds, it’s beyond doubt that we’re not looking at either/or. We are to be both.
No doubt you’ve seen signs when you enter a town, advising you of how to connect with the “service organizations” in the town. Some of the better known are the Lions Club (“Lions serve”), the Kiwanis Club (“Thousands serving millions”), and Rotary Club (“People of action”). All these (and quite a few others) readily embrace the designation of “service organizations”.
Reading their mission statements, they clearly see themselves as serving others, in the diakonos sense. They aren’t particularly Christian—people of many faiths and of no faith are active members. They all appreciate the value of serving others beyond themselves.
They do good, something followers of Christ are emphatically told to do (Mark 14:7, Galatians 6:10, Hebrews 13:16, plenty of others). So, we see that being a minister, a servant to others, is necessary for a Christian—however it is not everything.
We know what being “in Christ” means: “
Believed, and practiced. I’m thinking this is the mandatory part, the part where we are slaves of Jesus Christ, slaves of righteousness. Service to Jesus in this sense is on his terms alone. We are his, bought with a price.
And then, I believe, we are invited to take up voluntary service, of our own choosing. Ministering to others. Maybe invited isn’t the right word, because this is also a matter of command from the Lord. But it’s our call how we serve. (See Romans 12:6-8, and then read on to the following verses.)
A lot of Jesus’s parables involve servants—the slave kind. There’s a lot to be learned just taking to heart the position we have: we’re the Lord’s slaves. And then there is the example of the Lord himself, the quintessential voluntary servant, giving everything he had to give, all for the benefit of others. For me. How can we think we belong to him if we’re not doing, serving, as he showed us?