In the New Testament, Christians are called by many different names—brothers, sisters, believers, ambassadors, disciples, children, or saints. Generally we have no objections to being called by these titles, but there’s another one that may not seem quite as appealing—servant. To make matters worse, the Greek word that is often translated as servant or bond-servant actually means slave. And not just any slave, but the lowest slave in the house, who washed people’s feet as they entered.
Now this may not be how we like to think of ourselves, but those who occupied the highest levels in the early church considered themselves as lowly slaves. In their New Testament writings, Paul, James, Peter, Jude, and John all identified themselves as bond-servants of Jesus Christ. Even Jesus took the form of a bond-servant when He was made in the likeness of men (Phil. 2:7). He came to earth to live in perfect obedience to the Father, doing only what He was shown or told, including dying a sacrificial death on the cross to redeem fallen mankind.
Clearly, God places a high value on servanthood, but from a worldly perspective, it’s not an esteemed position. When the disciples were arguing about which of them was greatest, Jesus told them, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Matt. 20:26-27). The way to receive honor from God is by being a faithful servant of Christ, not by worldly prominence (John 12:26).
But how are we to serve Jesus since He’s in heaven and we’re on earth? When Jesus wanted to teach His disciples the importance of servanthood, He assumed the position of the lowest slave, took a basin and towel, and washed their feet. Then He said, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:14-15). When in the power of the Holy Spirit, we meet the temporal and spiritual needs of those around us, we are serving Christ.
However, there are four important truths that qualify our service. First of all, serving is not what we do for God, but what He does through us. When Jesus ascended to heaven, He left His followers here to carry out His work. In fact, He said that we’d do greater works than He did—not in quality but in volume (John 14:12). Jesus’ ministry was limited to one geographic location, but He commissioned His disciples to take the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. And today, we have global access as never before through the internet, broadcasts, and publications.
Second, God is the one who determines how we are to serve Him. Servants do not pick and choose what to do for their master; they simply follow his instructions. When we decide how we’re going to serve Christ, we’ve usurped His role as Master. God says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand” for us to accomplish (Eph. 2:10). Our responsibility is to discover how He wants us to serve Him and then get busy doing those specific tasks. He’s even given us spiritual gifts that enable us to do exactly what He’s planned for each of us (1 Cor. 12:7).
Servants do not pick and choose what to do for their master; they simply follow his instructions.
Third, no matter what we are doing, ultimately we’re serving Christ. I came to realize this truth when I had a cleaning job during my time at seminary. My boss was a hard taskmaster who constantly critiqued my work. After the first week, I told God I deserved something better than this. But as the weeks passed, I began to realize that I needed to change my attitude. While reading Colossians, I came across this verse: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23). After realizing that I was sweeping and scrubbing for Christ, I worked hard to do the best job I possibly could.
Fourth, we must realize that we cannot serve ourselves and God at the same time. In order to become a servant of Christ, we must overcome our self-centeredness. That’s why Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Christ’s apostles willingly served and died for Him, and there may come a day when we must do the same. But for now, we must simply lay down our own agendas and desires in order to make ourselves available for whatever the Lord would have us do.
God wants us to grow in Christlikeness, and since Jesus came not to be served but to serve, this should be our ambition as well. Is it costly? Yes. It can be sacrificial, inconvenient, and exhausting. Sometimes we feel limited by our health, financial resources, abilities, or age. But the biggest factor is our attitude. If we are motivated by love and a desire to honor the Lord, we won’t have to look for ways to serve Him because He’ll put opportunities right in our path.
Each of us is called to be a servant of Christ wherever we are, but that’s not all. This is also our eternal destiny. According to Revelation 22:3, we will spend eternity serving our Lord in heaven. What a high and glorious calling we have as servants of Christ!
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. One of the reasons we sometimes grow weary in serving is because we can’t see the good we are accomplishing. However, the Lord sees and knows, and He will never forget our service and the love we’ve shown in His name (Heb. 6:10). Our labor is not in vain.