As Christians we long to have our Lord refer to us as good and faithful servants but many of us have no concept of what it really means to be a true servant of God. The Greek word dulas or dulag actually means “slave” but Western civilization’s concept of slavery conjures up an image of harsh and cruel servitude which is a little different from what slavery was in biblical times.
Luke’s Gospel records a centurion whose slave was seriously ill and this servant was so dear to this respected leader that he sent elders of the Jews to Jesus, pleading with Him to come and heal him.
A servant is someone who performs a service such as a butler or a maid where a slave is owned by the one he or she is serving. When we surrender to the Lord we become His slave which is why Paul and other Apostles always referred to themselves as slaves of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.
To redeem simply means to buy back. In this context it refers to buying back a person from slavery. When a person is kidnapped, a ransom has to be paid in order to get the person back. Once the price has been paid the kidnapped victim has been redeemed. However, our redemption came by the death of the Son of God- the ultimate price.
In biblical times, persons who couldn’t pay their debts became a slave to the one owed until the debt was paid. Jesus Christ gave His life as a ransom to redeem us from the penalty of sin which is a debt that none of us could ever repay. However, Paul said in Romans that he used the term "slave" because it was terminology they could understand.
For many of us the thought of being a servant no doubt summons up an image of forced obedience which is far from the truth. Our obedience comes from a willingness to yield to the sovereign wishes of our Lord along with the knowledge that obedience is a higher form of worship than praise. Jesus said as much when He told the disciples that He was going to be crucified. “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do.” (Jn.14:31) In other words, His obedience demonstrated His love for the Father just as our obedience demonstrates our love for Christ.
Jesus does not see us as slaves but as friends. (Jn.15:14) Christ being formed in us is the ultimate results of our obedience which is the heart’s desire of every true Christian. (Gal.4:19) As we strive to obey our Lord we begin to develop character traits similar to His. Paul said we become a new creature.
This can be a real problem for those who see obedience to God a severe sacrifice which is not true. Anyone who studies the life of Jesus Christ will quickly see the dynamic power of His person and the depth of the incredible love He showed toward us as He stood in the shadow of the cross and ministered to people from all walks of life. Throngs of people followed Him nearly everywhere He went. Many times He could neither eat nor sleep for the multitudes of sick and needy people who flocked to Him.
The night before His death on the cross Jesus actually washed the disciples’ feet to demonstrate the importance of serving others. An ordinary person facing such a horrible death would have been too distracted to think of others at such a time. Christ is the ultimate example of what the Father wants us to be which is why He said, “Hear ye Him.”
Satan has most certainty blinded the eyes of the unbeliever because one would have to be blind not to see the magnitude of Christ’s passion toward us. Those who learn from Him come to realize the satisfaction that results from serving others. Jesus said, "It's better to give than to receive," so it stands to reason that the more intense the giving the greater the reward.
“Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Mt.11:29-30)
The burden of being a servant of God is actually not a burden at all but an honor, which is simply learning about Jesus Christ, obeying His commands (which aren’t grievous) and trying to imitate His attitude and ways. In doing so an amazing transformation begins to take place. It usually doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen. Paul calls it putting on the new man. (Eph.4:24)
Serving Christ is not a matter of rules and regulations. The Father’s glory is what Jesus wants and serving others brings God glory. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1Cor.10:31) Being kind to someone means more to God than legalistic rule-keeping. God loves kindness, mercy and justice.
So the character traits of a good servant include love, kindness, mercy, and patience toward others and obedience to Christ which is actually a high calling. The title of servant or slave in this context isn’t one of dishonor. Many of the Old Testament prophets were called a servant of God such as Moses, David and Joshua. All of the New Testament saints were referred to as servants of God. The Apostle Paul counted it an honor to be known as a slave of Christ as did James, the Lord’s brother.
Unfortunately, in today’s society which centers on self, this concept sounds absolutely ridiculous. Those whose focus turns inward often fall victim to their own selfishness which allows us the opportunity to bring glory to God. Our response reflects the love of God in our heart as we allow Christ to operate through us to them. “It is not I but Christ Who lives in me.” (Gal.2:20)
Jesus was obedient unto death and is the perfect example of a good servant. During His three-year ministry He barely had time to eat or sleep for the people who came to Him for help and He never turned anyone away or put them off. He always took immediate action. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mk.10:45)
Being a servant of God is a vital part of a balanced Christian walk but many are confused about this important aspect of the Christian life. Where should I serve? What is God’s will concerning me? What has He called me to do?
Paul said that we are to stay where we are when we are called unless God changes our situation (1Cor.7:20) which suggests that we are called to serve in our surrounding circumstances. Our lives should reflect the love of God in our heart toward all persons within our life circles whether it’s family, friends, neighbors or coworkers. This can be very difficult at times.
However, Jesus said, “A servant is not above his master,” and He withstood much difficulty during His ministry. As a servant of God we may feel used and abused at times but Jesus said to count it as a blessing when we suffer for doing good. People may take advantage of our goodness but it is all recorded in heaven. God notices everything we do regardless of whether people notice it or not.
Essentially, as good servants we should strive to please our Master. Men-pleasers are despised in the eyes of God. Oftentimes we are put into uncomfortable situation where we have to choose between pleasing God and pleasing man.
We can’t serve God only when it’s convenient. Our ethics reflect what is in our heart. When we do things for people such as lie for them, in effect we are saying to God, “I had rather please them than to please You.”
A true Christian would never deliberately choose to please man over God. Nevertheless, we have all been guilty of this at one time or another and God, in His infinite mercy, forgives us. But as we grow in faith and in our service to Him, we become more sensitive to such things as all of us long to hear Him say to us, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”
Therefore, to be a servant of God is to show kindness, mercy and patience toward others which reflects the love of God in our heart and brings Him glory. When it comes to being a good servant, Jesus Christ is our Master and our perfect example. “If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” (Lk.12:26)
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