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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary


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Old and New Testaments alike use the one word ‘servant’ to translate a variety of words from the original languages. In many cases the word ‘servant’ is really ‘slave’.

In English ‘slaves’ and ‘servants’ suggest different classes of people, but this distinction is not so clear in the original languages. Often the words are used interchangeably. If there is a difference, it is usually one of suitability to context. ‘Slaves’ may be used of people in relation to their masters, but ‘servants’ in relation to their work. The former may be in a context of submission to a superior (e.g. Matthew 6:24; Romans 6:16-18; Ephesians 6:6-7; see SLAVE), the latter in the context of service for others (e.g. Matthew 20:28 : Luke 10:40; Romans 12:7; see MINISTER).

A special kind of service

Christians are slaves of God and servants of God (1 Corinthians 4:1; 1 Corinthians 7:22-23). They are not to be ashamed of these titles, as if God has denied them ordinary human dignity or reduced them to some low and humiliating status. The Bible uses many pictures to describe the relationship between Christ and his people, and each picture illustrates only one aspect of a many-sided relationship.

Therefore, although Christians are sometimes called Christ’s servants, other times they are called his friends and ambassadors. Service for him is a privilege (John 15:15; John 15:20; 2 Corinthians 5:20). Christ himself is an example of the sort of servant a Christian should be (Luke 22:27; John 13:12-15; see SERVANT OF THE LORD).

Service for God can take many forms. It may consist of giving practical aid to those who are poor, hungry, or otherwise in need (Romans 15:25; 1 Timothy 5:10; 2 Timothy 1:18; Hebrews 6:10). Some people serve God through ministries of spreading the gospel and caring for churches (Acts 6:4; Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 16:15; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Ephesians 3:7; Ephesians 4:11-12; Colossians 4:17); others serve him by praying for those engaged in such works (Romans 15:30-31; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Philippians 1:19). The title ‘deacon’, given to certain people who have various responsibilities in the church, means ‘servant’ (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8; see DEACON).

Motives and performance

Regardless of the special ministries entrusted to certain people, all Christians are in some sense God’s servants. They have unlimited possibilities of service, and should consider that everything they do is a way of serving their Lord (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:23). The service does not have to be in a religious setting. Christ sees everyday acts of kindness as service for him, even though the doers of those acts may not be aware of it (Matthew 25:35-40). On the other hand, people may give an appearance of serving God, but if their chief concern is self-interest, they are not serving God at all (Matthew 6:24).

To serve Christ means to serve others (Matthew 25:35-40), and those who serve others receive God’s rewards (Matthew 20:25-28; Matthew 23:11-12). This does not mean that Christians serve God solely for what they can get in return. On the contrary they realize that whatever service they do is merely their duty (Luke 17:10). Yet God graciously promises to reward those who serve him faithfully (Matthew 25:21; Luke 19:17; Hebrews 6:10; Revelation 2:19; Revelation 2:26; see REWARD).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Servant'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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