God’s People are Servants – Acts 16:16-18

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There is an immensely popular PBS television series called “Downton Abbey.” It has been running for five years, and according to some accounts, it is the most watched series in world. It tells the story of the Crawley family, the father of which, Robert Crawley is the 7th Earl of Grantham. The tale begins with the sinking of the Titanic, then rolls through WW I, and into the “Roaring Twenties.” Now in its final season it is nearing the Second World War which began in 1939. The various plots revolve around the servants as much as the aristocratic Crawley family. Many of the servants are as proud of their position as are the daughters of the Earl. And, just as there are complicated hierarchies and levels of royalty, so there is among the staff. There is an estate manager; a butler, under butler, head valet, valet, first footman, second footman, chauffer and hall boys. On the ladies side, there is are the head house-keeper, senior lady’s maid, head house maid, various lady’s maids, an head cook, assistant cook, kitchen maid, and a nanny. Some of those servants want to make more of their lives, and so they them move on out of the Abbey. But several of them are happy – and even proud – to be the servants of others.

In our on-going consideration of the titles which God gives to His people, we come to the term “servant.” Again, it is debatable whether this is a title or a description. But I think, like Mr. Carson or Mrs. Hughes in “Downton Abbey,” the honor of being a servant of King of Kings, makes our position more than a mere job. We should be proud to wear the TITLE “Servants of the Most High God.”

There are several Greek words which are translated “servant.”

And some of them take us back to titles and relationships which we’ve already addressed. For example, the first time we read “servant” in the New Testament it comes from “pais” (paheece). In Matthew 8:6 a man came running up to Christ, “saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.” The Greek “pais” is translated “servant” ten times, but also “child” “son” or even “maiden” just as often. So the Bible ties this “servant” to the earlier title – “child” – “child of God.”

The Bible very clearly declares that parents have specific responsibilities towards their children. It also says that children have responsibilities towards their parents and among them is obedience. Ephesians 6:1 – “Children, OBEY your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” Colossians 3:20 – “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.” In their obedience, children become servants in a very special way. Part of that unique nature is the love that links the parent to the child. With that comes a willingness to serve which doesn’t apply to the man who works for wages.

Another special aspect of this word, and this kind of service, is seen across the New Testament. In Matthew 12 Jesus was speaking of Himself and quoted Isaiah “Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles.” In many places, the Bible calls Christ Jesus God’s “pais” (paheece). Twice in Peter’s sermon in Acts 3, he calls Christ God’s “pais” – but the word isn’t translated “servant.” The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus;.” “Unto you (Israelites) God, having raised up his Son (“pais”) Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” When Jesus Christ, who is the eternal Son of God, is called a “servant” only the most misguided Christian could refuse to be called by the same title. When you are called God’s servant there is a hint that you are also God’s child by His marvelous grace.

One of the more well-known words which is translated “servant” is “diakonos” (dee-ak’-on-os).

It has been transliterated into English in the word “deacon.” There were deacons in the first church, because there was a special need for them. It was an office of the church, and I’m sure that there were specific responsibilities given to the seven men who held the office. But it was also more than an office – or it was less than office – depending on the heart of the interpreter. There were “diakonos” (dee-ak’-on-os) who didn’t carry the title or the specific duties of Stephen or Philip. And there were deaconesses in God’s churches, but again in their case it was not an office. The truth is that every Christian ought to be a deacon, a “diakonos” (dee-ak’-on-os) – a “servant.”

In the homes of 19th century English gentry, there were a dozen different kinds of servants. The head butler had more responsibility and honor than the head valet, but both were “diakonos.” And until petty jealousy arose, both were important, if not essential – both could be happy and satisfied. And the same should be true today among us. We may not all be preachers, teachers, piano players or other kinds of servants, but there are no Christians, even children, who cannot be useful.

For years, one of my responsibilities here was to mow the lawn every week during the summer. And for years, Judy and I would vacuum and dust the auditorium and other public rooms in the building. On winter Sunday mornings, I would go out to shovel the snow off the sidewalks. But now I am blessed – WE are blessed – with a pair of “diakonos” (dee-ak’-on-os), who take care of these things and a dozen others – for which I am very, very grateful. There are others who serve in visiting the sick, encouraging others, feeding others.

The Lord Jesus used this word “diakonos” (dee-ak’-on-os) in several significant scriptures. For instance, while pointing out the sins of the Pharisees, He said, Be not called “Masters; for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant “diakonos.” And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. Between two Christians, the most glorious in the sight of the King of kings is the one who is the most humble – and thus the most useful – the “diakonos” (dee-ak’-on-os). When several of the disciples were debating about which was to be the greatest in the upcoming kingdom. Christ “sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant “diakonos” of all. “Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister “diakonos” (dee-ak’-on-os. In John 12:26 Christ said, “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.” There is no shame in being a “servant,” if our master is Christ Jesus, the King of kings.

The most common Greek word translated “servant” is “doulos” (doo’-los) – used 120 times.

For every 20 times it is translated “servant” is also rendered one time in some form of “slave.” That second rendering clearly shows its original meaning. “Doulos” (doo’-los) This is not referring to the relationship of a child to his parent, even though some were teenaged or even pre-teen bond slaves. This word is not referring to important peoples’ assistants. A “doulos” (doo’-los) was a kind of property – like a donkey to ride or an ox to pull a plow. It is sometimes argued that the slavery which once existed in America was approved by the Bible. The fact that the Romans and Greeks held slaves, some of whom became Christians, cannot be denied. And it is also true that there were slaves in Israel both in the days of the Old Testament and the New. But those who defend American slavery with the Bible need to study the subject just a bit closer. One of the glaring differences is the fact that Old Testament Hebrew slaves were to be given their liberty after seven years. And all Hebrew slaves were to be freed at the beginning of the year of Jubilee, even if he had been enslaved only the year before. The Jews also had slaves through captured enemy warriors and their families, but the Israelites did not steal and import slaves. Most Jewish slaves were fellow Jews, and most were slaves due to economic reasons. When a debt could not be paid, it became the prerogative of the lender to take the debtor or something belonging to the debtor into his service. Children sometimes became bond-slaves because of the debts of their parents. Often this relationship was for a specific length of time, and then the debt was considered paid. Or at the year of Jubilee all debts were to be forgiven.

But let’s say that a young man was forced to become the bond-slave of a rich neighbor. And in this case, the creditor was a good and kind man, treating his servant well. The young man was given adequate food and clothing, housed well, and educated in the area of his responsibilities. In some cases the bond-slave was even permitted to marry another slave of the household. Let’s say that he served that man for the required six-year term, and his freedom was coming up. That man, now in his early twenties, had the opportunity to remain in the service of his master. There was a special Old Testament ceremony for the man in that case – Exodus 21:3 – “If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.” If some wealthy man walked down the streets of Hebron with a servant whose ear was clearly pierced, both men might have showed a little pride. That mark indicated good character in both the master and his servant.

That, I believe, is where the term “doulos” (doo’-los) comes to be applied to the children of God. Over and over again, various Bible characters joyfully called themselves “doulos” (doo’-los). “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God…” “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.” “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:” “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called…” These men willingly placed their ears next to the door jam of their lives, and permitted the Holy Spirit to pierce them into permanent servanthood for the glory of their Saviour. Paul used this word when speaking of other Christians, and they didn’t seem to be the least bit embarrassed. “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi.” “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you.” We should not be embarrassed at being called “servants of Christ.” In fact it should be our desire; we should yearn for that privilege and that title. BUT – are any of us really WORTHY of the term?

As I have already pointed out Christ Jesus is called some of these terms which are applied to us. For example, He is called the Lord’s “pais” (paheece). This makes perfect sense, because He is the Son of God. Similarly, I expected to find Him linked to the word “bond-slave” “doulos” (doo’-los). Theologically, it might be argued that Christ was bound to serve the Father’s will because of the eternal covenant between them. One of my favorite scriptures has to be Philippians 2, part of which reads – “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Christ made himself of no reputation, but took upon himself the form of a “doulos” (doo’-los). He too, permitted His ear to be pierced, so to speak, in order to provide sinners like us with redemption. As I say, there should be no shame for any of the redeemed to be called “servants of Christ.”

Now for a couple concluding observations.

In Romans 6, Paul begins by asking, “Shall we continue in sin that grave may abound? He answers his own question – “God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Twenty verses later he says, “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.” Who in his right mind would want to be free from righteousness? “But now being make free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Being made free from the law of sin and death, we have become servants of God. There is no place better than to live in the servants’ quarters of the Abbey of God.

In II Corinthians 4:5 Paul describes himself as a “servant for Jesus sake.” The verse raises the question of motive. Some people might claim a position, even a position of service – for the wrong reasons. Are you a servant of Christ? If so, why? Is it for reward? Is it for love? Is it for self? Why?

In John 15 the Lord Jesus describes us as branches of His vine. “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” He goes on – “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” And just prior to that our Saviour says to us all – “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants (doulos); for the (doulos) knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” Jesus’ statement does not negate the fact that we are servants, but we are reminded that we are MORE than servants. By the grace of God we are ABOVE servants.

Another similar scripture – which we used a week ago – is found in Philemon. Paul was beseeching his friend Philemon on behalf of that man’s runaway slave“doulos” (doo’-los). Onesimus, had stolen some of his master’s property and fled to Rome, only to be found by the Lord. He was brought under conviction, brought to repentance and brought to eternal life. Paul had been instrumental in that man’s conversion, and now he was pleading for Philemon’s forgiveness toward his wayward servant. “For perhaps he therefore depared for a season, that hough should receive him for ever, Not now as a servant (“doulos” (doo’-los)), but above a (“doulos” (doo’-los)), a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?” Is to be a “brother beloved” a greater honor than to be a fellow servant? I don’t know if we are in a position to make that distinction?

Are you worthy to be called “a servant of God?” Remember that not everyone in God’s Abbey is the head butler or the chief lady’s maid. But it is an honor to be nothing more than a footman or a house maid – if we are serving the King of kings.