In ancient Israel, ministering to the Lord was the role God assigned exclusively to the tribe of Levi: “At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord to stand before the Lord to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day” (Deuteronomy 10:8, ESV).
The verb translated “to minister” in Deuteronomy 10:8 means “to serve, help, or aid” the Lord by doing various commanded religious practices, especially in the performance of rites and worship ceremonies. Thus, a minister is a person specially called by God to serve and perform his duties. Young Samuel was said to be “ministering to the Lord” when God called him to assist Eli, the priest in the tabernacle (1 Samuel 3:1).
The Levites’ duties of ministering to the Lord are explained in detail in Numbers 1:47–54; 3:5—4:49; 8:6–22; 18:1–7; and 1 Chronicles 23:13. The Levites were set apart by God to perform the services and rituals of worship in the tabernacle and later in the temple—to dedicate the most holy things, make offerings, pronounce blessings in the Lord’s name, and carry the emblem of God’s holiness—the ark of the covenant.
Levi was the only tribe God gave no portion in the inheritance of the Promised Land. Instead of property and material possessions, the Lord Himself was to be the inheritance and reward of the Levites (Deuteronomy 10:9). They would be sustained through the tithes and offerings given to God from the Israelites (Numbers 18:20–24). Through His close relationship with the Levites, God showed Israel and all future believers what He regards as the most valuable treasure—knowing the Lord intimately and finding one’s fulfillment in that relationship.
King David testified that nothing in this world could compare with knowing God closely and possessing the person of God as his portion: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25–26).
In New Testament times, the concept of ministering to the Lord was extended to all followers of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:9–10). The apostle Paul was called to be a minister of Christ to the Gentiles (Romans 15:16). Paul expressed tremendous zeal for this ministry: “Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him” (Philippians 3:8–9, NLT).
Paul mentions others such as Timothy (1 Timothy 4:6), Epaphras (Colossians 1:7), and Tychicus (Colossians 4:7) as special ministers and servants of the Lord. God equips His ministers with unique gifts to aid the whole body of believers in ministering to the Lord: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–12, ESV).
Ministering to the Lord means humbly serving needs, whatever they may be (Matthew 25:35–44). Jesus taught that we must become servants to be considered great in His kingdom (Mark 10:43–44). Our example is Jesus Himself, who “came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NLT).
In Jesus, every Christian receives the ministry of ambassador for Christ. We are “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). The Lord entrusts us with the “ministry of reconciliation” and the “message of reconciliation,” that through us He might reconcile the world to God (2 Corinthians 5:18–21). In Christ, every believer also obtains the Lord Himself as an inheritance (Ephesians 1:11–14).
Knowing God intimately and walking in close fellowship with Him constitute the highest aim and most excellent reward of the believer’s life. As it was for the Levites of old, it remains for His ministers today. Whether we perform regular duties in the church, preach like the great apostle Paul, or quietly help in the background, we are all ministering to the Lord as “fragile clay jars containing this great treasure”—the life of Christ. We serve Him by letting His life be evident in our dying bodies so that others can see God’s glory and receive eternal life (2 Corinthians 4:7–18).