In many places in the New Testament, the apostle Paul refers to himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ” (e.g., Romans 1:1; Colossians 4:12; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 4:6). The Lord’s half-brother Jude refers to himself in the same way (Jude 1:1). Rather than capitalize on his close relationship to Jesus, Jude relegated himself to the status of a servant. Jesus’ family, friends, and chosen apostles refer to themselves as His servants, the plain implication being that Jesus is Lord.
“Servant” is a translation of the Greek word doulos, which means more literally “a slave or bondservant, someone who sets aside all rights of his own to serve another.” Because the word slave carries such a negative connotation to our modern sensitivities, we often choose the word servant instead. However, servant does not quite capture the real meaning of doulos. Paul said he was a “slave” to Christ.
In ancient times, slaves were purchased or born into a slave family and served the master until they died or until the master decided to free them. Some slaves had developed such a close and loving relationship with the master’s family that they wanted to continue serving, even when they could go free. That’s the idea Paul and others were conveying when they referred to themselves as servants of Christ. The Lord has bought us with a high price (1 Corinthians 6:20), and those who come to know Him desire to abandon all rights to Him and choose to serve Him faithfully.
A servant of Christ knows who is the King. A servant of Christ is one who has voluntarily set aside his or her personal rights in order to love, serve, and obey the will of God in Christ Jesus. Servants of Christ die daily to sin and fleshly desires, allowing Christ’s life to flow through them (Galatians 2:20).
To be a servant of Christ is to seek His will in all things. Our primary desire every day, as servants of Christ, is to honor and glorify the One who bought our freedom from sin (1 Corinthians 10:31). This means we must die to ourselves (Luke 9:23), renounce our right to direct our own lives (Luke 6:46), and seek ways to bring our Master pleasure (Psalm 37:23; Proverbs 11:20). Just as a master in ancient times took on the responsibility of caring for his bondservants, so our Lord says that He will provide all we need when we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33; Philippians 4:19).
Our Master, Jesus, has given us instructions in His Word and expects those who profess His name to know them. As we learn more, we do better. Servants of Christ put into practice all they learn about pleasing their Lord. While He has specific jobs for each of us according to the gifts and opportunities He provides, some requirements are universal for anyone called to be a servant of Christ:
• Continue in faith.
• Destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.
• Take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
• Pursue holy living (1 Peter 1:14–16).
• Daily crucify the lusts of the flesh (Romans 6:1–6).
• Love brothers and sisters in the faith (1 John 3:14–15).
• Store up treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19–20).
• Eagerly await the Master’s return (Revelation 22:20; 2 Timothy 4:8).
Servants of Christ do their work humbly and selflessly, desiring only to please their benevolent Master. There’s no pretension, no self-importance, no compensation-seeking in true servanthood. Jesus reminds us of the lowly place a servant occupies: “You also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10, ESV).
Servants of Christ consider their lives on earth as a brief time of preparation for eternity. The hardships and struggles we must face while in the flesh will be far outmatched by the glory and reward awaiting us (2 Corinthians 4:17). Just as a servant who loves his master lives for the master’s approval, so servants of Christ live for the moment He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master!” (Matthew 25:21, 23)