Biblical Servanthood Embodied

by Charles J. Mellring

This article first appeared in FrontLine • January/February 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

A casual look at contemporary ministries evidences the widespread opinion that whatever works in the commercial world is what we should practice in ministry. There are certainly a great many tools and technologies that we should incorporate, such as improved methods of communication, record-keeping, and the dissemination of information.

As they are defined in the business world, however, pragmatism (“if it works, do it”) and public relations (“never acknowledge defeat and always rationalize failure”) must be shunned in the carrying out of our ministries for Christ. One irreplaceable, timeless, Biblical directive for ministry is the principle of servanthood.

As set forth by our Savior and exemplified in Scripture, selfless servanthood is hardly the code of conduct for the commercial world. Most would regard it as suicidal and utterly contradictory to every other business instinct. But this Scriptural pattern should be the rule of life for Christians in general and for Christian leaders in particular, not the exception. The last being first and the least being greatest is not unrealistic or unattainable pie-in-the-sky. It is an essential ingredient for service that pleases God and ministry that moves men.

We can survive without the applause of men, but what about the approval of Christ? What about the testing fire at the Judgment Seat of Christ?

Those expert in Scriptural languages and culture tell us that there were two general classes of servants: those hired to attend to the needs of the master, and those owned outright by the master and thus bound to serve him (bond-slaves). Scripture regularly designates us as the latter. This may not sit well with our modern love affair with self-esteem and individual rights, but the Bible is clear about our primary duty to obey our Master and please our Owner (1 Cor. 6:19, 20; Heb. 12:28, 29). To whom may we look for a Biblical example of such servanthood fleshed out?

John the Baptist

John the Baptist brought many people to a place of preparation for the ministry of Messiah (Matt. 3:5). His mission and passion was to bear witness to the coming Christ (John 1:6–8) and to shun any recognition for himself (John 3:30). John bowed before His Savior (John 1:27) and sealed his servanthood with his blood (Matt. 14:10; cf. Rev. 12:10–11)—a servant to the end!

Philip the Evangelist

Philip the deacon was also Philip the evangelist, a faithful soul winner. But unlike many modern evangelists who are obsessed with numbers and popularity, Philip followed his Master submissively (Acts 8:26, 27). When the Lord instructed him to leave those great meetings in Jerusalem and go to a “desert place,” he “arose and went.” Why should he leave a thriving ministry for a deserted place with few people? That doesn’t make good ministry sense, does it? It is the only ministry decision that makes sense if the Master orders it. His servanthood showed in his prompt obedience.

Moreover, Philip faced a prominent prospect confidently (Acts 8:27–35) in addressing a man of “great authority,” the Ethiopian eunuch. Servanthood must not prevent us from seeking souls even among “great” people. And finally, Philip followed up Scripturally (Acts 8:38). No accommodation, no exception, he simply followed through in full obedience to the Commission (as should we) at this most crucial point.

Stephen the Martyr

Together, Philip and Stephen set a high standard for deacons. Stephen the deacon was full of faith and power (Acts 6:8). Consequently, he was a fearless proclaimer of truth. Indeed, his sermon is one of the longest recorded in the New Testament. Like John the Baptist, he certified his servanthood with his blood (Acts 7:69). As earthbound and time-conscious as we are, we need to get a glimpse of the brevity of our sojourn here compared to the endless eons of eternity. Stephen’s triumphant entry into glory reminds us of Whose we are and why we are here, and should motivate us to a more zealous witness, a more selfless work, and a more servant-like walk.

The Master exhorts His servants to preach the word diligently in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2) and desires that “men ought always to pray.” In my present ministry (primarily praying and preaching), opportunities for servanthood abound. As I continue to accept opportunities to preach for the Master and seek to devote more time to intercession, I become increasingly aware that all time is not mine, but God’s.

At the time of writing, Charles J. Mellring was a retired Baptist pastor living in Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, whose ministry now involves supplying pulpits and writing.