The Servants of God
Donald L. Norbie, Greeley, Colorado, USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
In most of Christendom there is a clergy system firmly entrenched. The clergy are a special class in the church, men or women who go to seminary for special training, are ordained and then become leaders in the churches. They preach, baptize, officiate at various services and perform marriages. Because of their training and position they are viewed as professionals and are given special titles such as ‘Bishop’, ‘Reverend’, or ‘Pastor’. They are viewed as the spiritual leaders of their congregations.
Those who attempt to get back to a more scriptural position deny a clergy-laity division of God’s people. The Lord warned against a similar mentality amongst the Pharisees, Matt. 23. 6-12. He levelled all Christians to the status of being brothers and sisters, a family relationship. In the first century those who were called of God to this ministry delighted to call themselves ‘servants of God’, emphasizing their relationship to God and to His people. Today, those who seek a simpler, scriptural pathway of service prefer to be called ‘the Lord’s servants’ or ‘servants of God’.
The word doulos actually means a slave. Many translations do not like to use that term but translate ‘servant’ or, perhaps, ‘bondservant’, Rom. 1. 1 NKJV. Perhaps this is because the word ‘slave’ seems so degrading, reminding one of taskmasters wielding the whip. In the ancient world slavery was very common. It is said that half of Rome’s population was made up of slaves. The word diakonos also translated ‘servant’ or ‘deacon’ emphasizes the work, rather than the relationship to the master.
The slave was always reminded that he was owned by another. Israel was redeemed from the slavery of Egypt and became God’s people, His own special possession. They entered into a covenant relationship with God and promised to obey Him, Exod. 24. 6-8. The church today has been redeemed from the slavery of sin and entered into a covenant relationship with the Lord. Believers are redeemed ‘with the precious blood of Christ’, 1 Pet. 1. 19, and are His special people, 1 Pet. 2. 9. All of the saints are ‘slaves’ of Christ by redemption. Paul pleads, ‘For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s’, 1 Cor. 6. 20.
The one who is called by God to the work of teaching and preaching His word can say with the apostles, ‘We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word’, Acts 6. 4. He delights to be a slave of God. As such his master is obligated to defend him and to provide for his needs. There was real security in being a slave. The Lord’s slave can claim His protection and provision. Elijah, the prophet, was fed by the brook by ravens and then later cared for by a widow, 1 Kgs. 17.
Slaves were never for hire. They served at the bidding of their owner, no one else. The clergy system, with its hired preachers, is a curse in the churches today. New Testament preachers were supported by the gifts of God’s people; they were never hired. Paul was fearless in confronting the Galatian churches with their legalism in going back to Judaism. ‘For do I now persuade men or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I should not be the bondservant (doulos) of Christ’, Gal. 1. 10. It is a great privilege to serve the Lord in proclaiming His word. In old age Paul could say, ‘And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry’, 1 Tim. 1. 12. But it must be the call of God; He calls and equips His servants. Such men will be keenly conscious of God’s call and that they are the slaves of God. They will be fearless with ministry that probes the conscience and exalts Jesus Christ as Lord of all. They will not be men pleasers but will be focused on pleasing the Lord. Oh God, raise up such men today!
AUTHOR PROFILE: Donald Norbie is in fellowship with the assembly in Greeley, Colorado, and is a commended full-time worker. A regular contributor to Precious Seed and other assembly magazines his ministry is widely appeciated throughout N. America and the UK.