What did Jesus teach about serving others?
Many leaders in the Christian community are identified as Christian “ministers”. This tradition leads many to equate Christian ministry with clergy or leadership over Christian congregations. In scripture, a “minister” is simply a “servant” and “ministry” relates to “service”. How can one be both a servant to, and an authority over, God’s people?
This dichotomy can make it difficult to properly evaluate ourselves or those we allow to influence us. The parable below can help us consider whether a “minister” is truly devoted to “serving” or may have some other focus.
Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him, beat him up, and fled, leaving him half dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way, a Levite, when he arrived at the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion. He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’ Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
“The one who showed mercy to him,” he (the lawyer) said.
Then Jesus told him, “Go and do the same.”
~ Luke 10:30-37
Is caregiving a key component of serving God’s people?
In many modern church fellowships, those who have the greatest influence are the clergy or “officers” of the church, along with certain subordinate staff members. This may include priests, elders, deacons, evangelists, pastors, teachers, ministers of music, etc. These individuals often function as a leadership/management team over a congregation or group of congregations.
These leaders are frequently understood to have responsibility to exercise the “authority” vested in their “positions”. This authority is often viewed as similar to that of those who hold supervisory roles in business or other hierarchical organizations. However, in the qualifications given for those who desire to function in a role of great influence in God’s family, the following is stated.
This saying is trustworthy: ‘If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.’
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy — one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?)
He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap.
~ 1 Timothy 3:1-7
What does it mean to “take care of” God’s church?
It is interesting to note that the Greek word ἐπιμελέομαι, translated “take care of” in English, is only used in two passages of scripture – Luke 10:34-35 & 1 Timothy 3:5. The account in Luke 10 does not describe an exercise of authority, but rather generous caregiving. Caregiving from one without an obligation to render aid, with no expectation of reciprocation of any type. – What an example of true ministry (i.e. service)!
Evaluating an influencer’s mode of operation may reveal something about their attitude and self-view. Are they “helping” or “controlling”? Are they “serving” or “ruling”? Are they exercising a “servant’s heart” or “their authority”? Are they “pleading” or “demanding”? Are they “caregiving” or “passing by”? Should others have confidence that they properly understand the role of a “minister” (i.e. “servant”), in God’s family?
It is easy to be impressed by a person’s education, biblical knowledge or eloquence and overlook danger signs in other areas. It is also possible to accept flawed theology, because we appreciate someone for their service. Just as correct theology alone is inadequate, so is caregiving alone. (See 1 Corinthians 13)
That being understood, genuine caregiving is generally appreciated by all. This service humbly cares for, encourages and protects. It is gladly accepted by honest folk, because it benefits everyone. (The pretentious and hypocritical are sometimes offended.) It inspires confidence in the caregiver that often leads to an increase in their influence. However, those focused on serving will not demand influence and are not insulted if it isn’t granted.
In contrast, there are some who tend to focus more on imposing their influence or exercising their authority. They may tend to use the bully pulpit to shame, intimidate and coerce others. This type of ministry may be tolerated, but not appreciated. It doesn’t benefit others like genuine caregiving does and will never produce the same type of confidence and influence.
Are you a caregiver? What about those you allow to influence you? Choose wisely!
Additional scriptures relevant to servants in God’s family.
“And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” ~ 2 Tim. 2:24-26
“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” ~ 2 Tim. 4:2
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” ~ James 3:17-18