Most of us don’t think of ourselves as servants. While it would be great to HAVE a servant, like a butler or maid, most of us probably wouldn’t want to BE a servant ourselves. Having a servant clean up our messes and do stuff for us sounds a lot more desirable than being a servant who cleans up other people’s messes and does stuff for them. To most of us, being a servant would be the sort of a job that we would only take if we couldn’t find anything better to do, like work at the counter at McDonald’s.
In contrast to that attitude, the Apostle Paul was delighted to think of himself as a servant.
In Colossians 1:24-25, he says,
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,
We have elsewhere examined Paul’s joy in suffering in verse 24, but let’s now look at his view of himself as a servant in Colossians 1:25.
Paul viewed himself as a servant of the body of Christ. In talking of the church, he describes himself by saying that he “became a minister” of the church. The word translated in many versions (ESV, for example) as “minister” is simply the word for “servant”.
Paul viewed being a servant as being like Christ. Christ, whom we are all to imitate as His disciples, became a servant as well. Jesus said of Himself, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (See Mark 10:45) Elsewhere, Paul said that Christ, “…made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (See Philippians 2:7) That is why Paul could relate his suffering on behalf of the church to Christ’s work. Paul saw his role as a servant as a continuation of the servanthood of Christ.
Paul viewed his being a servant as an assignment from God. Paul says he became a servant “according to the stewardship of God that was given to me.” The word “stewardship” refers to a position of trust given to a person who is considered trustworthy enough to act on behalf of his employer or master. God entrusted Paul with the duty to act as a servant to the church, and Paul saw that as a desirable privilege, not a burden.
Paul viewed his role as servant as an assignment to carry out a particular job. Paul says that he became a servant (minister) “to make the word of God fully known.” Paul was entrusted by God (given the stewardship) for the purpose of proclaiming God’s truth, the gospel. Paul said of himself, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” (See I Corinthians 9:19) He also said, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (See I Corinthians 4:1)
While Paul is speaking of his own service, which he was assigned to carry out by God, he also reveals a principle that applies to all of us who are in Christ. We are all entrusted by God to serve the body of Christ, the church. We may each have been entrusted with different abilities and talents by God, but God gives us those abilities as gifts so that we will use them to serve others.
Peter reminds us, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (See I Peter 4:10)
So, what has God entrusted to us as our stewardship? How are we to serve? In what way are you being entrusted by God to be a servant? Romans 12:4-8 and 1 Peter 4: 11 give us some examples.
Are you entrusted with the gifts of proclaiming the word of God, or the oracles of God, to others in a way that they can apply them, as described in Romans 12: 6 and 1 Peter 4:11? Then serve the body of Christ in faith, as one who is speaking the truth of God.
Are you entrusted with the gifts to serve others in general ways, as described in Romans 12:7 and 1 Peter 4:11? Then serve the body of Christ by the strength that God supplies.
Are you entrusted with the gifts of exhorting others to greater faith and obedience? Then serve the body of Christ by diligently doing so.
Are you entrusted with the gifts to contribute to the needs of the poor and the church? Then serve the body of Christ by being generous.
Are you entrusted with the gifts to lead others? Then serve the body of Christ by leading with zeal.
Are you entrusted with the gifts to show mercy and compassion to others? Then serve the body of Christ by doing acts of mercy with cheerfulness.
You see, all of us who are in Christ ARE servants. WE have each been given gifts as trusted servants of God to serve the body of Christ.
Unlike the world, we should view being servants as superior to being served. This is simply because our roles as servants are given to us by God for His glory, “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (See 1 Peter 4:11)
If we are faithful with what we have been entrusted, and if we are faithful as servants, we are promised this by Christ: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” (See Luke 12:37)