Scripture often refers to our relation to God as a relation of servants, our calling to serve Him, and our obligation to devote ourselves with our whole lives in His service.
The Old Testament employs only one word almost exclusively to express the idea of service. The root meaning of the word is simply to labor, to work, to serve. It may refer to the duty of a slave who is owned by his master and thus obligated to serve him. It may designate the worship of idols. And it is even used in reference to consecrated service of God. Moses was such a servant of the Lord. God calls Job His servant, as a man who was perfect and upright, fearing God and eschewing evil. And they were also called servants of God who held an office among the people, either as prophet to speak the praises of God, as priest to consecrate himself in the ministry of God’s house, or as king to rule over Israel. Even Israel itself is referred to as God’s servant whom He has chosen. Isaiah 44:1, 2.
In the New Testament at least three different words are used. The first (douleuoo) compares in meaning with the word used in the Old Testament. It means to be a slave, to do service, and thus includes the idea of obedience and subjection to some master, who has full authority over his slave. In that sense Paul likes to refer to himself as a servant, or slave of Jesus Christ. Cf. Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1. The second word (latreuoo) includes the idea of worship and homage. It is just as common as the first, but is generally employed with special reference to the service of God in fear and reverence. The third word (diakoneoo) is the source of our word ‘deacon’ and means to wait upon, to minister to someone. Although it carries the general meaning of ministering to anyone’s needs, it is also used to designate the office of those who are called to dispense the mercies of Christ.
Instead of quoting from the many possible passages of Scripture that speak of the service of God, we shall select a few outstanding passages that can be of a particular help to us in understanding the Scriptural idea of this expression.
The first passage is found in Deut. 10:12, 13. “And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord, and His statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?”
In this chapter of Deuteronomy Moses is reviewing in the ears of the people the mercies of the Lord in restoring the two tables of the law, which had been shattered in pieces. It was only by the mercy of the Lord that they were not consumed at the foot of Sinai. Only because of the unchanging faithfulness of Jehovah toward His covenant people would they inherit the land of Canaan. Therefore they are admonished to serve the Lord and keep His commandments. The text shows us:
- That the service of the Lord is mandatory. I consider it significant that this mandate is directed to the Lord’s covenant people. The Lord requires of them that they serve Him as the Lord their God, Who has delivered them from sin and death unto His glorious salvation.
- This service must be rooted in love, manifesting itself in fear. We must “love Him”, and “serve Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul”.
- This includes a holy walk in sanctification, involving our whole life upon earth. “To walk in His ways”, and “to keep His commandments”.
- And finally, those who serve the Lord are blessed. God requires it “for thy good”. The service of the Lord itself is blessed, so that those who serve Him derive true joy and blessedness from it. Moreover, the Lord blesses His people with all the riches of salvation in the way of obedience to His will.
A second passage that merits our attention is found in Matt. 4:10: “Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan, for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord your God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”
This passage is the final answer of Jesus to the three-fold temptation of the devil. Satan has been forced to state his case bluntly and frankly, offering Jesus all the kingdoms of the world on the condition that He will bow down in worship before him. The refusal is final, on the basis that we owe our worship solely to God.
- It is interesting to note that two different words for service are used here. “Thou shalt worship (latreuoo) the Lord your God, and Him only shalt thou serve (douleuoo).
- This service is entirely exclusive. For God is God, and He gives His honor to no other. He asserts and maintains His glory eternally as the only true and living one. The Lord thy God is a jealous God. Ex. 20:5. On the other hand, it is impossible for the creature to divide his service between God and some other object. We either worship God or we worship the powers of darkness, but never both. We serve God or we serve an idol. As we read in Matt. 6:24, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.”
Especially worthy of note in this connection is also Heb. 9:14, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
- This passage suggests that our service by nature consists of “dead works”. They are dead because they have their origin in our old sinful nature, which is dead in trespasses and sins. They are also dead, empty and vain in themselves. And they even work death.
- The text further implies that these dead works condemn us, even before our own consciousness. God does not leave Himself without witness in the hearts of the wicked. Nor does He ever leave His people at ease in the way of sin. Our conscience condemns us before God.
- But the blood of Jesus Christ surely purges us. “How much more shall the blood of Christ. . . . purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” That means, first of all, that we are justified by the death of Christ, so that God declares us righteous before our own consciousness. It means, secondly, that we are sanctified in Christ to walk in newness of life.
- The result is that we bring forth living works which God works in us “to serve the living God.” This service involves our whole lives, even as by nature we constantly serve sin, thus we also serve God with our whole lives and all our being through the operation of the Spirit within us.
And finally, we should consider for a moment the passage in Hebrews 12:28, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear”.
- The expression “let us have grace” should be translated as “let us be grateful,” or, “let us exercise gratitude,” which is the correct translation of the original Greek. The idea of the text is, that the hope of the unshakeable kingdom which is eternal in the heavens should arouse us to true gratitude before God.
- This gratitude manifests itself in worshipping Him. It is therefore a willing service. It is joy to do His will. We serve the Lord with gladness; we come into His presence with singing. Psalm 100:2.
- It includes reverence and godly fear. God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and plenteous in compassion. But our God is also a consuming fire. From the fire of His wrath He has delivered us in His mercy, unto a kingdom that stands immoveable in the heavens. These present things must pass away, but that kingdom will never pass away. Should we then not be thankful, filled with gratitude, reverence and fear before Him?
- This worship is always acceptable to God. How could it be otherwise? It is the work of His grace within us. It is the manifestation of true gratitude before Him.
From the foregoing we can make the following significant conclusions:
- That the service of God is never a matter of personal choice, but an obligation which God lays upon us. God demands it simply because He is God, who has formed all things to His glory and can give His honor to no other. “Let all the creatures praise Him,” is the mandate that man as a rational, moral creature may not fail to carry out consciously and willingly in his whole life. Therefore if we have done that which was our duty to do, let us not seek a “thank you”, or expect to collect wages, but let us wholeheartedly confess that we are unprofitable servants. We have done only that which was our duty. Luke 17:10.
- God requires a willing service. A mere formal lip or eye worship is an abomination to Him. Obedience is the first requisite. But then an obedience rooted in love, manifesting itself in humility and godly fear.
- This service of God is possible only by grace. By nature we are rebellious enemies of God, servants of sin. Rom. 7:25. But God turns us from the dead works of sin unto His service. He calls us to the holy office of believers, as prophets to tell His praises, as priests to consecrate ourselves to Him in love, as kings to use all things to His glory. To serve Him according to our calling does not mean that we perform a few special works of mercy or evangelizing, but it consists m a consecrated life, a daily crucifying of the old man of sin and a putting on of the new man unto the glory of God in every sphere of life, wherever God places us and in whatever He gives us to do.
- Therefore it is a unique privilege to be a servant of God. It means that God has called and ordained us from eternity. Isaiah 44:1, 2. (Jacob is God’s servant, and Israel He has chosen). Therefore we are also God’s fellow workers. I Cor. 3:8 A.V. Not in the sense, as it is so often mistakenly interpreted, that we are co-workers together with God, working hand in hand with Him, under a common yoke with Christ. That is forever impossible. But each believer receives his own personal place and calling in the office of believers, so that we are co-workers together, coworkers called of God unto the work He has given us to do. By grace we take Christ’s yoke upon us, only to discover that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. Matt. 11:29, 30.
Even in heaven this will still be our privilege. A privilege, not to sit idle, but to be busy every moment in the service of God. Rev. 7:15, “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.” This will be our highest blessedness. Rev. 22:3, “And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him.” Hallelujah.