The Greek words used in the New Testament for servant and bond-slave are probably the most important, inclusive and descriptive words for defining a Christian.
I wonder how many children, if asked to define a Christian, would say that Christians are servants or bond-slaves? This isn’t an academic question. What children think and believe, informs their actions and becomes their habits. If Christian children see themselves as servants, they will serve, but if they don’t, they won’t.
It’s noteworthy that the words for servant (diakonos, pais, oiketes, and other forms) are used more than 800 times in the New Testament, and the word for bond-slave (doulos) is used about 150 times. That averages out to the word servant or bond-slave being used about once in every seven sentences!
Most of the apostles in the New Testament called themselves bond-slaves. One of the first designations Paul gives himself is that of a bond-slave (cf. Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:1). Timothy (cf. Philippians 1:1), James (cf. James 1:1), Peter (cf. 2 Peter 1:1), Jude (cf. Jude 1:1), and John (cf. Revelation 1:1) also referred to themselves as bond-slaves.
The disciples called themselves bond-slaves and did the things servants do because Jesus was a servant.
Jesus the servant … Jesus didn’t lord Himself over others, even though He is the Lord. Despite His deity, Jesus made Himself nothing and took the very nature of a servant (cf. Mark 10:45, John 13:12-17, Philippians 2:7).
Children as servants … If children are going to be like Jesus, then Christian parents, teachers and children’s ministry workers must teach them how to think and act as servants.
Teaching children how to think and act as servants isn’t easy. That’s because it requires role-modeling, i.e. to teach children how to be servants, we (adults) must be servants.
So how do we become servants and teach our children how to become servants? By asking the Lord to help us do the following:
- Reveal our carnal desire for power and control, and confess our pride and sin (cf. Romans 8:7, 1 John 1:9)
- Think and act with sober judgment and humility (cf. John 3:30, Romans 12:3b)
- Have the same mindset as Jesus (cf. Philippians 2:5)
- Pray for God’s rule over every day (cf. Matthew 6:10)
- Value every person equally, in every role, from every walk of life (cf. Galatians 3:28)
- Be willing to go to the end of the line (cf. Mark 9:35b)
- Seek to do God’s will and please Him (cf. John 5:30, Galatians 1:10)
- Be ready to suffer for God’s glory (cf. 1 Peter 2:21)
- Stop being argumentative or pushy (cf. 2 Timothy 2:24)
- Stop looking for recognition or credit (cf. Philippians 4:11)
When we (the adults) think and act as servants, our children will think and act as servants. More is caught than taught. Children do what they see us doing. When we stop pushing for promotion or smooth-talking our way into positions of authority, we’ll capture our children’s attention. And when, like Jesus, we set aside our privileges, live selflessly, put others first, and overlook ourselves long enough to help others get ahead, that’s when our children will know how to be servants.
[Note: The term “servant-leader”, coined by Robert K. Greenleaf, is anomalous and contradictory. Just as a person can’t be a towering dwarf, they can’t be a servant-leader! While servant-leader may sound like a good term, it isn’t a biblical term. The emphasis in the Scriptures is on us being servants rather than leaders (cf. Luke 22:26). If you want children to be servant-leaders, you’ll be hard-pressed to justify it theologically. When Jesus lived in this world, even though He’s the Leader, He called Himself a servant, not a servant-leader (cf. Philippians 2:7).]
© Scripture Union, 2020