This post was originally published in February 2019. –ed.
Servanthood isn’t typically synonymous with leadership. In the political and secular realms, leaders are generally people who spend their lives being served rather than serving others. The most visible segments of religion seem to reflect the same attitude as well. Popes and prosperity preachers spend their lives surrounded by an entourage of minions waiting upon their every whim.
But that posture is antithetical to the servant-leadership God calls His people to in Scripture. In 1 Timothy 4:6–16 the apostle Paul lists the qualifications of an excellent servant of Jesus Christ. The key phrase appears in verse 6: “You will be a good servant of Christ Jesus.” In a sense, it is the underlying theme of the whole letter, which the apostle Paul wrote to instruct Timothy on how to minister to the church at Ephesus.
The Greek word translated “good” (kalos) could better be translated “noble,” “admirable,” or “excellent.” It was used in 1 Timothy 3:1 to speak of the work of ministry, and now it is used to identify the kind of man to be in ministry.
“Servant” is the translation of diakonos, from which we get the English word deacon. It can also mean “minister” and is used of those who hold the office of deacon in the church, as described in chapter 3. Although Paul did not use the word here in a technical way to designate that office, it implies that anyone who serves in any ministry capacity must see himself as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The word diakonos is different from the word doulos, which is also often translated “servant.” Whereas doulos usually refers to a slave under subjection, diakonos denotes a servant who has a higher degree of freedom who yet serves willingly. The word conveys the idea of usefulness and implies that all Christians should seek to be valuable servants of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 4:1–2 Paul says, “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” We are called to be servants and stewards, managing that which belongs to God in a way that will bring honor to His name. Paul’s instruction to Timothy is applicable for all who serve the Lord.
In 1 Timothy 4:1–5 Paul talks about doctrines of demons propagated by seducing spirits through lying hypocrites. Having warned Timothy that false teaching isn’t human but demonic, the apostle then tells him how to be a good and effective minister in the face of false doctrine. Yet in instructing Timothy how to deal with heretical teaching, Paul majors on the positive, not on the negative. Rather than encouraging Timothy to develop a defensive ministry of refuting and denouncing error, Paul emphasizes going on the offensive by teaching the Word of God (1 Timothy 4:6, 11, 13, 16). The church leader’s ministry should primarily involve building up the people of God, not exclusively identifying and attacking error.
In verses 6–16 Paul gives eleven characteristics of being an excellent minister of Christ. They are practical and helpful objectives for everyone who desires to serve the Lord by leading His people. And we’ll examine those in the weeks ahead as we consider the defining qualities of a servant leader.
(Adapted from The Master’s Plan for the Church)