We have numerous "ministries" at Love Center Churches and the list is growing according to the needs of our membership and community. We take the concept of ministry, or in other words, of service to heart and strive to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, according to His example.
When the Bible talks about "ministry," what is it talking about? When it says that Christians are to be involved in "works of ministry," what does it mean? We examine the concept of ministry by seeing how the biblical writers were inspired to use the words for ministry.
Some of the words, although Greek, are not completely foreign to us. For example, our English word "deacon" is related to the Greek word diakonia, which is sometimes translated "ministry." The English word "liturgy" comes from leitourgia, which can also be translated "ministry."
The word diakonia is used to describe the "ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4), the "ministry of the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:8) and the "ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). Leitourgia is used to describe the ministry that Jesus has received as our High Priest (Heb. 8:6).
Similar Greek words can also be used for ministry, ministers and ministering. The Corinthian Christians were a result of Paul's ministry (diakoneo), and Paul considered himself a "minister [leitourgos] of Christ Jesus" (2 Cor. 3:3; Rom. 15:16).
We can learn much about ministry by seeing how the New Testament uses these words and other words with similar meaning. These give us the tone or flavor of New Testament ministry. We will see that every Christian has a ministry.
Diakonos is a noun meaning "a person who serves." We get the English word "deacon" from it, because in Phil. 1:1 and 1 Tim. 3:8-13 it denotes an office in the church. But almost everywhere else, the word is used in a more general sense. It actually refers to apostles, preachers and lay members more often than it does to deacons.
The general sense of the word is "assistant." It indicates not just work in general, but work that benefits someone else. Paul used the word diakonosto describe himself as a servant of the Lord (1 Cor. 3:5), a servant of God (2 Cor. 6:4), a servant of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6), a servant of the gospel (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23) and a servant of the church (verse 25).
Paul noted that many of his co-workers were also servants: the woman Phoebe (Rom. 16:1) and the men Tychicus (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7), Timothy (1 Tim. 4:6) and Epaphras (Col. 1:7). Jesus said that his followers should be servants (Matt. 20:26; 23:11; John 12:26). All Christians must do the work of a deacon. We are all deacons of Christ, deacons of his message and deacons of one another.
Diakoneo- is the verb form of diakonos; it means "serve." The most specific meaning of diakoneo is to work with food to serve other people. Martha "served" at a dinner (John 12:2; Luke 10:40). Jesus told parables about servants who were expected to prepare food and serve their masters (Luke 17:8; 22:27). In the early church, seven men were chosen "to wait on tables" (Acts 6:2-3).
Diakoneo can refer to more general types of service, too. Jesus served his disciples (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45). Jesus' disciples should also serve (Luke 22:27; John 12:26). When we serve others, we are showing love to God (Heb. 6:10) — a point also made in the parable of sheep and goats. This parable shows that serving can include not only supplying food and drink, but also clothing and other needs (Matt. 25:44).
Men served Paul in prison (Philemon 13; 2 Tim. 1:18). Serving can include financial assistance: Several women served Jesus from their own possessions (Luke 8:3). Paul collected an offering (probably both food and money) to serve the saints in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25).
Diakoneo often means manual labor, but service to others can also be done through speaking. When Jesus said that he served his disciples, he included his teaching. The gospel is included when Paul says that the Corinthian church was a result of his serving (2 Cor. 3:3).
1 Peter 4:10-11 uses the word in both a general sense and then in a more specific sense: "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides."
Everyone should serve (in a general sense), but each serves in a different way — some serve by speaking and some serve by manual labor. It is this latter type of service that apparently forms the core of the office of deacon (1 Tim. 3:10, 13). No matter what type of serving is done, it should be done with the strength God provides, so that he gets the praise and glory (1 Pet. 4:11).
Diakonia is another word in the diakonos family. It denotes the result of serving — "service" or "ministry." Again, it may be used both for secular and religious work. It is translated in a variety of ways. Martha was busy with dinner "preparation" (Luke 10:40). In the early church, there was a daily "distribution" of food for widows (Acts 6:1). Famine relief was also called a ministry (Acts 11:29; 12:25; Rom. 15:31; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:1, 12-13). When Macedonian believers supported Paul, it was a ministry to him (2 Cor. 11:8). Diakonia is often used to refer to a spiritual ministry. The apostles had a "ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4). Paul said that his ministry was "the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace" (Acts 20:24). Paul's message of reconciliation was his ministry (2 Cor. 5:18). The new covenant is a "ministry that brings righteousness" (2 Cor. 3:8-9).
All members are encouraged to have a ministry. Church leaders exist "to prepare God's people for works of service" (Eph. 4:12) — "to equip the saints for the work of ministry" (NRSV). There are different kinds of ministry (1 Cor. 12:5), but they should all be used "for the common good" (verse 7). Those who have been given a gift of (manual) ministry should use that gift (Rom. 12:7). Those who have other gifts should likewise use them to serve others (1 Pet. 4:10).
Paul frequently called himself a doulos — a slave or servant of Jesus Christ. In Jewish society, a doulos was usually a servant. In Greek society, he was usually a slave. However, this type of service is not restricted to slaves and apostles — it is commanded for all Christians. This is another description of our ministry.
Christ himself took on the nature of a servant (Phil. 2:7), and he quoted the proverb, "No servant is greater than his master" (Matt. 10:24-25; John 15:20-21). Since our Master served as a servant, shouldn't we also be servants? In Christianity, greatness is measured by service. "Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all" (Matt. 20:27; Mark 10:44).
Numerous people were called slave-servants of God: Moses, Simeon, Mary, Paul, Timothy, Silas, Luke, Epaphras, Tychicus, Peter, John, James and Jude. All of God's people are commanded to be servants (1 Pet. 2:16). Servitude is part of what it means to be a Christian. Many of Jesus' parables included servants; these parables have extra meaning for Christians, the servants of Christ.
Doulos also has metaphorical uses — sinners are slaves of whatever has power over them (2 Pet. 2:19). Christ frees us from the slavery of the fear of death (Heb. 2:15). He frees us from the slavery of sin (John 8:34; Rom. 6:16-20) by redeeming us, purchasing us with his own blood. He frees us from "the yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1) so that we may serve him in the new way of the Spirit (Rom. 7:6). We become slaves to obedience, slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:16-22).
Christians are "slaves of Christ" (1 Cor. 7:22; Eph. 6:6). We are all admonished to serve the Lord (Rom. 12:11; 14:18; 1 Thess. 1:9), and one of the primary responsibilities our Lord and Master gives us is to serve one another in love (Gal. 5:13). As slaves of Christ and slaves of one another, we serve one another by using the gifts God gives us (see appendix below).
Paul calls us slaves, but he also says that we are not slaves (Gal. 4:7). So in some ways we are like slaves, but in other ways we are not. With respect to obedience, our obligation to Christ is like that of a slave — we are to obey. But with respect to reward, we are much better than slaves. "As long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave.... You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir" (Gal. 4:1, 7).
"A slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever" (John 8:35). "I no longer call you servants.... Instead, I have called you friends" (John 15:15).
Some Greek words for service also mean worship. Latreia and latreuo denote religious service or worship. (We see the root word latr- in the English word idolatry.) The NIV uses "serve" and "worship" almost interchangeably for these words. Worship was done at the temple (Luke 2:37; Acts 7:7; Rom. 9:4; Heb. 8:5; 9:1, 6, 9; 10:2; 13:10). In Revelation, the saints "serve" God in his heavenly temple (Rev. 7:15) and will "serve" him always (Rev. 22:3).
Christ has cleansed us so that we may "serve" God (Heb. 9:14). We are exhorted to "worship" God (Heb. 12:28). Christians "worship" by the Spirit of God (Phil. 3:3). Paul exhorts us to be living sacrifices, which is our "reasonable service" (KJV), a "spiritual act of worship" (Rom. 12:1, NIV). Our service to God is not centered on a temple, but is done wherever we are.
Leitourg- words come from the Greek words laos (people) and ergon (work). They originally referred to a public service or a public servant, but they eventually came to refer specifically to religious service and worship. We get the English word liturgy from these Greek words.
This was the type of service Jewish priests performed (Luke 1:23; Heb. 10:11; 9:21). This religious service is now done by Jesus, our High Priest (Heb. 8:2, 6). In the context of priests and sacrifices, Paul said that he was a "minister" of Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:16).
A practical service such as famine relief could be called a leitourgia (Rom. 15:27; 2 Cor. 9:12). By using a leitourg- word, Paul was reminding his readers that this seemingly ordinary service to the saints was actually an act of worship, a religious activity. All Christians can perform religious service (Acts 13:2; Phil. 2:17).
We see a progression in the way the worship words are used. In the old covenant, God required the Israelites to serve him through a priesthood, a sacrificial system and a temple. In the new covenant, all Christians worship God through spiritual sacrifices, and we all serve God in the Spirit. The ministry of worship has been given to all the people.
This is one reason the 16th-century reformers taught "the priesthood of all believers." Jesus Christ is the High Priest, and all Christians are priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). Every Christian can enter the heavenly Holy of holies because of the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:19). Christians offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5; Rom. 12:1). We also have the priestly duty of interceding for one another in prayers and in practical action.
The reformers also noted that Christians serve God through their secular work — their vocation or "calling" — as well as through their involvement in the church. A person who grows food is providing a service to society; a person who works in a factory or teaches school does, too. Christian homemakers and government employees are also serving others.
"Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). All work — in the home, in the store, in the car and in the office — is an act of worship to God. We are his slaves — full-time ministers in his service.
The New Testament says the same thing in many different ways: Christians are commanded to serve one another. None of the words for service or ministry is restricted to the ordained clergy. All members are enslaved to one another. We all have obligations to one another. Whether our service is in word or in deed, it is a religious duty for all Christians. Whether we are ordained or not, we are all called to serve the Lord by serving one another.
As slave-servants, we are ministering to one another, to the church, to the gospel and to the Lord. God has given each of us a ministry. We should minister to one another's needs. God has given us abilities so that we will use them to serve others. All Christians — whether women, men, deacons or elders — are called to be ministers.
by Michael Morrison, modified by Love Center Ministries)