Reposted from August 26, 2011.
In Acts 6, we find that famous passage in which the occasion comes for the Apostles to designate the priorities of the Christian ministry. The twelve make it known to the congregation that, above all other ministerial responsibilities and worthy pursuits, they will devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Ac 6:4).
The Greek word translated “ministry” in that passage is diakonía. It comes from the verb diakonéō, the normal New Testament verb that is translated, “to minister.” While it eventually takes on the more technical connotation of what we think of as “Christian ministry,” its most basic meaning is to serve. In fact, it’s used this way in the very same passage. In Acts 6:1 we’re told of the problem that prompted the Apostles’ response: the widows of the Hellenistic Jews “were being overlooked in the daily serving (diakonía) of food.”
And the word is used in this most basic sense frequently throughout the gospels.
- Peter’s mother-in-law began ministering (diakonéō) to Jesus after He healed her. What was her ministry? The NASB says, “…she got up and waited on Him” (Mt 8:15, NASB).
- Similarly, the alert slave waiting for his master’s coming is said to wait on (diakonéō) his master and his guests (Lk 12:37, NASB).
- In Luke 17:8, the “unprofitable servant,” who is not thanked for doing his duty, is said to serve (diakonéō) his master while he eats and drinks.
- Finally, Martha complains to Jesus about Mary leaving her “to do all the serving (diakonéō) alone” (Lk 10:40), which of course included the practical preparations for Jesus’ visit to their house (see also John 12:2). Here again, ministry takes on this connotation of waiter- or waitress-like service.
If we seek to follow in the Apostles’ footsteps in devoting ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word of God, we must adopt the attitude of a diákonos in the various contexts of the Christian ministry. The biblical shepherd is to be a servant—a waiter who supplies the food of the Word of God appropriately according to the various hunger pangs of the flock that Christ has entrusted to him.
As I reflect on the implications of this illustration of the minister as waiter, I find that there are some really insightful parallels between the pastor and the waiter. Here are five of those.
He Knows He’s Not the Chef
When you go to a restaurant, you don’t want the waiter to bring you food he made at home and brought to work in his pocket. You want what the gourmet chef prepared—what you ordered. Similarly, a biblical minister of the Word knows he’s not the chef. He will not bring you the fruit of his special recipes, concoctions, and culinary experiments. He is not to present to the people of God his own opinions, ideas, theories, or interpretations, as if they were sufficient to meet the needs of Christ’s flock (Jer 23:25–32). Rather, he recognizes that the Word of God alone is the true food that will satisfy the people of God (Matt 4:4; Jer 15:16; Job 23:12). And so that is the content of his proclamation (2Cor 4:5). Scripture interpreted by Scripture and applied with Scripture. As Pastor Al Martin has said, “Give me Scripture, sixteen ounces to the pound!”
He’s Attentive to the Needs of Those He Serves
You also don’t want a lazy and negligent waiter, who delays to bring you what you ask, whom you’ve got to importune to get a refill of your water. You want a waiter who is prompt and attentive to your needs. Accordingly, a biblical minister is diligent in his labor over the souls the Chief Shepherd has entrusted into his care (2Cor 12:15; 1Pet 5:1–4). He makes time for his people (Ac 19:9–10; 20:31). He is attentive to the state of their souls and cares for their needs (1Tim 4:6, 15). He is available, accessible, interruptible, and comes when is called. And, like an especially good waiter who sees your water running low and refills it without you asking, an especially tender shepherd will minister in a preventive way. He is an equipper (Eph 4:11-12) and not just a problem-solver. And so the sheep will not only see him when there is a problem.
He Keeps Himself from Impurity
Neither do you want an impure waiter, one who goes in the back and handles all kinds of gross and unsanitary things and then touches your food without cleansing himself. In the same way, a biblical minister must flee immorality (2Tim 2:22). He must be diligent to keep clean hands and a pure heart before God, for only then can he ascend to His holy mountain (Ps 24:3–4; 2Tim 2:20–21). The biblical minister keeps short accounts with his God, often confessing sin and ever clinging to the shed blood of Christ as his only plea for forgiveness and only hope to stand before the Throne of God (Heb 4:14–16; 10:19–23). He also does not dabble in the corrosive decay of false doctrine (1Tim 6:11; 2Tim 2:16–17; Tit 1:9), but seeks to guard the treasure of the pure, unadulterated Gospel entrusted to him (1Tim 6:13–14, 20; 2Tim 1:13–14; Jude 1:3).
He is Patient with Frustrations
You don’t want a harsh waiter who is impatient with your requests and who gives you a hard time because of your unfamiliarity with his restaurant. What a terrible experience it would be to have to depend on someone who is perennially frustrated. Instead, you want someone who is understanding of your shortcomings, who gently leads you to a better understanding, and who patiently seeks to answer your questions helpfully. Similarly, a biblical minister is not heavy-handed with frustrating sheep, but tenderly cares for them. He is patient when wronged (2Tim 2:24) and can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided—supremely because he is ever-aware that he too is beset with weakness (Heb 5:2).
He Doesn’t Force-feed You
Finally, you don’t want an overbearing waiter who is always hanging around your table and bugging you about how everything is going, or who takes the food and shoves it down your throat. You want someone who prepares you to eat, but lets you yourself actually do the eating. Similarly, a biblical minister does not ram doctrines down the throats of his people, but leads them and teaches them to understand and interpret Scripture for themselves. Among his greatest desires is for the faith of the people of God to rest on God’s Word and not at all on him (1Cor 2:1–5; 2Cor 4:5, 7; cf. John 7:16; 12:49–50). He never creates an atmosphere of, “Well, just take my word for it,” but always strives to make clear God’s Word on the subject and exhorts the people to take His Word for it.
What a rich illustration, this picture of the ministry of the Word as waiter-like service! I pray for grace to be such a waiter, who serves God’s people the delicacies of His Word—the Word by which they were born again (1Pet 1:23–25; Jas 1:18), by which they are sustained (Matt 4:4), and by which they are sanctified (Jn 17:17). I would be honored if you would pray for me as well, and not only for me but for all those who have undertaken the ministry of the Word. May God get what He is worthy of in His people.
But the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
– Luke 22:26-27 –
To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
– Ephesians 3:21 –