When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, “Come in and eat with me”? No, he says, “Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.” And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. In the same way, when you obey me you should say, “We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.” [Luke 17:7-10 (NLT)]
Even though we no longer live in Illinois, we still receive our northern church’s newsletter. The latest edition mentioned the need for substitute Sunday School teachers and people to participate in “a crazy afternoon of ‘Do-Gooding’” called “Rake and Run” in which church members go from yard to yard raking leaves for those unable to do so for themselves. It also included an image of a newspaper “help wanted” ad that read:
SERVANTS WANTED: We have unlimited openings for motivated servants to meet the needs of God’s people. Start immediately. Responsibilities include performing random acts of kindness, serving and pleasing God, and doing what He calls you to do. No skills needed. God will equip you with on-the-job training. Benefits will include growth opportunities leading to one incredible “raise” at the end of your service. To apply: Contact God.
Notably absent in the newsletter was the word “volunteer.” Volunteers are an essential part of clubs, homeowner associations, service groups, and non-profits, and groups like these couldn’t function without them. The Church, however, doesn’t need volunteers; it needs servants! Jesus never told parables about volunteers because He wasn’t enlisting volunteers. Instead, He told parables about servants because that’s what He was calling us to be!
The word often translated in our Bibles as servant or bond servant, however, had nothing to do with being a servant like the chamber maid, butler, or valet in Downton Abbey. The word used was doulos, meaning slave, and it literally meant a person owned by another for his or her lifetime. While the word “volunteer” occurs eight times in the Old Testament, it never appears in the New. Doulos, however, occurs there 127 times in 119 verses. When Jesus freed us from slavery to sin, He freed us to become slaves to God. While our bondage to sin meant death, our bondage to God means eternal life—the “raise” at the end of our service!
For a follower of Jesus, there is big difference between being a volunteer at the church and a doulos or servant to Christ. Since they’re under no obligation, volunteers never need to leave their comfort zones; they can choose their task and are free to decline any or all requests. Serving at will, volunteers use leftover time to work and can quit and walk away at any time. It’s an entirely different matter for a doulos or servant of Christ. Instead of choosing the task we are willing to do, we do the task that needs to be done—the one God call us to do—even when it means leaving our comfort zone. While volunteers use their free time at their convenience, Jesus’ servants sacrifice their time (often at their inconvenience) to serve Him. A volunteer’s commitment is temporary but, as servants of Christ, we have a lifetime commitment to serving our Master whenever and wherever He calls us. We volunteer only when we want to but we serve God because we need to do so. It is what we are called to do because faith and works are inextricably linked!
When Jesus told His disciples that the harvest was plentiful but the workers were few, could it have been because those workers viewed themselves as volunteers rather than His servants? Jesus is calling us to serve Him, will we answer His call?
It is a greater glory to us that we are allowed to serve God, than it is to him that we offer him that service. He is not rendered happy by us; but we are made happy by him. He can do without such earthly servants; but we cannot do without such a heavenly Master. [William Secker]