Uncovering Servant of the Lord in Leadership

Adapted from original article at https://specs12.wordpress.com/

Serve Him

Two Greek words readily come to mind that illustrate Christ-centered servitude in New Testament leadership: diakonos and doulos. Regarding diakonos, it shows the qualities of a minister who seeks nothing more than unselfish ambition to God’s service as His subordinate in all humility, love, and submission (Paron, 2013). A diakonos servant waits on and carries out the commands from the King: “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matt 23:11 KJV).

Doulos, another Greek word for servant, works in tandem with diakonos providing a second dimension to its meaning. It reveals a bondservant who gives up self-interests and will to advance God’s mission as a slave for the sake of Christ. This enslavement brings joy, devotion, obedience, yielding, and sacrifice: “And whosever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matt 20:27).

However, a third Greek word pais gives even greater understanding into the subject of servitude for leaders. Thayer (2009) defined pais as one whose agency God employs in executing His purposes. “Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall show justice to the Gentiles:” (Matt 12:18 KJV; Isa 42:1). This passage fulfilled what the Prophet Isaiah foretold about the coming messiah, Jesus. Pais precedes the New Testament diakonos and doulos announcing the reason behind servitude. To understand servitude as leaders to its furthest extent, What does Scripture uncover about the characteristics of a servant of the Lord?

A Deeper Look at Servant

First Mention. The Old Testament initially referenced the concept of servant (Hebrew: עֶבֶד`; ebed) in connection with Abraham: “And the Lord appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake” (Gen 26:24). A critical point about the title servant of the Lord relates to the fact God Himself identified Abraham as His servant and did so in a possessive form, “my servant” (26:24b). Abraham followed God’s will by leaving Haran to keep the Lord’s command to go to an unknown land (12:1). When Abraham departed from his father’s house and kindred upon God’s command, he forfeited everything familiar from Haran to go “unto a land that I will show thee” (Gen 12:1d). He placed his future in the Lord’s hands. For the Lord to name Abraham servant brings to mind characteristics of obedience, submission, trust, and faithfulness. These traits tied to God’s covenant and resulted in Abraham gaining a new identity, everlasting inheritance, and divine security.

Some of the Old Testament servants of the Lord include Abraham (Gen 26:24), Moses (Exod 14:31; Deut 34:5; Josh 1:2, 13), Joshua (Josh 24:29; Judg 2:8), Hezekiah (2 Chron 32:16), Isaiah (Isa 20:3), Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon (Jer 25:9), Zerubbabel (Hag 2:23), prophets as a group (2 Kgs 17:13; Amos 3:7; Jer 7:25; 26:5), and the faithful ones of Israel (Isa 49:1-6). A closer view of servant revealed its attributes. The Lord’s servants accomplished something in particular for Him. Moses led the Israelites from Egypt. He served as God’s instrument to demonstrate His acts (Exod 14:31) and gave His commands (Josh 1:13). God called Moses his servant even after death (1:2). Another servant of the Lord, Caleb, had a different spirit than the children of Israel. Caleb followed God (Num 14:24) as opposed to the Israelites who tested the Lord, did not heed His voice, and provoked (spurned or despised) Him (14:22). God also called King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, known as the wicked one in rabbinic literature (Jewish Encyclopedia, 2011), His servant because he worked for Him. Nebuchadnezzar would strike the land of Egypt (Jer 43:10c-11; AMP).

Context. The context of servant of the Lord gives further understanding of its meaning in leadership. Consider the Lord’s appearance to Isaac when He reaffirmed the covenant made with His sent servant Abraham (Gen 26:1). A look at the chapter explains events occurred during famine. Thus, God directed Isaac to sojourn temporarily in Gerar. There, the Lord appeared to Isaac and told him He would favor him, give him all these lands, and confirm the oath He swore to his father Abraham (26:3-5 NIV). He emphasized Abraham obeyed Him; did everything He required; and kept His commands, decrees, and instructions (v. 3). The Lord spoke again to Isaac in Gen 26:24, “I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake” (KJV). Earlier verses from chapter 26 show the Lord’s servant Abraham had an obedient character based on his actions.

Context study indicates a servant of the Lord belongs to the divine Master, rather than the world (Gen 24:2). The Lord’s servant carried an exalted stature, honorable in God’s eyes rather than dishonorable (2 Kgs 8:13). God esteemed the position, as opposed to respect people gave men of war (1 Sam 18:5). A servant of the Lord transcended a polite address (Gen 43:28). This servant voluntarily submitted to everything God required and kept His commands, decrees, and instructions. The Lord did not force obedience (49:15); rather, the servant carried out His requests based on faith in God’s covenantal promises for Israel, generation-to-generation. His scope of authority went beyond a master’s household (24:2). In contrast to the cursed servant of servants (9:25; 26:15), the Lord blessed His servant with ensuing spiritual and physical prosperity.

Typical. Examining occurrences of servant of the Lord by typical exegesis, the most significant illustration presents itself in Isa 42:1-8. The unidentified “my servant” type in 42:1, prefigured the antitype Messiah: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.” Jesus Christ, the Lord’s Servant fulfilled these words foretold by the Prophet Isaiah in Matt 12:18. In this prophecy, God assured the helpless servant Israel He will bless them through His Servant to come Who will rule over the earth (Isa 42:8-9). His servant will bring justice, a divine mishpat, to the nations with salvation (42:1, 3-4). He will do so gently in truth: Neither will He break a bruised reed nor quench a smoking flax (v. 3). But, He will prevail in establishing it. Isaiah 42:4 in the Amplified version detailed the meaning of establish, “He will not fail or become weak or be crushed and discouraged till He has established justice in the earth.”

Seeking the Pillars of Truth

The Bible is the Word of God with truths for daily living. These truths provide leaders with a subsequent meaning shaping their understanding for God’s intentions as His servant. It also beacons their walk with guiding principles to serve Him. What truths, then, did God have in mind about His servant (Hebrew: עֶבֶד`; ebed) in Gen 26:24? Think of the following pillars in response to this question:

  • Pillar One. A servant of the Lord belongs to God through covenant. 
  • Pillar Two. A servant of the Lord submits to His commission.
  • Pillar Three. A servant of the Lord places the future in His hands.
  • Pillar Four. A servant of the Lord follows God in faith.
  • Pillar Five. A servant of the Lord speaks gentle truth.
  • Pillar Six. A servant of the Lord trusts Him, with the absence of fear and discouragement.
  • Pillar Seven. A servant of the Lord prevails with His commission.

God exalts His beloved with the title servant: The Most High bestows them with a name of honor. With this title, though, comes responsibility. Every leader must journey in faith like Abraham and walk as the Servant Jesus to promote the cause of the Gospel to diverse peoples in a complex, changing world. It takes nothing less than faith and trust in God to serve. Perhaps, the pillars represent the seven love languages of faith leaders speak and show as servants to their First Love. Leadership revolves around not just maintaining the servant love languages, but ardently pursuing the Groom as His bride in the wilderness to show her love in servitude.

Jan Paron, PhD
Dean and Professor of Urban Ministerial Leadership
All Nations Leadership Institute

Watch for the next post, My Servant David: Leadership Lessons for Multicultural Ministry.


  • Hanson, P. (1995). Isaiah 40-66. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.
  • Harrill, J. (2000). Servant. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (p. 1189). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
  • Oswalt, J.. (1998). The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
  • Jewish Encyclopedia. (2011). Nebuchadnezzar. Retrieved from http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11407-nebuchadnezzar
  • Oswalt, J.. (1998). The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
  • Paron, J. (2013, March 1). DNA of kingdom greatness [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://specs12.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/dna-of-kingdom-greatness/
  • Swindoll, C. (2014). Abraham: One nomad’s amazing journey of faith. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Publishers, Inc.
  • Thayer, J. (2009). Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishes.
  • Walton, J., Matthews, V., & Chavalas, M. (2000). The Bible background commentary: Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: Baker Academic.

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