In certain cultures, and in certain times, it was not dishonorable to be a servant. In fact, being a servant could well lead to a different path than what could else be accomplished. One of the most famous servants in US culture is a man named Alfred Pennyworth. He is the butler of Bruce Wayne, whose alter ego is The Batman. Yes, he’s merely a fictional character. And, yes, he is one of the few positive US depictions of a servant.
When working through the Scriptures, we often try to “soften” the imagery around servants, indentured servants, and slaves. Part of it is our US ethos of rugged individualism. The other part is our darker history of human exploitation through both indentured servitude and slavery.
To add insult to injury, or misunderstanding to the Scriptures, US culture diminishes waitstaff (a respectable path elsewhere), cooks, or anyone who doesn’t fit certain narratives.
This becomes crucial when we read passages such as Psalm 123:3. As a servant waits for their master, so our eyes wait upon the mercy of God. Our cultural baggage with both master and servant removes our heart’s ability to see this verse as it is intended. The servant of which the psalmist writes loves their master. They love their master so much that it isn’t a burden; it is an honor. Their life orbits the master. They wait to do the master’s bidding so that the master is satisfied. The servant’s satisfaction comes from the master’s.
In our context, we usually then respond, what about the needs of the servant or our needs (if we read ourselves into the role of the servant)? Then, are we really any different than the hardheaded and hardhearted descendants of Israel and Judah that God points to in Ezekiel 2: 4? Or are we more like the braggart that Paul tries not to be in 2 Corinthians 12:6, yet still think that we are greater than being a servant (which Paul didn’t)?
The cultural shift that would make servants (and the service “industry”) more respectable or honorable may never come. Or, if Gen Z can become effective in many of its ideals, It may dovetail into the conversations around the minimum wage, livable wage, and permanent income.
As a result of a recent conversation with a Gen-Z-er (~born 1995–2015), I realized that perhaps we are more servants than we realize. As employees, we serve our organization. An organization serves its stakeholders. That’s a little oversimplified, but you get the idea.
However, most of us will immediately respond negatively to this imagery. We don’t want to serve. That should probably give us pause when we think of living our lives for God.
- What is your response to being a servant (not serving)? Why? What is the difference between serving and being a servant?
- Jesus called himself a servant. If God calls himself a servant, and we are his followers, why do we have problems with this concept when it comes to living the Christian life?