In the restaurant business, there’s a saying: The waiter/waitress is a server, not a servant. The concept of servanthood is incredibly distasteful in our culture. America is (supposedly) a nation where no one is inherently better than anyone else. To us, being someone’s servant means you think of yourself as a less worthy person, and that they think down upon you. Some even think of “servant” and “slave” as interchangeable, so that a servant is barely regarded as a human being and as the property of their master.
A somewhat obscure figure in the Bible displays for us a great deal about true servanthood.
Eliezer, a True Servant
In Genesis 24, Abraham calls his oldest, most trusted servant to find a bride for his son, Isaac. The servant is unnamed in chapter 24, although most people believe it is Eliezer (Genesis 15:2). Eliezer is sent to find Abraham’s relatives in his former home country. The servant takes an oath, and obeys immediately. He takes certain gifts from his master, and he goes.
Now it gets interesting. After the 500-plus mile journey from Canaan to Mesopotamia, he first prays, “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham” (Genesis 24:12, NASB). Notice he pleads his master’s case before God, for the task of the servant is not to please himself. After he finds Rebekah (vv. 15-25), he prays again concerning his master: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his lovingkindness and his truth toward my master…” (v. 27).
When Eliezer discusses this potential marriage with Rebekah’s family, he declines to eat until he has told them his business. When they bid him to proceed, he speaks: “So he said, ‘I am Abraham’s servant’” (Genesis 24:34).
His first word is not what he is doing, but who he is doing it for. He’s been sent, and the one who sent him surpasses even the mission itself.
Eliezer, a Faithful Servant
If this is Eliezer, then there’s something else to consider. Eliezer had been the heir of Abraham’s house before Ishmael and Isaac were born, yet there is no trace of bitterness or half-heartedness in his character. He is single-mindedly devoted to his master and his master’s wishes, with no thought for himself.
Rebekah’s family agrees to the marriage, and the servant is determined to leave as soon as possible to complete his mission. They ask him to wait ten days with them, but he replies, “Do not delay me, since the Lord has prepared my way. Send me away that I may go to my master” (v. 56).
This faithful servant’s heart is fully given to his master. His work is important because of who gave it to him, and once his work is complete, his place is by his master’s side.
Jesus, the Perfect Servant
Jesus is the perfect example of servanthood. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he stresses that he doesn’t act on his own initiative, but that he is sent from the Father. Jesus is the Son of God. He left the splendor of heaven to live as a poor man in an obscure province of a mighty empire. He worked a common trade. He ate and drank and slept. His feet became dirty walking the roads of Judea and Galilee. He washed the feet of others. No one ever gave up so great an existence for things so seemingly ordinary.
“When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me, he has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:28-29)
“…but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded me.” (John 14:31)
Jesus continually expresses a servant’s heart as he loves and serves those around him through healing, teaching, and admonishing. His ministry lasts approximately three years, during which he mentions on multiple occasions that his time has not yet come (John 2:4, 7:6). Then, in a dramatic moment likely understood only by himself at the time, Jesus announces, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). From this moment, he marches resolutely and rather quickly toward his death.
Good and Faithful Servants
For three years, he pointed to the one who sent him and spoke about his true purpose, although no one grasped what that was. He went where he was sent, with the gifts given to him by the Father, and he waited for the appointed time. When that time came, everything happened rapidly; Jesus was put to death only a few days later. He demonstrated perfect submission to the will of the One who sent him.
“The cup which the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11)
So he died, for the sins of the world, which is the reason he was sent by the Father. Since he is God’s perfect, holy Son, death could not hold him, and he rose again on the third day—also the will of the Father.
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After his resurrection, his words to Mary Magdalene mirror Eliezer’s in Genesis 24:56: “Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). With the mission complete, his place is by his Father’s side. Forty days later, he ascends into heaven. The next time we see Jesus is through the eyes of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, who says:
“Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56)
Like Jesus and Eliezer, God sends us into the world. If we love and trust him, we can be confident we’re in the right place and serve him with all our hearts. In due course, he will show us why we are so placed, and when that happens, our duty is clear. When this life is over and our work is done, we who have loved the Lord Jesus will be welcomed by the Father, who will say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your master!” (Matthew 25:21).