Deacon is a Verb

By George Fuller. Jack graduates from college, or even receives his MBA. He finds a job with a company in their home office. The building is large and shaped like a pyramid. Each level has a number and the top floor is Level 1. Of course, in the pyramid the lowest level is the largest, and that’s where most people begin. But Jack did passing work in school and his uncle works on an upper level, so he does not have to begin at the ground level.

His workspace is a modular unit in the middle of the level. He cannot even see a window from his cubicle. But he finds satisfaction in the fact that the people on the levels under him serve him; they are clerks and cleaning people. Even in the beginning, Jack has career goals. He wants to move to a cubicle closer to a window, as people with those more cherished locations die, are fired or move up. Eventually, he wants to move to a wall unit, hopefully with a window. His most lofty dream is to move along the wall to a corner office, maybe even one with windows on two sides.

From time to time, employees move up to the next level allowing Jack to move up as well. The process begins again as he works his way from the middle of the floor, to the edge, to the corner window. The ultimate goal – so ultimate that perhaps no one really achieves it – is to be at the pinnacle, at the very top floor, one office, windows all around; you report to no one, and everyone reports to you. If Jack is asked, “how many people work for you?” he says, “everyone.” “Whom do you serve?” “No one (other than myself).”

Jack will probably never get close to that pinnacle. He’ll retire, be retired, be fired or reach some kind of ceiling. His initial level may have been too low.

The pyramid scheme is deeply entrenched. It assumes that at the top are happiness and success, at the bottom are misery, drudgery and a kind of slavery. The world’s cultures, from ancient Greece to modern America, do not place high value on or dignify menial service. It is considered infinitely better to receive it than give it. The pyramid principles may apply in the home office of a large company. They may also describe some teachers, farmers, truck drivers, mothers-at-home or ministers who believe the goal in life is to get ahead, move up, be served.

Jesus turned the pyramid upside down. He revolutionized the world’s scheme. Success is found in working your way to the bottom. The issue is never “service received” but is always “service given.” It is never “how many people report to me?” but always, “can I serve others better or more?”In an extreme but proper sense Jesus alone occupies the point at the bottom of the new pyramid. He is the Ultimate Servant. Self-giving to the point of death itself, He took upon Himself the form of a servant, becoming obedient even unto death.

Seeking to have the mind of Jesus in them, the servants of Jesus prayerfully and humbly work their way down the new pyramid, becoming more like Him. Increasingly they are known by their humble and quiet service to people in need and to Jesus Himself. They receive gratefully the important support of other Christians, but they rejoice all the more in opportunity to offer service to others.

Look at the Last Supper again. Jesus said, “The hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table” (Luke 22:21). “They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.” What happened next? Did Thomas think, “It surely is not me”? Perhaps Matthew and Peter had the same unspoken thoughts. Did they begin to compare themselves to one another? It is clear what the result was- “also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.”

They simply did not understand the pyramid problem. Jesus said to them, “the kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them are given the title Benefactor. But you are not like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

Throughout the ages and the world, people admire the great pyramid and give their lives to the pyramid game. But it is an evil game, seducing and entrapping. Escaping from the world’s pyramid is not easy, but it is critical. How do you move from a scheme that has universal endorsement? You can begin by understanding the word “serve” in the words of Jesus; “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

First, know that “serve” is a verb. One related noun is translated “deacon.” Another related noun talks about the activity of deacons and is translated “service, ministry.” It refers to the “act of deaconing.” But Jesus’ word is the verb “to minister, to serve, to deacon.” You remember how verbs work: I deacon, you deacon, he or she deacons.” It’s a word of action. The reference is to something you do, or in this case something Jesus does.

Secondly, recognize that Jesus came specifically “to deacon.” If you were to say, “Jesus, why did you come?” He might respond, “in fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” He might say, “for the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” But hear Jesus: “for even the Son of Man did not come to be served (to be deaconed), but to serve (deacon), and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The verb flows through his life, even out of his death. He came to deacon, not to be deaconed. The antithetical distinction between those two expressions reveals the vast difference between the two pyramids.

He came to turn the world upside down, by demonstration and by power, even to death. Infinitely more might be said of His ministry of grace, mercy and love. We could expound on all that He accomplished in life, on the cross, in His resurrection, in His ascension, in His present and future ministry. But we focus on the startling fact that this one life had as its purpose pure service to others. He came for the specific purpose of serving, that is, “to deacon.”

Thirdly, recognize that Jesus’ disciples “deacon.” They are moved from being served to serving. Theirs is the pyramid or kingdom marked by service given. They know that God has loved them even while they were sinners. The cross is the pledge, the proof and the demonstration of that love. Paul affirmed, “but God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

A disciple of Jesus knows that he or she does not deserve the love of Jesus. It is unmerited, undeserved grace and mercy. Sin and the sinner are not lovely, lovable or easy to love. But God loves the sinner anyway. He has love for the unlovely. The Christian is then possessed with that same love. John said, “no one has ever seen God; but if we love each other, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us…. We love, because he first loved us” (I John 4:12, 19). The Christian serves, out of a love that he or she first experienced at the cross. Self-giving sacrificial service originates at Calvary. So the Bible speaks of a new birth, a new life, a new heart, a new love and new service in Jesus’ name.

Finally, we all need to be reminded of this highest of all callings, to be a lowly servant of Jesus. We need encouragement, challenge and command from God’s word to be what we are-servants of Jesus.The world and the church offer immense opportunity for those with servants’ hearts. The Old Testament calls God’s people to serve widows and orphans and strangers. What kinds of people did Jesus serve? A paralytic, the blind, the deaf, the suffering, the sorrowing, the outcast and the demon possessed. He served the dying, even the dead, children especially, but old people, too.

What then needs to happen? In the first place, each Christian must prayerfully and humbly ask the Lord to display His love through him or her. No Christian is excused from the ministry of “deaconing.” Jesus is the prime Example. But elders, deacons, all members, men, women and children are called.

We must also ask the deacons of our churches to do what they are called to do. Deacons, lead all of us by good example in the ministry of mercy. Beyond that, mobilize all of us in this great high calling. Make it a goal not to deprive one Christian of the blessing of service in Jesus’ name. Help us to join with the angels (Matthew 4:11) and Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:15) and the women at the tomb (Matthew 27:55) in ministering to Jesus. We want to be included among the sheep on His right hand, who will hear Him say, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Deacons, help us all to be good deacons.How much we all need to learn about the life of giving service. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God…. and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”

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