Why Is “Servant of God” a Noble Title?

“The Return of the Prodigal Son”, Italian (Neapolitan) (ca. 1630)

“Servant of God” – this word combination, which the Orthodox use a lot, confuses many non-believers and generates a lot of criticism from the atheists. “Orthodoxy,” they say, “is like all other Abrahamic religions: it is permeated by misanthropy and degrades the believers’ dignity! We are not servants, servants are lame!” The aim of this brief essay is to show that the “servant of God” is one of the most honorable names that we can apply to ourselves.

So, why do all Christians, including the apostles, call themselves servants of Christ[1]? On the one hand, it is a sign of deep humility and the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah of whom the Old Testament prophets spoke. On the other hand, it should be noted that the Lord Himself only uses the phrase “My servant” to refer to certain individuals: to Abraham[2], to Moses[3], to Caleb[4], to David[5], to Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah[6], to Job[7], to His prophets[8] and to Jacob (Israel)[9], by which he means all the people descended from him. In addition, the Lord calls the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar [10], with whose hand He punished the Israelites because they did wrong in His eyes (2 Kings 21:15) his servant, along with His only begotten Son [11] in some Messianic prophecies.

It is evident from this enumeration of the characters of the Old Testament that, apart from the only Son of God, they were more or less sinful people. Sometimes they acted against God’s will, but they resorted to the healing power of repentance and returned to the Lord. It is clear, however, that the word “servant” implies complete obedience when none of them, like Abraham, Moses, or David, were fully obedient to God; and indeed, as we know, man is endowed with free will, and even the Lord cannot violate it. Hence the Lord uses the word “servant” giving it a different, divine meaning. When God calls someone His servant, He says that this person is not a servant of sin (John 8:34), and is not rooted in it; that he is a servant of righteousness (see Romans 6:16-20).

Why do all Christians dare to call themselves servants of God, to apply to themselves such a prestigious title that the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs had borne? This is because, unlike the righteous people of the Old Testament, who were granted this title thanks to their rejection of sin and godly life, Christians are freed from the power of sin and become servants of God in the waters of Holy Baptism. It turns out that the “slave of God” is a title that a Christian receives for free, only because he recognizes Christ as his Savior. Baptism, however, does not make a person holy: the Lord merely empowers us not to sin, which, alas, is something that only a few people avail themselves of. It can be said that immediately after Baptism man rises to the same level of spiritual advancement as the righteous people of the Old Testament, with the only difference that the latter stood on the last step, while for the former, who were baptized and vested in Christ, this step is the first one. This, by the way, allows us to take a different look at the tradition of the ancient Church, according to which believers were baptized at a mature age (30 years and later): a person should have been spiritually mature before Holy Baptism and at least approach the title of “the servant of God”.

Whoever is baptized in Christ is called to be a child of God: we call God our Father in the Lord’s Prayer. We should strive to deserve to be called the children of our Heavenly Father. To this end, according to the Holy Fathers [12], we need to grow out of the position of a servant who does everything out of fear of his master, first into the condition of a mercenary who wants to be rewarded for his labors, and then into the condition of a son who does everything out of love for the Father. The only problem is that few of those who have been baptized are worthy of the title of a servant of God, because they are servants of sin.

However, “My servant” is not the only term that the Lord uses to describe people. He calls Abraham his friend in the Old Testament [13]; in the New Testament our Lord Jesus Christ tells the apostles, “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15). It means that the Lord has full confidence in those who do what He has commanded (see John 15:14). It is only to his friends that God reveals the mysteries of his Plan. This was the case with Abraham, who was chosen to be the ancestor of the Redeemer after he had almost sacrificed his only son by divine command. In the same way, the apostles were called friends of Christ before He voluntarily went up to the cross upon entrusting them with the great Sacrament of the Eucharist.

[1] James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1:1; Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 7:22; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Galatians 1:10; Eph. 6:6; Phil. 1:1; Col. 4:12; Titus 1:1; Rev. 1:1.
[2] Genesis 26:24.
[3] Numbers 12:8; Joshua 1:2,7; 2 Kings 21:8; Malachi 4:4.
[4] Numbers 14:24.
[5] 2 Samuel 3:18; 2 Samuel 7:5,7; 1 Kings 11:13,32,34,36,38; 1 Kings 14:8; 2 Kings 19:34; 2 Kings 20:6; 1 Chronicles 17:4,7; Psalm 89:21; Isaiah 37:35; Jeremiah 33:21,22,26; Ezekiel 34:23,24; Ezekiel 37:24,25.
[6] Isaiah 22:20.
[7] Job 1:8; Job 2:3; Job 42:7,8.
[8] 2 Kings 9:7; 2 Kings 17:13; Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 26:5; Jeremiah 29:19; Jeremiah 35:15; Jeremiah 44:4; Ezekiel 38:17; Zech. 1:6.
[9] Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 44:1,2,21; Isaiah 45:4; Isaiah 49:5,6; Isaiah 65:9; Jeremiah 30:10; Jeremiah 33:26; Jeremiah 46:28; Ezekiel 28:25; Ezekiel 37:25.
[10] Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 27:6; Jeremiah 43:10.
[11] Isaiah 49:3,5,6; Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 53:11; Zech. 3:8.
[12] See, e.g., Abba Dorotheus, Homily Four: The Fear of God.
[13] Isaiah 41:8.

Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds
Source: https://jesus-portal.ru/life/expert/pochemu-rab-bozhiy-eto-vysokiy-titul/

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The Editor of the Catalog of Good Deeds.

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