In hell's banquet room, the people are arguing, fighting, and starving. Mounds of food rot on the plates as rats run to and fro among the putrefying bounty. The forks are too long for anyone to eat, so they fuss and fight, swearing at one another as all go hungry frantically trying to protect the food before them from their hungry neighbor.
In heaven's banquet, however, the same banquet hall, chairs, table, angels, and food produce a scene of joy, feasting, song, and love. The difference is that in heaven, they take turns serving each other and feeding each other with their long forks. You see, they know the joy of simple service and no one is left out. All are full of food, joy, and song. They enjoy a never-ending feast of love and grace.
For the followers of Jesus, table fellowship and serving each other around the dinner table has always been special. Luke emphasizes it more than any other gospel, but all the gospels show Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, feeding the crowds, blessing bread, going to feasts, and sharing in the Last Supper. Much of this focus on food and feasting goes back to the Lord's Jewish roots and the importance of feast days. Some of it anticipates His presence in all meals — remember the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) — and His followers "breaking of bread" as they shared the Lord's Supper. Each of these is a foretaste of the great feast of joy that awaits Jesus' followers on his return.
Not surprisingly, Jesus reminded His followers repeatedly that the greatest in the Kingdom is a "servant" — diakonos is the root word, meaning a table servant and the word from which translators coined the term "deacon" (Matthew 23:11; 1 Timothy 3:8-12). Jesus is the ultimate example of what this means:
- He identifies Himself as a table servant (Luke 22:24-27)
- He demonstrates himself to be a table servant when He washes His followers' feet (John 13:1-17).
In both cases, the Lord calls us, his followers, to be servants to each other.
In the early years of Jesus' followers, this simple term for "serving as a table servant" became the gold standard of leadership and faithfulness as a disciple. When the early church appointed 7 men to make sure widows were fed in Jerusalem, their task was to "serve as a table servant" (Acts 6:1-7). And frequently, the role of those who preached or evangelized or led in church life were said to "serve as a table servant" — our translations sometimes use the term minister, but it is this same word Jesus used for table servant (Colossians 1:7; Colossians 1:23-25; Colossians 4:7; Colossians 4:17).
So what are we to make of this?
Let's go back to Jesus as he gives us a defining statement on his purpose and ministry:
For even the Son of Man did not come to be SERVED, but to SERVE, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45 TNIV, emphasis added to highlight the word for table service).
For a chart giving an overview of the use of this term for servant, follow this link:
Here are a few questions to think about and I'd love for you to share some of your insights on my blog:
The Phil Files
Why is it so hard for us to see the essence of church leadership as simply serving each other?
What makes it easier for us to view church as a service for us rather than a community where we are to serve others?
In Jesus' day, a table servant was a low paid family servant, a woman or a child. Why do you think Jesus, and the early church after him, chose this term to describe its leaders?