There is an old story of heaven and hell attributed to various sources — often to C.S. Lewis, or before him, to Jewish Rabbis. This often embellished story describes heaven and hell as identical banquet rooms filled with wonderful chairs, a huge table, plenty of guests, and a limitless supply of sumptuous food. Angels bring plate after plate of more sumptuous food so the party never has to stop. The problem is that the food can only be eaten with forks that are over 3 foot long.

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:

  1. He identifies Himself as a table servant (Luke 22:24-27)
  2. 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).

So what are we to make of this?
We have choices as a follower of Jesus. Our life as a follower of the Messiah can either be about wanting to be served, or about giving our life in service. Our view of Christian leadership can be about wielding authority and power, or it can be about serving others. However, the Lord makes clear which his choice is: rather than a position of power or privilege, Jesus is calling us to a life of simple service. In the end, serving others is where we will find our true source of satisfaction, joy, and love. We will be blessed, enriched, filled with joy, and fed only when we make the priority of our life in Jesus to bless, enrich, bring joy, and feed others with the Lord's love and grace!

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?