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The Gospel in Words: Servant

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Ordinarily, when we hear the word "servant," we think of a personal or domestic attendant — one whose duty it is to wait upon his master. Sometimes we think of someone who does certain work in a household. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that "in a wider sense, a servant is one who is under the obligation to render services to and obey the orders of a person in return for wages or a salary."When we look at how the word servant is used in the scriptures, however, we see a different and more distinct definition of the word. Again, the Oxford English Dictionary tells us that in the 14th and 15th centuries the word "servant" was often defined as "slave." In fact, in all the Bible translations from Wycliffe to the Revised Version of 1880-84, the word "servant" is used as the translation for the Hebrew or Greek word that corresponds to slave. In the early history of the United States, the word "servant" was the usual designation for slave. A slave is a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another — a bondservant.In the scriptural sense then, a servant is one whose will is completely subordinated to another — someone willing to give up his or her own selfish identity and submit to another. It is in this sense that Peter, James and Paul all referred to themselves as servants of Jesus Christ. Paul describes the Savior as one who "made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7). Abinadi describes the Savior as "becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father" (Mosiah 15:7).This gives us a better perspective on what the Savior meant when he not so gently chastised the mother of two of his apostles when she desired that her sons sit on his right and left hand. He illuminated the difference between the kingdom of the world and his kingdom. "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:25-27).This deeper and more rigorous understanding of the word "servant" gives a clearer understanding of the Savior's injunction "in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and a wise servant, whom his lord has made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing" (Matthew 24:44-46).