JohnSWilson3 Blog

“…so that we may serve the living God.”
November 6, 2011, 2:12 pm
Filed under: Q - Letter to Hebrews

As I read this letter to the Hebrews and specifically look at words from the original language I am struck by the use of words for “serve.” The words generally focus on the first covenant service to God in the tabernacle and the new covenant service to God through the serving of one another.

There are a three main Greek words for “serve” in the New Testament. One word is “diakoneo” which is the basic word to “serve” and used in describes how we love one another. Another word is “douleuo” which is to serve as a slave. The other is “latreuo” which is “to work for hire” and where we get the word “liturgy” and most often refers to service to God. These words are often translated incorrectly and give a different sense to the passage, in some instances an institutional bias. For example, the words “deacon” and “minister” are used to often convey a special position or office in the “church.” I am not so inclined. Christ’s body is made of many members and each serve one another by the life of the One Head as they assemble together. To create a special position or office in the Christ’s ekklesia is to deny the headship of Jesus Christ, who alone is the Leader and Authority who lives through His people, and moves His body from an organically lived body to an institutional organization run by men.

The author in the Letter to Hebrews uses primarily the different forms of the word “latreuo” to describe the importance of how Christ has “set aside” “the former regulation” of “the law of Moses.” “The first covenant had regulations for ‘latreias’ and also an earthly sanctuary” (9:1) and “the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ‘latreias.’ Additionally, “both the tabernacle and ‘vessels’ used in its ‘leitourgias’ ” were “sprinkled with the blood.” (9:21) But these priests “ ‘latreuousin’ at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” (8:5) And because the priests only acted out a parable of what Jesus would do later, “the gifts and sacrifices” that were “being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the ‘one latreuonta.’” (9:9) “Day after day every priest stands and performs his ‘leitourgon’ duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” (10:11) This service to God in the first covenant was never meant to do anything but cause the people of God to depend on, to trust in the Lord waiting for the Promise to come, the Promise in whom the priests acted out as a parable.

But in Christ, the Son of God, who came as “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” “without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life…remains a priest forever.” (7:3) Christ Jesus Himself entered “the inner sanctuary behind the curtain…who went before us, has entered on our behalf…has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (6:19-20) It is Christ alone who has brought us peace with God and made us righteousness to God in whom alone is the King of peace and the King of righteousness! Christ Jesus, because He alone was “in the order of Melchizedek” and perfectly fulfilled the law of Moses, has changed “the priesthood” and therefore changed “the law” “on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.” (7:11,12,16) In Christ Jesus alone “a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (7:19) “Jesus lives forever” and “has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (7:24-25) Because of the work Christ Jesus did alone, “we do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who ‘leitourgos’ in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.” (8:1-2) So “the ‘leitourgias’ Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.” (8:6) Christ Jesus Himself by His own blood, “entered the Most Holy Place once for all” and has “obtained eternal redemption.” (9:12) And only “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may ‘latreuein’ the living God!” (9:14)

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (10:19-25)

It has been said that in Christ every believer has been given a priesthood, some calling it the priesthood of the believer. I would suggest that that is too individualistic a view. It is Christ Himself who is the great high priest, He alone is the priest to God. One member can only touch some part of Christ and not the whole. In Christ, we “ ‘latreuein’ the living God” as we “ ‘diakonesantes’ to the saints” (6:10). It is the ekklesia, the body of Christ assembling together serving one another in love by which God is served, by which the full expression of the Son is expressed. It is the ekklesia, living organically by the life of Christ together who serve God. It could be better said that it is really the priesthood of the ekklesia, not the believer, who serve the living God! How we do disservice to God by not serving one another in love organically by the life of Christ, who alone is the priest to God!

W.E. Vine, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 410-411, 563.


2 Comments so far
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It is the priesthood of the believers. As you pointed out, unfortunately, many call it the priesthood of the believer and make individualistic. I would be careful how you used the priesthood of the church, for depending on who you speak to, there are different interpretations of ekklesia.

As for positions or roles in the church … How do you deal with Phil 1:1? Just curious.

Comment by Maël

thanks Mael for the comment. I use ekkelsia as this is the better term, describing the gathering, the assembling of the body where all the members function by the life of Christ to the full expression of Christ, in this regard the ekklesia functions as a priesthood because of the life of the great high priest, Christ Jesus Himself. You are right in being careful only in that those who hold to a more institutional, legalistic view would obviously bring with it it’s fleshly view and not Christ’s.

With regard to “positions or roles” I wrote this regarding this verse in Phil: 1:1: “Additionally, perhaps Paul is upfront in his letter, more so than in his others (since this is the first time where he actually brings out specific functions in His letters to the body of Christ), using the functional words overseers and deacons to highlight certain individuals in this body of Christ “to remind the community of their place in Christ,”(3) e.g. he places them after “all the saints.” Maybe Paul is thinking about what happened in Corinth when divisions began to occur because certain members started taking charge, instead of letting Christ be the Head. Everyone in the body of Christ are equals, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” as Paul told the Galatians and then repeated to the Corinthians. Is it possible that as we grow in Christ that we may be tempted to act superior to our other brothers and sisters in Christ? May it never be so. Pride comes before the fall, may we remember this.” My note (3) is from Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary of the New Testament, 1995, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 69.

See more of this at my blog: Appreciate you commenting brother, :).

Comment by John Wilson

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