What Does It Mean to Minister?

When a rift developed among the apostles over the question of who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus called them together to teach them about leadership:

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).

The word “minister” comes from the Latin word minus, meaning “less.” A minister is someone who is beneath you, who serves you.

The opposite word, “master,” comes from magis, which means “more.” A master is over you; you serve them.

The irony of the Savior’s life is that the ultimate Master, the Creator of the universe, consistently and intentionally sought opportunities to serve other people

The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister (Matthew 20:28).

Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi sees in a vision the mortal life of Jesus Christ. He sees the Savior “ministering unto the people, in power and great glory” (1 Nephi 11:28).

Years later, when Jesus Christ visits the American continent, Mormon repeatedly refers to His visit as a ministry (3 Nephi 10:18-19, 3 Nephi 17:24, 3 Nephi 19:2, 7-8, 14-15, 3 Nephi 26:14, 19).

What does it mean to minister?

Most of the time in the Book of Mormon, the word “minister” is a synonym for teaching. For example:

  • “I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them” (1 Nephi 13:35).
  • “Now behold, it came to pass that I, Jacob, having ministered much unto my people in word, (and I cannot write but a little of my words…)” (Jacob 4:1).
  • “[Nephi] did minister many things unto them; and all of them cannot be written, and a part of them would not suffice, therefore they are not written in this book” (3 Nephi 7:17).
  • “And when they had ministered those same words which Jesus had spoken — nothing varying from the words which Jesus had spoken…” (3 Nephi 19:8).

However, the word is also used to refer to other forms of service:

An important part of the Savior’s ministry, both during his mortal life and during His visit to the American continent, was healing the sick (1 Nephi 11:31, Mosiah 3:5-6, 3 Nephi 17:6-10). He referred to His disciples as “these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants” (3 Nephi 12:1). Several places in the Book of Mormon, providing for the needy is called “administering” to them (Mosiah 4:26, Alma 15:18,  Alma 35:9).

Additionally, the word “minister is used several times to refer to the ordinance of the sacrament:

If it so be that he repenteth and is baptized in my name, then shall ye receive him, and shall minister unto him of my flesh and blood (3 Nephi 18:30). (See also 3 Nephi 18:28Moroni 4:1.)

The Greek word which is most often translated as “minister” in the King James Version of the Bible is diakoneo (διακονέω). The word means to serve others “in an active, practical way.” It is related to the word diakonos (διάκονος), which means “servant,” and which is also the root of the word “deacon.” (See Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8, 10, 12-13.)

The word literally means “to thoroughly raise up dust by moving in a hurry.” It suggests a person who is eager to serve, who can’t wait for the opportunity to help someone else.

As Sister Jean B. Bingham taught:

When we consider how to minister most effectively, we ask, “What does she [or he] need?” Coupling that question with a sincere desire to serve, we are then led by the Spirit to do what would lift and strengthen the individual. I have heard countless stories of brothers and sisters who were blessed by a simple gesture of inclusion and welcome at church, a thoughtful email or text message, a personal contact at a difficult time, an invitation to participate in a group activity, or an offer to help with a challenging situation (“Ministering As the Savior Does,” General Conference, April 2018).

Today, I will strive to follow the Savior’s example by ministering to other people. I will strive to serve others “in an active practical way,” and to quickly and eagerly take advantage of opportunities to lift and strengthen other people.

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