The Christian: A Servant Fifth in Series: What Is a Christian?
The Christian: A Servant Fifth in Series: What Is a Christian?
Welcome to you if this is the first time you have joined us on a Wednesday. I hope you join us for the rest of this series which is entitled What is a Christian? We have been looking together at a variety of ways in which in the New Testament we have descriptors for Christians. There is a considerable variety of them and we are not looking at all of them, but today we come to the word "servant." I want to read some verses, 2 Corinthians 4:1-7, to which we will come right at the very end. They are not absolutely fundamental, but they are important for us when we come to the end of thinking about what it means to be a servant.
Reading of 2 Corinthians 4:1-7.
(Transcription of audio file from 01:02 to 02:20 omitted.)
We are more or less at the halfway point of I think ten studies in this series on What is a Christian? We’ve thought about, first of all, that a Christian is a Christian, although that description of a Christian is rarely used in the Bible. Oddly enough, it is one of the most infrequently used descriptive terms for a Christian, And the probable reason for that is that it was, almost certainly, first of all a term of abuse used by others. The only contexts in which it appears in the New Testament are contexts in which Christians are being abused. We thought about Christians as believers; how we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We thought about Christians as saints, and discovered (I hope if you discovered that for the first time you are continuing to enjoy it) that every Christian is a saint. You don’t become a Christian in order to eventually become a saint; you become a saint the moment you are a Christian. Then we were thinking about the word "disciple" – the disciple of Jesus, who is an apprentice and learns from his Master.
And today we come to a word that is used with some regularity in the New Testament about a Christian: a Christian is a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes Paul describes himself this way. “Paul, an apostle,” – he may begin his letters – “a servant of Jesus Christ.” And he speaks about other Christians – individuals whom he names and others whom he does not name – as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. The word he uses is the Greek word "doulos," which actually means not "servant" in our sense, but "slave." And it is very important to understand that when the New Testament speaks about us being servants of Jesus Christ, the word it uses is "slave." A Christian is somebody who has become a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, the Roman world into which the apostle Paul was speaking was a world, for all its external unity, that was characterized by many divisions and distinctions. For example, huge distinctions and divisions between men and women. Huge distinctions between Jews and Greeks. But perhaps the most fundamental division that there was in the Roman Empire was the division between those who were slaves and those who were free. The Roman Empire depended on that distinction and its maintenance. The Roman Empire was almost run by the fact that there were slaves who were working for free men. And there was a wide diversity also within the world of slaves. There were slaves (often in the more out of the way places) who might be treated with considerable abuse, but there were also slaves who were treated actually with great and unusual dignity. Many civil servants were slaves. Many patricians in the Roman Empire would entrust the whole education of their children to slaves, interestingly, on the basis that the slave was far more educated than the Roman patrician.
And so there were many slaves in the Roman Empire who played very strategic parts in the government and education of the Empire. Many of them were civil servants, and the Empire depended on them. Actually, there was a period when, particularly in Rome, there was an enormous amount of emancipation of slaves, because slaves were able to save money, they were able to gain money, and many of them were able to buy their freedom. It was a very, very diverse world. So slavery could amount to the kind of thing that, for example, is still true in parts of Scotland, where someone will work for somebody, will live in a house provided by that person, whole existence and livelihood absolute dependent on that person, and really at that person’s command 24/7. All that to the nadir of slavery where a slave would be treated more poorly than his master or her master’s animals.
So when we think about slavery, the one thing that all slavery had in common in the ancient world was this (actually, there was only one thing slaves had in common): they were not their own. They belonged entirely to their master. A slave was somebody whose life was owned by a master. And therefore, the key issue became, for slaves, the answer to the question, not “Who is your father?,” but “Who is your master?” The identity of your master was the key to what it would mean for you to be a slave. It could mean on the one hand a life of bondage and misery, or on the other hand it could mean (because actually, it was often cheaper to hire people on a daily basis than own people and therefore provide for people for the rest of their lives), and involve an allegiance to a master who provided you with everything you need and a super abundance above. The key issue (this is often true in a job, isn’t it) was not that you have got a job, not that you were a slave, but who was your master.
And this is the reason why the apostle Paul, who was born a free man (remember the discussion he had with the Roman centurion who had been a slave, and he said to Paul, “I bought my freedom for a large amount of money,” and Paul was able, as it were, almost to boast and say to him, “Well, I was born a free man”), who was a Roman citizen and born a free man (therefore belonging to the world of those of who were free and characterized by the dignity of the Roman Empire) – the reason he was in many ways enthusiastic about the idea of calling himself a slave was because he had been enslaved to the Lord Jesus Christ. And I want us to notice today just three pretty simple things (there are many more that we could notice about what this means).
Jesus Is the Master Who Has Bought Me⤒🔗
First of all, it means that if the Christian is described as a slave, the Christian recognizes that Jesus Christ is the master who has bought me. The master who has bought me. I wonder if you remember how, in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks in these terms. He says, “Corinthian Christians, you have been bought with a price.” And so this is the foundation of everything. Jesus Christ is the master who has bought me. Actually, the word that is often used for salvation in the New Testament, "redemption," has that idea built into it. It is the idea that Christ has come and He has bought me in order to possess me. He has redeemed me. Actually, the picture is perhaps even more graphic than that; it is the picture of Christ, as it were, coming down into a Roman slave market where people were for sale and looking upon us and saying, “I am going to purchase you for myself.” I am going to purchase you for myself!
And although that idea was present in the Old Testament, I think it must have meant something very special to people in the New Testament. There was slavery among the Jews, but it was voluntary slavery. If you made a man or a woman a slave, under the Old Testament law the penalty for you was death. That was the Old Testament law. But this provision was made in the Old Testament: that it was possible for somebody who, for whatever reason, was unable to pay his debts to enslave himself to another person, never for longer than seven years. There was a further provision in the Old Testament law that every fifty years every slave would be set free. It was essentially a way of enabling an individual to pay his debts on the one hand, and a way of providing for that individual when he had no finances to enable his family to survive. And it was very carefully governed. Indeed, it was so carefully governed it was written into the law of the Sabbath day, the fourth commandment. The Sabbath day is the day of rest. Not just for you; the day of rest is to be given also to those who are in your household. And the penalties for breaching these provisions of God’s law did not stop short of the death penalty, because of course the whole thing was grounded on the memory God’s people had – they had once been slaves in Egypt and mistreated. And so, if this was the arrangement that was made for the help of somebody who was, as it were, down on their luck, then that was carefully governed by the law of God.
It was a different thing outside of the covenant arrangements of the Old Testament scriptures where a man was a slave for life, and that is the picture that Paul is using. Here is someone standing in the slave market and he is already in bondage, and Jesus Christ comes into the slave market and says, “I will pay the price for that woman, that man, to be set free.” Now, set free from what? Set free from sin and its dominion, set free from death and its fear, set free from Satan and his ensnarements, into what the apostle Paul calls “the liberty of the children of God.” It is a marvellous picture, isn’t it? And what is even more marvellous, in a sense, is that in the story of the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus, God in His sovereign providence, as it were, wrote into the story itself the price that Jesus would pay in order to purchase us for Himself. You remember what it was? What was the price on Jesus’ life? Thirty pieces of silver. What is thirty pieces of silver? Thirty pieces of silver is the price of a slave. And that is what Jesus is doing. I hope you understand that when Jesus dies on the cross, he is not just setting us a great example of sacrifice. That would be very little use to us. What he is doing is becoming, as it were, a slave. Giving Himself over to the judgment of God against our bondage in sin. Giving Himself over to death for our sakes. Saying, as it were, “In order to set them free, I am prepared to undergo the consequences of their terrible bondage.” What a master the Lord Jesus is.
Jesus Is the Master Who is Worthy to Be Loved by Me←⤒🔗
That is why the second thing we need to know about what Paul means when he speaks of us as slaves of Jesus is that Jesus is not only the master who has bought us, but He is the master who therefore is worthy to be loved by us. “You are bought with a price,” says Paul. “You are therefore not your own, so glorify God in your body.” There is a wonderful picture actually in Exodus 21 with which you may be familiar. It comes immediately after the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, so it is clearly of immense significance. Here is the Law of God given to us, and then the first thing that the Lord then begins to speak about in detail is “What does this mean for those who are slaves?” And here is a man who has been a slave and the time of his freedom has come – seven years are up – and he is about to be set free, but he is married and he has children. And so he goes to his master and he says, “My master, I love you. I want to be with you and my wife and my children. I will not go free.” And if that was the case, then a very interesting thing was to happen: the master would then take his slave to the presence of God in consecration, and then he would take him to the doorpost, as it were, and he would hammer a nail through the lobe of his ear.
Now, there are some people who think that the reason for that was so that the man would then wear an earring. There are lots of young Christian men running around the world, certainly in the last fifteen years, who started wearing little earrings. And if you are one of their mothers that may have caused you a little anxiety, but if they really knew their Bibles they might say to you, “Mother, I am just saying to the Lord Jesus, ‘Pierce my ear, that my whole life may be submitted to your every command, because you are worthy of my love. I love my master, and I will not go free. I want to be with Him forever.’” And actually, the New Testament puts the words of the fortieth Psalm into the mouth of the Lord Jesus, saying, “You have dug my ear, and I want to be obedient to you.” Because that is the kind of master He is – who was Himself obedient, lovingly fully obedient, to His Heavenly Father. Those of us who have become followers of the Lord Jesus – disciples of the Lord Jesus, saints of the Most High, believers in Jesus, Christians – we understand that He is a master who is worthy of all of our love and our devotion.
And so we sing! I was thinking about this this morning: there’s an amazing number of hymns we sing in which we express exactly that. “Now I belong to Jesus.” You know, one of the differences between being British or Scottish and being American is that we put the emphasis on the different syllable when we speak. I wonder where you put the emphasis when you sing, “Now, I belong to Jesus, Jesus belongs to me.” I wonder if it is on the second part of that statement rather than on the first. You understand what we are singing when we sing the first. We’re saying we belong to Him. We are not our own. We were bought with a price. “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.” Jesus, Master, whose I am.” “Love so amazing, so divine, shall have my life, my soul, my all.” This is what it means to be a Christian. And this is the reason why we sometimes say that being enslaved to the Lord Jesus Christ is perfect freedom, because He is a master so worthy to be loved that I am all His. That is a great key to the Christian life, isn’t it? That I am all His. That every day and I seek every hour, indeed every part of every hour, about everything to say, “Lord, I am yours, and everything that I do is for you.” Whoever my worldly master may be. Even if I am a worldly master. Everything I do as an employee or employer, or in every relationship, the driving force of my life is I do it to You. My life is not my own. How that redirects and gloriously transforms life!
But there is something else to this. You know, I look back now almost fifty years since I became a Christian, and among the things I thank God for is that it has so simplified my life. You know, my life from one point of view is hugely complicated and complex; from another point of view, if you are a Christian your life is uniquely simple, because it does not matter what you are doing or with whom, the only thing that really matters to you is that you are expressing your devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. You know, if you think about your life, most of us humanly speaking have several masters to please. Some of them should not be our masters. But there are so many different dynamics in our lives. How do we keep all the balls in the air? Most of us can juggle two balls, some of us even three balls, a few of us four or five balls, but many of us are juggling all kinds of balls in the air in our lives. What is it that is going to keep us stable, and indeed sane? It is this very simple principle: that I am actually serving only one master.
Incidentally, if you have a really difficult employer, that is a wonderfully liberating thing to discover. You know, it all can all be just so much water off a duck’s back if you have only got one master. You can say quietly, (you need to struggle in yourself to say it graciously, just with the bubble above your head) – only say this on the most propitious of occasions – “Sir, you are not my master. Jesus is my master.” And how that clarifies our response to every situation! So that I am not dominated by my master. Or if I am a master, those who serve me discover that I am neither terminator nor dominator, because I myself am serving a greater master. What a wonderful thing this is to discover, and what a benediction it is in the church (and sadly, how rare in the church), where in everything – not only conversations, but committee meetings, groups of leaders, everything – the big issue is “What would please the master here?” Not “What would please me here?,” because what pleases me is probably not going to please you, but “How can we find a way of pleasing the master?”
Jesus Is the Master Who Is a Model for Me←⤒🔗
And then there is this third thing. Jesus is the master who has bought me. Jesus is the master who is worthy to be served by me. I want to say to Him, “I love you my master. I don’t want ever to be free from you.” And the result of that is that Jesus becomes the master who is also a model for me. And that is why we read this little passage in 2 Corinthians 4, because this was clearly a big thing to the apostle Paul. He says in verse five (and obviously he is speaking about himself as a preacher, but it applies to every Christian in all of our spheres of service), “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.” So Jesus Christ is Lord, and I am His servant. But notice the implication that follows: so you are not my master, but I am your servant. See that in all relationships? Jesus Christ alone is my master, and so I am not focused on myself, I am focused on Jesus Christ. You – my friend, my neighbour, my family member, my boss – you are not my master, but for the sake of the Lord Jesus I desire to be your servant, for Jesus’ sake. That’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it? I sometimes say: actually, this is how it works in Presbyterianism. First Presbyterian Church is not the master of its ministers, but its ministers are never more than the servants of First Presbyterian Church. We have one master – Jesus Christ.
And that is true for you whether you are in employment, whatever kind of dynamics in your relationship. This is a gloriously liberating thing, that when you grasp that Jesus is your master and as your master He Himself has become a servant (like the way He washed the disciples’ feet), then what you discover happening in your life is that you serve others better than you would if they were your master, because Jesus alone is your master. That would be something to tuck away day by day: Jesus alone is my master, and He is such a master that I would never, ever, ever, want to be free from my happy enslavement to His wonderful love. So be a free slave of the Lord Jesus!
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