God’s law for the ancient Israelites contained this clause:
When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever. Exodus 21:2-6
Voluntary slavery, for love of the master. That is the Christian life.
The New Testament authors frequently called themselves “bondslaves,” a word often translated as “servants.” Many of the epistles start with something like “Paul, a servant (bondslave) of Christ Jesus” or “James, a servant (bondslave) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” In ancient Roman society, a bondslave was a person subjected in every way to the will of his master, without rights or authority of his own. He spoke what his master wanted him to speak, did what his master wanted him to do.
Paul said, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). Like the slave in Exodus 21, he was a voluntary slave, subjected in every way to the will of God, all for love of the Master. Servanthood is a way of life. It is at the core of Jesus’ ethic for all who would be his disciples: “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44). It means putting the needs and desires of other people ahead of your own, doing what no one else wants to do for the good of loved ones and strangers. It means following God’s agenda in everything.
I learned something about servanthood this past week during a mission trip to Rosarito, Mexico. Our group of forty people did street evangelism and built two houses. I believe there is nothing better or more worthwhile in life than serving God by serving other people, giving everything you have and everything in yourself for the sake of demonstrating Jesus’ love, all done out of gratitude for the marvel of God’s grace. It is a beautiful and holy way of life. It is Christ-likeness defined:
“…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant (bondslave), being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8
It hurts to be a servant of Christ. It is a lifestyle which requires extreme humility and extreme joy in God, daily surrender to his Spirit and daily war waged against the self-exalting desires by which we live and die. We want to be kings. Jesus says, “Yes, I’ll make you kings like you cannot imagine. Be servants first.”
My prayer tonight is: I hear you, Lord. Help me to want what you want, to care about what you care about, to make decisions, big and small, that follow your pattern of love and purity. I know of nothing better than life as your servant, your slave. Take me to the cross, God, set me apart as yours forever: bore me through the ear like the slave, sprinkle me with blood like the priest, anoint me with oil like the king, baptize me with fire like the apostles, do whatever you wish. I am yours. Thank you Jesus for serving me first, unbelievable as it is.