The Freedom of a Christian Slave (Colossians Sermon 19 of 21)
February 10, 2008 | Andy Davis
Humiliation of Christ, Heaven, Good Works
For the second week, we're looking at Colossians 3:22 up through 4:1. As we come to today's topic, in which I'm really going to be stepping back from just a verse by verse analysis of these, which I gave last time, to look at a larger issue, and that is the issue of slavery. And slavery in the Bible, I am amazed how rich this theme is biblically. And here we come to somewhat of a paradox, as I have studied church history, it is my conviction that one of the crown jewels of the church, in terms of its impact on the surrounding culture, has been the complete abolition of slavery around the world. It really is an astonishing feat, and I bring it right back to Jesus Christ, and to the doctrines He taught, and the effect He had in the world. We're called on to be salt and light, and in this way, the church has had an incredible impact on the world, and yet, it is the greatest accomplishment of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, within the lives of an individual person, in the life and the heart of an individual person, to teach us how to be a slave of Christ, gladly, willingly laying down on our lives for His will and His purposes, and that seems to be a paradox.
The Heroic Fight Against Slavery’s Wicked Abuse
2007: A Two Hundredth Anniversary of Wilberforce’s Triumph
How can it be the glory of the Church to abolish physical slavery in the world, and yet, the glory of the Gospel to make us cheerful slaves of God? And yet, so it is. And that's the paradox we're looking at today. We're going to try to understand slavery biblically and it's not going to be easy. Now, last year, 2007 marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade, under the influence of evangelical Christians led in Parliament by William Wilberforce. William Wilberforce was an evangelical Christian in England, came to faith in Christ, he was also a member of Parliament. A physically small man, but with a tremendous heart, and a tremendous intellect, and amazing gift of speech, very persuasive. With a buoyant personality, kind of like a big chunk of cork, you just couldn't keep him down. And he is a hero for me, in that regard, because he needed all of that. It was an 18-year struggle. From the first time that he got up to address Parliament on the issue of the slave trade, until the abolition of the slave trade, was 18 years. And during that time, he was struck down, again and again. He was mocked, he was vilified, he was opposed, he was threatened. He was seen to be a traitor by his own people, but he tirelessly persevered, until, at last, success came through his efforts and the efforts of many others in 1807. But that was just the first step. That was the abolition of the slave trade. It took another 26 years for the British empire to free all the slaves throughout the empire. 1833, it happened a few days before he died, and that was just the second step. Then there was the abolition of slavery all over the world, so that every nation would come to that same conviction, and that didn't happen until 1981.
Mauritania was the last country, finally, to abolish slavery within its land. And that was just the next step. Then there's the abolition of illegal trafficking of human beings, which still goes on to this very day. And some agencies estimate that there are as many as 27 million people in some kind of involuntary servitude today, and so the battle goes on. But William Wilberforce focused on the slave trade to begin with, and that was the ending of that infamous Middle Passage. Estimates go as high as 15 million Africans crossed the Atlantic Ocean to be enslaved in the Western Hemisphere. African kings, and warlords, and private kidnappers sold captives to Europeans, who held several coastal forts along the west coast of Africa. The captives were usually force-marched to these ports along the western coast of Africa, where they were held for purchase by European or American slave traders.
Ships contained as many as 300 slaves with 30 ship hands, a crew of 30. Male captives were usually chained very close together, the right leg of the one to the left leg of the next, while the women and children may have had a little bit more room. The captives were fed with beans, and corn, yams, rice, and palm oil. They were fed minimum amount of food, just to keep them alive. And if any were deemed as not probably going to survive the Middle Passage, they weren't fed anymore, they were allowed to die. That mentality reached its low point in 1781. The captain of a slave ship, Zong, threw overboard over 130 chained slaves living, so that he could get insurance money from them. It was called 'The Massacre of the Zong' by abolitionists; it was called 'The Incident of the Zong' by non-abolitionists. Well, it was in that backdrop that William Wilberforce spared nothing in making the horrors of the slave trade known to the people of England, and to the Parliament, and last year marked the 200th anniversary of their successful fight.
Now, as I read history, I've done some research on it this past week and learned a lot. Abolition really is a flowering of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You don't find any strong abolitionist movements in any land not saturated with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and even in those lands saturated with the Gospel it is quite a fight. At the time the Apostle Paul wrote Colossians, it's estimated between a third and a half of the human inhabitants of the Roman Empire were slaves. They were seen to have no legal right; they were not seen to be people in the eyes of the law. They couldn't even give testimony in a court of law, unless they were tortured first, to be sure that they were telling the truth. That was slavery in the Roman Empire. Islamic nations have resisted, stubbornly resisted abolition, and only eventually yielded, when they wanted to do business with Western nations who demanded it, required it. Or if they wanted a military alliance with Western nations who required it. And so, therefore, it's really right to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it's a flowering of the Gospel of Christ, that there is no legal slavery anywhere in the world today.
Questions Still Linger About the Bible
But yet, for all of that, questions still linger about the Bible itself. Now, someone once said in the ministry, "You just need to know the Bible is a lion. It doesn't need any defending, it will defend itself." And so, it is true. The Bible's the Word of God. “Heaven and Earth will pass away,” but yet, I feel a zeal today to reveal the glories of the Bible's handling of this difficult issue. And the reason that we need to do this, is because some slaveholders in the American South, and other places, defended their actions based on texts of Scripture. And so it's left people in modern life questioning the Scripture, to see if maybe it's a time-oriented book whose time has passed it by. And I think the closer you look at this issue, the more wisdom you see in the mind of God, in dealing with it just the way He did.
Now, what do we mean by slavery? What are we talking about? Well, as I was reading the article in Encyclopedia Britannica about it, "It is the social sanction that permits one person or group to compel the involuntary labor of another person or group. Now, whether slave, or serf, or indentured servant, or otherwise, that bonded person is obliged to perform personal service for his lord or master, under conditions that make him socially inferior and are restrictive of his freedom." Now, I filtered through all those words and I got out some key issues. Issue number one: Involuntary labor. You don't have a choice in the matter. You're compelled, legally and physically, to do work that you wouldn't want to do. Conditions, living conditions that speak to your essential inferiority as a human being, and perhaps, even a denial of the fact that you are a human being, somehow subhuman. And a taking away of personal freedom. The Gospel of Jesus Christ attacks and transforms each of these topics. It doesn't just seek to abolish slavery, but it seeks to transform the way we think about all of these things, and there is the glory of the Gospel.
Slavery in the Old Testament
Overview of Slavery in the Old Testament
Now, as we look at the Old Testament, we find slavery in the Old Testament. It's first mention is in Genesis 9, when Noah's son, Ham, saw him drunk and uncovered in his tent, and went and told his brothers, in a way that seems that he was mocking them. When Noah woke up and was aware of what had happened, interestingly, he didn't curse Ham for what he did, he cursed his son, Canaan. He said, "Cursed be Canaan, the lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers." That's the first time you have a mention of that. Now, of course, the verb is found way back in Genesis 2, when Adam was told that he would serve the ground. You remember, we already covered that, but here's the first time, in which you have the issue of slavery brought up.
Abraham had male and female slaves. Hagar was one of them, a maidservant to his wife, Sarah. You remember, after she became pregnant by Abraham, she was somewhat abused by her mistress, Sarah, and ran away. And the Angel of the Lord came and found her in the desert, and commanded her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." Amazing, the consistency of Scripture, isn't it? The very same thing that the Apostle Paul commands, and so, she did. Joseph was sold as a slave into Egypt by his brothers, trying to get money from his body, basically. But then, ironically, he threatened his brothers with slavery if one of them was discovered to have stolen a silver cup. And so this becomes an interesting little paradigm for what happens with Israel, because after Joseph died, they become enslaved in Egypt, and they're put to bitter bondage in Egypt. God then delivers them, and then, in the Laws of Moses, there are laws regulating slavery, how they are going to be masters to their slaves. Quite interesting, and therein is the trouble. And so some people try to find defense for slavery, right there in the puzzling Laws of Moses.
The Puzzling Laws of Moses
Now, Moses consistently reminded them that they had been slaves in Egypt, and therefore, they should deal well with the aliens and strangers in their land. He says in Exodus 23:9, "Do not oppress an alien. You, yourselves, know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt." You see, there's generally a heart of compassion there, and yet, slavery was not abolished, but rather regulated in the Laws of Moses. One key text that I find in the Laws of Moses, that just expands out into the New Covenant, and frankly, on into the New Heaven and the New Earth, and it has to do with a slave in a Hebrew household, who has served his time, six years, and the time has come for him to be set free, but he doesn't want to go. He loves his master so much, he loves living with his master so much, that he doesn't want to leave. He wants to be with him forever. And so the master is commanded to take the slave to the doorpost, and to put an awl through the ear. The piercing of the ear was a symbol of being a lifelong slave of a good, beloved master. He had the freedom to go, he didn't want to go.
What's so amazing, is that this piercing of the ear, I believe, is picked up on in Psalm 40, speaking of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Now, I know there are other interpretations of this, but I think this is the right one. If you look at Psalm 40:6-8, the verses there say this, "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears, you have pierced." Now, one translation will say, "My ears, you have opened," but I think a better translation here is, "My ears, you have pierced. Burnt offerings and sin offerings, you do not require. Then I said, 'Here I am. I have come. It is written about about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, oh, my God. Your law is within my heart.' " Here is the attitude of a servant or a slave, saying to the master, "Your law is in my heart. All I want to do is serve you. I just want to do whatever you command me to do." Well, the author to Hebrews picks up this quote and applies it to Jesus. And in effect, before Jesus entered the world, I guess He had His ear pierced, metaphorically, in reference to His Heavenly Father. And in effect, He said, "I am entering the world as your servant. I will do anything you command me to do." And so Christ came into the world, as the perfect slave of a perfect Master. He entered the world to do the will of Him who sent Him. John 6:38-39, He says this, "I have come down from Heaven, not to do my own will, but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the last day." In effect, He said, "I live for the will of the one who sent me," and that is a slave mentality. Jesus came to be the slave of His Heavenly Father. Now, the pinnacle verse on this, is on the cover of your bulletin, and that's Philippians 2:5-8. You know the Philippian Church was bickering and arguing, like the disciples tend to do, about who's the best. And they did not have a servant heart toward one another. There were divisions and factions, there was pride. And that's just in the human heart all the time. Frankly, that's why the whole issue of slavery got corrupted to begin with, because of human pride.
Christ a Perfect Slave, Christ a Perfect Master
Christ the “Very Nature of a Slave”
But Jesus Christ is given as an example, "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being, in very nature, God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a bond-slave," basically ‘doulos’, "Being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross."
Now, this is very powerful, this Philippians 2 passage. As I said, the word servant is 'doulos,' usually translated 'bond-slave,' sometimes translated 'servant.' I asked somebody this week, "What's the difference between a servant and a slave?" And they said, "It's the nature of the task, I guess, and of the relationship." Well, the more I studied the life of Christ, the more I saw that no slave in all of history was asked to do a harder thing than Jesus. No one has ever had a lower task than Jesus, so let's stick with 'slave,' that's what 'doulos' means. And notice the parallel Greek construction here, "Who being, in very nature, God,” “very nature God," NIV gives us, "Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a slave." It's exact same in construction. If you put it together, you're going to say, "Jesus was as much slave, as He was God." And that's a powerful thought, isn't it? He didn't play at it. It wasn't an act.
Christ’s Slave-like Demeanor to Others
It was who He was, when He took on a human body. Christ, therefore, carried Himself in a slave-like demeanor toward other people, didn't He? If anybody came to Jesus for a need, He stopped what He was doing, and got up, and went. I find that, as a pastor, incredibly challenging. Jesus seemed to be infinitely interruptible. I'm not sure that I meet that qualification, but it seemed anybody came to Jesus got what they wanted, except, you may say, the Syrophoenician woman. Well, she got what she wanted too, it just took a little longer. And she had to have a discussion with Jesus, as He challenged some thoughts. It was fascinating, that encounter, but she still got what she wanted.
And so the Roman centurion sends a messenger, saying, "My servant is at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering." By the way, I think He was a good master. He had tremendous compassion. He was a godly man. And he cared about him, and he humbled himself to go to Jesus, an itinerant Jewish preacher, and said, "Could you come and heal him?" Jesus gets up and goes. And he said, "Look, you don't need to come, because I don't deserve to have you in my house, but just say the word and my servant will be healed." But you see, Jesus, He just gets up and goes, willing to go. Or Jairus comes and says, "My daughter is sick." And Jesus gets up, and goes. Or huge throngs of people are coming, and He stays there, and heals them all with a touch, with a word, with a personal encounter. It took all day, it must have been exhausting. He could have healed them all with a word, just like that, but that's not how He did it. He wanted to touch them, He wanted to pray for them, He wanted to heal them. He was a servant of everybody.
And that's especially displayed in that beautiful image of the foot washing, which I prayed about, and you heard Eric sing. What a beautiful song. Eric, thank you for singing that. I was so excited to hear that you were going to sing that today. And it fits beautifully on New Member Sunday, doesn't it? How we're called to be a community of servants to one another, and how Jesus gave us that example, by getting down and washing the feet of His disciples, something no menial slave would have been asked to do, at that point. A jarring image, to be sure. Peter didn't like it. He didn't like it. Jesus washed their feet.
Christ’s Ultimate “Bondage”: The Cross
But I'll tell you, the ultimate bondage for Jesus was the cross. It was the cross of Jesus Christ, that was His ultimate bondage as a slave. Now, why do I use that language? Well, you don't have to turn there, but in Luke 12:50, there's a statement there that's really not going to come across very well, in any translation, except the King James version. But there are times that the King James version just shines, and this is one of them, because it just gets so close to the original Greek meaning. Well, Luke 12:50, Jesus is giving a rare glimpse into His heart and His emotions, and He says, "I have a baptism to undergo and how distressed I am, until it is finished." Well, that's not speaking of a literal baptism. He had already been baptized by John, He's talking about death. He's talking about His death on the cross. But what's so interesting, the NIV word translated, "How distressed." The KJV gives us, "I am straightened," like a straitjacket. "I'm bound in," and that's what the Greek word means. Basically, "I'm tied up, until I die on the cross." And you know what occurred to me? That He'd been so tied up, since before the foundation of the world, He'd been bearing that, knowing He would die some day for David's sin. When David committed that sin with Bathsheba, Jesus would pay that price. He'd been bound up, in his mind, knowing it would be He that would pay the price, He would shed His blood, as a slave for David. And He just gives us that glimpse, He says, "I'm in a straitjacket. I'm bound up, until, at last, I'm free from that task. But I can't go anywhere, I can't do anything, until I accomplish that." And He wrestles with it, of course, in Gethsemane, the depths of which, we will never be able to plumb. And woe to us, if we get heresy and bad doctrine from Gethsemane. You take off your shoes, for the place is holy ground, when you go to Gethsemane, and try to understand what's happening there. As He says, "Father, Abba Father, all things are possible through you. Let this cup be taken away from me, yet not as I will, but as you will. Not my will, but yours be done." That is a slave statement He's making to His Father. Jesus, therefore, was willing to drink the cup of God's wrath. And I say to you, there is no servitude, there's nothing that has ever been asked of any servant, that's greater, or more torturous, or more miserable, or more wretched, than the Father asked His own Son to do on our behalf. And in this way, He fulfills the beautiful role of Isaiah's suffering servant, or shall we say, 'suffering slave,' who entered the world to take on our infirmities, and our diseases, and to bear them to the cross, where they would be punished by a righteous God. And therefore, it says in Isaiah 53:11, "After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied by His knowledge. My righteous slave will justify many and He will bear their iniquities."
Now, this is a sermon on slavery, and I'm going to talk, in a minute, about the slavery of sin, but Jesus shed His blood on the cross, in our place. He died for us, in the place of God. This is the Gospel. And I don't know how you came here today, I don't know who invited you today, I don't know if you're saved, but this is your only hope for surviving Judgment Day. Look to Christ. Look to His blood shed on the cross. All you have to do is simply ask Him, "Lord, serve me, serve me. Wash, not just my feet, my hands, my head, my whole life. Wash my guilty conscience. Save me from my sin," and He will do it. He will not refuse. "For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many," and that could include you, if you just simply repent, and trust in Christ. Don't leave this place in a lost condition. Simply trust in Him, and then we'll get to servanthood after that. But let Jesus serve you first or you will never survive Judgment Day. But Jesus was not only the ultimate servant, He is also our Master, the ultimate Master. And so in the passage that Matthew read, in Chapter 4:1, it says, "Master, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in Heaven." Jesus is the slave who is a Master. No one has ever gone so low and no one has ever been raised so high as Jesus, "Before Him, every knee bows. Before Him, every tongue swears that, 'Jesus Christ is Lord, the Master, the King.' "
Slavery in the New Testament: Some Observations
Spiritual Slavery: Every Human Being a Slave
Now, I want to make some observations on slavery, the theme of slavery from the New Testament, and apply them to our Christian lives. First of all, let's talk about spiritual slavery, spiritual slavery, and I make this contention based on the Scripture. Every single human being that has ever lived, or lives now, or ever will live, is a slave to a master. There is no avoiding it. You will serve God, or you will serve Satan. You will serve righteousness, or you will serve sin. There is no third option. You have a master. It's either Jesus or it's Satan. It's either righteousness or it's the flesh. You have a master. Now, Satan is a liar on this very point. He comes and offers us freedom. He comes and tells us, "You can be free from all authority. You can do whatever you want. You don't need to submit to anyone. You can do what you want. You can choose and no one has the right to tell you what to do. You can eat what you want and no consequences." Do you believe that one? Some of us know better. "You can do what you want with your time. You can spend your money however you want. You can live for yourself. You can do what you want." Friends, it is bondage, it is a lie, because at the core of it, is slavery to sin. Jesus said in John 8:34, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin." There it is, that's what our Savior told us, "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin." And Romans 6:17 says, "You used to be slaves to sin." Praise God for 'used to be,' by the way. Praise God for that emancipation, but you used to be slaves to sin. We walk around every day, surrounded by people who are still enslaved to sin, because they don't know the Savior. That's the real emancipation that matters. I'm not saying the physical one doesn't matter, we'll talk about it in a moment, but I'm saying that that's the one that lasts for eternity.
Conversely, every Christian is a slave of Christ. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." You know the next part, don't you? "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle, and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." I've said before, that His is a kingly yoke. He's the Master, He's the King. And if you say, "I will have you as my Savior, but I don't want you as my Lord, I will not have you as my Master," then you can't have Him at all. As a matter of fact, that's the essence of the sin. It was rebellion, independence, doing your own thing. He wants to save you from that. And he says, "If you'll just bow that stiff neck of yours under my yoke, I will give you true freedom at last. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light, your heart will be set free at last."
Paul uses slave language about Christians quite boldly. In First Corinthians 6:19-20, he says, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. You were bought at a price." Stop right there. You are not your own? You were bought at a price? That sounds like slavery to me. Well, it is. Of course, it makes a big difference who the master is, doesn't it? But we have been told as Christians, "If you're truly a Christian, you were bought at a price. You serve at the will of a master. You're not your own. You don't get to do whatever you want." And the context there is sexual immorality, you can't do whatever you want with your body, it's not just your body. The Holy Spirit shares it with you and He will not have you be sexually immoral, that's what he's saying there. But more generally, just whatever the topic is, you're not your own. “You're bought at a price, and therefore, glorify God in your body.” That's what he's saying.
Many Christian leaders have taken, as their most exalted title, "I am a bond-slave of Christ." We tend to prefer the tamer version, "I'm a servant of Christ, a servant of Christ." The word 'slave' is a bit jarring, but I think it's good to be jarred on this one. We'll get to that in a moment, but, "Paul, a bond-slave of Christ Jesus, and set apart for the Gospel of God," Romans 1:1. That's how he starts, "I'm a 'doulos' of Christ." Epaphras was a bond-slave of Christ. James, the brother of the Lord, was a bond-slave of the Lord. Jude, also, a bond-slave. Simon Peter calls himself a bond-slave. Tychicus, a bond-slave. It's an exalted title used again and again. Bottomline then, every human being on the face of the Earth will either serve God through Christ, or serve Satan through sin. You have no choice in that matter, in terms of whether you'll have a master or not. You will, you do. Question is, is it Christ? Therefore, this week, if you're ever talking to somebody who says, "You know, I don't agree with that. I'm free. I can do whatever I want. I really am not accountable to anybody. I've got my own free time, I can do what I want with my money, etcetera." Be assured that they are in bondage, they just don't see the chains, and it's your job to tell them the truth.
Freedom and Slavery Both Redefined by Christ
The second point I want to make about slavery, is that freedom and slavery are, therefore, both redefined by Christ. They're just redefined. Freedom is redefined by Jesus. It is not that sinful mental attitude I just shared with you, "I can do whatever I want." I fear that too many Christians still need to be instructed on this issue. I know I still struggle with it. I still behave like an employee of Christ, rather than a slave of Christ, you see? The employer has you from 9:00 to 5:00, when 5:01 comes around, we're done. Remember Flintstones? "Yabba dabba doo!" And you know it's quittin' time, and you're free, and you can go home, and do what you want. Just about every Christian struggles with the lie that there's a quittin' time in the Christian life. There isn't a quittin' time. That's the whole thing. Freedom is redefined. Well, what is freedom then? Well, how about this one from the Psalmist, Psalm 1:19, Verse 32, "I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free." Now, that's a different kind of freedom. There's a defined narrow road, a path, and the Psalmist runs in it, like a little child playing in the path of God's commands, with delight and joy. Now, that is freedom. It's joyful obedience to the commands of the King, that there is. And there is a King, and there will always be a King, whether you think there is one or not. And therefore, freedom is acknowledging, "There is a King. He sits on His throne, and I'm glad about it, and I'll do anything He tells me to do. I run in the path of His commands." And where are His commands? They're in the written Word of God. And the written Word of God just sets me free. It's a different kind of freedom.
I already quoted John 8, but look at it again. You don't have to turn in the Bible, just listen, "To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, 'If you hold onto my teaching, then you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.' " It bothers me when secular libraries put that up. You know, where you walk in. It's like, "I don't mind the quote. I'm glad to have the Word of God out there, but you misunderstand. It's the doctrine of Jesus Christ that is the truth. It's Jesus, Himself, who is the truth, and the truth sets you free. It sets you free from sin, it sets you free from the destruction of it, it sets you free from the disease of it, and from the death of it. You're free from sin."
Paul teaches this kind of freedom as well. Romans 6:18, "You've been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness." Therefore, freedom is an internal hard attitude. It's totally irrespective of your external physical situation. You are free to be free, even if you're in chains. You can be like Paul and Silas, singing in the Philippian jail, in chains. You're the only free man. You're freer than the Philippian jailer, before he came to Christ. He's in bondage and he knows it. Here are Paul and Silas singing in jail, and they're free men. Oh, don't you yearn for that kind of freedom? To be free to rejoice in any and every situation, no matter what service, servitude the Lord calls you to, to be joyful and free, accepting what the Master has ordained for you. Oh, that's a freedom I yearn for. It's a freedom I'll have someday.
But it says in 1 Corinthians 7:22, "For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord, is actually the Lord's freed man,” even though he's still a slave. “And he who was a free man when he was called, is actually Christ's slave." See, it's just a redefinition of freedom, therefore, slavery, also redefined by Christ. Every Christian is now a slave to Christ, and therefore, to other people. We are free to serve both Christians and non-Christians alike. We serve Christians by washing their feet. As Jesus said, after He put His clothes back on, and sat down, He said, "Do you understand what I've done? I've given you an example, that you should follow in my steps.” “You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so." By the way, he was always King, Teacher, Master, while He was being slave. He doesn't give up any of those roles. He said, "You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet." So we serve other Christians, we serve them by bearing their burdens, by praying for them, by giving financially, to help them if they need it, by putting an arm around them when they're hurting, by confronting them in sin. We serve each other, other Christians.
We're also called on to be slaves to the world, slaves to the world. The Apostle Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 9, this is to lost people, we're to be slaves to lost people, non-Christians. This is what he says, First Corinthians 9:19-22, "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews, I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law, I became like one under the law, though I myself am not under the law, so as to win those under the law. Now, to those not having the law, I became like one not having the law, though I am not free from God's law, but I'm under Christ's law, so as to win those not having the law. To the weak, I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means, I might save some." Paul says, "I am willingly enbondaged to every person on the face of the Earth." He says, "I'm a debtor. I am obligated both to Jew and non-Jew, both to the Greek, the free, all of them, preach the Gospel."
And so you get a doctor like Paul Brand, who's a missionary doctor in India, and he and his father both went, and used their medical skills to take care of lepers in India. And these people would come from miles around with filthy, putrid sores. And the missionary doctors would get down on their hands and knees, and wash those sores, not fearing what would happen to their own bodies, but would serve them. And why? Because they wanted Indians to come to faith in Christ, that's why. And they were willing to do, therefore, the most menial, disgusting tasks, in order to bring others to Christ. Now, are they really slaves? Is that involuntary servitude? Not at all. It's voluntary. You say, "Well, that really isn't slavery." I told you, Jesus redefines everything. They're willing to do, even the most disgusting task, as Jesus went to the cross, you see. Therefore, there is no task that would be involuntary, if the Master has commanded me to do it, and He commands those missionary doctors.
Physical Slavery: Not Overthrown but Subverted
What, then, about physical slavery? I'm talking about what we think of when we think of slavery, a legal or social condition that was in the world. One third to one half of all the human beings in the Roman Empire, slaves. What about that? It is true that in the Scripture, Jesus never commands, "Masters, free all your slaves." It is true that in the Scripture, none of the Apostles command, "Masters, free all your slaves." But it is not true that that kind of legal bondage could survive under the doctrines of the Gospel. The Gospel was subversive when it came to chattel slavery.
You hear the stories about the settlers who go out West, and there's all these thick stands of trees, and all that, and some of them, they had to chop right down quickly, and clear a field, so that they could plant their crops, but it takes a long time to cut down a tree with an axe. Sometimes, all they would do, is they would girdle the tree by taking some of the bark 360 degrees around the tree, and if that happened to the tree, it was doomed. It was doomed. Once you take the bark 360 degrees off, that tree's going to die sooner or later, and so it did. Now, it took a while. You didn't do that, if you had to have that tree removed, to put your house there or field. But it worked, and it became rotten, and easy to deal with, right down to the stump and the roots. And so it is, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ subverted chattel slavery, and eventually won out. Now, it took a long time, it took 18 centuries and more, but that's what happened. Now, how was Scripture subversive? Well, there's the golden rule: "Do to others what you'd have them do to you." Abraham Booth, an English Calvinist Baptist, preached a sermon in 1792 about it, and he said, "Oh, how would you like it, if some foreign slave traders came to Liverpool, or London, and grabbed up your wife, and your kids, and maybe you too, and clapped you in irons, and sent you, would you enjoy that? Well, then don't do it to somebody else." It's just basic. There's the argument from the fact that we're all created in the image of God, and that dehumanizing is wicked and sinful. There's the argument that we've seen in Colossians, and also in Ephesians, that both master and slave are accountable to a higher master, and God shows no favoritism either side, and will judge either side based on how well they obeyed His commands. That has a subversive effect on slavery.
There's the fact that, in 1 Corinthians 7:21, Paul urged slaves to try to get their freedom, if they could, because it's better. The whole ethos of 1 Corinthians 7, as Paul says, "I would have you be free from earthly entanglements, even marriage. If your gift is singleness, be single by all means, because I want you to be free from concern. I want you to be able to serve the true Master, Jesus. And so it's better, if you don't have to go, day after day, to the man, to the master, and say, ‘What do I do? What do I do?’ But if you can't get your freedom, don't let it trouble you. Your service to Christ is under the service you offer to that man. It's alright, the Lord will reward you on judgment day, because you couldn't get it. But if you can get your freedom, get it.” Well, that subversive. It means it's better to not be a slave, than be a slave, and therefore, to Christian masters, then it's better to set them free. Subversive.
But then there's the Book of Philemon, which is very subversive. In the Book of Philemon, Onesimus was an escaped slave. Paul finds him, or he finds him, and leads him to Christ. And it turns out that his master was another man that Paul had led to Christ. Aren't there so many lucky things in the Christian life? No true Christian should ever believe in luck. There's no such thing. God is sovereign. He brought the two of them together. And he sent him a letter, and now, it's in the Scripture. It's called Philemon, and in it, he said this, he said, "Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while, was that you might have him back for good. No longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me, but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord." That is subversive. "Set him free. Set him free, Philemon." "Now, I could remind you," he says, "I could remind you, you owe me everything, but I'm not going to compel you, as I could, as an apostle. I'm just going to ask you to do the right thing." Well, what is the right thing? It's, "Set him free, so that he can serve the Lord."
And then, finally, there is the condemnation of slave traders. Both in Exodus 21:16, it says, "Anyone who kidnaps another, and either sells them, or still has him when he's caught, must be put to death." Wow, that's in the Law of Moses. And then, in 1 Timothy 1:9-11, "We know, also, that the law is made not for the righteous, but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and the sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers, for perverts, for slave traders, and liars, and perjurers." Man-stealers, that's what they are. The image of wicked men lying in wait near some African village with a net in their hands. And someone strays too far from the village, and they jump up, and throw the net over them, and club them over the head with a club, and drag them to some West African port, and haul them across the Middle Passage to a life of bondage, is wickedness. It is clearly condemned in Scripture, and that also is subversive to slavery.
Basically the Lord cut around, 360 degrees around that bark, and let it fall of its own weight, but with great deal of suffering and effort, because human hearts are so stubborn, and selfish, and desire to have easy, comfortable lives, on the lives, on the backs of others. Is this the end of slavery? No. You're actually going to spend an eternity in it. You're like, "Well, gee, I thought we'd be free from it." Well, first of all, just know you're not going to be called that, because Jesus said, "No longer do I call you slaves, but I call you friends, because I tell you everything I'm doing." And then, later, in John's Gospel, He says, "Go and tell the brothers." We're brothers. We have all kinds of titles, all kinds of titles.
“Service” in Heaven: Redeemed from the Curse
Eternal Rewards Based on Becoming Slaves
But first of all, we come to Judgment Day, and I just think it's good for me, as a pastor, to let you know on what basis you're going to be rewarded. You're going to stand before Christ, and if your soul is clean through the blood of Christ, He then will proceed to reward you for anything done by faith in the service of the Kingdom. And do you remember the story, where James and John are bickering about who's going to sit at the right and the left, and they come to Jesus. Actually, they get their mother to do it. I mean, please, if you're going to do it, do it yourself. But they get mom to come and say, "Jesus, could it be alright, if one of my sons sit at your right and the other at your left?" And Jesus says, "You don't know what you're asking." Well, that is true. He said, "Are you able to drink the cup I'm going to drink?" What's He talking about? "Suffering? Are you able to do that?" "We can," they said. They didn't know what they were talking about. Jesus said, "You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. Those places belong to those for whom they are prepared by the Father." When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with James and John, and began to murmur against them, like people do. Jesus said, "Let's deal with this now." He gathers them together. He said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials, they exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant," 'diakonos,' from which we get 'deacon,' 'table waiter,' "And whoever wants to be first must be your slave," 'doulos,' "Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." He said, "You want to be fit for greatness in the Kingdom? Then become a servant. You want to be fit for even greater greatness? Become a slave." It's a downwardly mobile trend in the Christian life.
And so in 1 Corinthians 4, the apostles worried about that church in Corinth, because they're behaving and thinking like kings. He said, "Already, you have all you want. Already, you've become rich. You've become kings, and that, without us. Oh, how I wish you really had become kings, so we could be kings with you, for it seemed to me that God has put us apostles on display, at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have become the off-scouring of the world." In other words, "Corinthians, you don't go up, up, up. You go down, down, down, and then God exalts you. That's how it works." And I tell you, this is the hardest thing in my life. I'm telling you honestly. I know the principles. I just have a hard time living them out. In my marriage, in my parenting, as a brother in Christ, as a son, in every role of my life, I'm called to go humble. And it's a challenge, because my flesh wants to go up, and wants to become a king, and wants to dominate, and rule. And the Lord is saying, "Come down where I am. And if you do, I will exalt you on Judgment Day." That's how we're going to be assessed. That's how the positions are going to be given out in the Kingdom: How much you acted like a slave and thought like a slave in this world.
Service Itself Will Be Redeemed in Heaven
And then, finally, service itself is going to be redeemed in Heaven. Do you know that, right now, God is surrounded by servants, who will do anything He commands them to do? "Thousands upon thousands attended Him," Daniel 7, "10,000 times 10,000 stood before Him, eager to do anything God says." Revelation 22, John wanted to fall and worship an angel. You remember what the angel said? "Do not do it. I am a fellow servant with you. Get up." The angels are fellow servants with you. We are fellow servants. "Get up," he says.
John Newton, the former slave trader, he said, "If two angels were sent to the Earth, one to govern an empire, and one to sweep streets, each of them would do with it the same zeal for the Master who sent them, and would not try to exchange employment." That's our future, friends. Some are going to rule more than others, but everyone is going to be content with the lot that's given them by God. And we're going to delight in those relationships, and we are going to serve Him. Revelation 22:3, "No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him." We are headed to our future of servant-hood. "And we will reign with Christ," it says, two verses later.
But here's the real shock, and with this, I close: When we're sitting at a table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the other subjects of the Kingdom, in the Kingdom, and we're eating, someone may come, and tap you on the shoulder, and say, "Would you like something to drink?" And you're going to turn, and it'll be Jesus. And you're saying, "Do you have a Scripture for that?" I do. It's in Luke 12:37, "It will be good for those servants whose Master finds them watching when He comes. I tell you the truth, He will dress Himself to serve, and will have them recline at the table, and will come, and wait on them." He's going to be our slave up there in Heaven, saying, "Can I get you something to drink? Is there something I can do for you?" And we're going to do that for each other too. Servanthood, itself, will be totally redeemed, and we'll spend eternity doing it, and we'll be glad to do it, and that is the freedom that the Gospel gives. Close with me in prayer.