For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more. (1 Corinthians 9:19)
Be A Servant
Slavery has a negative connotation to it, and history is filled with the tragedy of human trafficking. For as long as the world has stood, bondage has been the lot of many of earth’s inhabitants and will continue to be so until the end of time. There will always be those who oppress and those who suffer under the hand of oppression. The Bible is filled with stories of slavery from the Hebrews in Egypt to provisions in the Law of Moses on the treatment of slaves. Jesus did not come to take human slavery away, and the early church never suggested slaves to rebel against their masters. Paul wrote a letter to a slaveholder named Philemon asking him to receive back a runaway slave named Onesimus. The epistles of Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter admonish slaves to be obedient to their masters and for masters to give up threatening against others.
Many of the New Testament writers used the imagery of slavery in the gospel’s language, describing the relationship with God and the Christian. Paul, James, Peter, and Jude all refer to themselves as bondservants of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. The picture of slavery was a powerful message in the First Century, and the language had a profound meaning to the church. In his letter to Corinth, the apostle Paul says he made himself a servant to all. He had brought himself under the bondage of all as a slave would be to another. This bondage was voluntary, but it was slavery, nonetheless. He enslaved his life to the service of others. The heart of Paul was to serve the needs of others above his own life. This would become the moving force in Paul’s life as he was a bondservant of Jesus Christ first and then a slave to others.
The purpose of Paul becoming a slave to others was to win the hearts of other men. His attitude was to look out for the interest of others above his own wishes. He did not do this to receive any reward from other men. The example of Jesus becoming a bondservant was the example Paul sought to follow. Jesus became a servant of all men when He left Heaven and died for the sins of all men. Paul could do no less than his Lord to live his life in servitude of others. His life was focused on the sake of the gospel, and he would be a servant to all men to let the light of Christ shine in hearts darkened with sin. Paul was a servant of God.
It is hard for the modern Christian to relate to slavery in anything but a negative tone. One of the deceiver’s greatest tools is to fill the hearts of God’s people with pride. Personal slavery in the cause of Jesus Christ requires humility. This is a willingness to give up the pride of self for the good of others. To be a slave, a person must be willing to subject themselves to others. Earlier in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul suggested those who were taking one another to law should be ready to accept wrong for the sake of their brother. This required a servant’s heart to accept injustice so they could win the soul of the brother. A slave may have to accept wrong to show the power of doing right: Jesus did!
The church belongs to Jesus Christ, and men often forget that. They have the idea the church belongs to them, and they have the right and power to exercise their influence as they see fit. Often in the hearts of God’s children, there is a refusal to be humble and esteem others more than self. Pride exalts the heart to refuse the servant’s heart. There is nothing more needed in the body of Christ than more servants’ hearts willing to work with servant hands. The kingdom of God is made up of slaves who labor for the Divine landowner: God. When the attitude of heart turns on the idea of being a servant, the world will see the love of God in the family of God, and souls will be won to Christ. To be a Christian is to be a slave. Those unwilling to be slaves of men cannot be servants of Christ. Be a servant. Embrace slavery in Christ.