Sunday, November 24, 2013

One Solitary Life

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

I came across this several years ago and found it again while doing some research.  It is called One Solitary Life and was taken from a sermon by Dr. James Allen Francis in 1926.

He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until he was thirty  

He never wrote a book
He never held an office
He never went to college
He never visited a big city
He never travelled more than two hundred miles
From the place where he was born
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness
He had no credentials but himself  

He was only thirty three  

His friends ran away
One of them denied him
He was turned over to his enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing
The only property he had on earth  

When he was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend  

Nineteen centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind's progress
All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life

 Definitely a different way to look at Jesus.  When we think about people that have impacted the world I think it is safe to say this is not usually what we look for in what they did or didn’t do.  In today’s society we look too much toward athletes, movie stars, musicians and the like but one has to ask, do they really make that much of an impact?  Yes, they are popular for a time due to their accomplishments in their field, but it doesn’t last.

Don’t believe me?  Without looking on the internet, list the top five most popular athletes, movie stars, and musicians from 10 years ago.  How many can you come up with?  Most of us might be able to come up with a couple.  Those that are big fans in a particular area might be able to come up with more, but not by much.  Too easy?  How about 20 years ago?  30?  Gets harder the further back you go doesn’t it?

True, some of these people have used their influence in a positive way to help with various charities and other organizations but I think most would agree it is not the majority.  Even with those that do, most of that influence gets diluted or even completely washed away by time.  Ultimately very few have a very far reaching effect on people’s lives, much less the world.

Why does Jesus have influence today, almost 2,000 years after He walked the Earth?  I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that some of this influence is definitely because of who He is, the Son of God.  But I think it is much more than that.

Jesus taught us how to love one another and how to serve each other.  He demonstrated obedience to God’s will in His life and, through His death, fulfilled His purpose for coming to dwell with us.  Jesus showed us there is a better way to live our lives.  He also showed us we could have a relationship with Him.  And He did this not by just telling us how to do it, Jesus lived it.  Everywhere He went, in everything He did.

Jesus has had more impact on mankind for good than any other person.  Jesus changes lives because it is not just about serving God and those around us, it is about relationships that make us better people.

Jesus lived servant leadership and we are called to following His footsteps.  Allow Jesus to come in and change your life.  Live the life you were meant to live and have an impact.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Bondservant of Christ

Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle… (Rom 1:1a)

As part of his greeting to the Romans, we see Paul refer to himself as a bondservant of Jesus Christ.  What did Paul mean by this? You don’t see the term bondservant used very often in scripture and in some translations they just use the word servant.  Is there a difference between being a servant and being a bondservant? 

A servant is a person who performs duties for others; this may be domestic duties, acting as a personal assistant, or something as simple as rendering assistance when someone needs a helping hand.  We are definitely called to serve others.  Jesus told us this much in Mark 9:35, “Sitting down, Jesus called the twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and servant to all.””  Jesus also provided multiple examples for us to follow in serving others.  One prominent example is when Jesus washed the disciple’s feet in John 13:1-20. 

How about a bondservant?  In order to understand the difference we need to look at the word Paul used in the Greek to express what he wanted to convey here.  The word Paul used and is actually used in many places in the New Testament is doulos.

The translation of doulos from the Greek is slave.  Some theologians even say it was actually the most wretched expression for slave in the ancient Greek language. Describing a servant so totally sold into slavery that he had no destiny of his own, that he was perpetually obligated to do the bidding of his owner.  And this is the word Paul used in Romans 1:1.

Does it seem strange that Paul would refer to himself as a slave?  People generally don’t take it lightly when you talk about slavery today.  Especially in reference to themselves.  That wasn’t the case in the early church.  They were called Christians but they referred to themselves as slaves of Christ (1 Cor 7:22, Gal 1:10, Eph 6:6, and Col 4:12).  Peter and Jude also make the same reference to themselves (2 Ptr 1:1 and Jude 1).  John MacArthur, in his book Slave, summed up our relationship with Christ this way, “He is the Master and Owner.  We are His possession.  He is King, the Lord, and the Son of God.  We are His subjects and His subordinates.  In a word, we are His slaves.”[1]   This is how the early church saw it.

Although doulos is used about 124 times in the original text, it is not translated well in modern bible translations.  Current translations consistently substitute doulos with the word ‘servant’.  Ironically, there are at least half a dozen words that can be used for servant in the Greek; doulos is not one of them.  It does not matter if you are looking at the New Testament or in secular Greek literature, doulos always means slave.

So, what is the difference between a servant and a slave?  Put simply, a servant is hired, a slave is owned.  We have been told we are to serve, and Jesus set the example for us.  Most of us have no problem there.  But being a slave of Jesus Christ takes things to a whole new level.  True Christianity is not about adding Jesus to our lives, it is about devoting ourselves completely to Him and Him alone.  We are to submit our whole being to His will.  Seeking to please Him above all else.  Dying to self and following our Master’s call, no matter the cost.

This is not just blind devotion or following for the sake of following.  Looking back into the Old Testament you can see a perspective that, I believe, takes it to a higher level and is fundamental for our beliefs.  Go back to Ex21: 5-6, here we see a slave who willingly commits himself to serve a master he loves and respects.

One other thing that is important to note. Slavery in the Roman Empire was different than what we normally think of when we think of slavery today.  Today we usually think of people in chains, abuse, poor living conditions, and other such circumstances.  It is estimated that approximately one-fifth of the population of the Roman Empire was a slave.  Initially most of these slaves we taken in military conquest, eventually most slaves inherited their place in Roman society by being born into slavery.

Slaves worked in a variety of positions with varying levels of responsibility depending on their training and their master’s needs.  On the street it may have been difficult to distinguish between slaves and non-slaves.  There wasn’t any difference in dress or even the responsibilities in what you might find a slave or a free person doing on a daily basis.  Slaves could even be held in high regard due to the position held by their master in society. 

Not to say it was all wine and roses for slaves, they were considered property, not a person.  They had no legal rights, basically no legal status whatsoever.  If their master was abusive or cruel, they would have lived a life of pain and misery.  However, if their master was gracious, they could be provided some level of social and economic protection, they would not have to worry about their next meal or even where they would sleep.  In return for their good service they were taken care of.

So it’s more than just a master and slave.  It is a Master who paid the full and complete price for us and His slaves who totally devote their entire being to Him, not because they have to, but because they want to.  As part of the relationship the Master provides for the needs of the slaves, looking out for them and taking care of them.

[1]MacArthur, J. (2010). Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ (1). Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group.