Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How to Succeed in Slavery

In responding to a post by Dan Phillips today over at TeamPyro, I got to thinking about an underlying question in his post. That being, how do we evaluate successfully living the Christian life? Or better stated, what does successful Christian living look like? Of course, there are all the obvious wrong answers to this, like health and wealth, name and claim, God-wants-to-bless-you silliness and the like. We know that Biblically speaking, success as a follower of Jesus Christ is not evaluated or measured in these terms. Indeed, linking these signs of earthly success to a faithful Christian walk seems absurd - and is.

But how then do we determine success in our life and walk with Jesus Christ? Is it even an appropriate question to ask? Is "success" a category that even makes sense combined with "Christian"? To be honest, I don't really have good, solid, Biblical answers to these questions.

While considering this, it occurred to me that the Bible frequently refers to believers in Christ as slaves. A key component of our identity as a Christian is that of a slave to God. For example, Paul uses this terminology all through his epistles, even applying the label to himself in Romans 1:1 where he says that he is "a bond-slave (Greek doulos) of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God." In Romans 6:18 he says that our identity has changed from being a slave to sin to a slave of righteousness. In many of Jesus' parables illustrating the relationship between God and His people, the people are pictured as slaves. There are, obviously, many other aspects to our identity in relationship to Christ beyond just that of slaves. We are adopted as children of God, we are joint heirs with Christ, we are a holy nation and a chosen people. But the very fact that we are called to refer to Jesus as Lord indicates a position of a slave, subject to our Master.

So in this context, let's consider the questions above. What does a successful slave look like? If we are slaves of God, what are the marks of being a successful slave? This sounds like a paradoxical question, but I don't think it really is. For a slave's role is to do his master's bidding. The most successful slave, therefore, will be the one who is most obedient to his master's will. A slave who always seeks to please his master will be the one who is most successful at fulfilling his identity.

So as slaves to God through faith in Christ, it would seem that the same principle applies. The most successful slave of Jesus Christ would be the person who seeks in all things to please his or her Master. To do his Master's bidding most fully and obediently. To know what it is that pleases the heart of his Master, Christ, and to do these things.

How does this work itself out? Well, we are not lacking in knowledge of what pleases our Master, God. He has clearly revealed to us in His word what the things are that He loves, that He rejoices in, the things that He is pleased to see His people doing. I could spend the next several hours surveying the entire OT and NT examples of these God-pleasing actions and attitudes, but I'll leave that for you to investigate and work out. Character traits like mercy, justice, humility. Actions like faith and faithfulness. Attitudes like love, especially for brothers and sisters in Christ. And on and on. We certainly have no lack of knowledge of what pleases our Master. So why then does it seem that so few of us are as "successful" in our Christian life, in pleasing our Master, as we should be?

It may be that most of us don't see ourselves in the position of slaves to God. We would rather subscribe to the more prevalent and politically correct translation of the Greek doulos as servant, not slave. Servant sounds much more dignified, much less subservient. So what's the difference between a slave and a servant? Simple. A slave is property, owned by the master and completely ruled and sustained by the master. While a servant is an employee, a hired helper who is paid to do a job. So unless we rightly understand that we really are God's slaves, owned by Him, for His purposes and not ours, deserving of nothing but His grace, dependent on Him for even our daily breath and food, how can we ever be motivated to live for our Master's pleasure? How will we ever rightly relate to God as our eternal Good Master who withholds nothing from His slaves, graciously providing all we need and more, including the gracious provision of eternal life in Christ? If we see ourselves as servants rather than slaves, we will be expecting compensation for those things we do for our Master, seeking to earn His favor. Instead of understanding that God's economy toward His slaves operates purely on grace and mercy. Once we understand this, we can't help but be driven to do that which will please the heart of of great and gracious Master. For our good, and for His glory. That's what a successful slave of Christ looks like.

One who will hear, on that last day, his Master say to him, "Well done, good and faithful slave."


Anonymous said...

Just a couple of comments...

God's word says...well done, good and faithful "servant" and not faithful "slave".

Jesus came here that not be served but to serve....as servant..he did not come as slave but as servant.

Servant follows His master because he loves him...but the slave follows out of fear...

Do we need to follow God out of fear or Love?

Anonymous said...

Actually, God's word says "good and faithful slave (Gr. doulos)".

I never said that Jesus came to be a slave. But He did in fact submit His will to the father's will. Which is in effect voluntary slavery.

Read Exodus 21:1-6 for an example of a salve serving his master out of love, not fear.

Do we need to follow God out of love or fear? Yes, both. We are commanded to fear God, and to love Him. It's not an either/or proposition.