By Eddie Cloer
"But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life" (Romans 6:22).
A few years ago I was in Modesto, California, delivering a series of evangelistic sermons. My family was with me, and a Christian family kept us in their home during two days of the meeting. They put Susan and me in a very spacious, elaborate bedroom. Our second day with them was very busy, and I could not find time for my daily exercise until after the service, at ten o'clock that night. It was late when I returned to the house after walking for an hour. All the lights were off except the one in the living room. Our host and hostess had left the door unlocked for me, so I slipped in the front door and through the house to the bedroom they had given us. On my way through, I could not help noticing that the living room had been made into a bedroom. The couch had been made into a bed, and the couple who were keeping us were sleeping on the couch. It struck me with terrific impact that these two Christians were true servants. They had given us the best bedroom they had while they used a makeshift bed in the living room! In Christian consideration, they had put us first and themselves last!
This couple, according to the New Testament,
should be a miniature picture of the church. Kings and queens do
not make up the church; servants do! Our Savior, the Head of the
". . . whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:27, 28). No wonder Paul wrote of the followers of Christ, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3, 4). Peter also exhorted the church of Christ, "Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God" (1 Peter 2:16).
Unless we view the church as a body of servants of Christ, we will miss a key aspect of the nature of the authentic church of Christ. Intertwined in the meaning and life of the church is the concept of servanthood. The thought begins with Christ, the Founder and Head of the church, and carries through to and sets the standard for every member. Any church that claims to be Christ's church but does not see its life in the world in terms of clear, bold servanthood simply claims to be something that it is not.
Because of the paramount importance of this feature of the church, we must consider carefully how we, the church of Christ, are the servants of Christ.
First, we see our role as servants in our designation. That the church is made up of servants of Christ is indicated in the New Testament by the descriptive expressions used of the church. Christ obviously intended for His people to be servants, or He would not have characterized His church as He did.
He defined true greatness among His followers with a portrait of a servant: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant" (Matthew 20:25, 26). Greatness, according to Christ, is seen in terms of service rendered, not in terms of possessions owned or positions held.
In conversion to Christ, Paul pictured the sinner as becoming the servant of God and of Christ. Before conversion, we were the servants of sin, but following conversion, we are the servants of righteousness (Romans 6:17,18). Christians do not belong to themselves but are the exclusive, personal property of God: "For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:20). Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's: "For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:7, 8).
The concept of our being servants of God and Christ should naturally be seen in our service to one another. Accordingly, we are told to "be subject to one another in the fear of Christ" (Ephesians 5:21), not demanding our own way but always considering our brother's welfare and spiritual life. Paul wrote, "For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.... For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men" (Romans 14:15, 18). Therefore, as Christ's servants, we have been commanded to "be devoted to one another in brotherly love" and "give preference to one another in honor" (Romans 12:10). We are also commanded, "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13).
Christ's servants are in the world to do his bidding. They preach His gospel, not theirs; they seek to fulfill His mission, not one they have planned. With Paul they say, "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10).
The story is told of a soldier in the army of Alexander the Great. The young soldier's first name was Alexander. He became guilty of wrongdoing which was totally out of character for a soldier in Alexander's mighty army. His misconduct was discovered, and he was brought before the king for judgment. Alexander asked him his name. The soldier softly said, "Alexander." The great commander looked up at him with a stern, fiery stare and said, "Soldier, either change your life or change your name!"
The church has been given a designation by the Holy Spirit of God. The question "How can the church be what Christ intended us to be in the world?" is decisively answered in the Scriptures: "Live up to your designation! Be what you are called. Be the servants of Christ."
Winston Churchill said, "The best way to create a virtue in someone is to attribute that virtue to them." God instills the virtue of servanthood in His people by attributing that virtue to us, by calling us His servants.
Obviously, before we can be servants, we must think as servants think. Let us practice servant thinking. Let us not ask, "What will I get out of this?" but ask, "How can I be of help to my brother? What does he need most to help him to grow in Christ and be strong in the faith?" Let us not ask, "Lord, what have You done for me lately?" but ask, "Lord, here am I. Send me!"
We are not only the servants of Christ in designation, but also in desire. His true church has no other ambition. Above all other aspirations, His people seek to serve Him.
Before Christ came, we had no hope and faced eternal despair. No man could have helped us. Nothing constructed by men could have saved us. All the learning of all the universities and centers of education could not have devised a way for us to be redeemed. The only prospect we had was divine intervention.
Then, God sent Christ to this earth as our divine Savior. He became fully human even though He was the second member of the Godhead. He left His place of glory as God in eternity and became one of us that He might taste of death for us (Hebrews 2:9). He selflessly laid aside His splendor of heaven and entered into the humiliation of earth. He became so completely human that He suffered in the ways all of us suffer and was subject to death even as all of us are. He did all of this so that He might exhibit a perfect life before us and lay down His life as a sin offering for us. Our guilt of sin had created a debt that only the sinless life of the divine Son of God could pay.
He did not have to spend one minute on this earth, but He came because He loved us and wanted to rescue us. He did not have to suffer one discomfort or pain, but He underwent the unimaginable pain of crucifixion to save us. Even His Father did not make Him go to the cross and die; He went voluntarily because He wanted to offer us salvation (John 10:18). His love for us had no hidden agendas-no personal, selfish plans. It contained no hypocrisy, no false pretense, but was pure and genuine.
We therefore are indebted to Jesus beyond the ability of words to express. First, we have received from Him redemption: "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7); "...you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18, 19).
Second, we have received from Him an endowment. Our talents and possessions are precious gifts from Him. ". . . And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Third, He has given us identity. Having been redeemed by His blood and having been endowed for His service through His grace, we are His stewards. We belong completely to Him. We do not claim anything that we have as our own. From the hairs of our heads to the tips of our fingers to the soles of our feet, we are His property. Our only desire is to serve Him. Because of what He has done for us, we would have it no other way.
The life that we are called
the mission we have, and the
message we preach reflect
the spirit of servanthood.
The story is told of a slave girl who was to be auctioned off shortly before the American Civil War. She was in her late teens. Under other circumstances, she would have had a zest for living and would have been entering the future as one would embark upon a pleasant journey. She was a slave, however, and her eyes reflected the frustrated ambition of her soul. As she looked over the crowd that awaited an opportunity to bid for her ownership, she shuddered to think of what kind of future she might have. Soon the air was filled with the strong voice of the auctioneer as he called for bids. Higher and higher the bids rose. Finally, the bidding ceased, and a quietness hung over the crowd until the auctioneer said with awful and bone-chilling finality, "Sold!" The word shook the young woman from her stare, and she glanced over the crowd to see who was moving to the front to claim her as a possession. A middle-aged man was pushing through the crowd to the front. He stepped to the side and paid the amount that he had offered. He then turned and walked toward her. Taking her by the arm, he led her away from the crowd. Without a word to her, he took out a piece of paper and wrote across it, "On this date, I have bought you, and I have granted you your freedom." At the bottom of the page, he signed his name and then handed the document of freedom to the young lady. With her hands trembling and her body shaking with uncontrollable emotion, she hugged the paper to her breast, wondering if this could be real and not a dream. Then, after the full realization of what had happened sank in, she fell at the man's feet and said, "Sir, I'll be your servant forever-gladly, willingly, and freely."
Her picture is also a picture of the church. We were slaves of sin and destined to wretched lives of bondage to the devil, controlled and dominated by his evil impulses and desires, but Jesus bought us with His blood and set us free. We live for Him now. We have fallen at His feet and pledged our loyalty to Him in undying love and appreciation for what He has done for us.
Any Christian who does not aspire to be the servant of Christ simply has not contemplated fully what he owes Christ. Without Him we would be nothing. Draw in your mind a zero and stretch out the hole in that zero until you have a zero bigger than the earth. Only then will you have a zero that illustrates what we would be like without Christ! Without Christ we were less than nothing! A realization of what Christ has done for us compels us to express our gratitude in daily service to Him.
Third, we, the church of Christ, are the servants of Christ in demonstration. The life that we are called to live, the mission we have, and the message we preach reflect the spirit of servanthood.
Servanthood is always at the heart of the Christian life. This is true because the Christian life is the "Christ-in-us" life, and Christ was the greatest servant the world has ever seen. Paul wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20). That being the case, it should not surprise us to see Paul living a servant life: He was selfless and sacrificing, not selfish and self-serving. He wrote to us, "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). If we follow his admonition and live with the mind of Christ, we will think of others and live for others:
"... although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross"(Philippians 2:6-8).
The mind of Christ was a self-emptying mind. He laid aside His heavenly glory, becoming a servant of men, His own creation, and submitted to crucifixion for the salvation of man. If we live with His mind, we can fill no other role than that of serving men.
The mission Christ has given His people cannot be implemented without servanthood. Jesus told His disciples when He sent them out on His limited commission, "Freely you received, freely give" (Matthew 10: 8). When He gave to His disciples His final, worldwide commission, He mandated servanthood: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:15). For His commission to be carried out, many of us must be willing to go, leaving behind people, possessions, and cultures we hold dear; and the rest of us must be willing to give sacrificially to send those who go, giving up monies we could have spent on ourselves. The ones who are going and the ones who are sending will be fulfilling the role of servants. No one goes to the mission field to get rich, and no one gives to get rich. Both do what they do as servants of Christ.
The message we preach is not our own. We did not write the letter; we are only public servants who deliver the letter Christ has written. We see to it that the message He has sent is not distorted or obscured. We have no orders from our King to rewrite it; we are commanded to see to it that it is accurately delivered. We know that the world is lost without this message. Therefore, out of compassion and loving kindness, we herald His message in every conceivable way-through the printed page, on radio and T.V., from pulpits, through personal contacts, and in daily example. We put His message first-even above our own personal convenience and dreams. For its preaching, we give our talents, our money, our time, our minds, our hands, our feet-yes, even our very hearts.
Our King is so different from all other kings! Although He is the King of Kings, the Creator and Sustainer of all the universe, He lived among us as a servant. This truth especially shines through the event of Jesus' washing His disciples' feet at the Last Supper (John 13:1-16). When an earthly king comes among us, people bow before him and reach out to touch him. When the pope comes out among his people, they bow before him and seek to kiss his hand. When Christ, however, was with His disciples the night before His death, He filled a basin with water and washed their feet.
Why did He do it? Not because He had to or because no one else would. He did not do it just because He knew that an illustration would be valuable to His disciples. He did it because of who He is. He is the Son of God and the servant of men. He came as a servant, He lived as a servant, and He died as a servant. Serving others was as natural to Him as walking and eating. Because of who we are, He calls His followers to the same kind of life:
"You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master; neither is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him" John 13:13-16).
We are to walk as Jesus walked. Servanthood is so interwoven into the Christian's life, mission, and message that we cannot engage in genuine Christian living without centering our thoughts on service to others.
If you are wondering how you can live a servant's life, just do what Christ asked you to do. You will find that you cannot carry out His will without being a servant. You cannot teach others His gospel the way He asked you to unless you are a servant; you cannot care for the poor, as He said to do it, without being a servant; you cannot fulfill the mission He gave you without the heart of a servant.
The New Testament makes it clear that the church is composed of servants of Christ. We are servants in designation, in desire, and in demonstration. The ground at the foot of the cross is level. No servant is elevated above another, and no servant is placed beneath another. We are all just servants.
Clovis Chappell told of his crossing the ocean on a ship. It was his first time to take a trip of this kind, and the trip was too much for him. He became so seasick that he could hardly stand up. He said his sleeping place was the top bunk, and being in that top bunk was unbearable to him. He said he thought he was going to die. The man who had the bunk immediately below him, a complete stranger to him, saw how sick he was and, with a compassion which seemed as natural to him as breathing, suggested that they switch bunks. He then began to assist him as a nurse would a patient. Without any request from Chappell, he scurried about tending to his needs with tender concern. Mr. Chappell said that he continued to remember that man through the years because servanthood to him was a way of life. He must have thought as a servant thinks, and thus, wherever he was, whether at home or abroad, he lived as a servant.
Christ's followers should find being servants as natural as combing their hair or taking a walk, as natural as drinking a glass of water or eating a meal. Our lives have been converted from self-centeredness to Son-centeredness, and this can mean only one thing ---- servanthood.
Christ's invitation has ever been for sinners to come to salvation and servanthood. He says to us "come" (Matthew 11:28,29) and "go" (Matthew 28:19, 20). He will receive anyone who will come, but He will leave no one as he is when he comes. He receives us as sinners, but He transforms us into servants of men. His true church, therefore, is made up of servants of the Servant.
Are you a servant of Christ?
QUESTIONS FOR STUDY
1. Briefly define "servant." 2. Discuss the statement "We are free yet slaves of Christ." 3 Explain how servanthood leads to greatness, according to Christ (Matthew 20:25, 26). 4. What does it mean to be a "servant of righteousness"? 5. Why do we belong to Christ? 6. What does it mean to be "subject" to one another in the fear of Christ? 7. How could one destroy his brother with food? 8. What does it mean to be "devoted to one another in brotherly love"? 9. Why should the church desire to be the servants of Christ? 10. In what three ways are we indebted to Christ? 11. Explain the Christian life as the "Christ-in-us" life. 12. What is a self-emptying mind? 13. Can the mission Christ has given us be implemented without servanthood? 14. What was Christ seeking to teach when He washed the disciples' feet? 15. What is meant by the expression "The ground at the foot of the cross is level"?
For Preaching and Teaching Purposes: Sermon or Teaching Type:Basic pattern; deductive; topical. Subject: The church. Theme: Christ's servants. Title: Christ's Bondservants. Preaching or Teaching Portion: None. Proposition: (Declarative) We are the servants of Christ. Interrogative Question or Probing Question: How? Key Word: Ways. Major Points: I.In Designation; II. In Desire; III. In Demonstration. Sermonic or Teaching Objective: To persuade Christians to live as the servants of Christ.