Friday, September 16, 2016

SLAVES FOREVER

(I am currently writing a series on the last two chapters of the Bible. These chapters are the only two in the entire Bible that are dedicated exclusively to telling us what eternity will be like for the believers in Christ)***********************
As we considered what was happening around the throne of God, we saw worship as it is expressed in many ways. One of these ways was by being a faithful steward of what has been entrusted to him. Worshiping God through service.

Indeed, that is what John now says in his commentary of the Lord’s throne: …The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him” (Revelation 22:3 NAS).

Along with all of the voices around the throne, the service given to God the king is also worship to him. This worship is being carried out by the bond-servants of the king. Some Bible versions simply say “servants” instead of bond-servants. Actually however, rather than either the term bond-servants or servants, the word would be better translated as slave. However, I could only find two Bible versions that used this word instead of servant or bond-servant.

The Greek word in this case is doulos. The word really does mean slave. The word doulos is derived from yet another Greek word that means to tie or to bind. A doulos (if we can put it that way), is one with no rights of his own and truly is simply the property of his or her master. He is a true slave.

However, the word slave has an extremely negative connotation to us, and rightly so. The history of slavery in our own country is evidence enough of the horrors of this practice. Of course, our country was not the only one in the world to practice slavery, nor was that the only time in history when it was done. Men and women have misused and abused other men and women with slavery throughout history and on every continent. Even with the abolition of slavery, the consequences do not soon disappear, nor easily so. The effects of the slave practice can continue to bring harm to relationships for generations even after the actual slavery has ended.

It is no wonder to me that Bible translators decided not to use the word slave in this context. However, in some ways it is unfortunate that they did not. The differences between a slave and a servant are actually quite significant. (to continue, press the READ MORE button below) 

Servant or Slave?

As servant is a respectful position in our thinking – a gentleman’s gentleman, if you will. English literature especially has many stories concerning a man of high standing and high society who has a servant who takes care of him. In many instances, these are stories where the servant is actually the one who seems the more competent, and he is constantly keeping his master out of trouble of repairing the master’s mistakes.

A servant also has a private life. He receives a wage, he can own property, and he can decide to terminate his employment as a servant at any time. He makes his own decisions. He is independent concerning his personal destiny.

This is not so with a slave. A slave has no rights. He has no form of independence. A slave can be bought and sold. A slave cannot even claim a right to his own children over the desires of his owner. The owner of a slave can take the slave’s own small son and sell him to the highest bidder on the auction block.

This is the ugly side of slavery. Quite frankly, since this has been the history in this and other countries, this is what we think of when we think of slavery. As I said, it is not wonder to me that the Bible translators did not use the word slave when speaking of our relationship to God. 

A Slave Has Something a Servant Does Not

But by instead using the word servant instead of slave, look what they have missed. If the slave is owned by someone who loves him even more than the slave loves himself, a slave will be cared for in every aspect of life. His home will not be a hovel, but it will be a dwelling where the slave can live in happiness with his family. With a loving owner, the slave does not have to worry about the security of his children or worry about the needs of his family. They will always have good food to eat and good clothing. If they should get sick, they will receive the best care.

“Ah,” but you say, “All of this sounds very nice, but this slave still has no rights of his own. He does not have the right to make an independent decision apart from his owner. And freedom,” you say, “is everything.”

What you say about a slave is true. But with the slave of God, he does not enter into this relationship with God unwillingly. No one has come into his village in the middle of the night and taken him away in shackles by force to be loaded onto a ship and sent to a land far beyond the sea. A slave of God has not been forced to be God’s slave against his own will. He or she does so willingly, of his or her own decision. 

How to Become a Slave of God

There is a beautiful picture of this given to us in the Old Testament. In early Hebrew society, although the people did have slaves, there was a provision in their laws that if a man buys a fellow Hebrew, that person would be considered the master’s slave, but this relationship was only to last six years. On the seventh year, this slave was to be set free. Not only this, but he was to be set free with many provisions of food and animals in order that the one-time-slave could begin his new life.

However, there were cases where the man who had been the slave was so well treated by the master, and so loved by him, that the slave did not want to leave. He did not want to choose to live as a free man, but rather to remain as a slave forever in the house of his master.

If this was the case, then the slave was to stand next to the door of the house and put his ear up to the door. Then, the master of the house was to take an awl and pierce it through the earlobe and into the door, thus leaving the slave with a pierced ear. I suppose the imagery here was to show that, since the door was the place of exiting the house, the slave instead shows that he is pegged to the door, and would not go out of the house. This could be the case not only with male slaves, also with the female slaves (Deuteronomy 15:12-17, Exodus 21:5-6). 

The Question is – a Slave to Whom?

Nevertheless, despite stories like this, we have such a negative view of slavery in our society that even with thoughts of a benevolent master who will provide for one’s every need, many say that they would still prefer to choose their independence over slavery, even if it is slavery to God. Servanthood perhaps. They might agree to be called a servant, but not a slave. Although Bible translations may use the word servant in place of the Greek word for slavery, this is not the option God puts before us.

What we sometimes do not understand is that there is no such thing as true freedom in this life. The concept of true freedom is just an ephemeral illusion. The promise of independence and freedom was how Satan tempted Adam and Eve. He told them that “they would be like gods,” knowing good and evil and able to choose their own way. Even in the very act of choosing as they did, although their own wills certainly were involved in this decision, their choice was not completely independent. They followed what Satan told them to do. They believed him and obeyed him, but instead of finding freedom, they found bondage.

Jesus told this to the Jews one day. “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin,” he told them (John 8:34).

The Apostle Paul taught the same thing. He said, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16 NAS)

So then, as much as some would like to think that they are independent beings and under no authority in their spiritual lives, it seems that there is no such thing as complete freedom and independence of thought. In the Garden of Eden, when Satan tempted Adam and Eve with thoughts of independence, rather than finding freedom, they found instead slavery to sin. Instead of fulfillment in their love for God, they found emptiness in loving themselves. God had placed them in a garden, and they turned it into a desert.

This is our condition without Christ. We like to pride ourselves in being able to make up our own minds about things. We like to think that by our own force of will we can control our lives. Perhaps we are even able to do this in some minor ways. But these modest victories in small things only serve to hide the fact that without Christ, we are slaves to our own private passions and to our own special weakness of character. 

Freedom for the Slave

However, in the midst of all this dark talk of slavery, there are some other words of Jesus that shine like a ray of sun through an opening in the dark clouds overhead. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV).

This is what we have been waiting for! Words of true freedom! A way in which we can be free of our present struggles and inward battles! How is it that we get there?

Contrary to what you may think, the path to freedom is not by throwing off all that would shackle us. It is not by forcefully proclaiming that no one owns us and that we are our own free beings. Ironically, the road to freedom is by way of slavery. When Jesus said that the Son would make us free indeed, this was not a call to independence. It was instead a call to slavery.

Remember that Jesus also told his disciples “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

Jesus is speaking here of a total surrender. It is, in other words, a call to slavery. For many, this is too much. Our freedom is too important for us. From our perspective, it is difficult for many to understand why any man or any woman would choose slavery over freedom.

This slavery however, is slavery with a promise.

It is interesting to me that Jesus said that it was the “Son” who would set us free. He is speaking of course, about himself. However, he spoke in the third person, referring to himself as “the Son.” By doing this, Jesus introduces the subject of the freedom of sonship. The full statement of what he said was “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36 NAS).

The Slave Who is a Son

Paul made a similar observation and made a similar comparison of a child. In Galatians 4:1-7, he spoke of a son, living in the house of his father. When boy is a lad, he may not appear to be any different than a slave. The child has no real freedom to make his own decisions about his day. He is told when to rise and he is told when to go to bed. He is given tasks to do during the day and has no choice whether he will or will not do them. He simply obeys the instructions given to him. In fact, in the day when Paul was writing and when most wealthy families had slaves, the son of the master was sometimes even put under a slave. It was sometimes the household slave that gave instructions to the son of the master.

However, despite the appearances of the life of the small child and that he is even under a slave, it remains that he indeed is the heir of his father’s wealth. The time is set by his father as to when he will receive that inheritance.

Sons and Daughters

What we see in this statement of Jesus is the combining of the ideas of slavery with one who is a son. As somewhat of a side note, I want you also to understand that he is also talking about daughters here. I know that some women take offense at the male dominated language of the Bible, and I can understand this. But it is helpful to remember that most of this is merely a reflection of the society in that day. In the mentioning of sons, implied also in this is the daughters. We may wish that it were not like this, but people tend to write according to the custom of the day. In these present days, when I write something, I try to be more inclusive by sometimes including both genders, but I have to say, doing so also is a little cumbersome. It sometimes makes the sentence long and difficult to follow.

Sometimes in the Bible we see both. Isaiah writes the words of the Lord when he says, “Do not fear, I am with you. I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather them from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’  And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 43:5-6 NAS).

Even the Apostle Paul, who is often accused of being chauvinistic, at one point actually amended an Old Testament quote to include the daughters when he quoted God as saying, “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me” (2 Corinthians 6:18).

I am sorry if you are offended by the constant reference to sons, but I hope that this whole matter does not detract from what we have to learn about this teaching of slaves and of sons (and of daughters). 

The Transformation from Slavery to Sin to Slavery to Righteousness

Despite all of our high-sounding talk of personal freedom, once we understand that there is no such thing as complete independence, we can begin to understand how we can at least control under whom or under what we will put ourselves as slaves. It is time to move beyond our arrogant ideas of self-determination. The simple fact is, it is as Paul has said, we are either slaves of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness” (Romans 6:16).

Slaves we may be, but we do retain self-determination in choosing upon which of these paths we will follow in our lives. It is our choice.

The Apostle Paul puts it in these terms. “Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:5 NAS).

By referring to the flesh, he means those things that are destined for death. It is only the Spirit of God who can give us direction for life and for peace. It is our choice which direction we are to go. If we live according to the flesh, we will die, since that is all that the flesh has to offer. But if we are learning to live by the Spirit of God, we will find life and peace. This is life and peace not only for today, but for eternity. The flesh only can give us death. It is the Spirit of God who writes “eternal life” onto the DNA of our own spirits.

Here is how Paul continues: “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14-15)

The word “Abba” is Aramaic for “Father,” and it is an especially close and endearing term. It is somewhat like a child may say “Daddy” or “Pappa.” Paul purposefully inserted this Aramaic word in his Greek text because he wanted to demonstrate the closeness of our relationship with God. Paul further says, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17a).

This is what it means to be slaves of righteousness. Slaves we are, but it is slavery with an inheritance. Like the son who may appear to have a life no different than a slave, God has destined us for great things. We are daughters and sons by adoption. We once were slaves to sin, but God has purchased us and made us slaves of righteousness.

We were purchased, by the way, for a very high price. This fact alone demonstrates how much God values us. It shows us how much he loves us and how he intends to extend his inheritance to us. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NAS) 

Praises in the Throne Room of God

And now in Revelation we read that in the throne room of God, the slaves who are also sons and daughters will serve him. Along with the Seraphim, along with the angels and the elders who are praising God, and along with the martyrs and the multitude who are singing their praises, the slaves of God will be serving him. It means only that we will worship him by being good stewards of what he has given us. We will recognize him as the origin and originator of all things. He is the creator of all that there is. 

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3 ESV)

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