The Bondservant

Open your Bibles, if you would, to II Peter, chapter 1, verse 1.

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

That verse is my text. One verse. Some of you may be wondering what kind of message I can bring out of just that one verse. Well, actually, that one verse has too much in it for one message, so I'm going to limit myself to just one word in that verse. It's a beautiful word, one that is vital to living and growing in Christ, and one that you absolutely won't hear anything good about from the world. It's the word "servant."

The Greek word used for "servant" here is the word doulos, which literally means, "bond-servant." It's not a hired servant, someone who serves because that's their job. It's an expression of an idea that God gave in the Law of Moses, back in Deuteronomy 15, starting in verse 12. Let's all turn there.

If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. 13And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. 14Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing-floor and your winepress. Give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. 15Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.

You can all see clearly that God is not talking about hired servants here. If someone sells himself, like it says in verse 12, that's called being a slave. We're talking about a Hebrew who chooses to sell himself into slavery to another Hebrew, probably to raise money to pay a debt. And a slave doesn't have the same rights as a hired servant, does he? Can he quit if he doesn't like the work? Can he protest to the Labor Board if he doesn't think his working conditions are right? What rights does a slave have? None. He sold them away.

God permitted people to be slaves at that time. But God's Law didn't allow His people to mistreat slaves. The way it was practiced in our Southern states was completely against the principles of the Word of God. I could show you other passages that protect slaves, but the one we need to look at is this passage we just read. God is guaranteeing that slavery, for a Hebrew, is not permanent. It's not for life. The longest time a Hebrew could be kept in slavery was six years, and when he was set free in the seventh year, he was to be sent out with livestock and food. Why? So he wouldn't have to turn around and sell himself again the next day so he could get a bite to eat.

But now look at verse 16:

But if your servant says to you, "I do not want to leave you," because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, 17then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. Do the same for your maidservant.

A slave could go free at the end of his six years of service, and you'd expect that they would jump at the chance. But there would be the occasional slave who might not want to go. Maybe he had a hard time earning a living, and the room and board he had as a slave was better than anything he'd been able to find for himself. Or maybe he had grown comfortable with his master and his household over the past six years, and he just didn't want to leave. In that case, the Bible had a special destiny for him.

As it says, his master would pierce his earlobe with an awl against the door of the house. That's a very clear statement that you're going nowhere -- that you're permanently fixed to this house and this master. It became traditional to put in a gold earring after the awl was removed. And that slave could never go free again. He could never be sold, either. He became more than just a slave; he became a servant who was permanently attached -- bonded -- to his master, a bondservant. Such bondservants were usually trusted with more of their master's affairs than a normal slave would be. Although still servants, they often were considered part of the family.

The apostle Peter called himself a bondservant of Jesus Christ in II Peter 1:1. So did Paul in Romans 1:1 and Titus 1:1, and so did James in James 1:1, and so did Jude in Jude verse 1, and so did John in Revelation 1:1. All these mighty men of God are starting off their letters with this declaration of bondservanthood, so you might figure it must be important, and you'd be right. And the word is also applied to Moses in Revelation 15:3. What did this word mean to them? It meant they had voluntarily given up their freedom to walk away from their Master. They said, "I love you, Lord, and I don't want to leave You." It meant that God had marked them as His servants for life. Peter and the others couldn't gain freedom from their Master, and they couldn't be sent away. (By the way, that's a good argument for eternal security, if you ever need one.) And if it's good enough for Peter and Paul and James and John and Jude and Moses, then I think it's good enough for us. We ought to be bondservants of the Lord, too.

You may say, "Okay, Mike, that sounds good and biblical to us. But how do we do it?" Good question.

To make it a little clearer what this "bondservant" stuff is all about, let's look at some more places in the Bible where that word doulos, bondservant, is used. Our first stop will be Matthew 20:25-28.

Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave -- 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

In this passage, the first word "servant" in the NIV, or "minister" in the King James, is the Greek word diakonos, which is where we get our word "deacon." But the second word "slave" in the NIV, or "servant" in the King James, is our word doulos, "bondservant." The word diakonos doesn't carry the same sense of permanence that doulos does. Jesus used both words, in part to let us know that, if we want to be great in the kingdom of God, we can't just humble ourselves and be servants now and then. It's a lifelong thing.

Next, we'll skip ahead to Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents. We won't read the whole thing -- you can read it later if you need your memory refreshed -- but wherever you see the word "servant" there, that's a bondservant. You may notice that the master entrusted a great deal of money to those bondservants. He never would have done that with the hired hands. This shows the level of trust that a master has for a bondservant.

Now we check out Luke 17:7-10.

"Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? 8 Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? 9 Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"

Here again, the servants He's talking about are bondservants. This passage is the flip side of the previous one. We might have concluded that bondservants had some kind of special privilege with their master. But don't ever forget that a bondservant is still a servant. He is still expected to perfectly obey his master. He has as much privilege as his master chooses to give him, and not one bit more. Being a bondservant is not a way to get any kind of exalted position. The fact that you've voluntarily chosen a lowly position doesn't make it any less lowly. So don't go getting proud about your bondservanthood. That's like being proud of your humility.

Next stop, Romans 12:11.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

Up to now, this bondservant thing has sounded optional. But here's our first command to be bondservants. Serving the Lord (that's the verb form of our word doulos) is just as important as being fervent in spirit. Paul has just made the role of bondservant binding on us. It's not an option, it's not something for mature Christians to strive for when they've mastered everything else Jesus told us to do. It's for everyone who names the name of Christ.

And, speaking of the name of Christ, let's consider Philippians 2:5-7.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Yes, Jesus Himself became a doulos, a bondservant. If He can lower Himself that far, it should be even easier for us -- we don't have as far down to go.

Okay, now you're all good and confused by all that Greek stuff. Let's speak English for a while. One of the best ways to understand a word is to understand what it's the opposite of. What's the opposite of "servant"? How about "master"? Jesus, our ultimate Master, said He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many -- we saw that a minute ago in Matthew 20:28. He is Lord of all, but when He was among us, showing us by example how we should live, He was a bondservant.

A pastor, nominally the head of the local church, should be "not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" (I Peter 5:3). So a pastor is also a servant.

Even a slave-owner should be a servant. Ephesians 6:5-8 tells slaves to obey and respect their masters, and serve them wholeheartedly. Verse 9 says, "And masters, treat your slaves in the same way." The master must meet his slaves' needs and take care of them; he's responsible before God for their well-being. From a Christian point of view, a master is a kind of servant.

So what's the opposite of "servant?" The opposite of "servant," Biblically speaking, is "selfish." A servant says, "What can I do for you?" Selfishness says, "What can you do for me?" There's our opposite.

Selfishness is natural; it's a part of the human condition. It's unnatural to put yourself in a place where you're always meeting other people's needs, and there's no way for you to change your position. So if you're content to be a natural man, then don't worry about being a bondservant. But if you really want to follow Jesus, then you need to give yourself to Him permanently.

He won't stick an awl through your earlobe into the door. He's already had some metal implements stuck through His flesh into the wood behind Him, and that's good enough for us. And He won't put a gold earring in your ear... although He's got some gorgeous gold crowns waiting for those who obey Him. All He wants from you is your commitment to Him, for keeps, regardless. He knows that you may wander off now and then, but He won't call out the dogs and chase you down like a runaway. He just expects you to come back as soon as you realize you're wandering, because you know He's your master and you belong with Him.

As you think about this, you'll realize that it's not a small thing that the Lord is asking of you. When you sign on this dotted line, your options are gone. You are committed. That could be a little scary, if you don't perfectly trust the Master. Let me reassure you right here, the Master is perfectly trustworthy.

But look at that list of bondservants I mentioned before. Peter, Paul, James, Jude, John, and Moses. Between them, they wrote 27 of the 66 books of the Bible -- over one-third of it. Between the five books of Moses and all the New Testament epistles, everything we know about doctrine was written for us by bondservants. God didn't choose just anyone to entrust with writing His Word down.

Those of you who are in charge of some ministry in the church, do you rely on people who you know are selfish? Or do you naturally turn to the ones who you know will do the job, any job, no matter what it is? You know the value of servanthood.

You parents, have you ever had to ask one of your children to do something, when you weren't sure if he or she would actually do it? Isn't it a blessing to tell a child to do something when you know he or she will do it? If you've trained up the child in the way that he should go, then being a servant was part and parcel of the training, whether you used the word "servanthood" or not. If you aren't raising a servant, then you're raising a selfish child, and your heartaches with that child are just beginning.

You young people, as you approach the time when you'll choose a wife or a husband, how do you pick a good one? One of the best ways is to look for a servant. I mean, you don't want to marry someone who's selfish, do you? Meganoito, God forbid, may it never be! When you marry, it's for keeps, there's no going back, so if you marry a bondservant, he or she becomes your bondservant. Does that sound like a good deal? If that sounds like a good deal, then tell me this: does the one you love deserve just as good a deal? Will you be a bondservant to her or him? And now I'm talking to all you married people as well. Will you be a bondservant to your spouse? Either you're a servant, or you're selfish. If two bondservants are married to each other, they've got a superb foundation for a happy marriage. Neither one has to worry about how his own needs will be met, because he knows his spouse will take care of that, so he can focus on meeting his spouse's needs. In this life, that's about as good as it gets.

So how do you find a servant? The gold earring doesn't mean what it used to. But servants aren't hard to spot if you know what to look for.

Look for someone who's busy around the church. And I don't necessarily mean the high-profile stuff, like music. It's possible for someone to be involved in a ministry like that, without a shred of servanthood in him. You can be the most talented Christian singer or musician ever, but if your attitude is "look at me!" then that's not servanthood, that's selfishness. The applause can distract you from the One you're supposed to be singing to. Also, if you've got that kind of talent, singing or playing to the Lord is fun, and the fun can become your motive. That's not to say that a talented person can't be a servant, only that it's easier for someone like that to do things for the wrong reasons. A better indicator of a real servant is the one who's doing the low-profile stuff, like working in the nursery or cleaning up after a church fellowship. Someone who will do the jobs that give no recognition and no real pleasure.

And now, we'll take a simple test. Pop-quiz time. Every one of you, take a look at the people around you. Go ahead, look at them, both sides, in front, in back, farther away, on the other side of the room. Look at everybody.

Now, for each of the people you just looked at, ask yourself this question: "What have I done for that person lately?" How easy is it for you to answer that question? Are you coming up empty for some of them? Has it been a while since you did something for some of them?

There's the test of servanthood. It doesn't have to be a big thing. Praying for someone's needs, that counts. Holding the door open for someone whose hands are full, that counts. Speaking an encouraging word when you know someone's a little down, that counts. Letting others go first in line for the food at a church fellowship, that counts. Now I'm stepping on toes, aren't I?

Is it that hard a thing Jesus asks us to do for each other? He doesn't demand that we wash each other's feet or anything. He didn't lay down laws and commandments about how much time we should spend serving every day. He just commanded that we love one another.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12)

And that is the key to bond-servanthood. Without love, serving others becomes an endless, joyless chore. With love, it becomes a natural thing, as much an expression of our relationship with Christ as worship or prayer. If we love Him, we'll love others, and if we love others, we'll be concerned for meeting their needs. Jesus gave everything to meet our greatest need. He asks us to give a little to meet the needs of the people around us.

Of course, as soon as you seriously start thinking about being a servant, the devil will whisper in your ear, "But if you give yourself to serving others, who will look out for you?" The short answer is, God will take care of you. The long answer is that, if we were all bondservants, you could be confident that all the rest of us were looking out for you, so you wouldn't have to worry about yourself. That's how it's supposed to work.

From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:16)

That's the plan. A church full of bondservants, where everybody is looking out for everybody else. Nobody has to worry about themselves. That's where we'll find true freedom -- freedom from fear, freedom from worry, freedom from the temptation to be selfish. None of us goes to a church like that, not yet. But it happened once, in the first church of Jerusalem; you can read about it in Acts 2:42-47. And it can happen again in our own church.

There are enough people here to start the change happening. If we all live as bondservants in our own church, God can use that as a catalyst to effect a change in others. We live as servants, others ask us why we're doing this, we tell them about bondservanthood, God uses that to convict their hearts, and they start living as servants as well. According to the Bible, it's supposed to happen. There's no reason it can't happen, unless we drop the ball.

I'm not going to close this message by challenging you all to embrace being a bondservant for life. Although if that's how God is speaking to you, you'd better obey Him. I'm going to close this message by challenging each of you to do something for every person in this room before the day is done. Big or little, quick or time-consuming, it makes no difference. And when you get home, the challenge is to do something for each member of your family before the day is done. And then do it again tomorrow. And again, the day after that. Making a commitment is fine, but servanthood isn't just a commitment. It's a way of life. It's a habit that can be learned.

Jesus asks you to be a servant for life. Start by committing to be a servant today.

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