The Attitude of a Slave
The Attitude of a Servant
“Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus.”
We live in a culture where the mantra is personal empowerment and entitlement. One can even attend a three-day “Culture of Empowerment Conference.” The conference aims “to enhance practical skills and build insights among a community of practitioners striving for a culture of empowerment within their organizations.” The movement towards empowerment promotes “taking control of your life and making positive decisions based on what you want.” If one were to pick a theme song for this movement, it would be Frank Sinatra’s popular hit, “My Way.” If things do not go the way we want, we feel cheated and mistreated. Indeed, there is a place for helping people who are abused and mistreated by others. Nevertheless, Paul gives us a different perspective regarding our personal autonomy and control demands.
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul begins with his salutation and greeting. The form he uses with an introductory greeting, stating who was writing the letter and who were the intended recipients, was customary. However, what arrests our attention is how he describes himself. One would think that he would begin by establishing his authority to write the letter by referring to himself as an Apostle and a designated church leader. We would expect him to list his credentials on why the church should obey his letter and submit to his authority over the church. However, instead, he describes himself as a bond-servant of Christ Jesus. Throughout his letters, this was his most common description of himself. A bond-servant was owned by another, and he had no authority, self-autonomy, or any control over his own life and destiny. A slave not only belonged to another, but he had no freedom of choice. To be a slave was to have no freedom or personal rights. Their sole purpose was to obey their master and do the master's will.
Romanian Pastor Josef Tson, who was imprisoned and persecuted for his faith under the Communist Ceausescu regime, captured the possession of what it meant to be a slave of Christ, “There aren’t many people who are willing to introduce me as a slave. They substitute the word ‘servant’ for ‘slave.’ In twentieth-century Christianity, we have replaced the expression ‘total surrender’ with the word ‘commitment’ and ‘slave’ with ‘servant.’ But there is an important difference. A servant gives service to someone, but a slave belongs to someone. We commit ourselves to do something, but when we surrender ourselves to someone, we give ourselves up” (Quoted in Murray Harris, Slave of Christ). When Paul describes himself as a slave of Christ, he recognizes that his life is no longer his own, to pursue his own will and desires. Instead, he surrendered his will to Christ to serve him and fulfill his will. This is what is lacking in our Christian life. We desire Christ's salvation but want to live independently of him. We want spiritual autonomy. However, to live in obedience to Christ begins by completely surrendering ourselves to him. It is to place the will of God as the sole focus of our life (Romans 12:1,2). It is to submit to his will and commands so that they become the sole focus of our life (see John 14). However, the mystery of faith is that the more we surrender to Christ, the more we discover freedom. If we strive to be independent of Christ, we become slaves to the most tyrannical master of all. We become slaves to sin. We readily affirm that we are followers of Christ, but are we willing to become a slave to Christ? That is the question we need to ask ourselves daily. Yet, the wonder of God’s grace is that when we surrender our lives to Christ, he elevates us to be his children and become co-heirs with Christ.