I reached Deuteronomy 15 in my bible reading this morning. Once more, Deuteronomy 15:12-18 spoke to me. How timely, as I reflect and rejoice about 20 years of Following Jesus. We may think that this passage about bondservants is no longer relevant for New Testament Christians. However, we must be note that it was Paul’s preferred term whenever he introduced himself.
“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle,…” Romans 1:1
“Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ,…” Titus 1:1
In celebration of the honour and privilege of following and serving Jesus, allow me to share an extract from Say To Archippus, from Chapter Six: The Kingdom Keeps Advancing, pp74-77.
Awl for Jesus
When writing to the churches, Paul would introduce himself as a doulos first, before using the term, apostolos (apostle). Although different English translations have rendered the Greek word doulos as servant, slave or bondservant, it is clear that Paul considered himself as belonging to Jesus.
As a servant or slave of Jesus, he is firstly one who serves the Master before he is one who is sent by Him (an apostle literally means one who is sent). Unlike the other English versions, the translators of the NKJV and the NASB opted to render doulos as bondservant instead of servant or slave.
Appreciating the difference between the terms makes for an interesting observation as well as application.
Servitude and slavery may have been common and accepted in Bible times, but given the fallenness of humanity, there would have been the possibility of unjust and inhumane treatment of those in such categories and situations.
To address that, God, through the Mosaic Law (Exodus 21:1-6), made a provision for servants to be set free after serving six years, without having to pay anything. This was so that they could have a chance to start over.
“Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them: If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.”Exodus 21:1-6
Although freedom is due to him in the seventh year, the servant still has an option available for him to exercise. If he had been well taken care of and well treated by his master (or ex-master, more accurately), he could choose to forego his freedom and voluntarily serve this master.
Forego his freedom? Yes! His master had provided adequately for him and his family and even protected them from any eventuality. He has benefitted from the master’s fair dealings as well as his wise and prudent decisions and direction. He trusts and loves his master.
Freedom notwithstanding, there is absolutely no reason why he would want to risk facing the challenges and uncertainties of the world on his own. It is far better to stay and to continue to serve this good and loving master! His relationship with his master is worth far more than his own freedom!
By saying, “I love my master…I will not go out free,” he voluntarily and willingly offers himself back to the master. When the master pierces his ear with an awl, this freed servant becomes a bondservant who will serve the master, not just for another six years, but for life!
This is a beautiful picture of our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ! Like the servant, we too have been set free from slavery without having to pay anything. Instead, we have received every blessing in Christ and every promise is a ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ for us to start anew!
And yet, the freedom we have accounts for nothing if we don’t have Christ, the best Master there is. With freedom, we could serve ourselves and do whatever we wished but how could that even be compared with the protection, the provision and the purposes of the Master?
Truly, nothing compares to being in the centre of the Master’s will and plans. The best thing to do is to offer ourselves back to the Master, voluntarily and willingly, and to be His bondservant for life.
Being slaves of God and servants of Jesus is not to be taken as drudgery or a chore. It is true that we have been bought with a price and are no longer our own but a relationship with Jesus is never akin to forced labour or life imprisonment.
Not at all! Otherwise, it is no longer a relationship of love, for love cannot be forced upon a person nor can a person be coerced to love.
Jesus has every right to enforce His ownership over us but that is simply not in His nature or character. He loves us and thus saves and sets us free from the tyranny of sin. And so, we are His and in this, there is no choice. But we do get to choose how we respond to His love. We could just say ‘thank you very much’ and go about our own devices, or respond in love to stay and serve Him.
If you ask me, it’s really quite straightforward. If I could have made it on my own, He didn’t have to come and save me in the first place. The truth is, I am and have nothing in and of myself. The moment I walk away from Jesus, I walk right back to where and what I was saved from! For sure, sin is a terrible master and I am a lousy master of my own destiny.
There is only one Master who is worthy of love, praise and service: JESUS!
It is when we come to a revelation of this that we, like Paul and the apostles, readily choose to be bondservants, or love slaves, of Jesus.
Voluntarily. Willingly. For life.