13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:13 - 18 (NRSV)
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. Galatians 5:13 (NRSV)
We have been spending time with Jesus on “the Mount” – the sermon of our Lord; two-thousand, three hundred and eighty-four words introduced by the “beatitudes” and ending with the astonishment of all the listeners marveling over how Jesus taught with such awesome authority. This was heaven’s proposal for how to live if we want to take seriously the idea of loving God.
There have been virtually libraries of books written on the beatitudes alone, let alone the other 109 verses of Jesus’ sermon. In choosing to preach seven sermons on “the sermon” I am obviously not exhausting everything that could be said about living as a follower of Jesus Christ; I have simply chosen the seven topics that have been the most important for me in growing as Jesus’ disciple these last fifty-plus years.
As we live the Christian life and grow into our discipleship we become like a garment woven together with holy thread…the strands all provide and receive strength from each other. Christ is all, and in all.
Each of these exhortations to living a Godly life is a component and a bridge. Each is vitally-important; none greater than any other. Each provides a pathway to the others. The first four topics we covered were:
· Believing in Christ (faith)
· Developing a relationship with Christ in prayer
· Forgiving (and being forgiven) by others
· Giving (developing our life in Christ through stewardship)
Today’s theme is serving as a slave. Within the Bible’s 1200 chapters, there are more than 1450 references to the word “servant” or “serve”. Something which is mentioned that often demands our attention.
Let’s look at developing our lives of discipleship through serving as a slave. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking…wasn’t slavery outlawed? Well, yes, of course it is outlawed to make someone else a slave to anyone. But, in discipleship, becoming God’s servant is something for which we volunteer; we choose to be slaves of God.
There are three words in the language of the New Testament that are used to describe serving. These ancient Greek words, from “weakest to strongest” (from a Christian perspective), are latreuo, diakonos and doulos, forming a progression of relationship to Jesus.
The weakest relationship is that of legalities. The word , "latreuo" (latreuo) is translated "minister" in many cases, and it speaks of the one who is hired to perform a service. Many people see their relationship to God as dutiful, paying an obligation, or a legal responsibility to "worship" God. This is weak in thinking and theology. If God wanted people who were going to "pay Him back" he surely would look elsewhere. How can you repay the cross?
The next strongest relationship is the diakonos (diakonos), or “friendly host” to Jesus. We get our word “deacon” from this word. It describes the one who follows after Jesus to be a heartfelt lover of the Lord. Today there are many in our society who love the idea of "doing something for Jesus." They go to church, give, and serve on committees and boards. It is a nice picture of nice people doing nice things in a nice way. As long as everything stays "nice," everything will be "nice." However, we know that this isn't a nice world. It is a world touched, gripped and ripped by sin. Not everything in the church, home or public place will be nice and ideal.
The third word is doulos (doulos), or "slave." This is the strongest word for relationship to Jesus. It literally means "bondslave," the person who had no choice with his own life. In ancient times a bondslave was committed for life to serve the master of the house.
It requires commitment to give yourself to someone. Paul, James, Peter, John and many early disciples referred to themselves as the bondslaves (doulos) of Christ. This is the strongest word of relationship because it requires the most bridges burned. The latreuo is a hired servant, so he is there for what he'll receive in payment. The diakonos is serving because of favored conditions.
The doulos, because of the cross and God’s mercy and grace, is there to lose himself in life-long, loving disposal to the Master's wishes. Do you see the progression? It goes from receiving wages (weakest relationship) to giving self (strongest relationship).
Now, the essence of our text can be explained in the light of those three words. When Paul said, "...by love serve one another." he used the word "doulos." The relationship is based on giving ourselves to one another – servant/slavehood. He didn't use "latreuo," saying we have an obligation to serve like a hired waiter. He didn't say "diakonos," indicating "hanging-out with the brethren" until the going got rough. He said, "doulos;” we are to be slaves, devoted to each other, even as we claim to be devoted to Christ.
Notice three implications about this:
and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. Mark 10:44 (NRSV)
After I became your pastor, the first time we had a workday here, I showed up in my jeans and sweatshirt. One of the men remarked, Preacher, we don't expect you to do any of the work here. It was a wonderfully affirming word of respect for the office of Pastor; however, there was work to be done, and I am part of the body here.
It is the same with winning souls, visiting the sick and serving the body. Servanthood means you do the work because you are His servant.
36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:36 - 37 (NRSV)
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the true servant of God's will was the man who put aside racial, economic and religious barriers to meet someone's dire need. There are thousands of people in this community who need the ministry of this body.
There was a little boy in the ghetto who was having his faith in God mocked. His companion said, "If God really loves you, why doesn't he take care of you? Why doesn't God tell someone to bring you shoes and a warm coat, and better food?" The lad thought for a moment and then, with tears starting in his eyes, said, "I guess God does tell somebody, but somebody forgets."
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)
There is a beautiful story by Tolstoy about a humble cobbler named Martin. In a dream Jesus speaks to him, saying, "I will soon come to you." "When he woke up in the morning, he was excited. Jesus would pay a visit to him sometime during the day. He swept his shop clean, prepared a delicious meal, and waited for the visit. In the morning a hungry exhausted child came to his shop, so Martin fed her and let her rest for a while. At mid-day an old woman happened by. The woman was cold and shivering. Martin gave her a warm shawl and she went on her way. Late in the afternoon, a barefooted beggar came to his door, and Martin gave him a pair of shoes. But Jesus did not come. When Martin went to bed that night he was disappointed.
That night Jesus once again appeared in a dream to him. Lord, why did you not visit me today? Martin asked in all sincerity. Jesus then replied, Martin, three times I visited you. First as a little child, then as an old woman, and finally as a beggar. When we help a needy person, when we offer food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, we are actually helping Jesus. When we care for the forgotten of our society, as Jesus did, we are actually helping Jesus.
Serve one another?
We can take that to heart in varied ways. We can serve each other like Salome' did for the Baptist, serving his head on a platter. That's the world's way.
We can latreuo one another like hired servants, just doing what we do because it is our duty to do things around the church.
We can diakonos one another like fair weather friends, being nice among the nice as long as everything's nice.
– or –
We can be Biblical slaves, doulos, committed to each other, filled with mercy, meeting needs, doing it with love as unto the Lord.