Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 5/21/06
"For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ" (I Cor. 7:22).
The Saints at Medicalodge enjoy singing the chorus, "We are free in Him; we are free in Him, and no one can take it away." Paul's declaration of freedom in Gal. 5:1, rings like a clarion call to all who have been delivered from bondage: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." There is a seeming contradiction between this verse and the one in I Cor. 7:22, where the Apostle refers to us as "a slave of Christ." So are we free or a slave? And if we're a slave, does that mean we are servants of God, or are we sons?
I have noticed that those who still operate under Law, serving God by keeping rules, rather than walking by the Spirit, often refer to themselves as servants rather than sons. By the way, "sons" is NOT gender specific, but includes all whom God has called His children. The Hebrew writer clarifies the difference between "servant" and "son": "Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house" (Heb. 3:5-6). God used Moses to establish the Old Covenant, the Law, with the children of Israel. As a servant of God, Moses did as he was told (most of the time), and obeyed the orders of His Commander in Chief. Christ became flesh and dwelt among us as the Son of the Most High. He said of Himself that He did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19, 30), and said what He heard the Father say (John 12:49-50), but unlike Moses, Christ was an equal with God (Phil. 2:6), for "It is in him that God gives a full and complete expression of himself in bodily form" (Col. 2:9, Phillips).
The only way we can "qualify" as His sons is that God Himself called us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). He has made us heirs and joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17), so that our inheritance lies not in worldly goods and possessions, but in Christ himself. Because we are in Christ, we are Abraham's offspring, making us heirs to all the promises God made to the Patriarch (Gal. 3:29). How can that be? "As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He (Abraham) is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed, the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were" (Rom. 4:17).
To understand how these glorious affirmations of who we are in Christ can be reconciled with Paul's statement that we are a "slave of Christ" ("bond slave" in some translations). We need to understand that here again, the statement was written as a metaphor, a symbol. Taking it literally makes no sense to us in 2006.
Things in the kingdom of God are often not what they appear to be, as many are finding out today. We hear from folks who are going through terrible trials, testing and stripping of all they hold dear. I empathize with them for Lenny and I have been through the process. While the fires are burning off the dross, our flesh cries out for deliverance, but by the Spirit, we know that whatever we're suffering is but a momentary affliction, which is working for us an eternal weight of glory (II Cor. 4:16-18). It is very easy for us to get caught up in things of the world, material possessions, and even being so busy working for God that we don't have time for God. He has a way of bringing us back to basics, of showing us what's really important. Because He created us as unique individuals, no one of us can decide how anyone else should live their lives. Only God has the right to decide what's important for each of us.
There are several "movements" out there in the church world, in which the religious organization is set up to provide "guidance" (read controller), for each member in the form of a shepherd, as some call them, or overseer. How it works is simple but nauseating in the extreme. Each member of the church must check in with his shepherd or whatever the title is, on a daily basis. No decisions can be made by the person alone. He must submit his desires and plans to the church leadership for approval, and this includes things like where he works, where he goes to school, how he spends his money, how much he gives to church (well, that's no surprise), who he can marry, what leisure time activities the family can enjoy, and on it goes. Lenny and I encountered a small group from one of these shepherding movements while we were still in Real Estate. I have never seen such controlling people. Their leader came over to our house, sat at our kitchen table (from which all the problems of the world were solved), and invited us to join their group. I looked him square in the eyes and said, "No man who ever lived qualifies to be my shepherd. Only Jesus Christ has that title." He went away shaking his head at my obstinate refusal to listen to him.
We all love freedom. We crave it and need it like oxygen and water to flourish and live, and yet after affirming our freedom, Paul said that we are a "slave to Christ." Whatever can this mean when Paul himself said we are free and should not allow ourselves to be yoked again in bondage to slavery? Some of the e-mails we had this week from folks who are facing serious life changing problems hold a clue. We all have ties that bind us: including family, finances, church, health issues, and neurotic stuff which keep us shackled and immobilized. As soon as something goes wrong in our physical world, well meaning friends and family, church members and others come along to tell us what we've done wrong and what we must do now. Job encountered this in spades, though as Jeri Fox once observed, at least his "comforters" kept silent for seven days, just sitting there with him empathizing with his suffering (Job 2:13). Most of our so called comforters cannot keep silent for seven minutes, let alone seven days, without trying to fix what they perceive is wrong with us.
Something must be wrong, they think, if we are not flourishing. This is a prime tenant of several major Televangelists today. "Give your seed money to the ministry" they suggest, "and God will richly bless you for it." If you're losing your shirt, and take this advice seriously, you are doubly under the pile, for not only can you not afford to pay your bills, but you have nothing to give as seed money either, or if you do have a pittance, and give it to the charming "talking heads" on TV, you can't eat or pay the rent afterward. Now, I would suppose that no one blames the Katrina survivors for the horrific losses they suffered, but when you have a large financial loss like Lenny and I did, believe me, there were hints that we were to blame, and many suggestions about what we should do to turn our fortunes around. As I recall, these included the idea that it happened because we were poor money managers; we were not tithing to a church; we were not praying with enough power (though how that could be determined wasn't clear); and we were not "right with God." All this comes from the Law, of course, specifically from Deuteronomy, Chapter 28, in which you'll find the blessings of keeping the Law, and oh horrors, the curses in such lurid detail that you cringe at what would befall the one who failed to keep it.
When disaster rains on your head, you are tempted to think these tried and true axioms are correct, UNTIL God's grace opens your eyes to see that there is only ONE with whom we have to do, and "HE works all things after the counsel of HIS OWN WILL" (Eph. 1:11). Once the truth of that statement washes over your parched soul, you begin to get it. You see it, and finally, you have the strength to say it, even as Job said it, "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job. 42:5-6). All of us have heard ABOUT God from going to church, from parents, and from reading about Him in the Bible. Job was no exception. He was a very religious man. Not only that, but his three churchy friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had been pounding him with their righteous sounding platitudes for days, we're not told how many, all of which left him under the pile, in bad physical and emotional pain, feeling rejected, dejected and denounced by man and God alike.
Along came God and spoke to him from the whirlwind. I always thought that was merely a beautiful poetic metaphor until we went through our time in the fiery furnace, and I can tell you without doubt that when you are in it, it feels like a whirlwind has blown through your life, tossing everything you own upside down and inside out, leaving you sitting on the dust heap of what once was your pride and joy. When Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast and we witnessed in awe struck horror the unbelievable devastation, I knew that God did it, and I had a good idea how they felt emotionally, and best of all, I knew that He meant it to them for their good and His glory, ultimately. God does not live on our time table. He knows the end from the beginning, and we can be assured that He knew each person and their loss, and He knew what He was going to do about it.
Religious platitudes don't help at all when your life is blown away. Great sounding advice like "Live in the moment," and "Praise God in all things," are hollow statements when you are standing knee deep in rubble. Only the infinite power and grace and unconditional love of Almighty God dwelling within you can bring you through the terror, the depression, the fear for tomorrow that people experience in such a crisis. Katrina victims lost everything in the twinkling of an eye. Lenny and I had months, rather than days, to comprehend what was happening to us, but still, loss is loss, and the feelings about it are sometimes overwhelming. The "mantra" which came to me when people were wringing their hands over us was, "God is in charge and He is not out to kill us. This will work out for our good and His glory," and so it has.
Those words came not from my mind, but from deep within my spirit, and I believe it is because by this time in our lives, we really were "bond slaves to Christ." As Job repented (changed his mind), so did we change our minds about who we were and who God was in the midst of it all. "Bond slave" is a term not used anymore, and not a very attractive term at that, but what it means is that we are inexorably linked or "chained" to God. We know that absolutely everything comes to us from His hand, that His will is always done in our lives and He will bring out of the loss and heartache something wonderful, something good, something that before the disaster happened, we could never have understood.
"Bond slave to Christ" has an odious connotation, and in this part of the country, conjures up women who are attired only in dresses, not slacks, wear their hair in buns, no makeup, and who live their lives in the confines of a legalistic religion where there is no freedom. Well, here's a news flash, there really is no freedom in Christ, not in the sense that we usually think of freedom, i.e., the ability to do anything we want to do. I am reminded of the dismay about the results of the recent Palestinian election, touted to be a free and democratic process, where they voted into office the terrorist group Hamas. That's the kind of freedom that man offers, the ability to do anything you want no matter who it hurts, and this is why some Christians go ballistic at the thought that everyone will be saved, for they think this means, they can then do anything they please, no matter how sinful. Christ freed us when He severed the ties which bound us to law and death, nailing them to the cross (Col. 2:14). Now, we are bound to him as bond slaves, a process which brought us out of darkness, into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Because we feel that freedom, taste it, smell it and touch it every second of our lives, He gives us the desire to DO and to BE His will, not because we FEAR hell, but because we LOVE Him!
There's a beautiful picture of this found in an interesting provision in the Law, which allowed a man to sell himself to another in order to pay his debt. After all, there were no lending institutions, welfare or other government agencies from whence to get help. If a man sold himself to another, the term of service was six years, and in the seventh year, the person must be set free. He was not to be sent away empty handed but was to be given liberal supplies from the master's flock, threshing floor and winepress. If, however, he loved his master and did not want to leave because he was treated well, the law provided this ritual: "Then 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" (Deut. 15:17).
I believe what the Psalmist wrote about this ritual perfectly defines "bond slave for Christ": "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require... I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart" (Ps. 40: 6,8). Clearly, the Psalmist was a bond slave to God. Christ has freed us from the ties which bind us, saying that we are no longer servants, but friends (John 15:15). A servant does his master's bidding without knowing the plan. He receives a wage for his service. When we realize what it means that we are sons of God, we willingly exchange our will for His will. The ties which bind us to God will never be broken; He will never leave us nor forsake us, nor could we ever leave or forsake Him either. "Bond slave" implies indentured servant, one who is bound for life, a good metaphor for our relationship to God, for neither life nor death, nor angels nor demons shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Father, we thank You and praise You for calling us out of darkness and into the marvelous Light of Your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. We are the jewels in Your crown, Your inheritance, Your handiwork from beginning to end. We give You glory, laud and honor, now and forever. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 05/18/06,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 10/06/08.