Divine Slavery

-A Slave Of Christ Jesus

The Apostle Paul introduces himself, in his letter to the Church of Rome, with these words, “Paul, a SLAVE of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news” (Romans 1:1) I respect the editors of the Holman translation of Scripture for their decision to use the word “SLAVE”. Many translations have chosen to use “servant” or “bondservant” instead of “slave” out of respect for our human brothers and sisters that have been, and continue to be, subjected to the inhumane cruelty and bondage of human slavery.  But, here’s the fact – that word in the original Greek language is “doulos” and it means “slave”! So, if we believe the Scriptures are the inerrant, inspired Word of God (and I do!) then we’re left with the cold, hard truth that the Holy Spirit of God inspired Paul to use the word “slave”.

-Moved By The Holy Spirit

It was NOT Paul’s choice! He was moved by the Spirit of God to use that exact word – for a purpose! A “slave” – in the Roman world – was “owned”! A slave was purchased, “bought with a price”! They received no wages for their efforts; and, didn’t have any rights of their own. They were the personal property of the slave owner.  A “servant”, on the other hand, had rights – they were free to quit; and, they were compensated for their work. They belonged to no one! So, I was meditating on Paul’s words to the Church of Corinth, “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) While he doesn’t use the word “slave” (“doulos”) he does use descriptive phrases that define slavery – “you are not your own” “you were bought at a price.”

-I Am Not My Own

Now, it’s not like I’ve never thought about this before! It’s not like I haven’t preached this passage before – probably numerous times! But, I grasped its meaning in a whole new way – I had an “epiphany”! I am God’s “slave”! I was “purchased” by the blood of Jesus Christ – “bought at a price”! I am not my own! Everything that I tend to see as “mine” is not mine! It all belongs to Jesus – because He bought me! If I live my life as an “owner” of my life then I’m NOT HIS! I can’t have it both ways – I’m either “free” to live as “owner” of my life & with the consequences of that decision! (Not really! Sin is the ultimate cruel taskmaster!) Or, I’m a “slave” to God!

-Does God Approve Of Human Slavery?

Let’s be real! God opposes every kind of sin against humanity. “Kidnapping” and “slavery” are condemned – “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:16) “If a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel, and he deals with him violently or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 24:7) ‘Nough said? I thought so! So, why does God inspire Paul to use the word “slave” to describe our relationship with Him? I don’t pretend to know all the reasons! But, clearly, God sets Himself apart from mankind that would enslave other humans! He is love! He is benevolent & well-intended toward us! To be a “slave” to Him is to enjoy the BEST LIFE we could ever have – He is not a “killjoy” in the sky trying to spoil our fun! All His commandments are perfect & for our good!

Joy In Our Trials

-Consider It A Great Joy!

In James’ introduction to his epistle, by the same name, the Spirit of God prompts him to write:  “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials” (1:2). Say what? Did he just say that we ought to consider it “joy” whenever we’re facing trials?  Yup, sure did! So, what are some of our natural responses to difficulties and problems? Not very joyful are they? Because of our sinful flesh, our natural response is never going to please God, is it? Our flesh always wants to please our flesh. A spiritual response of “joy” is counter-intuitive for us! It’s NOT natural! It’s God’s work in us!

-An Unavoidable Situation

That phrase, “…whenever you experience various trials…” is interesting.  It literally means that it’s an “unavoidable” situation! It’s not “IF” you will experience trials; but, “WHEN.” In other words, you cannot prevent it! You cannot control the various trials of life. I fear that some of you have gone through life feeling a great sense of guilt. You’ve convinced yourself that the reason you’ve had that crisis in your life is that you’ve done something wrong, and God is getting back at you for it! That He’s out to get you! That’s not the case! That’s not the loving, gracious, merciful God who eagerly forgives our sin when we confess it; and cleanses us for our unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-10). When James uses the word “consider” in that verse, he means for us to make a conscious commitment. We have to make a conscious commitment that whenever trials or tests or troubles come that we’re going to count it “joy” because it means that God is working in us! He’s using us for His purposes!

-God Puts You On Display!

If this becomes a struggle for you, let me offer you some Scripture to put to memory! When you memorize Scripture, you give God’s Holy Spirit the tools He uses to strengthen your faith and correct your walk with God! The Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the Church of Corinth:  “But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:14-15).  God uses the tests & trials in your life to put you on display! “Here’s Jesus in the flesh,” He tells the unbelieving world. He’s announcing to everyone around you! He wants to show the world, by your response to the testing, that Jesus is more valuable to you than a perfect life without struggles; that you still pursue Him despite your trials! 

-Spiritual Maturity!

James is teaching his readers to let God use the testing to produce spiritual maturity in their life. It’s “…the testing of your faith…” he says in v.3 that produces “endurance.” One of our former members, who’s moved away, runs marathons. A marathon is 26.2 miles. He didn’t just start running marathons one day. In fact, if you ask him how far he could run when he started, he’d tell you he wasn’t able to get past the 1-mile mark. But, he kept running, stretching it out to 5 miles; then 10, 15, and 20. Until he could endure 26.2 miles. That’s what the testing of our faith produces is endurance, James says. When you’re a new believer you get tripped up easily over every little test in life. But, God uses it to build spiritual endurance in us! That’s why we consider it joy! We don’t consider it joy because we enjoy the trials. Rather, we face the trials with a joyful heart because we know that God is using those things to produce spiritual endurance in us. It’s God’s work in us! So, what James is calling for here will require that we crucify our flesh!

The Testing Of Your Faith

-A Terrible Secret!

The daughter of missionaries, to the Congo Republic, told the story of her participation in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1st missionaries coming to that part of Africa. It was a huge celebration to commemorate the lasting impact of the work of those original missionaries. Special speakers were invited. There was lots of special worship music, festive meals, and many other planned activities.  At one point, she said that an aged native came forward & introduced himself as the last person alive who was privy to a terrible secret.

-They Tested Their Sincerity!

The old man confessed that 100 years earlier, his ancestors didn’t know whether to believe the message those 1st missionaries brought. So, to test the sincerity of the missionaries, they devised a plan. Slowly, secretly, and systematically they began poisoning the missionaries. Then, they watched intently as mothers said goodbye to children; husbands said goodbye to their wives, and friends said goodbye to one another. The old man explained that it was only as they saw how the missionaries died, that the truth of their message was confirmed. As a result, many came to believe & embrace the gospel message!

-A Faith That Remained Firm!

They observed a faith that remained as firm in death, as it was in life. It’s in James, chapter 1, where the writer— James; Jesus 1/2 brother— began his epistle like this:  “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: To the 12 tribes which are scattered abroad…” Let me tell you why that introduction is significant. He’s writing to Jewish followers of Jesus Christ who have been “dispersed” or scattered in persecution for their faith. James’ purpose, for writing this letter, was to encourage them & offer them a basis & a reason for their suffering! To teach them that their pain was not pointless! That God had a purpose for it!

-On Display In An Unbelieving World!

And, part of His purpose for the pain & the suffering & the setbacks we endure, is to put us on display in an unbelieving world. The genuineness & quality of our faith is most visible & apparent during times of intense pain and testing. In other words, the gospel is seen most plainly & Jesus is seen as most valuable when we continue to pursue Him even during life’s trials & tests. Jesus’ ministry was authenticated, in part, by His response to betrayal, to false testimony & to His unlawful death. And, because He did not condemn them; but, said “Father, forgive them”, we see centurions & soldiers & many of the priests (who approved of His crucifixion) coming to believe in Him!

-Jesus In The Flesh!

There are people all around us who need to see Jesus in the flesh before they’ll believe! Like the 1st believers in the Congo, they need to see our response to pain, suffering & setbacks before they’ll come to faith and believe in the Jesus you say you believe in. James continued from his opening sentence with these words: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4) I sense a storm brewing in our land! Don’t you? We might be closing in on a day when it’s against the law to be a Christian! Church, we need to be teaching our children & our grand-children how to live in a culture & environment like the believers of James day lived. I don’t believe we’ve done a very good job of that! We haven’t prepared them! Will you pray for God’s help to do that?

A Relevant Church!

-The Times We Live In!

I find the times we live in, right now, to be incredibly curious times for the church. The numbers are staggering! Between 6,000 and 10,000 churches, in the United States, are closing every year. That means that between 100-200 churches will close this week alone! So, who’s to blame? Many church leaders are trying to convince us that the secular culture & the liberal politics are to blame. But, I don’t believe that! Not for 1 minute do I believe that; and I base that belief on what we see in the book of Acts.

-Outside Forces & Culture!

If outside forces & culture are to blame for the church’s decline, there would be no churches anywhere! The church would have died in the Book of Acts! Yet, the greatest period of church growth began 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection on the Day of Pentecost & it’s recorded, in detail, in the Book of Acts for us! If you read through the Book of Acts, you can’t help but notice how adversarial the culture & the government were toward the church; and, yet, it prospered! Despite persecution that scattered the church; and even the killing of its leaders, the church just blew up with growth!

-New Believers “Multiplied”!

At first, adding new believers to the church by the thousands, but then the number of new followers of Jesus “multiplied” the book of Acts records! Isn’t the contrast interesting? That at a time when the government & culture were antagonistic toward the church, the church just went about her commission to make disciples & grew in unprecedented fashion; but today, many in the evangelical church have become hostile toward politics & the culture, and, we’re shrinking in size and relevance. Just an observation! Not a statement! I’ve mentioned in the past that the only good thing about growing older is the perspective it gives me. I mean no disrespect toward those of you that might be half my age, but I’ve simply had more time to observe how our country & the church have trended!

-The Days Of The “Moral Majority”!

You can read the history, but I lived it! I clearly remember the rise of Jerry Falwell & the Moral Majority in the 1970s. I was a card-carrying member; and I firmly believed that we— the church & the Moral Majority— could change the spiritual trajectory of our nation by voting the right people into office & changing legislation. Like many of my fellow believers, I became politically active. More than once, someone asked me if I would consider running for political office; and I almost did. I watched the church impact the political landscape during the 1980s and much of the 1990,; and we rode that wave into the early 2000s. But if you haven’t noticed, the last 20+ years have not been kind. All that momentum from the 1970s is gone & as the dust continues to settle, here’s what we see— a church that has mostly become irrelevant & a nation that’s become increasingly secular!

-We Quit Making Disciples!

The church in America has mostly become irrelevant because it quit doing what Jesus created it to do! Our sole purpose; our only reason for existence, is for the making of disciples. That’s what we were commissioned to do! If Jesus was about political clout, He had every opportunity to act on it! Israel was ready to make Him king IF He would only throw off the restraints of Rome & lead a rebellion against their occupation. But, that was not the way of His Kingdom! He told His disciples to “…render to Caesar the things that were Caesar’s & to God the things that were God’s…” So, when the church quit making disciples her mission in the 1970s & made politics her Savior, she began to shrink in size & lost whatever “Moral Majority” she might have had. Simply put, we’re in a bad place! There’s only one thing to do! It’s what we always must do when we’re guilty of disobedience! Repent! Judgment must begin at the house of God!

We Observed His Glory!

-That “Ah-Hah”” Moment!

One of my favorite movies is M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller, “The Sixth Sense” because it got me! If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t watched it yet; but, the story is about a troubled boy who believes he sees & speaks with dead people; and, an equally troubled child psychologist, played by Bruce Willis, who tries to help the boy even as he struggles to save his dying marriage. The movie takes several twists & turns; but, the biggest twist takes place at the very end when the truth is revealed to the child psychologist; and, you realize that the whole movie was not at all what it seemed. With that one vital piece of information, every scene, in the movie, is altered! It blew me away! It was that “ah-ha” moment!

-One Vital Piece Of Information!

In so many ways, that illustrates, to me, the way the majority of people, on this planet, live their lives— with one vital piece of information missing! And, that is that the most unique person to ever walk this planet was Jesus Christ; and, that the purpose for His arrival will alter the way you view everything about your life once the truth has been revealed & believed! It’ll be your “ah-ha” moment! Once you understand the implications of who Jesus is, it’ll change how you interpret & understand every event in your life. You’ll even begin to find meaning & purpose in the failures, the pain; and, the suffering in life.

-A Significant Scripture Text!

Chapter 1, of John’s Gospel, is one of the most significant texts of Scripture in the entire Bible. Inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, the Apostle John puts the entire world in its proper perspective in the person of Jesus Christ. If you start reading the Bible from the book of Genesis; and, continue reading through the entire Old Testament, you’re left with the feeling that the story is incomplete. You’re left waiting for the arrival of someone who would set the world right; like, a reboot! God’s Old Testament prophets wrote that a Messiah was coming; and, John’s Gospel announces that He’s here—His name is Jesus!

-So That You May Believe!

And, if you’ll flip ahead to chapter 20, of John’s Gospel, he announces his purpose for writing his Gospel:  “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name” (vs.30-31). John wrote his Gospel by divine inspiration to help people believe in Jesus so that they might have eternal life; so, God intended to use John’s Gospel to awaken faith in you! In essence, Jesus concealed the glory of His fame (that He was, in fact, God!) in the form of an earthly frame— He was a man! Jesus was the God-man!

-A Stunning Revelation!

What John says about Jesus is stunning; and, if it wasn’t factual; if it wasn’t verifiable by hundreds & thousands of witnesses, we would think it was the stuff of science fiction! That it was just a great story! But, when John confronts us with the description of Jesus, we cannot remain ambivalent toward Him. We’re forced to make a decision; because He reveals that Jesus was divine! He was deity! He was God incarnate; which means He was made flesh! John opens his Gospel with these words:  “In the beginning was the Word…” (v.1). Right from the start, we understand that this is no ordinary “Word.” It becomes obvious that the Word is a person; and, “…the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as of the One and Only Son from the Father…” (v.14).  And, even though he doesn’t mention Jesus by name until v.17, it’s clear that the “Word” is Jesus! Come back for more next week!

An Impossible Situation!

-When There’s No Happy Ending!

The Prophet Daniel, in the Old Testament book named after him, shows us how to live faithfully; even when life doesn’t have a happy ending! His country overrun by the brutal King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylon; and, his parents perhaps slain right before his eyes; Daniel, nonetheless, remained faithful! He refused to defile himself by the ungodly culture around him; and, God blessed him for it! The 1st chapter reveals that; after enduring a 3-year period of training intended to indoctrinate him in the ways of the Babylonians, “…no one was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they began to serve in the king’s court. In every matter of wisdom and understanding that the king consulted them about, he found them 10 times better than all the diviner-priests and mediums in his entire kingdom” (1:19-20). 

-Bad Dreams & Insomnia!

The 2nd chapter, of Daniel, opens with a bad dreams; and, a case of insomnia for King Nebuchadnezzar. In v.2, he calls together all his diviner-priests, mediums, and sorcerers; and, gives them an impossible situation— he demands not only the meaning of his dream; but, he also demands that they tell him what he dreamed! Not because he forgot; but, because he was testing them; and, when they couldn’t deliver, he sends an assassin to kill them all.  That’s when God shows us, through Daniel, how to respond to an impossible situation.

-With Tact & Discretion!

The text, v.14, says, “Then Daniel responded with tact and discretion…” as he spoke to the COMMANDER of the king’s guard. In v.16 it says, “…Daniel went and asked the king to give him some time, so that he could give the king the interpretation. Then Daniel went to his house and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah about the matter, urging them to ask the God of heaven for mercy concerning this mystery, so Daniel and his friends would not be killed with the rest of Babylon’s wise men.” Notice that he responded to this impossible situation by taking it to his “faith community”; and, then, praying together until God answered.

-God Is Never Surprised!

It says God, “…revealed the mystery to Daniel in a vision at night.” Daniel shows us how to respond to the impossible situations in life. He lived out his faith— that God was Sovereign! That He was in the details! That He is never surprised! That He’s actually choreographing the impossible situations in life, in time; and, in history for His ultimate purpose! God was revealing Himself to King Nebuchadnezzar! Through Daniel’s story, God shows us how to live a “well done, good & faithful servant” kind of life; even, when the future looks bleak and scary! So, Daniel comes into the king’s presence; and, tells him that God had revealed to him, in his dream, things about the future!

-Give God The Glory!

And, I love Daniel’s humility! He takes no credit; but, he gives God the glory:  “…there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has let King Nebuchadnezzar know what will happen in the last days. Your dream and the visions that came into your mind as you lay in bed were these: Your Majesty, while you were in your bed, thoughts came to your mind about what will happen in the future. The revealer of mysteries has let you know what will happen. As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have more wisdom than anyone living, but in order that the interpretation might be made known to the king & that you may understand the thoughts of your mind” (v.28-30). That’s awesome! “I don’t want you to think that I have the dream & interpretation because I’m smarter than everyone else. This is a God thing, King Nebuchadnezzar! The God of heaven crashed your dreams; and, He’s got big plans to share with you!