One of my favorite songs is based on a stipulation in the Law of Moses found in Exodus 21. It is a provision for the release of slaves. In order to pay off debts a person could sell himself into slavery, but after seven years he had to be released: no one could be forced to be a slave for life. However, if the slave, for whatever reason, freely decided to remain a slave he would go to the doorpost of his master’s house, where his master would take an awl and hammer it through the slave’s earlobe, piercing his ear against the doorpost. This would solemnize his vow to be a slave for life. Sounds crazy doesn’t it?
You think that sounds crazy? Now imagine a group of people whose identity was formed after experiencing centuries of slavery. Every year they celebrate their release from slavery with a week of festivities. Imagine a group of people whose fondest dream is liberty, who at the present time are living in occupied territory, and who are required to pay taxes to a government they do not support. Now, imagine someone tells them—“You want to be great? Become a slave.” Crazy? Yet this is what Jesus tells his followers time and again.
This can be difficult to understand. We sing Give Me The Heart Of A Servant and perhaps we imagine some romantic figure being nice to people—perhaps going to some inner city and demonstrating that they have something others don’t have (that can be condescending, can't it?). Maybe we think of servant in the sense of the paid servant who still has rights and can quit when he or she wants. But do we think of slave? This is a person who has absolutely no rights. This is a person who is never the recipient of service—only the giver of service.
This is hard because we have been raised to think in terms of self-esteem, pride, individual rights, liberty and strength—these are virtues in America. How can I make a case for becoming a slave? And I want you to notice, this is not merely being a slave to God—Jesus said: Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— What does this mean?
During the past three weeks we’ve noted being a slave is directly tied to the word humility. The key, of course is found in Philippians 2:5-11—Jesus is the demonstration of humility. But to what point? How do we integrate the humility of Jesus into our own lives? Paul tells us in the verses that run up to Philippians 2:5: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…
To be called to slavery is to be called to humility. You realize you have nothing over anyone as far as personal worth. The person who has no social skills, person you disdain, dislike, the person who irritates you; that person is just as precious to God. We put aside our own self-interests to care for their interests. We give up our own personal rights and agendas. We give up our efforts to be served by others. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. Ultimately, humility involves loving people and dying to my own desires in order to care for them: because that’s what Jesus did. Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus…
To embrace the attitude of humility is to give up the will to power. As we discussed last week, it is power that so many of us want. Power is why so many wounded people have abandoned following Christ. They looked to people who claimed to follow Jesus for help, hope, and love only to be crushed by the same people wrapped up in ego and power trips.
I think it is significant that Christianity is packaged in three metaphors—two of which are ritual practices within the church. The three metaphors are: cross, baptism, and supper.
On the cross, Jesus gave up the right to force us to follow him. He gave up the power to rescue him self and the power to punish those who so unfairly hurt him.
Similarly, in baptism, those who choose to follow the way of the cross intentionally assume a position of helplessness as they are lowered into water and then pulled back up. Paul says this is a metaphoric way of doing what Jesus did on the cross—dying to self, being buried and being resurrected. To choose to go through such a ritual is something that takes humility. We’d much prefer to do something in our heads, something we can do silently, or by ourselves—not something that makes us look helpless!
The Lord’s Supper that we take is a ritual meal that reminds us every week of the cross and that we are a community of the cross. It reminds us that we have agreed to love each other and be united with each other because of what Jesus did on the cross.
These three metaphors remind us that we are called to be slaves; not only of God, but of each other.
Am I developing the heart of a slave? How can I tell? Let's ask ourselves a few questions: How do you act when people treat you like a slave? Slaves don’t get credit. So, when I don’t get the credit, when my name is left out, when people don’t recognize all the hard work I do; do I get upset?
How do I react when a decision is made that I disagree with: Especially when I feel strongly about my opinion? Do I boycott? Do I complain whenever I get the chance? Or do I support the decision as if it were my idea?
How do I react when I am held accountable—when I am challenged? Do I become defensive? Do I become resentful and attack? Or do I listen and seriously consider the critique?
How do I view people I dislike? Do I exhibit an air of superiority? Do I hold grudges and constantly talk about that person? Or do I do what I can to lift that person up and serve him?
How much am I willing to give up in order to help others? Will I put aside my comfort and my leisure, and my rights in order to do something for others?
It’s really a crazy idea—but Jesus calls us to slavery. It’s not forced slavery, though. We can choose. If we choose to follow him, we choose to serve others. We choose the way of humility over the way of power. Jesus doesn’t call us to a literal doorpost to have our ears pierced for him. He calls us symbolically do what he did on the cross through baptism and then, rising out of that water, He calls us voluntarily to embrace the life of slavery for others.
So may we choose the way of humility over the will to power. May we go to the door of Jesus to be pierced for him. May we give ourselves up to be slaves—embracing the attitude of Jesus: looking out for the best interests of others rather than our own. Pierce my ear, O Lord my God! Lead me to your door this day. For I will serve no other God. Lord I'm here to stay!