I am a white, male, American, born into a lower working-class family. I’ve had to work hard all my life and was blessed to have the strength and stamina to do it. I grew up believing that if I “went to college” I would have a better income and lifestyle.
So that’s what I did, I went to college, earned a BS in business administration. I felt an obligation to my country. So, I joined the U.S. Navy and served for almost 5 years. During that time for a variety of reasons, my values and priorities changed. With the young family, I entered seminary to prepare for a life of Christian service.
During those years, I was privileged to work for a company which was influenced by Christian principles. They treated their workers well and at the same time expected good work and loyalty. At the time, however, it often seemed like slavery, at least to me!
Let me explain. I worked in the meat processing plant for 5 years; following graduation my job continued to be the processing of meat for sausage, cold cuts and especially hotdogs. A typical workday started at 5 AM. We worked until the orders were finished, usually about 4 or 4:30 PM. Our working conditions were great. I worked in a climate controlled area. The main work room was held at about 34 to 37°F while the cold room was -20°F. I shoveled meat for about 12 hours a day. For the most part, I was very grateful and enjoyed it, although it was hard work.
After doing this for 5 years and having earned a Masters degree, I was anxious to begin my service to a local church. By then, I had followed my convictions and joined a conservative Presbyterian Church and was seeking to obtain my credentials for ministry. I was fortunate to be able to continue in my job in the meatpacking plant to provide for my family.
One morning, however, after a particularly demanding and seemingly demeaning week, further compounded by a few disappointments regarding ministry pursuits, I remember being particularly angry and upset. Feeling sorry for myself, I began the mundane yet physically demanding work at the packing plant. I was getting 400 pounds of ice from an automatic ice maker which was jammed. This happened often and there was a long metal probe used to disengage the compacted ice. I began thrusting it into the blockage and suddenly it gave way. My right hand smashed into the ice shoot; my knuckle was cut to the joint. Blood gushed out everywhere.
This was a good time for me to continue the theme I had been rehearsing in my head. “Look at me in this lousy job. You could train a monkey to do this job. (Poor me!) Why am I doing this? I have a college degree in business… I have a Masters degree… I should not be doing work like this. (Poor me!) I’m just like a slave to this company. They tell me when to work. They tell me when to quit. Their demands control my whole life!”
Suddenly, I realized that I was angry – very angry and angry at God! When I realized this, I recognized the foolishness of my feelings. First, I had entered seminary promising God that I would serve him doing anything, anytime, and anywhere. I needed to do good on my promise. Further, it occurred to me how foolish it would be to go one-on-one against God. I also realized that as a Christian I was not my own, but bought with a price – the precious blood of Christ.
My perspective changed! I confessed my self-pity and began to learn a lesson that I would need to relearn again and again. I am the Lord’s servant. Jesus bought me; I belong to him! He is my master. I am his servant.
In my studies and personal Bible reading, I began to notice that this is a major theme in the New Testament. The term servant reflects not only the servant/master relationship in which all believers stand with God but also their privileged position as God’s servants.
Jesus put it this way: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” (John 15:20, ESV)
The Apostle Paul delighted to refer to himself as “bond slave.” This self-description became a title of honor as he progressed in his maturity and ministry. Along with the other apostles, he recognized that Jesus was the “servant of the Lord” by whose wounds we are healed. Peter wrote this of the servant: he bore our sins in his body on the tree.
So, looking at our situations through the lens of the Bible, Christians, who know that God controls all things, can recognize themselves as God slaves, whose heritage of slavery can be traced back to the apostles, to Jesus, the suffering servant promised in the OT.
This is a difficult, yet very practical lesson. The Lord is our master and we are his servants. Looked at another way you could say that there is a God and he’s not me!
A lot of people want to serve the Lord – mostly as advisors. But God’s children are not only in the servant/master relationship with God but also enjoy a privileged position as God’s servants.