4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
5 Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,
6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.
7 Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.
Susan Cain writes in her book “Quiet”, that in the early 1900s we shifted from an age of character to an age of personality. It takes time to get to know someone’s character and understand their heart. I’ve found that those who inspire me are either authentically thankful people, or they demonstrate their genuine love for Jesus and desire to serve him with their lives.
Recently, I learned of a common misunderstanding in scripture from Pastor Dave Love (Calvary Castle Rock). This misunderstanding comes from a poor translation of Hebrew into English. The context is that the Hebrew people were in slavery in Egypt for 400 years and that Moses was to be their ambassador for God’s deliverance. Moses is instructed to speak the following to Pharaoh:
16 Tell him: Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to tell you: Let My people go, so that they may worship Me in the wilderness, but so far you have not listened.
The word poorly translated as “worship” numerous times in the book of Exodus does not mean to worship, but rather comes from the Hebrew word “avad” meaning to “serve“ [H5647]. The word has common undertones of bond-service and a master/slave relationship, including the ear as a symbol of their allegiance. The picture of a bond-slave was given right after the commandments were given to the Israelites in Exodus 21, which I believe emphasizes their importance (i.e. now that I’ve set you free, this is the kind of relationship I want with you). However, the heart of the instructions come out more clearly in Deuteronomy.
12 “If your fellow Hebrew, a man or woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, you must set him free in the seventh year.
13 When you set him free, do not send him away empty-handed.
14 Give generously to him from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. You are to give him whatever the LORD your God has blessed you with.
15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you; that is why I am giving you this command today.
16 But if your slave says to you, ‘I don’t want to leave you,’ because he loves you and your family, and is well off with you,
17 take an awl and pierce through his ear into the door, and he will become your slave for life. Also treat your female slave the same way.
What was offered to the Hebrew in trouble and what is offered to us is this: You have tried to go it alone, but are not doing very well. Do you trust me to take better care of you as your master than you can do for yourself? This is what God offered the Hebrew people after setting them free from slavery in Egypt (the world). The same offer is given to us.
I can set you free from your slavery to sin and the world (Egypt). I can give you a better life, although the way may not always be easy. Do you trust me to be your master (Father) and provide for your needs? If you have seen my goodness, will you trust me to care for you? Will you pledge your allegiance to me? Will you try to do what pleases me (serve)?
I get it. If we haven’t seen the goodness of God due to life circumstances, we may not be ready to trust (Exodus 6:9). Recently, God did a miraculous change in my heart and marriage, which has given me hope for the future. Before this, I didn’t have this hope as an anchor for my soul. If God can heal my heart and enable me to love, He can do anything.
In our self-sufficient culture, the term slave is foreign to us, and yet affects us all with the choices we make on a moment by moment basis.
16 Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey – either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?
17 But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were transferred to,
18 and having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.
The point of this article is not merely about choices and serving, but rather that out of love and gratitude, we can give or serve cheerfully. We can look at the character and the heart of Ruth in scripture as an example.
11 Boaz answered her, “Everything you have done for your mother-in-law since your husband’s death has been fully reported to me: how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth, and how you came to a people you didn’t previously know.
12 May the LORD reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”
13 “My lord,” she said, “you have been so kind to me, for you have comforted and encouraged your slave, although I am not like one of your female servants.”
Peter after his restoration, James, and Jude all called themselves slaves to Christ. Peter eventually recognized that it wasn’t about his efforts but trusting God to do what only He can do. Peter learned to trust.
Going back to our original text, Jesus took the form of the lowest slave in the household when he offered to wash his disciples’ feet. The servants with the better positions would do things like prepare food and serve the master’s immediate needs. The doorman would be responsible for cleaning the feet of the “important people” who got dirty with dust and the dung of walking in this world. A lot of people don’t recognize that Jesus laid down His right to be God and God-like when He walked this earth. He wasn’t omniscient, wasn’t omnipotent, and wasn’t omnipresent. Even more importantly, he didn’t come to be served, but came to serve, which isn’t very God-like at all.
Jesus modeled a new concept of what God is like. That God is love. That God came to serve the needs of people out of love. I told some friends of mine recently, that if I get to the end of my life and I am all alone and have failed to love, I have failed at life. My life would be nothing more than a clanging gong. A number of prophetic messengers have said that there is only one question that will matter in eternity, “did you learn to love?”
Serving is a picture of love.