22nd August 2020
Our Dear Brethren,
Freedom is something we cherish, something we fight and argue to hold on to. Freedom is such a wonderful blessing. Throughout the world people have different levels of freedom and a certain autonomy within that freedom. Many don't have even the simple freedoms that we cherish so much. Would we be willing to give up our freedom?
The apostle Paul wrote, "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more" (1 Corinthians 9:19).
This seems like a backwards way of thinking. Who would willingly give up their freedom so that others might be made free? Where did this concept come from?
Paul was taught by Jesus Christ, the ultimate servant. Jesus told His disciples that if any of them wanted to be truly great, then they must become a servant.
"'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many'" (Matthew 20:25-28).
We have the same calling: to become servants. Not servants to ourselves, our own selfish ambitions, or to the sinful ways of the world. Firstly we must become servants of our God, only doing what pleases Him with our life. This means we must give up certain freedoms which we might have, at one time, cherished so much. But we cannot stop there, otherwise we haven't yet become like the ultimate servant, Jesus the Christ. We must also, become servants of our fellow man.
In his letter to the congregation in Corinth, Paul expounded on the concept of becoming a servant. He went on to explain that in order to prepare himself for this task he had to become like those around him. In particular he points out that he "became as a Jew," and like those "who are without law." In addition he also "became as weak" in order to serve those who are weak. What did he mean by this? Did he really just try and fit in to whoever was around him, giving in to whatever sin or whim or misguided deeds these others were doing so he could serve them?
Of course we know that wouldn't make sense. We cannot follow after the sins of others just to get close to them. Otherwise we would break the commandments of God ourselves. It doesn't make sense, according the Scripture, to become a sinner so that we might win over those who are sinners. Jesus Himself said, "Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19). What was Paul talking about then?
Salvation, the Church of God, the death of Jesus Christ, the calling by God the Father. It's all about building relationships, being able to relate to others, to get to know them, to love them. Paul was talking about giving up his own will, his own time, his own selfish ambitions, to become a servant to others. He was talking about getting to know others, being able to relate to others, trying to understand other people so he might be able to build a relationship with them.
In order to truly serve another human being, we must first know who they are. We must be willing to see what their struggles are, to find out what their needs are. Paul wrote that he did this "for the gospel's sake" (1 Corinthians 9:23). If we want to take part in spreading the good news of the kingdom of God, and the truth of the death of our Savior so sinners might receive life, we must build relationships with people. We must get to know those around us. Not by taking on their mistakes and sins, but by understanding who they are, what their needs are, and actually building a relationship with them.
It takes giving up what we might think of as freedom so we might become servants. It takes putting ourselves aside so we might become those people who God might be able to use to give hope of life to the people of this world. May God help us to learn to become servants to all.
Our love is with you,
Pastor, United Church of God
NYC, NJ, CT, Malawi, Zimbabwe