The little used meaning of bondservant for Christ is one of active choice to lay down self in His service. What this means is that, like Jesus, we must live to serves others. It’s a choice that requires us to count the cost, because it means we live Jesus in all things.
For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5)
Today’s verse presents a two-fold challenge to us as believers – the proverbial ‘double whammy’ that leaves no wiggle room. Paul has a habit of doing that, because his character and his zeal for God would not let him speak in the clichés of comfortable Christianity. He told things as they were and lived them as they were, often to his detriment. It’s this boldness and zeal that God turned from religious fanaticism to a dynamic apostleship ministry. Paul was sold out for God, was wholly committed to God, and entirely surrendered to God. This ‘secret’ empowered his dramatically successful ministry. Even in prison or beaten, Paul was an on-fire bondservant for Jesus. He lived for Christ, the focus and centre of his life. Through all his weaknesses and mistakes described in his letters, Paul held fast to his position in Christ and His role as His bondservant.
What is a bondservant for Jesus?
The old-world understanding of bondservant went beyond simply that of a slave, though different versions of the Bible use the word interchangeably. It had another connotation which provides a far deeper interpretation. There were those who willingly entered into bondservant status and who thereafter lived essentially as slaves with not rights of their own. It was a choice – as opposed to our tradition view of slavery which was enforced through capture and bondage. This required an absolute commitment to live a servant or slave – hence the word ‘bond’ which infers a vow or pledge. While Paul does not discount the practical implications of being a slave – not rights and living to serve the master – this new understanding is very much a part of the relationship he wants to convey. He was a bondservant for Jesus because he made the choice and committed to that kind of relationship.
This means he willingly set aside his own life to live for the ministry he was called to . His slavery was voluntary and he counted the cost and made his choice. He was not captured and forced into the role. His submission did not come as a result of beatings and punishment. His ‘life’ was not taken from him but was willingly yielded up in service to Jesus. The distinction is very important. A slave is given no choice. A bondservant yields as his choice. This is the message Paul has for us in today’s verse. He reminds us very clearly that life in Christ is life for Christ. When we exchange our lives for the life Jesus brings, it is a complete exchange. We no longer live for ourselves but live His life in us. All Jesus is and has is ours but the cost is surrender of self.
A bondservant for Jesus preaches Jesus not self.
Today’s verse opens with a ‘description’ of what sets the bondservant for Jesus apart. The first defining characteristic is that they do not preach self. This is living absolute surrender, a laying down of life with all our personal preferences, desires, goals, and aspirations. When we testify, it’s not to what we did but to what Jesus did in and through us. If we help others, it’s with the frank and honest admission that nothing is of our doing but all His. Self isn’t simply unimportant. It’s absolutely irrelevant. Our desire and pleasure is no longer in self-gratification or self-aggrandizement but in simple obedience to the purposes of God. But remember, it took Paul all of his Christian life to learn this. We learn and mature, and will only ever fully defeat self when we leave this world. But we must make the choice to do so now.
To truly be a bondservant for Jesus, isn’t simply to cease preaching self. We must go further and preach Christ and Christ alone. This is the commandment to all believers to go and preach the Gospel. But we mustn’t forget that the preaching is only part of it. The rest is making disciples and teaching them. In other words, what we preach must be validated by how we live. When people look at us they must see Him – and see Him as Lord of all. Our words and actions often diminish Christ. People see a limited version, coloured by self and shadowed by human frailty. Again, it’s a work God does within us so we cannot boast of it. What this means is that our choice to set self aside must be extended to our willingness to put on Jesus. If we willingly surrender, God will willingly accomplish it.
A bondservant for Jesus lives the servanthood of Christ.
This is the heart of today’s verse. In the last phrase, Paul uses three words, ‘ourselves your bondservants,’ which effectively define the ‘for Jesus’ that follows. What he’s saying is that for Jesus’ sake, we are to yield ourselves willingly as bondservants to others. This is what it is to live as a bondservant for Jesus. To grasp this, we must remember that He came as a suffering servant. He yielded glory and majesty in exchange for human frailty and suffering. He did this for mankind. His life was laid down so that all men might live. He came as a bondservant to the entire human race. As His followers, our purpose is to live His purpose, to continue His ministry on earth until we are called home. If we choose the life of Christ in us, we choose the suffering Servant as well as the conquering King.
Our purpose is not serve those we like or who we feel ‘deserve’ it. We must serve where He sends us. His message is for all, not some, as much for those who hunger and thirst as for those who oppose it. A bondservant for Jesus has no preference and no safety net to fall back on. We must live in simple obedience, set self aside, and preach Jesus by words and actions. It’s easy, when looking beyond ourselves, to forget that God so loved the world. That has never changed, nor will it. If we want to hold on to the assurance of God’s love for ourselves, we have to accept that we must reveal it to others. This will challenge self on a level that is raw and often impossible. That’s why we do it for Jesus. We cannot do it ourselves, but He in us can.
A bondservant for Jesus is a conscious choice.
I often look at Paul and, like many of his contemporaries, wonder at the change that God worked in him. He was transformed from a religious zealot who persecuted Christians to a bold, obedient bondservant for Jesus. The fact is that Paul did not have to obey. He was a young man who was highly respected by the religious leaders of the day and was set to move swiftly up the ranks. From a wealthy family, he had a brilliant future ahead of him. Yet this man chose, deliberately, to yield himself as a bondservant to his Lord. We can desire on some level to serve Him and even be earnest about it. In reality, though, it’s often more a case of desiring to desire to serve. We look at those early apostles and have a yearning to live like them with the same boldness and fire for God.
Many believers will go through life never seeing that longing come to fruition because we never made the choice. A bondservant for Jesus must weigh the cost and step forward in faith, knowing that from that moment on, Christ is the only way forward. Self will intrude, but once we are yielded, Jesus will begin to live His life and ministry through us in a way that makes servanthood pure joy.
Sweet Saviour, help us, like Paul, to make the right choice to yield ourselves as Your bondservants. Stir up Your infinite love within us so we can reach to others. Help us to preach You alone and to live Your purpose that You may be manifest as glorious Lord, our Master and King.