What does it mean to be free? In our minds, or at least in my mind, we tend to hang onto the idea that if we decide not to be a slave to righteousness, we’ve actually made the right call, we’ve freed ourselves to do what we want in every way. But this isn’t the case. Throughout the gospels, Jesus raises the truth about our slavery: we are always a slave to something or someone. We’re either a slave to God, or a slave to ‘sin, the world, and the devil’. The Bible makes it clear: it’s not a choice between slavery and freedom; it’s a choice between freeing slavery and condemning slavery.
This idea of inevitable slavery, which drives chapters 12 and 13 of Serving Without Sinking, is summed up most simply as we are taken to Matthew 6:24, in which Jesus proclaims “You cannot serve both God and Money.” There’s no implication of being free from slavery entirely, but that one will always master you.
You could be feeling weighed down by all of this slavery talk, but slavery to Jesus is in no way to be seen as a burdensome alternative to a freedom that we’ll never reach. Remember those identity factors from last week’s chapters? Being served by Jesus, as well as a friend, son and bride are the lenses through which we see our service.
The character of our master makes a world of difference to our experience of serving him. Have you ever had a great boss at work? Someone who showed kindness and generosity to their workers? God’s character as the master who himself sacrifices and serves means that serving needn’t be burdensome. We don’t have a harsh master who cares for his own gains only, but a gentle one who cares so much for our good that He made the world’s greatest sacrifice for us.
As I read these chapters I was led to consider just what a gift it is to be freed from the toxic mastery that our idols leverage over us. As Hindley points out, “If we’re all slaves, how can we be free? Only by being slaves to a master who offers us freedom.” No beauty, wealth, popularity, perfection or achievement that I am tempted to chase after will really hold any genuine or lasting satisfaction. It is Jesus who holds out living water that liberates us from the grip of slavery to meaningless idols.
But perhaps as you read these chapters, you recognised that actually, in some areas of service you are really sinking. What will you do about this? Perhaps it's worth a conversation with your pastor, or training someone to take on one of your roles, all in the name of preserving the joy that can be found in serving.
Going forward in light of these chapters, I’m hoping to go to God with two different issues. First, I’ve seen that I need to turn from idols. Which is inevitably not going to be a one-time thing. I pray that when I slip, God will enable me to turn back to him, treating idols as the dangerous unit that they are, choosing to be mastered by God and nothing else.
The second consequence of all this, means I hope God continually enables me to be honest with myself about my attitude to serving and what kind of servant I am living as. Hindley helpfully challenges us in this by the poetic comparison he draws to the prodigal son and his elder brother. The author imagines up the scene that follows Jesus’ parable. The younger brother, knowing his need for redemption and his rightful place under the loving rule of his father, goes about serving with a smile, joyful to be the recipient of such generosity. But we’re not sure that the elder brother sees himself in the same light. The elder brother is marked by entitlement to everything the father gives him, so does he smile in his service? Is he joyful, or a harbour of resentment? We need to be honest with ourselves and refocus our understanding of Jesus if we think we might be the type of servant more like the elder brother.
At the end of the day, we are encouraged that Christian service is to be an easy yoke, a joy that brings a smile to our face, because of the huge gift it is to serve God, the Father who has been more generous than I could ever fathom.