Christ as Lord - Ourselves as Servants

"For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants, for Jesus sake" (11 Corinthians 4:5).

These words have deeper meaning because they were spoken by one whose life was consistent with the letter and spirit of the above affirmation. Paul did not only preach such a noble concept, he also practiced it! Such a statement would not wear well on the lips of a Diotrephes, "Who loved to have the preeminence" (3 Jno.9). They would not well define the life of Demas, "who loved this present world" (2 Tim.4:10). But they are most appropriate for a man like Paul to claim.

No man is ready to "preach Christ as Lord" until he is ready to preach "himself as a servant." Until a man comes to terms with the "Lordship of Jesus" and the "servanthood of himself' he is really not ready to preach anything in the name of Jesus. A man is ready to "preach Christ" only when he is ready to imitate Christ as a "servant." That imitation must embrace the very heart of the Lord as a servant, plus His attitude toward his ministry. Jesus explained the thrust of that ministry, and then made that thrust the standard for all subsequent ministries conducted in His name. "Whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant, even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:27-28).

Jesus' settled practice

Jesus consistently set Himself as the pattern and standard, and then issued a challenge to His disciples to imitation. After He had washed the feet of the apostles, He said: "You call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and you say well; for so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet" (John 13:13). Such humble service is not degrading any footwasher, it just moves him up into first place with Jesus.

Another example from Christ was directly related to His imminent sacrifice on the cross. He used an unusual word to define His crucifixion — "glorification." He said: "The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abides by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:23-24). Jesus thus explained the rationale behind His death. The reason being that fruitlessness was intolerable, unacceptable to Him. He saw Himself as a seed, and it is in the nature of seed to die! He would not deny His nature. Jesus then made immediate application of the stated principle to His disciples, saying: "He that loves his life loses it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man SERVE me (He is explaining the servant role) let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man SERVE me, him will the Father honor" (John 12:25-26).

One final example is found in the request James and John made of Jesus. Those two apostles wanted to be projected directly into positions of prominence in the Kingdom of Christ without the drudgery of humble service. Jesus asked them: "Are you able to drink the cup that Jam about to drink?" (Matthew 20:22-23). They glibly replied: "We are able." They were not then aware that this was the very "cup" that Jesus would ask the Father three times in the Garden of Gethsemane to remove. But, Jesus, looking beyond their seffish motives, and seeing the time when they too will understand the way of true greatness, grants them one of Heaven's greatest concessions: "My cup indeed you shall drink" Jesus knows they will later learn the lesson from the Master/Servant.

What it means to be a servant

To "preach Jesus Christ as Lord" may mean different things to as many different people. One thing that it must mean to everyone is that Christ gives the definition of service and establishes the boundaries of it! In fact, He gave some disturbing lessons on the duties of a servant. He explained some of the hard facts and unpleasant realities of a slave's life. A Master had a slave plowing in the field, or keeping sheep. When he came in from a hard day's work, the Master did not offer him an easy chair to rest while the Master prepared a meal for his tired plowman. Rather, the Master says: "Make ready wherewith I may eat, and gird thyself and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink" (Luke 17:7-10). When the servant does that, the Master does "not thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded." In fact, Jesus presents the object lesson from this episode in these words: "Even so you also, when you shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants, we have done that which it was our duty to do."

Whether we like it or not, there are some unseemly things about slavery. This parable may sound unjust to our ears, for we have little or no experience with the harsh realities of the Master/servant relationship. But from what we do know about it, the teachings of Jesus are consistent with those realities. It is never left up to the servant to say when he has done his share, or has done enough, or when his work is finished. Jesus wants us to know just how completely beholden we are to Him just as fully as any indentured slave ever was to his Master. Jesus does not want us to see any improper attitudes on the part of the Master toward the servant or his service. Rather He wants us to see some possible improper attitudes on the part of the servant. This servant must not so view his work as to indulge in self-pity. He must not give in to complacency, saying "I have done my part." He must not wait for praise or thanks before he fulfills his assignment. He must see the extent of his service as embracing the "last full measure of devotion", and then just how completely he still is bereft of merit.

The above parable contains some sober lessons for those who want to be followers of Jesus. It is not the purpose of this Parable to present Jesus in a negative light. It just might be that the "Master" in this story is not Jesus at all. It may well be that the "Master" is simply "duty." In fact He presents Himself as a much kinder Lord. He affirmed: "Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he comes shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and shall come and serve them" (Luke 12:37). An interesting Master this! He serves the servant!

In several other very significant ways Jesus is different from the Master of this parable. First of all He was Himself the servant of the  servants of God. Though He gave a slave's submission to duty and a slave's measure of sacrifice, He was never an unwilling slave to His assignment. Second, He promised that anyone who will "follow him" in His example of self-surrendered sacrifice, "My Father will honor him." Third, He assured those who imitate Him "where the Lord is, there also shall his servant be." (John 12:26). And finally, He said: "I no longer call you servants, for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15).

Lessons for all of God's spokesmen

Somewhere in Christ's instructions there must be a lesson or two to learn. To be sure, Jesus never promised His messengers either great acclaim or a "rose garden", and not even a grateful brotherhood. Paul's injunction to Timothy to "suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Tim.2:3) is sufficient to gainsay any thoughts to the contrary. The task of Temple-building is hard and often it is crowded with difficulties and even disappointments. It always demands the best of a servant heart. A preacher must be willing to have a slave's reputation, a slave's obligation, a slave's endless duty, and a slave's complete submission to his Lord's will and purpose. The church may not be right when it considers its preacher as a slave — and so treat him. But it is certainly right for the preacher to so consider himself—  regardless of how the church treats him.

The Lord knows we already have enough preachers on "Easy Street." And we have too many others who are quitting the pulpit because they can get better pay for less service. But when a man is really ready to "preach Christ Jesus as Lord" and himself "as a servant", the secular, business can't buy that man — it doesn't have that much money. Neither can the brotherhood starve him out of the pulpit. One missionary was offered secular employment from a very prestigious firm, but he rejected their offer. They doubled his proposed salary, and he still rejected it. They asked: "What is wrong, is the salary not big enough?" He simply replied: "That's not it, its just that the job is not big enough."

No preacher must assume to "rope off" a twenty-acre assignment for himself and let the rest of the field go to weeds — or to Hell — as the case may be! Some preachers display an attitude that seems to say "I'm not going to put out their bulletin, I'll not visit their sick for them, I'll not convert their community for them, I'll not clean their building, nor mow the church lawn." Such a man seems to want the brethren to honor him even if he does not serve, and then to set them on a pedestal of undeserved dignity — not understanding that pedestals are for lifeless figures and plastic flowers! In that case, Paul's admonition to Timothy: "Be thou an example to them that believe" goes wanting.

The Solution

The above discussion presents a real problem. But it has an easy solution. The problem exists when a preacher mechanically pursues his role-assignment with the same detached, almost robot routine that can be found in any office paper-boy. The solution is to look into the life of Christ and discover the secret (or formula) of the servant heart and then follow His example. Philippians 2:5-10 would be a good beginning place to see humility in action. One needs to get locked in to the glory of Kingdom-building, to catch a glimpse of the nobility of service, to allow sacrificing for others to become the cherished purpose and passion of his life. Then there is no power on earth that could deter, side-track or silence that man as he "preaches Christ Jesus as lord."

"For Jesus' sake" Paul says "Jam your servant" He also said: "Though I am free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more." (I Cor.9:19). "For Jesus sake" Paul made every man his master. "For Jesus sake" he became a "prisoner in behalf of the Gentiles" (Eph.3:1). "For Jesus sake" he is "offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith" he told the Philippians (2:17). "For Jesus sake" he is willing to be "counted a fool" so the last of Corinth might hear the Gospel. And finally, though the list could be extended: "For Jesus sake" Paul "endured all things  for the elect's sake that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory" (II Timothy 2:12).