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Bond Servants

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38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38 (NKJV)

As we study the scriptures it is important to understand the culture that shaped the biblical authors worldview. This becomes extremely important when we see certain words popping up in the scriptures over and over again. Today we will be looking at discipleship and the character of the bond servant.

There is an expectation that a disciple is one who willingly submits to the authority of their master and does everything in their power and ability to bring honour and respect to him or her. I realise that this is a very first century idea but that’s when the book was written and there hasn’t been an update to it that I am aware of since then.

One of the first and hardest lessons that you will learn is that a true disciple is one who voluntarily surrenders their life  and their will to Jesus. In the New Testament there is a word that occurs frequently, we may see it translated as we see it in Romans 1:1 as bond servant. In Luke 1:38 we see it translated in the NKJV as maidservant. Other places and translations may use words like servant or slave. The Greek word is ‘doulos’ or the feminine ‘doule’. Mary uses doule twice once to the angel Gabriel at the annunciation, and the other to Elizabeth in what we call the Song of Mary or the Magnificat. Doulos is used fifty-one times in the New Testament making it one of the key words that we need to understand if we are to get the full impact of the authors’ message. A bond servant is someone, usually a slave who has served their time and is entitled to be released from their servitude. Nevertheless, they decline their freedom and by their free will they choose a lifetime of service as a slave to their master.

To help you get the idea of what is intended by the scriptures, here is a quote from historian, Mark Cartwright: –

“Slaves were the lowest class of society and even freed criminals had more rights. Slaves had no rights at all in fact and certainly no legal status or individuality. They could not create relations or families, nor could they own property. To all intents and purposes, they were merely the property of a particular owner, just like any other piece of property – a building, a chair or a vase – the only difference was that they could speak.”[1]

I’m sure you get the idea. This was the mindset of the bible authors when they wrote about being a bondservant or maidservant of Christ.  Someone with no rights, no opinions, no family, who volunteers to just serve their master in whatever way he chooses 24/7 for the rest of their life.

Have you ever prayed a prayer like this,  ‘God I’ll do whatever you want Lord. Show me what your will is for my life, and I will do whatever you want, not my will, but your will be done?” This is a very dangerous prayer if you pray it without knowing what God has called you to do. Mary was a good example of how to do this the right way.

Seeing as we are in the Advent season and Christmas is just a couple of weeks away, I am taking the opportunity to visit the annunciation of the Angel to Mary and her responses as a prime example of our topic of servanthood. It demonstrates why she is held in such high esteem in every denomination.

Luke 1:26–38 (RSVCE)

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;

and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,

33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;

and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”

35 And the angel said to her,

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,

and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;

therefore the child to be born will be called holy,

the Son of God.

36 And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

The first thing to note is where the angel was sent. He was sent to Nazareth. A small town in the hills to the west of the sea of Galilee. Even today it is a demanding and dangerous walk from Nazareth to Magdala on the shore of Galilee. Nazareth was poor and it’s people of no reputation.  It was Phillip who said, ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth.’ God chose a young, barely teenaged girl, already betrothed to be married to a local tradesman, Joseph. They were certainly not rich and famous. They were not influencers on Facebook or YouTube. They were nobodies from nowhere in the roughest and poorest city in Galilee. Yet God chose Mary to bear his only son, the messiah, the hope of all Israel.

Let’s take a moment to break this meeting down. First off, I don’t know how many of you have had an archangel appear right beside you who then started talking to you like it was the most normal thing in the world. In verse 29 we read that she was greatly troubled by both the angel and his words, Hail, or the NIV says greetings. I think the NIV underdoes this one. This is a royal greeting, ‘long live Mary full of grace. The Lord is with you’. It means that the Lord is present with her just as the angel is. No wonder she was troubled. The Jewish religion had no concept of a personal relationship with God. The relationship was always mediated through priests and prophets.

Gabriel then drops the big one. Mary is to bear a child, call him Jesus and that he would be the long-awaited messiah. Mary may be young, but she is not ignorant. She knows where babies come from, and how they get there. The angel tells her that she will conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. There has never been a conception like that before, that’s what’s amazing, and then to top it all off, the angel tells Mary that she’s going to have a child that doesn’t just think he’s God, but really is. I mean that’s a lot to take in, in one short conversation with an angel.

You can imagine all that is going through her mind, but the bible does give us one insight into Mary’s internal life. She has been chosen to bear the messiah, great. But as a betrothed virgin she will be seen as an unmarried pregnant woman and she is likely to be divorced in disgrace at best. At worst, she could be taken out and stoned to death. So, what does she do? The task the Lord has set her has been laid out before her. She understands the likely consequences if this all goes pear shaped. Her response is one of the greatest acts of servanthood anywhere in the scriptures.

 Luke 1:38 (NIV)

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

My Version, ‘I am the Lord’s bond slave. Make it happen’.

Personal Application

What does the story of Mary have to do with me you might ask. Without a moment’s hesitation she put her life on the line to do what the Lord had asked her to do. Remember that prayer that you prayed, ‘God I’ll do whatever you want Lord. Show me what your will is for my life, and I will do whatever you want, not my will, but your will be done.” The role of the servant begins in the local church fellowship. There are always more people who want to be leaders than there are slots available. Let’s not forget Jesus had a similar issue with James and John and His response was simple,

Matthew 20:26–28 (NKJV)

26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

What does this look like in the local congregation? In a congregation with a number of servants, (apart from those on rosters), they will be at work quietly making sure that everything possible is being done to making the experience at each meeting as good as possible.

Someone taking the responsibility to make sure that the toilets are clean, and the paper towels and toilet paper are all good before the service. Another might take a quiet look in the various rubbish bins in the church and manse and then make sure that they are emptied with clean liners every week. Someone else might bring a pair of secateurs to church and make sure that the steps and ramp at the church are not overgrown and clip away the vegetation to keep these places safe for our seniors. An occasional ministry might be to be at church early when it is raining and take a large umbrella down to the car park so that those getting in and out of their cars stay dry as you escort them into church, (even though you will probably get wet yourself). As bond servants all of these tasks would be done without seeking recognition or reward.

These are things that are between you and God. If you want the approval or recognition of others, then their approval is your reward, you aren’t being a servant. This is where leadership begins, serving others in the most fundamental way. Letting go of self and just serving because that’s what true bond servants do.

The Last Word by Bob Gass

Paul knew what he was called to be. Do you know what your calling is? When he called himself a “bondservant,” he was referring to one who served his master faithfully for six years. But in the seventh year the Law said he had to be set free. But if, when he was released, he turned back and said, “Master, I’m not serving you because I have to; I’m serving you because I want to,” then the master took him before a judge and pierced his ear, signifying that he belonged to him forever (Exodus 21:6). Sometimes we just need to look up and say, “Lord, I’m not serving You because I have to; I’m serving You because I love You. Pierce my ear, Lord. Mark me as Yours. Bond me together with You so I can never belong to another.” When ministry loses its passion, it becomes an empty profession.

The very word “minister” is a verb, not a noun—it’s what you do, not what you claim to be. The word “servant” also referred to a third-level galley slave chained to the oar of a Roman ship. Day and night he rowed to the beat of another, and whether he was in battle or in merchant service, he expected to die chained to that oar, What a picture! Listen: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God, Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will accept.”

When you think of what He has done for you, is it too much to ask?[2]

[1] Mark Cartwright, Slavery in the Roman world, Ancient history Encyclopedia, 1/11/2013. https://www.ancient.eu/article/629/slavery-in-the-roman-world/#:~:text=Slaves%20were%20the%20lowest%20class,nor%20could%20they%20own%20property.

Accessed 14/12/2020.

[2] Bob Gass, A Fresh Word For Today : 365 Insights For Daily Living (Alachua, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 344.

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