Monday, March 14, 2011

relationship: Master/servant

Description of the relationship

The Master/servant relationship can also be called the Master/slave relationship. In this context, servant and slave is an interchangeable word (the Greek word used in the New Testament translates as "bondservant"). Before I describe this relationship with regard to us and God, I think it's appropriate to first discuss slavery during the time of the Roman Empire (though I will not go in depth with an explanation as that would require its own study):

Slavery during this time was not the same as slavery practiced in pre-Civil War America, so it's important not to think of this relationship in such terms. In the Bible time, slavery was practiced with rules in mind. People often became slaves due to poverty and not forced labor. Slaves were considered a part of the family in most cases. Slaves weren't looked down upon as they were in America, but were considered vital to Roman structure. We can see the affection showed toward slaves in Paul's letter to Philemon regarding Philemon's slave Onesimus. Slaves could go free and in some cases even be adopted by their Master (we'll come back to this point in a later relationship study).

During the "Sermon on the Mount," Jesus spoke of treasures. He mentioned how we should not lay up treasures for ourselves on earth, but we should lay them up in heaven instead. At the end of His point on the subject Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." (Matthew 6:24 ESV)

The implication in this passage would be that we should be serving God as our master. This passage also says that the servant must be devoted to his master.

Jesus also makes this strong implication by his words in Matthew 10:24-25 after telling His disciples of the persecution they would face and in John 13:16 after He washes His disciples feet. In each passage, He tells His disciples that a servant is not greater that his master, clearly speaking of their relationship with Him.

This relationship is laid up much more explicitly by Paul in Romans 6:15-23 (ESV):

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Notice all the references Paul made to slavery in this passage. Notice the tenses used. Paul speaks of being slaves to sin in the past tense and being slaves to God (and righteousness) in the present tense.

We see further confirmation of this relationship in the following greetings from letters in the New Testament:

  • Romans 1:1 - "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus..."
  • Philippians 1:1 - "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus..."
  • Titus 1:1 - "Paul, a servant of God..."
  • James 1:1 - "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ..."
  • 2 Peter 1:1 - "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ..."
  • Jude 1:1 - "Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ..."

Paul also calls a couple of other people servants in his letters (aside from the one with Timothy above). He mentions Epaphras in Colossians 1:7; 4:12 as well as Tychicus in Colossians 4:7.

The Master/servant relationship is exactly as it where the servant surrenders his will to the will of the Master, serving Him completely and faithfully.

Definition of the roles

Master: I think the Scriptures above clearly show God as the Master in this relationship. God is the one who is in control. God is the one who has work to be done by the servants. God, as Master, is the one who provides for His servants.

One cool thing that we do see in Scripture, however, is that Jesus (the Master) humbled himself by doing a servant's task of washing His disciples' feet in John 13:1-20.

Servant: God is the Master and we are the servants. Jesus and Paul seem to make a similar point in the passages shown above. It seems that everyone is involved in a master/servant relationship. The only thing that changes is the identity of the master. We are either slaves to God or slaves to sin. We cannot be both!


As servants, we are completely dependent upon our Master!

Discussion of the reality

Often times, we want do what we want to do. We want to act as freedmen. How often do we choose our desires and our will over the desires and will of God. We should be daily surrendering to God. In fact, Jesus said in Luke 9:23, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." We need to daily decide you surrender our will to God's will. In John 3:30, John the Baptist says of Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease." This is true for us all. We must be careful not to fight being a slave to God, because as we read earlier, the only other option is being a slave to sin.

Not only can we choose to not to be a slave to God (and thus be a slave to sin) but we can also mix up who's who in the relationship. Sometimes we may be acting like the master, deceiving ourselves into thinking that God's simply there to serve us. This is pride and is incredibly dangerous. God is not our personal servant or genie who grants our every wish. In any master/slave relationship, the slave cannot start commanding the master around. This is especially true in our relationship with God. Don't get me wrong, God will provide for our needs. He is our Master and that is something that masters do. But God doesn't need us commanding Him around. (Just to clarify, I'm not talking about asking Him for His provision in prayer here; I'm talking about how some people actually command God around.)

Similarly, our work should glorify God instead of us expecting God's work to glorify us.

The servant is never greater than his Master!


in His strength. for His glory.