22. Servant-Hearted (2)

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 3 – Making of Believers

22. Servant Hearted (2)

Matt 20:28   the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many

Recap: In the previous study we noted verses at the beginning that point us toward this subject that show that having a servant heart starts by seeing it in Jesus and then follows by the expectation that any disciple of his will be the same.  We concluded by noting that we are called to be servants but that means servants first and foremost of God, and the way we express that servant-heartedness should be as an expression of our loving relationship with Him and the things He puts on our hearts to do. In that study we noted three wrong ways of thinking about serving but now we need to go on and see this serving from a slightly different angle.

The Errors: The reality behind these wrong attitudes or ways of thinking that we considered in the previous study, can be expressed as a number of ensuing practical errors, the things that are wrong in this apparent appearance of ‘serving’ or the way we go about serving. In observing the errors we can then see the way things should be.

First, there is the reality of the problem of ‘service’. Most simply put, first of all, there are too many needs in the world out there for us to meet all of them. Unless we have a large and diverse congregation, we will be limited in manpower and ability. I remember a well-known Christian leader of many decades ago warning of this; we are not called to meet every need of society, there are too many of them. Second there is the truth of the reality behind those problems: many of them will be resolved when the individuals in question meet Jesus and allow him to straighten out their lives.

So, our first realization is that although we are called to help people and love them, that help and love is first shown by sharing the Gospel with them, to help them see that through Christ they can come into a living relationship with God who has a plan and purpose to bless their life once they accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord, as we have considered earlier in these studies. So failing to perceive the extent and nature of the needs around us, is the first error, which can lead us into unnecessary stress as we think we need to be all things to all men. No, the answer comes when we address the second error.

Second, there is the danger of human wisdom in the absence of God’s wisdom, and so we see a need in the world around us and leap at it. We need to remember what we’ve just said and realize that when Jesus gave the picture of the vine and branches (Jn 15) he was conveying a picture of life flowing from him to us. That ‘life’ includes, wisdom, revelation, direction, purpose and power. Now the important thing to note is that those things come when we wait on God, submit to Him, listen to Him – and we need to do this collectively, not simply as individuals. The fruit of failing to do that is fruitlessness! We start projects and they totter on with little, if any, fruit. Failing to listen to God, receiving His direction and anointing is the second error and it leads us into human-wisdom, human-effort centred activity, which so often results in our resources becoming rapidly depleted so that physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion sets in, making us vulnerable to enemy attack.

Third, there is the error of failing to ‘discern the body’, failing to recognise the hearts and the gifting of the people in our particular part of the body. Who or what is on their hearts? How are they gifted? How can we equip and release them so that what God is already doing in them can be further released to bring forth fruit? I have always been challenged by a mega-church in the Far East that ran on a cell basis and each cell was restricted to people of the same station in life, so one group might have been made up of bankers, another group shop workers, another group social workers. Now I am aware that there is a school of thought that says sanctification works best when you totally mix people but, consider, who are bankers best at reaching? Other bankers!

Let’s consider this a little further, not forgetting that ultimately we are thinking about what happens when a person becomes a Christian. Consider: “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Now whatever else you might think this verse says, it implies that when we come to Christ, God already knows the sort of person we are and what our potential is. Now potential is a combination of natural gifting, spiritual gifting that God wants to give us, and availability and openness of heart. All those things, I believe, contribute to what God can do with us. In the New Testament the Lord used a scholar (the apostle Paul), a professional, a doctor (Luke), an ordinary fisherman (Peter) and another ordinary fisherman (John). As a result, churches were planted all over the place and an amazing repository of fundamental teaching was produced (Paul), an early history of Jesus’ ministry and that of the early church established (Luke), a church established under apostolic calling (Peter), and the long-term witness of that church built up with deeper understanding of Jesus (John). Different people, different personalities, different abilities, different potential. So who have we got in the part of the body where we are located? What is my gifting? How do all these things fit together? What is God putting on our hearts (not merely the heart of the leader)? What is God saying through the prophets and prophetic people? If we pay attention to these things, we will not have square pegs in round holes, people serving out of guilt trying to fulfil someone else’s ministry, people running out of resources and becoming a problem themselves.

Fourth, and I believe this is often a major problem in the modern church, we look to what needs doing in the church, and the perceived needs of the community around the church, while failing to care for the sheep within the church. I wonder in how many churches, where a large number, for a variety of reasons, have been wounded or damaged by life, are now living by putting on a brave face, being one of God’s children, and their inner needs and hurts are not being ministered to because the church is too taken up with ‘outreach’ without getting the balance. That is both uncaring and unrighteous and stops people being effective members of the body of Christ, because deep down those hurts from the past produce doubts and questions in the present. It also probably means that when people from outside are helped, are saved, their deepest needs are similarly not addressed because the whole work is too shallow.

Fifth, because the church direction is lacking God’s wisdom and empowering, the various areas of service are not being done as they should and so are done badly, resulting in little fruit and blessing, and those involved become weary and exhausted and downcast. There is also frequently a failure to recognise the spiritual dynamics or spiritual warfare (which we’ll consider later in the series) involved in what we are doing, and thus we can find the enemy running rings round us.  The error here is the failure to understand the situation and failure to equip and empower God’s people to cope with it.

A Right Approach: So how do we sum up these things?  First we must be clear: service is not to be a legalistic outworking of the guilty conscience of the church. It is to be the loving expression or outworking of the relationship we have with our Lord, whereby we come to realise who we are – sons and daughters of God – realise that He has purposes for us (see Eph 2:10) and when we move in them, He will guide us into what He wants us to be doing and that will bless both us and those we serve. Moreover He will guide us as to how we do it (with wisdom) and empower us with His Spirit so that we will be fruitful.

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (Jn 4:34) As we do what God gives us to do – in His way, with His empowering – it will be like food and will nourish us. Moreover, note the words, “and to finish his work”. We will not have projects that fade away from lack of energy and lack of fruit. Consider the will of the Father for Jesus for three years: success, blessing, thousands taught, thousands healed, many delivered from demons, some even raised from the dead. THAT was fruitful service.

And So? Is it down to The Leader? We are a body and so there are many different gifts and abilities within the local body. Collectively we need to wait on the Lord for His vision – that builds, restores and blesses the church internally, and then blesses the world round about us with His love and goodness. One man gets only a partial vision. “victory is won through many advisers.” (Prov 11:14  Also 15:22, 24:6) The good news is that we are not called to serve alone. Service is the flow of life from Jesus to his people (vine and branches), a flow through the body of Christ with its many parts that blesses both the servant and the served. May it be so.  As we move into the next part of this series, on what the Church actually is, we will start with the vital subject of ‘vision’ that we have just mentioned.

(Here again at the end of this Part we present an overview of the series)

Part 1 – Falling Short?

  1. Wonderings about Church
  2. Concern for People
  3. Challenged by Scripture
  4. Wondering about ‘Fitness for Purpose’
  5. Problems with Religion and Revival
  6. Appearance & Performance (1)
  7. Appearance & Performance (2)

Part 2 – A Different People

  1. Different
  2. Believers
  3. Supernatural
  4. Repentance and Conviction
  5. Needing to be ‘Saved’?
  6. A People of Faith

Part 3 – Making of Believers

  1. A Guilt-Free People
  2. No Longer Orphans
  3. Growing in Sonship
  4. The Yeast of Humility
  5. Getting on a Learning Curve
  6. The Reality of Sacrifice
  7. No Add-ons
  8. Servant-hearted (1)
  9. Servant-hearted (2)

Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

  1. The Significance of Vision
  2. More on ‘Why Vision?’
  3. The God Focus
  4. Spiritual Expressions
  5. Building People

Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

  1. Clear your Mind
  2. A New Creation
  3. Life (1)
  4. Life (2)
  5. Being Together
  6. Fellowship

Part 6 – thinking about Leaders

  1. Led
  2. Local leaders – overseers
  3. Local leaders – shepherds
  4. Local leaders – elders
  5. Local Leaders – The Nature of the Church (1)
  6. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction
  7. Gifts of Ministries – to plant
  8. Gifts of Ministries – to build up
  9. The Servants – Deacons
  10. The Nature of the Church (2)

Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

  1. Uniqueness
  2. Another quick look at ‘Vision’
  3. Power – for Life Transformation
  4. Power – for Life Service
  5. Power – for Living
  6. The Need for Faith
  7. More on Faith.
  8. Obedience
  9. Finale – the Church on God’s heart
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28. Aspiring to Serve

Aspiring Meditations: 28.  Aspiring to Serve

Psa 2:11   Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.

Prov 22:29   Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.

Matt 20:28   the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve

To speak about ‘service’ not only sounds old fashioned (because those who served ‘below stairs’ as maids and butlers and so on, were referred as ‘being in service’) but also sounds boring and uninteresting, and yet the words ‘serve’ and ‘service’ are vitally important in the scriptures.

First a definition: To serve = to work for as a servant, to give obedience and reverent honor to God.  The second part of that is what becomes so very important in scripture. We should not be surprised at reading the apostle Paul speaking of, “God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness” (Rom 1:9) but if we were a stranger to the Bible we might be surprised to find the Son of God himself, using the prophetic name from past prophetic books, saying, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,”(Mt 20:28) when chiding his disciples for their self-serving ambitions and when he added, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (v.26) Jesus’ followers are to be servants!

Perhaps no more is this seen so clearly as in John 13 when Jesus washes his disciples dirty and dusty feet and says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you!” (Jn 13:15) Serving, we said above, is to work as a servant and as such it is an expression of both humility and submission. A servant submits to a master – but which master?

Here the scriptures take us into deeper water. Jesus taught, “No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money.” (Mt 6:24) This picture of serving conflicting masters comes up a number of times in scripture and perhaps one of the most graphic instance is that of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who Nebuchadnezzar had thrown in a fiery furnace, and when they were challenged they replied, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Dan 3:17,18)

That challenge was about who they would serve – God or Nebuchadnezzar’s ‘gods’ and it is a challenge that comes right down through history to the present day, whether those ‘gods’ be money, ambition, self-serving or whatever else is the replacement for God. Because the definition I used above came from a Bible dictionary, it included under ‘service’, to give obedience and reverent honor to God.    Note it is not only ‘obedience’ but also ‘honour’, i.e. both deed and heart response.

Gehazi might have been described as Elisha’s servant (2 Kings 5:20) but when he went, clearly against the wishes of his master, and took gifts from the grateful Naaman (2 Kings 5:23,24) he showed that he may have been a servant in outward activities but not in his heart. Abraham’s servant, send to find a wife for Isaac, showed he was very different (Gen 24:10-), as he went with a prayerful and careful and sensitive heart to do the will of God.

This dichotomy between serving the Lord and serving the idols of the world was at the heart of a significant prophecy that Isaiah brought: “And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant–these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isa 56:6,7) These are foreigners (us) who will have turned from the idols of the world to ‘serve’ God, to give Him their hearts as they come before Him in prayer and worship.

Don’t ever see ‘service’ as a ‘having to do work for the Lord’ thing; it is far bigger than that. It is having your heart captured by His love so that you see the wonder of life in His presence, the wonder of life with His presence living within you, the wonder of His blessings flowing into your life, and part of those blessings come when we simply respond to His word and His Spirit to bless Him, and bless His world, and as we do that we will be blessed.

Now I think we need to bring a specific focus before we conclude. A warning. This is particularly true, I have noticed, when you move in to a new church. When I retired a number of years ago from being lead elder of our local church, we felt we needed to give space to the other leaders to just get with it without worrying about me, and so we sought a new church. We had only been in that new church a few weeks when a dear lady, no doubt with the best of intentions, invited me to look after the library.

Now please understand me here, I have been at the front of the queue to do the washing up or putting out the chairs in the past, for many a long year, but my plea now is ‘know yourself’. Know who you are, what your energy level is, what grace God has given you, what giftings you may have or even what ministry He has called you to. We often run church like the local library or a local club, and we just see it as activity. Yes, serving is about availability but it is all about what God has gifted you to do. Yes, it doesn’t need a calling to pick up a cloth and wipe some dishes but Paul has given us quite extensive teaching on gifting and it is all about what God wants to put on your heart or what He has already put on your heart.

So, to recap, we’ve seen serving is more than merely outward acts; it is also about having your heart captured by God to follow Him and do His bidding. It was only in that famous instance of Isaiah’s vision (Isa 6) that after Isaiah had seen the Lord and had his past dealt with that the call was made to serve and he answered the call. I am not going to disparage any activity in the church by naming it, but I do believe if we have sorted these basic things, we would be wise to wait on the Lord, and listen to the Lord (who often redirects us through the prophetic word), and sense what He is putting on (or as I said, has already put on) your heart. It’s never too late to start. I had a vision a number of months ago to start up a particular group and our present Minister has approved it, so just before my umptieth birthday we’re starting a new venture, serving the Lord in this new way. Exciting days! Oh yes, serving is definitely yet another thing to aspire to.

28. Walk in His Ways

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 28 :  Walk in His Ways

(Focus: Deut 10:1-29)

Deut 10:12,13 And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

Yet again Moses reminds Israel of their history with the Lord. He reminds them that after the first two stone tablets had been smashed, he had had to make two new ones and an ark or wooden chest in which to keep them (10:1-3) and the Lord wrote on them as before (10:4). Then they had travelled on and Aaron had died (10:6), then further on when the Lord set apart the Levites to carry the ark (10:7-9). On the mountain he had pleaded with the Lord not to destroy them and the Lord allowed them to go to enter the land. (10:10,11) After reminding them yet again of that, Moses calls them again to comprehensively follow the Lord (v.12,13 above). Observe the language.

Attitude fear your God, have a right respect for His awesomeness. Actionwalk in all His ways. Let your daily lifestyle conform to His will for you. Heart commitmentlove him. Heart expression serve Him. Assessment of both – wholeheartedly and being obedient. Note that the complementary attitudes of fear and love and seen to be there by the willingness to serve and obey the Lord.   Service and obedience are the measure of the heart. Yet, one must add, that a cold obedience and service is NOT what is being asked of Israel; it is to be a relationship of love.

The apostle John had this in mind when he wrote, We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:3-6) i.e. a genuine relationship of love with the Lord is expressed by obedience to all the New Testament says, and to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Failure in these areas raises questions as to the reality of the relationship.

So, Moses has appealed to the memory of the recent past to encourage Israel to be obedient to their calling by the Lord. But he wants to yet enlarge their understanding of the Lord: “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” (v.15). The Lord who delivered them out of Egypt and drew near to them at Sinai and who provided for them and disciplined them, is the Creator of the World. Everything in all of Creation belongs to Him. That is His greatness which makes all the more marvellous what has happened to them: “Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today.” (v.15) He isn’t a distant God somewhere ‘out there’ but He has drawn near to them to enter into relationship with them.

But Israel have a problem that has been revealed by their past behaviour that Moses spoke about in Chapter 9 (which reaches its conclusion here): “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.” (v.16) A little bit of mixed metaphors here! Cut out from your hearts the hardness that is there so that you will no longer be arrogant and rebellions (stiff-necked).

But there is another aspect to this particular problem: “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.” (v.17)  God is both holy (utterly different) and righteous (always behaving absolutely rightly).  The implication is that He will not tolerate their rebellious attitudes any longer. He is a good God and He looks for goodness in them: “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” (v.18,19)

So, he concludes, “Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.” (v.20,21). Stick close to God, He is the cause of all praise for He is God who has done great things for you, summed up as, “Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.” (v.22) God has done what He said to Abraham. He is faithful to His word and Israel are the proof of it. Now live it out!

 

38. Enemies of God

Meditations in James: 38 : Enemies of God?

Jas 4:4     You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

Observing people taking sides is not a pleasant thing  because it is divisive, yet we accept division in society at the many different levels. At its basic level, politics is all about how is the best way to run a country, what sort of rules, what sort of laws, how to look after people. The problem is there are so many different ways, and so different ideas have, in the past century or so, created different political parties and we are encouraged every few years to vote in favour of one party and against the others. There is this natural taking of sides that takes place. In the whole realm of football, people take sides, and support one team as against all the others. It is a taking sides that demands fierce loyalty so often. Wherever there are options and alternatives and competition for one or the other, there is taking sides.

The tone of James’ letter sometimes suggests that he has heard things about the church scattered far and wide, and some of the things he has heard upset him.  The whole issue of favouritism in church was obviously one such thing. Now he speaks with a passion about the church that he has been hearing about, that sides with the world.  Now we have commented previously that when the Bible uses the world ‘world’ it can mean the physical planet on which we live, the people who live on it, or the attitudes of godless and unrighteous mankind. It is the latter meaning that he uses here.

Probably the classic passage about ‘the world’ comes in 1 John 2: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:15,16). There the world’s ‘life approach’ is defined.  First, cravings of sinful man.  It is a world that is motivated and driven by sensual desires, living according to self-centred desires, regardless of what they are. Second, lust of his eyes desire stirred on by visual impact. This is what the whole advertising industry is about. Make you ‘see’ something and then want it, because of those unrestrained desires already there that just need stirring on. Third, boasting of what he has and does, pride that exalts self. To summarise: the world means self-centred living according to desires, that are inflamed by what you can see and which go to building up the ego to exalt the individual.

How is this hatred toward God? First it is self-centred and godless.  Second it is purely materialistic – and thus godless. Third it exalts self to the exclusion of God  – and is therefore godless. In every way the ‘way of the world’ is a godless mentality, and by godless we mean it excludes or ignores or rejects God.  No wonder James says that Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. This is another case of taking sides, because there are opposites to choose and if you choose one you will be hostile to the other. If you accept a mentality that is, in reality, self-centred, materialistic and self-exalting, you cannot call yourself a child of God, because all of these expressions are in opposition to God.

Perhaps the classic instance in the Scripture of this choice came through Joshua to the people of Israel near the end of his life: if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24:15)  Look, he was saying, if you want you can go and serve the idols that our primitive forefathers served, but me and my family will serve the Lord.  There was a clear choice you did one or the other.  The choice is exactly the same today.  You either serve the idols of materialism, or of self-centred human endeavour, or of scientific endeavour or whatever other godless expression of modern life that you can find, or you will trust and serve the Lord.  The reality of that choice comes when you see who or what it is that you rely upon. That is why James finds it so important to think about talking to God.  Talking to God is perhaps the clearest sign of relying upon Him.

A New Testament parallel is, perhaps when Jesus had been saying difficult things:From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:66-69) Some of those who had been with Jesus now drifted away. They couldn’t cope with or understand some of the things he was saying. For Peter, there was no question. Jesus was the Messiah and was the one bringing answers and eternal life. There was no competition as far as he was concerned. That conclusion meant he gave up all rights to his life and went and followed Jesus wherever he led. I once asked a group what they would like their epitaph on their gravestone to be. One answered, “She followed the Lord wherever he said to go.” May that be true of each one of us who call ourselves Christians!

1. Servants

Meditations in James: 1 :  Welcome to Servant heartedness

Jas 1:1   James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ

Leaders in the church of the first century seem to be so different from so many leaders in the church of the twenty first century. In big churches in the United States, leaders seem not far removed from a CEO of a big company. Some have big cars, big houses and big minders. Even in smaller churches, church leaders often seem to be ‘big people’ who command awe and respect. Now I may be wrong, but when I read some of Paul’s writings, his second letter to the Corinthians for example, although there are times when he speaks strongly, when he writes to them he spends much time appealing to them on the basis of his weakness. James starts us of in his letter referring to himself as a servant. Now this is remarkable because commentators and scholars tend to think that he was probably one of the brothers of Jesus: Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?” (Mt 13:55). Now if he was a worldly person he would drop this little fact for us, just to quietly remind us of his closeness to the Messiah. I mean, a member of that special family! What tales he could have told of Jesus’ early years, probably the closest in age to Jesus, coming at the head of that list we’ve just quoted. But no, there is nothing of that. He tells us virtually nothing of himself. Even if the assumption that he was one of Jesus’ brothers is wrong, he is clearly a leader who is well known, but still he doesn’t put on airs. He simply sees himself as a servant, and that is the only designation he wants to go by.

Yet when he refers to himself as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is a confidence implied within that.  A lot of people wouldn’t have the confidence to call themselves a servant of God; they might feel it sounds too pious, but James knows who he is and who has called him and who he serves. Some people might feel that it would be too presumptuous to call themselves that and might feel that God might hold them to account for saying such things, but James knows who he is. If he is the brother of Jesus, the designation he gives himself is all the more amazing, the servant of… the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no familiarity about this designation. He could have said, I am a servant of my brother Jesus, but he doesn’t! He elevates Jesus for he has come to see him as he truly is – the Lord. It hadn’t always been like that. Once he hadn’t even believed Jesus was who he said he was (see Jn 7:3-5). Now he understands, now he realizes Jesus is the One who has the right to call on James as his servant. There is a humility that comes out in James in this, that not only doesn’t draw attention to his pedigree, but also bows the knee both to God and to Jesus.

Servants are those who serve another and don’t draw attention to themselves. Jesus called his disciples to be servants: whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:26-28) To have a servant heart was to be the starting place of a disciple, yet as they developed their relationship with him, Jesus was able to say to them, You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (Jn 15:14,15). A servant doesn’t tend to know what is in his master’s mind, yet as Jesus shared his heart with his closest disciples he changed their designation from ‘servants’ to ‘friends’. Why, we might ask, doesn’t James call himself a friend of Jesus then, why a servant? Well the Greek word that James uses for ‘servant’ is doulos which means a bond-servant or slave, one who willingly submits themselves to their master. It is as if James says, yes, I know what our position is today, we are God’s children or friends of Jesus, and in my case he is my brother, but I want it to be known that I submit to him, he is my Lord and I don’t want to make any presumptions; I just want to be available to him, as his slave if need be.

How many of us come to God with this sort of self-imposed humility I wonder? Such humility only comes when there is a true awareness of just who Jesus is and just who we are. When we realise that he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev 19:16) and that left to ourselves we are but helpless sinners, this gives us no room to boast and no room to feel great about ourselves. It only creates gratefulness and thankfulness and a desire to bow before our liege-Lord, as the servants of old did in feudal times, acknowledging their allegiance (do you see the similarity in words?). This is what James is doing as he describes himself like this; he is declaring his allegiance to Jesus as his Lord. It is almost as if he feels that he can only come as God’s representative to His church, if he comes in this manner. He can only speak the things he is going to speak to God’s people, if he comes with his heart bowed before his Lord. What a good attitude for any leader!