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Obedient Service

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? Romans 6:16

Faith without works is not faith at all, but a simple lack of obedience to God. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Slavery has a long and horrendous shadow. Although legalized slavery ended in the United States 150 years ago, traces of its oppression linger. Even today, we know of entire groups of people enslaved to others. Slavery is about property and property rights. When someone is a slave, another person owns him or her, as one owns a piece of property. Presumably, the owner of property can do whatever the owner wants with his or her possession, without regard to the impact on the possession itself. A slave’s sole purpose is obedience to the master.

One of the recurring realities referenced in Scripture has to do with slaves and their masters. Some interpret these references to imply that God approves of slavery. I do not believe that is the case. Slavery was, and continues to be, a reality. That slaves and masters are referenced in the Bible is no more affirming than the references to kings and tyrants – they were common elements of the landscape of the times.

Slavery is evil when one is enslaved to another of the same nature, particularly when the master does not have the best interest of the servant at heart. In a sense, employees are slaves to their bosses, in that they are expected to be obedient to the mandates of the boss. The fact that an employee can walk away from an oppressive employer, however, makes that relationship significantly different. The concept of slavery takes on a completely different nature when one willingly becomes a slave to a superior being, such as becoming a slave to God. Paul tells the Romans that we are slaves to whomever we obey.

Jesus was a slave to God, obedient even to death on a cross. Although that act of service brought new life to us, the act itself was one of obedience to God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologist of the last century, wrote that true faith requires acts of service because faith calls us to obedience to God, and God calls us to acts of service. A vibrant faith leads us to willingly enslave ourselves to God. Service is not something we do for the less fortunate because they are less fortunate, but something we do out of obedience to our master. In the words of Bob Dylan, “You gotta serve somebody.” The foundational questions are: Who is your master? and Whom do you serve?

Come home to church this Sunday.

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