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A Pastor’s Life as a Slave of Christ

“Paul, a [slave] of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.” Though our King James Version uses the word “servant” rather than “slave,” that is how we can read the apostle Paul’s introduction of himself in the opening verse of his letter to the Romans.­ Paul, the great preacher, and evangelist to the Gentiles calls himself a slave. What’s more, we find that the title “slave” precedes “called to be an apostle” and “separated unto the gospel of God.” Why is this? Paul leads with this title because he knows that both his calling as an apostle and his separation unto the gospel ministry mean nothing apart from his slavery to Christ. As we examine what it means to be a slave of God, especially for a pastor and the flock he serves, we will see that Paul’s inspired word-choice carries a revelation of how God would have his people view themselves and their callings in this world. We will see that properly living one’s life as a slave of God means consciously operating within the twofold reality of God’s ownership of and authority over us his slaves.
When we hear the word “slave” our minds generally go to kidnapping and whip-cracking, cotton fields and galley benches, use, and abuse. As free citizens in the twenty-first century, the images that the word evokes cause us to bristle. We might wonder then how Paul could justify using the word “slave” to describe his relationship with his savior. Was Paul unaware of the truth that he was God’s son for Jesus’ sake (1 John 3:1)? Did Paul forget that as a child of God, he was numbered among Christ’s brethren (Heb. 2:17)? It is important for us to remember that when Paul calls himself a slave of God and Jesus Christ, he isn’t talking about scourges, chains, and abuse. Rather, Paul is emphasizing aspects of our relationship to Christ that are uniquely pictured in slavery.
The first of those aspects is the truth that Christ owns his people. When a pastor considers his calling to live his life as God’s slave and to exhort his sheep to do the same, this truth must be first in his mind. Before setting to work in his Master’s fields of harvest, he must consider that he belongs “body and soul, both in life and death…unto [his] faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” Unless he properly understands this truth, he will have no foundation to build upon in his preaching and pastoring. We will look at three major considerations that go with the reflection on Christ’s ownership. For a man who desires to minister to God’s people, all three considerations are essential for him to understand rightly.
The first consideration is that we are Christ’s property because we have been purchased from great destruction at great cost. To continue to quote the Heidelberg Catechism: Christ, “with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all [our] sins, and delivered [us] from all the power of the devil.” Once serving a cruel taskmaster with no hope of escape, we have been taken from what was indeed scourges, chains, and abuse, and have been “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 7:23). This is the good news that a pastor is called to bring to his congregation. A pastor must be personally convicted of this good news before he can do this. “I was fettered in the bonds of sin and damnation by nature, but now I belong to a new Master, the Lord Jesus!” This is the gospel message.
The second and third considerations that the truth of Christ’s ownership brings are closely tied together. They are the realization of our own passivity in the purchasing process and the resulting confidence that we have in our preservation as slaves of Christ. When Christ strides into the slave-market, looks at a man or woman, and says, “mine” there is no question about who has bought whom. We didn’t seek him out; we didn’t give him any reason to seek us out. Without our having any say in the matter (thanks be to God) we find ourselves being exchanged into the hands of our Lord and led to his estate. Because we belong to an unchanging God who purchased us apart from anything we did, we are assured that our “election made by Him can neither be interrupted nor changed, recalled or annulled.” A pastor must rightly understand these truths to rightly view the work that he does as being non-meritorious, but rather born out of thankfulness. Additionally, he must rightly understand these truths to effectively defend and promote them among his congregation and in this world.
These truths of Christ’s ownership must be defended because they are under attack from all sides today. In the United States, the election of a president whose vice-president is openly pro-life goaded herds of women to lumber through the streets of many of our nation’s major cities, bawling, “My body, my choice!” On May 26, in Dublin, swarms of Irish voters cried and embraced in celebration over the recent repeal of an abortion ban. To such people, the idea of Christ’s ownership (by virtue of creation for unbelievers and by the added virtue of redemption for his elect) is abhorrent. Such would have Jesus’ maidservants rise up in rebellion against the One who owns them, body and soul. Such people would have Christ’s slaves believe that their Master has no claim on their bodies.
Within the sphere of the church-world comes the semi-pelagian lie that Christ’s ownership of his people is only partial; there remains yet a part of us that we own and direct in cooperation with Christ. According to this lie, rather than being slaves, passively purchased and eternally retained, we are hired hands, free to come and go as our own will dictates. Others, from so-called Reformed colleges, propagate the idea that the slaves of God and the slaves of mammon are to join hands in a cooperative effort to be “agents of renewal” in this world. What is this renewal? It is the service “of all humanity:” the address of issues such as air pollution and the attempt to rectify social injustice in the name of the Master. All of this is done while largely ignoring the tasks that the Master has given his Church, to preach the pure word and to spread of the Christ-centered gospel message.
Perhaps more threatening to a pastor’s proper walk as a slave of Christ is his old man of sins natural resistance to being subjugated to Jesus. It is in connection with this natural rebellion that we consider the second reality that a pastor seeking to live as a slave of Christ lives out. Having considered the reality that Christ owns us, we have seen the basis for the second aspect of our relationship to Christ that is pictured in slavery, namely, that Christ has complete authority over us, his slaves. We will note three ways that this authority especially manifests itself in a pastor’s life and three ways that he exhorts the members of his flock, particularly the young people, to live out of this truth.
One way that the truth of Christ’s authority manifests itself in a pastor’s life is in his faithful stewardship of the gifts and opportunities that Christ has given him in his office. The theme of a slave’s obligation of faithful stewardship is prominent in the bible. In Matthew 24:45, Christ commends faithful stewards, saying, “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find him so doing.” The unique position that a pastor has in the church may tempt him to use his Lord’s estate to increase his own position in this life. By grace, a pastor fights against this inclination. Can the pastor speak eloquently? His golden tongue is filled with his master’s truths. Does the pastor have a first-rate intellect? He sets his mind on delving into the words of his Lord. Is the pastor looked up to? He leads Christ’s people in a way that magnifies God. Why? Because Christ’s authority, Christ’s worth to be served, reigns in such a pastor’s life.
A second way that a pastor lives out the truth of Christ’s authority is in his complete devotion to serving the flock that Christ has entrusted to his care. In his seminary commencement address in June 2017, Prof. Barrett Gritters emphasized the all-encompassing nature of this devotion. He said: “That the ministry is an existence means that a man gives his life to the ministry unlike anyone else gives himself to any other occupation. Unlike the occupations of your cousins and friends, which must not consume them, this occupation must consume you. In a very real way, it will become your existence. It will define you.” A pastor who thinks very little of Christ’s authority in his life will quickly tire of this demanding, often exhausting task of tending to his Lord’s wandering, bleating sheep. The pastor who remembers his obligation to spend everything that he is for the sake of his Lord will do so more readily, spurred on by the knowledge of his awesome responsibility before his awesome Master.
The pastor who knows that he is operating on Christ’s orders will not only have a greater sense of his calling to devote himself to his sheep, but he will also be encouraged in the knowledge that the work that he does is the work of Christ, and therefore cannot fail. This is a third way that a pastor lives as a slave of Christ, conscious of his authority. The pastor is assured that he operates by the authority of his Master, the One who holds the king’s heart in his hand and “turneth it withersoever he will” (Prov. 21:1). Christ does not promise the pastor mass conversions or ease in his labor, but the pastor can be assured that the double-edged sword that he wields is the sword of Christ, who loses no battles, and loses no sheep (John 17:12).
In his work of wielding the double-edged sword, a pastor, who has himself learned what it means to live as Christ’s property and under Christ’s authority, will exhort his congregation to do the same. This exhortation will come in a special way to the young people of the congregation, who are in times of growth and spiritual development.
Just as he strives to be a faithful steward-slave, so also will a pastor instruct his young people to follow the example of Joseph in the house of Potiphar (Gen. 39:1–12), and the example of the faithful servant in Christ’s parable of the talents (Matt. 25:20–21). A pastor will urge his young people to “redeem the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16), knowing that time, opportunity, and talent are tools-on-loan, given by the Master to be used for the Master and his church. When one’s Friday night is not his own, he is not devastated when he is required to call off plans with friends in order to serve at a young people’s function. When one’s abilities are simply God’s borrowed tools, one does not use them to fuel pride, but rather employs them in the service of their owner.
Additionally, just as the pastor himself subjects his body to the service of his Master, so also will he instruct his young people the truth that their bodies have been purchased by Christ for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19–20). He will call them to the remembrance that Christ’s bodies must be kept pure and holy for his sake. A believing young person who knowingly puts himself in harm’s way or damages his body on purpose shows disregard for Christ’s blood-bought property. A young couple who live unchastely defile the very temples of Christ’s Holy Spirit.
A third way that a pastor leads his congregation’s young people in complete servitude of Christ
is through the example he sets of complete submission to scripture as divine authority. Such a pastor asks the question, “What would thou have us to do, Lord?” and rather than looking to sociologists, philosophers, or biologists for the answers, he opens up the word of God. The pastor urges his young people to do regular devotions, that they might become better acquainted with the one who purchased them, grow in their love and adoration of him, and strive all the more to live lives of thankful sacrifice as his slaves.
A pastor who strives to live as Christ’s slave may be thankful that he does not do so in his own strength, but rather in the strength of the one whose love for him is so great that he sent his only begotten Son to die for him. His will having been “healed, corrected, and sweetly and powerfully bent,” a “ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign” in such a man. With Paul, he counts the title “slave of Jesus” his highest honor and will seek all the more to live out of and to preach the beautiful reality of God’s ownership of and authority over us his slaves. What a privilege to be counted as a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ!