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Royal Servants of the King

The image of a slave contrived in the minds of many today is that of a filthy and dehumanized creature, forced to do the bidding of his or her master. Why is a picture like this ingrained upon the recesses of our brains in such a derogatory way? The simple truth is that it originates from our own nation’s history of slavery which began in the seventeenth century. In just a few short years, this act of taking upon other humans as property with harsh treatment had become prominent. Contrary to what is seen in this period, the title of a slave has a much deeper and positive meaning concerning the spiritual master that God’s people have. Slaves, or servants, indeed have the calling to carry out the will of their masters. Nonetheless, we as God’s people have a different sort of master—and therefore a different sort of role as slaves to our Lord. As purchased property of an eternal master, the servanthood of both teachers and students must be performed in the way of our Saviour, who surrendered to the Father, lowered himself to earth as a man, and was exalted over all creatures.
The key aspect of a life of true service to God is that of having the mind of Christ; fully surrendering to the Lord who rules over all. In Philippians 2, the apostle Paul lays out before the church of Philippi these words: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” He goes on to give an account of Christ’s incarnation, death on the cross, and glorified resurrection. Immediately, the apostle points out that Christ “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Phil. 2:6). In an article titled The Mind of Christ, Rev. Dennis Lee explains this to mean that Jesus, all the while being fully God, did not see the need to obtain that reputation, but instead emptied himself and took on no reputation, as Paul describes in the following verses (Lee). Christ in all his glory clung not to the Godhead that he most definitely possessed, but rather cared only for his subservience to the Father. Through this submission, Christ showed the necessary acknowledgment of God as his Father and a willingness to adhere to the command given by his Lord.
As figures who are put in authority in our schools, teachers must recognize their place as servants in God’s kingdom and surrender to his instruction. The calling of teachers lies not in the idea that they are placed in tyrannical rule over the students, as some may tend to believe, but instead are used as instruments to lead as godly examples. Paul writes about this matter also to the congregation at Colossae. “Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven” (Col. 4:1). As masters in the classroom, teachers ought to rule with an awareness that they too are servants under the most high God—sinful, yet striving to continue learning under their spiritual master. David Mathis, an author and editor for an online publication, expresses that instructors in a school are not called to teach just to show their own knowledge of the subject matter, but to heed the voice of God and learn from it so as to direct their students. In this same way, the Bible makes clear that the teachers and students ought to see themselves as “unprofitable servants” (Luke 17:10). The completion of tasks within a servant’s vocation is not to make the person deserving of a reward but because it is the calling and duty of man to serve his Lord (Belgic Confession, Article 24). By God’s grace, the students will see their teacher as having a mind of service and will be desirous to have that same mentality.
Likewise, although teachers are put in place to lead their students, the main goal is to have the students submit to God as their true master. A concrete example of this can be seen in a teacher assigning bible passages for the students to look at and study for themselves. As a student memorizes these verses and as they are incorporated into the daily lessons and classroom life, the young person moves forward in the process of “mapping [their] life and mind onto the very life and mind of God” (Mathis). Through this, the students see their teacher as a master in the classroom, but only as a means to know more fully their spiritual Lord. Out of this should spring forth a constant reminder to the students of their servanthood to God. This is laid out in the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 48 where the second petition, “Thy kingdom come,” is explained; that is, we as God’s people must make it our prayer to have the Spirit work in us and thus make us more fully submissive to our master. The next Lord’s Day goes on to emphasize a recognition of man’s work to “renounce our own will, and without murmuring obey Thy will, which is only good; that so every one may attend to and perform the duties of his station and calling” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 49). What better way for teachers and students alike to truly understand the depths of their obedience to their master?
Another part of having a Christ-like mind is related to the concept of Christ becoming incarnate, lowering himself to this sinful world and becoming like man. Although deserving of no condemnation, he “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant,” subjecting himself to the shameful death of the cross (Phil. 2:7–8). Christ offered himself up as the ultimate sacrifice, being made humble before God and all else out of love for his people. He did not want to build a reputation that would allow him to climb higher in society. He was instead content to gain no reward and please only his Father in heaven. A well-known passage in Colossians speaks explicitly to this and depicts the obedience of Christ, as the apostle Paul exhorts the people to obey their master in all things “as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col. 3:22–23). In becoming a man and desiring no mighty reputation among men, he perfectly displayed the mind and action of a servant.
Just as Christ performed the will of God in humbling himself before man, so must God’s people do the same, especially in the vocation of a teacher. While teachers may be set in authority, they are also called to serve the students and parents. No man should see himself as better than another; rather, he must always be looking to place his neighbor above himself and before him, seeking to “esteem [the] other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3). In the same way, so should teachers be of this mind—serving the students out of love and looking out for their best interest. It is vital that the rulers in the classroom recognize their own weaknesses and are willing to admit wrong and gain knowledge from their students. While this does not perfectly reflect the person of Christ who had no sin, it is nonetheless a reminder for those in authority over others to lower themselves and acknowledge the human depravity of each member within the church.
In direct connection with the mindset of teachers towards their students, the matter of the students’ relationships among one another must be stressed. Often, it can be a tendency for students (and all of God’s servants alike) to look upon the neighbor and form prideful thoughts because of various flaws or weaknesses. Scripture speaks directly to servants about walking in humility, submitting one to another in fear before God (1 Pet. 5:–6; Eph. 5:21). Students must be taught that a life lived in service to the will of God rather than an attempt to satisfy man is an honor and pleasing unto the Lord. It is of the most urgent nature that teachers emphasize to their students the importance of humility. Satan strikes hard at any who begins to feel the pride and longing to be higher on earth than others, just as he did in the garden with our first parents (Genesis 3:6). As students strive for a spirit of humility, they will join with the same mind of Christ working diligently together as servants in God’s kingdom.
At the completion of Jesus’ life here on earth, God raised him up on high to be seated at the right hand of his Father’s throne, exalted above all others. The work that Christ did on account of his crucified body and shed blood bought life for his people—unmerited and eternal. With this great work, Christ is known and glorified in all corners of the earth. Paul writes, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). What Christ did was earn for God’s people all the riches of salvation. As we look back at our nation’s history, it is obvious that many slaves did not have even the simplest of blessings or access to any rights. Many were restricted from reading and writing, unable to become literate and further their education. On the contrary, we as God’s people have rights that only his chosen elect have obtained because of his amazing work on the cross. By the grace of God, he now looks upon us as precious and redeemed.
The obvious result and forthcoming action of any teacher is an awareness of God’s gift and thus a proper approach to the students. Since God has promised eternal life to his chosen people, no teacher has any right to belittle a student. Each person has a name, a personality, and a specific level of intelligence that God has gifted unto them. While we do not know God’s plan for every person, we can by faith desire that the children we raise in our churches will follow in the footsteps of Christ, crowning them as royalty in the palace of our king. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). God’s servants have been called out—chosen, royal, holy, peculiar—and what a comfort to know that nothing can change that! With this knowledge, teachers must continue in having the mind of Christ and seeing the students as objects of God’s love and perfect work.
In the same manner, students are called and must be encouraged to not only esteem others above themselves, but to love them as fellow princes and princesses in God’s kingdom. This is not to say that the royal status causes God’s people to sin less, as “even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 44). Nonetheless, the positive side presents itself in that love, and trust can be shown and displayed to those of God’s holy choosing unto himself (Deut., 14:2). Because we have been granted the mind of Christ to know more and more the very mind of the Lord, we can accept this task with excitement and vigor (1 Cor. 2:16). The contrast to the slavery which defined much of our country’s history is that while Christ has purchased his people to be his property and to do his bidding, we are not treated harshly or as those who have no place or belonging. In the courts of God and in our Lord’s presence, we are royal servants of the king!
Through deep study and an understanding of the mind of Christ, God’s people must strive to kneel in submission to him, walk humbly before all men, and live as his holy bride. As the need for godly Christian teachers continues to grow, it is of utmost importance that our teachers be properly equipped for the work which they are called to do. The training of students to have the mind of Christ and the desire to be Christ-like in their walk is a difficult task, especially with the strong currents of our society influencing young people, young adults, and even the older generation today. The comfort that God’s people must keep in mind is that our slavery and servanthood to God is unlike that of the history of our nation. It is a gift that we are enslaved to Christ, having been freed from the bondage of sin and given everlasting life as servants to God (Rom. 6:22). It is then with great rejoicing that we join together with the apostle Paul in saying, “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6).