2 Corinthians 5: 14, 15
Deuteronomy 15: 12-18
Romans 12: 11; 14: 16-18
Galatians 5: 13
1 Peter 4: 7-11
What I want to speak about is servitude. In our reading we had the Lord Jesus typically as the Hebrew bondman in Exodus 21, and, while you certainly could not rule out that Deuteronomy 15 is speaking of the Lord Jesus too, I want to make an application in this case to us, because it is a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, “he shall be thy bondman for ever. And also unto thy handmaid thou shalt do likewise”.
Before we get to that, the passage in 2 Corinthians 5 says, “For the love of the Christ constrains us”. We had the love of the Christ before us earlier and what it is for us to be increasingly devoted to Him in every aspect of our lives; “the love of the Christ constrains us”. God “drew them with bands of a man, with cords of love”, Hos 11: 4. Through the influence of the Lord Jesus in relation to every one of us, affecting us by the way that He has gone, He helps us to arrive at the conclusion that we should no longer live to ourselves. It is easy to be taken up by self when you look at the world around us. It is increasingly, ’I, me and mine’; and who collects the most wins, but in the soul it is not really so. The Lord Jesus said, “For what does a man profit, if he should gain the whole world”, Matt 16: 26. Nobody here is going to be so fortunate as to gain the whole world; you might get a few acres, but what if you did gain the whole world, “and suffer the loss of his soul”!
“The love of the Christ constrains us, having judged this”, that is to arrive, because of the love of Christ, at a sober judgment of all that is around us, “then all have died”. It was a scene of death totally under the eye of God when Jesus died. What a spectacle for the heavenly hosts to see the One who is their Creator suspended between earth and heaven, and die; “having judged this: that one died for all”. It does not bring in the many here, “one died for all”. That is God’s glorious glad tidings, it is for all, each one of us in this room, each one walking down the streets of Villa Grove, each one of us in the surrounding farming country in this area of America, and in all the world. The whole world, “one died for all, then all have died”. But He “has been raised up from among the dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom 6: 4), and “raised for our justification” (Rom 4: 25), and has “gone into heaven, angels and authorities and powers being subjected to him”, 1 Pet 3: 22.
“He died for all, that they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who died for them and has been raised”; what an object for our souls our Lord Jesus is, how attractive He is in His glory! “We see Jesus, who was made some little inferior to angels on account of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour” (Heb 2: 9); we do not actually see Him with our physical eyes yet, “on whom though not now looking, but believing, ye exult with joy unspeakable and filled with the glory”, 1 Pet 1: 8.
We see not all things yet
Subjected to Thee, Lord: …
We see Thee glory-crowned
That is faith. Faith sees Him there. It is precious, “like precious faith”, 2 Pet 1: 1. It is not the portion of all sadly, not every one believes, not every one is attracted by this lovely Saviour of mankind. That is why I thought that hymn expressed something of our feelings towards Him. “That they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who died for them, and has been raised”. Living to Him involves servitude and that is a very happy matter. If you love somebody your joy and delight is to do something for them.
That is why I read Deuteronomy 15. I do not exclude its application to the Lord Jesus. The parallel scripture in Exodus 21 is primarily the Lord Jesus, but I do not think Deuteronomy is about Him primarily. I think it is us, our attitude towards one another; so that we joyfully take up service and love to do so. There is a very appealing picture in Hosea: Ephraim had been a real problem for God. He said, “I it was that taught Ephraim to walk”, Hos 11: 3. The divine feelings come out in that prophet, but Ephraim went his own way. Sometimes the children of believers are like that. There has been some appeal of the love of Jesus to them and their children, but when they get older the children forget about that and go their own way. You can see that course all the way through Hosea; “refractory” is one of the words describing Ephraim as you proceed through that prophet, chap 4: 16. What you come to at the end is that “Ephraim is a trained heifer, that loveth to tread out the corn”, Hos 10: 11. At that time they spread out the crop on the threshing floor; threshing could be done with a flail, but they could also bring in animals to walk over it until it was all threshed out. Then they winnowed it by throwing it up in the air so that the wind would blow the chaff out. That is a lovely figure of servitude; “Ephraim is a trained heifer that loveth to tread out the corn”.
“And it shall be, if he say unto thee”, and remember this can be a brother or a sister, “I will not go away from thee, - because he loveth thee and thy house, because he is well with thee, - then thou shalt take an awl, and thrust it through his ear and into the door; and he shall be thy bondman forever. And also unto thy handmaid thou shalt do likewise” - what affects the saints in relation to this is that they are to remember that they have been bondmen in Egypt. The Lord said, “Every one that practises sin is the bondman of sin”, John 8: 34. Sometime in our history we have to come to that that we have been bondmen of sin. When Paul speaks to the Romans he says, “thanks be to God, that ye were bondmen of sin, but have obeyed from the heart the form of teaching into which ye were instructed”, Rom 6: 17. He is saying now that God’s righteousness has affected you so that “he died for all, that they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who died for them and has been raised”.
I thought that the allusion to bondmanship in Deuteronomy 15 was very beautiful. It says here, “Let it not seem hard unto thee, when thou sendest him away free from thee; for double the worth of a hired servant hath he been to thee, in serving thee six years; and Jehovah thy God will bless thee in all that thou doest”, what a lovely description of the attitude that we should have towards one another in our localities.
This is what leads me to Romans - you would covet to be able to get across what the Spirit would have said without too much elaboration. Sometimes the incisiveness of the word can be dulled by my elaboration. Mr Darby said, ‘Aim at the conscience … Say little, serve all, pass on’. Romans 12 says, “as to diligent zealousness”, which is quite descriptive, “not slothful; in spirit fervent; serving the Lord”. “Serving the Lord”, as Christ’s bondman. We remarked earlier that the apostle loved to take up that very descriptive word in his epistles when he spoke of bondmen; James speaks of it too, “James, bondman of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”, James 1: 1. Would you not love, in some little way, to be characterised by that; “in spirit fervent; serving the Lord”? Phoebe was that kind of a sister (Rom 16: 1), and we have them in most of our localities, fervent persons. Fervency in their spirits, serving the Lord, and how attractive that is! It is open to every one of us: we can serve. The Lord Jesus brings it down to such simple terms: “whosoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward”, Matt 10: 42. That is servitude in the very simplest terms.
Then in chapter 14, “For he that in this serves the Christ”, that is being characterised by “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he that in this serves the Christ”. This presentation of the kingdom is exceedingly attractive. Sometimes we think the kingdom is a little bit of a rigid idea, that we had better smarten up or we will be in trouble, or sometimes we like to throw our weight around. It is one of the failings of humanity that we men like to throw our weight around; we have had some experience of that. Sometimes it takes a good deal of discipline to erase that feature - “Let not then your good be evil spoken of; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he that in this serves the Christ” - it is fascinating the way the term “the Christ” comes in from time to time: “serves the Christ”, the anointed Man, chosen of God - “is acceptable to God”. Would you like, beloved brethren, to be acceptable to God? Paul says that he was exercised in all things to have in everything a conscience without offence towards God and men (Acts 24: 16), which would be a parallel idea: “he that in this serves the Christ is acceptable to God and approved of men”. I thought service from this point of view becomes exceedingly attractive and might encourage every one of us.
“By love serve one another”, that is the only way; if you do it any other way it would not be acceptable to God, and probably in the long run would not be approved of men either.
Peter’s first epistle is fascinating, as is all scripture - in the first place it is God’s word. I remember a preacher holding up a Bible and it made such an impression on me of the value of this book that I have never forgotten it, all scripture is divinely inspired and profitable, and it is fascinating. I would encourage the young people to steep yourselves in the word of God, saturate yourselves with the word of God, learn the scriptures. I am not decrying the ministry, but never put the ministry ahead of the scriptures, always put the scripture first, and then the ministry. I will tell you why: beloved Mr Darby - and I would encourage you to read his ministry - said, the sun needs no light to see it by (Collected Writings vol 6 p3). and he was talking about the Scriptures.
I read in 1 Peter chapter 4, “But the end of all things is drawn nigh”, so that in the light of that it is the way in which we are to conduct ourselves. He ends his second epistle similarly, “All these things then being to be dissolved, what ought ye to be in holy conversation and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God”, 2 Pet 3: 11, 12. What kind of persons ought we to be? What is suitable to those that have like precious faith, to those that in the wonder of God’s sovereignty have been brought to know and appreciate the truth, to those that have come to Jesus by faith and accepted Him as Saviour, and to those who “have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”, Eph 1: 13? What wonderful privileges to be among a company like this. “But the end of all things is drawn nigh: be sober therefore, and be watchful unto prayers” - that is good and important - “but before all things having fervent love among yourselves, because love covers a multitude of sins”. All those irritating things that might bring in difficulty amongst brethren, fervent love covers all that. So you can say it does not matter, it is not important. Paul said to the Corinthians, “if even in abundantly loving you I should be less loved” (2 Cor 12: 15); he was not going to stop loving them, regardless of what they said about him, regardless of how they criticised him, regardless of how they made fun of him. They said “his presence in body weak, and his speech naught”, 2 Cor 10: 10; you can almost hear some of those Corinthians saying that. He says, “if even in abundantly loving you I should be less loved”. His feelings for the Galatians are the same, “my children, of whom I again travail in birth until Christ shall have been formed in you”, chap 4: 19. That is what he had in mind, that Christ should be formed in the saints; that would be our objective in a gathering like this, that Christ should be formed in you, but from this angle of servitude. That is why I read Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 15. And now, “before all things having fervent love among yourselves, because love covers a multitude of sins”. “Hospitable one to another, without murmuring”. I remember a poem written about Priscilla, as to whether she was griping when Aquila brought somebody home to tea very unexpectedly, “hospitable one to another, without murmuring”. “Each according as he has received a gift”, did you know that it was a gift to be hospitable? What a fine thing it is. It pleases God. “Ministering it to one another, as good stewards of the various grace of God” - this is testing - “If any one speak - as oracles of God; if any one minister - as of strength which God supplies”. You can understand how Paul would say, “But to him that is able to do far exceedingly above all which we ask or think”, Eph 3: 20. It says, “as of strength which God supplies; that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom is the glory and the might for the ages of ages. Amen”. That is the objective; let us “encourage one another with these words”, 1 Thess 4: 18.
8 December 2007