Find Me

Find new posts at!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Servant and Son

I have a book on my shelf called Servant and Son: Jesus in Parable and Gospel, by J. Ramsey Michaels (1982).  It's an examination of the person of Christ (technical term: Christology) using the depiction of the life of Jesus in the Gospels as the starting point.  (I could get more technical than this, but that won't be helpful to most readers, I'm guessing, and it's beside the point.)  I'll be honest with you: I haven't read this book.  As with many of my books, I got it from a pastor looking to unload a significant portion of his stash in the thought that it looked good and I hoped to read it sometime, knowing deep in my heart that there is almost no chance that I ever will.  However, I mention this book because its title is a neat way of viewing my spiritual life right now.

Jesus is the Servant of God as well as the Son of God.  Today we get kind of squeamish about calling Jesus the Servant of God because we are afraid of denying his Sonship and his full divinity, coequal with the Father. But the Church in its Pentecostal infancy had no such qualms.  Peter calls Jesus God's Servant in Acts 3:13, 26, and the whole church follows his lead in 4:30.  This title doesn't imply that Jesus' nature is less than fully divine and inferior to God the Father's.  Rather it implies two things: (1) that Jesus is the Servant prophesied in the latter chapters of Isaiah (see esp. 52:13-15 and the chapter that follows) and thus the New/True Israel (see, e.g., 44:1-2); and (2) that even though he and his Father are equal in nature and value, the Father always calls the shots and the Son always does what he says, and it never works the other way around (see, e.g., John 5:19-30).

This matters not just because everything about our beloved Lord matters to those who love him but because of what it means to be "in Christ."  Being "in Christ" (i.e., being saved) means that whatever is true of Christ becomes true of us in the sight of God.  There are lots of implications and examples of this, but what I want to point out is that if Christ is the Servant of God then each person in Christ is a servant of God.  And if Christ is the Son of God then each person in Christ is a son or daughter of God.  Make sense?

We see these terms applied to believers throughout the New Testament.  For example, in Paul's letter to the Galatians he asserts, "So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God" (Gal. 4:7).  On the other hand, earlier in the letter he refers to himself as a slave of Christ (1:10).  Is Paul contradicting himself?  No—he just tended to be very flexible with his use of metaphors, shifting easily to the best illustration to get his point across.  His point with the "Father-son" analogy is that our relationship with God isn't based on how meticulously we have followed the rules (the "works of the Law") but on God's grace to adopt us into his family while we were unworthy.  But he uses the "Master-slave" analogy to assert his obligation to make God's will his own in everything because God paid his Son to buy Paul from slavery to sin so that Paul could serve God instead.

When I see contrasting pairs in the Bible, my instinct is to elevate both sides and be careful not to make one more important than the other, because that's how heresy gets started.  (For example, make Christ's humanity a little more important than his divinity and after a while you or your followers end up denying his divinity, and vice versa.)  So I intend to elevate both Christ's Servanthood and Sonship and also both my servanthood and sonship.  And intellectually, I do this.  But I'm not sure I'm elevating both sides in my relationship with God.

See, I think I've got that Master-slave relationship with God nailed down.  I truly and gratefully want to do God's will because I owe him my life.  I could go the rest of my days receiving nothing more from his hand and still want to serve him out of gratitude for redeeming me from sin and Satan.  I'm not a perfect servant by any means, but I am a willing one.  Out of loyalty to my Master, I will grit my teeth and push through to accomplish any task he gives me, no questions asked, because he deserves it, and I want to give it to him.

The problem is that I don't have the same zeal about my Father-son relationship with God.  That one is fuzzier.  It's not that I doubt that I'm a son of God in my head.  It's just that there's some part of me that doesn't want to hear it.  Maybe deep down I'm afraid it's not true.  Maybe part of me doesn't want it to be true because it has some implications I don't want to contemplate.  Maybe I'm afraid of being let down somehow.  Maybe it's that I don't believe that God owes me anything as my Master but that he does owe me something if he's my Father, and maybe I'm afraid that he won't deliver—or that he hasn't and he should.  Maybe I'm afraid of those accusatory thoughts themselves.  Maybe I'm confident in my service that I think I can control but not confident in his grace that I can't.  Maybe I'm comfortable with a certain distance between us if he is so high and I am so low, but I am afraid of what will happen to me if we embrace.  And yet many times I have felt the love of God intensely and have accepted it—no, reveled in it.  It's by no means a foreign concept.  So why is it so hard right now?

Perhaps for some it is easier to be loved by God than to serve him.  For me it's the reverse: "Give me a job to do, God; just don't tell me that you love me."  I've noticed that the longer I serve as a pastor, a "professional Christian," the more my attitude drifts this way.  This is a dirty secret, but a disturbing proportion of the retired pastors I've observed have little to no evidence of an active relationship to God.  I think this is because through their ministries they became more and more servants of God and less and less sons.  That enabled them to drift from being servants of God to servants of people, then servants of organizations, and finally servants of self, and once they stopped taking a paycheck the facade crumbled and there was no relationship with God left.

I don't want to end up like this.  But these ominous examples prove that if I fail to drink deeply of God's love, then I cannot serve him as he deserves to be served.  Jesus demonstrated this.  Only the Father's beloved, his Chosen One in whom he is well-pleased, could go to the cross for those he desired to save.  And likewise I cannot represent him as I must if my love-relationship with him is replaced by a crisp to-do list.  I become dried out, trying, exhausted, to give people ever-diminishing cupfuls of mud from a broken cistern when I no longer have living water springing up to eternal life within me (Jer. 2:13; John 4:13-14).

Jesus is equally Servant and Son, and it is heresy to suggest otherwise.  In the same way, I am servant and son, and it is spiritual disaster if I fail to identify fully and gladly as both.

No comments:

Post a Comment