Bondservants of Jesus
by Ron Pearce
As a follower and committed disciple of Jesus, there is probably no biblical truth that has captured my heart more than the meaning of the word “bondservant”. This word epitomizes the character and passion of a worldwide “army” of national workers that God is currently raising up. In fact, it is probably the primary reason why God is pouring out His Spirit in such a powerful and widespread manner in so many countries. He has placed His dedicated bondservants in critical regions and is spiritually equipping them for His purposes, just as He did in the Early Church, some 2,000 years ago.
The Making of a Bondservant
To understand fully the deep significance of the “bondservant” concept, it is necessary to examine the biblical references on the topic.
If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, is sold to you, then he shall serve you six years, but in the seventh year you shall set him free. When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.
It shall come about if he says to you, "I will not go out from you,” because he loves you and your household, since he fares well with you; then you shall take an awl and pierce it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also you shall do likewise to your maidservant.
Deuteronomy 15:12 – 17
Two Types of Servitude
There are two types of servitude referred to in the Bible. One describes a slave and the other is a “bond-slave” or “bondservant”. Many paths could lead a person into slavery including servitude to pay off a debt, being born into the position, or as a penalty for thievery, to name a few. Likewise, a slave could be freed upon the master’s death by paying a price, simply by lapse of time, or in a number of other ways.
Slavery, in biblical times, followed a seven-year cycle. A man or woman served the master for a maximum of six years. Every seventh year, all slaves were given their freedom, their debts paid in full. It was common for the freed slaves to be released with goods, livestock and supplies provided by the master, almost as a form of profit sharing. The instructions given by Moses were clear—treat the indentured slaves well, even upon their departure. Slavery in Israel was quite different from other nearby countries with slaves being treated almost like family members, having certain rights and privileges.
This understanding of slavery provides the foundation for grasping the concept of the second type of servitude—that of being a bondservant. When a slave received his freedom during the seventh year, he could leave with his profit-sharing gifts to begin his life again, or he could choose to stay. A slave who was devoted completely to his master could choose to serve him for life. In this case, the slave appeared before a council of elders to declare his intentions. This commitment demonstrated the servant’s deep love and affection for his master and his unwavering desire to serve him perpetually. There was no termination date, short of death.
It was understood that by declaring total allegiance to the master, the servant was also willingly giving up all personal rights and privileges, to become his bondservant.
In light of this commitment, and so that everyone would be aware of the decision, the master physically marked his new bondservant. While the slave stood in front of the door of the master’s house, a metal awl was used to make a large hole in the slave’s ear. This visible mark permanently connected the new bondservant (or doulos in Greek) to the master and his household.
This commitment was a serious one. The bondservant understood he was choosing to accept this role for life. He knew he was obliged to willingly obey his master, complete assigned tasks and go wherever commanded, all without complaint. He might be sent to work in a pigpen, or in times of shortage he may go without food. Any suffering or hardship would be endured in silence. In return, the bondservant received food, clothes and shelter under his master’s watchful discretion.
A Bondservant has No Rights
Why is the concept of a bondservant so significant for the Church today? There is a growing movement throughout the world encouraging people to stand up and demand their personal rights and freedoms. Sadly, this thinking is also surfacing within the Body of Christ. The Word of God however, teaches us that when we accept Christ as Lord and Savior, we must be willing to give up these rights in favor of assuming a position as a willing servant to Christ and to His Church.
This is a new and revolutionary attitude for some people living today, including most Christians. Even in Christ’s day, it was contrary to popular thinking. People did not want to become slaves, rather they wanted to be free from slavery and hopefully become masters themselves.
In Philippians 2:5-8, Paul describes the perspective Jesus had as a bondservant when He suffered the indignities of the Cross:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Jesus humbled Himself as a slave would humble himself and became obedient to the point of death. He did not protest his rough treatment, the cruel whipping or the beatings prior to being nailed to the Cross. He understood and accepted the fact that a bondservant had no personal rights. And He needed to demonstrate for us, those who would follow in the way of the Cross, what bondservanthood truly meant.
The Lifestyle of a Bondservant
This distinguishing characteristic of Christ, as a bondservant, should also be the distinguishing trait of His Body, the Church. He told the disciples on several occasions that to be great, or to be a leader in His Church, one must willingly take on the lifestyle of a bondservant.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The Apostles got the message!
“Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ...”
2 Peter 1:1
“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”
Each major writer of the New Testament referred to himself as a bondservant. Peter, Paul, John (Revelation 1:1), James (James 1:1), and Jude (Jude 1) all described themselves in this manner; it further emphasized the burning desire within them to be identified with Christ. And if you study the lives of these great men of God, you will discover that after they made the commitment to live their lives as bondservants, God raised them up in the Body of Christ as leaders.
You see, “bondservant” in the Kingdom of God, is another way of saying “leader.”
This is someone that people look up to and watch closely in order to pattern their lives after them. And this is particularly true for young people who eagerly launch into projects and events with great enthusiasm and passion, but need the direction of godly leaders to build solid truth into their lives. They need role models who carry the mark of a “bondservant” proudly and boldly. These servants of the Most High God will fit in well with the scene of the New Jerusalem described in the Book of Revelation:
“…and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.”
The Qualities of a Bondservant
Six of the most outstanding qualities that God builds into His bondservants are:
Diligence – A bondservant works from sun-up to sundown without complaint, knowing that the Master demands and requires a full day of labor.
Courage – Adversity will be faced and conquered in order to accomplish the task set before them by the Master.
Humility – Not a false humility that was symbolic of the Pharisees, but a true brokenness born out of a realistic understanding of our position before a loving and caring Master.
Dependence – A bondservant trusts the Master to provide all the needed supplies including food, clothes and shelter.
Identity – Bondservants are not ashamed of being identified with their Master or His Family (the Church). They boldly confess that they are Christians and proudly carry the Family Name.
Single-mindedness – The focus of a bondservant is on the priorities of the Master. Christ’s desires become the bondservant’s desires.
“… let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
This attitude of living as a bondservant, unmistakably apparent in Jesus and His apostles, is also evident in God’s servants in the national churches of the world today. On many occasions, in dozens of countries, I have heard testimonies of sacrifice and commitment. These reports all center on fulfilling the will of their Master at any cost. And we know that the will of Jesus was to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). That is why the focal point of a true bondservant and hundreds of national church planting ministries worldwide is to fulfill the Great Commission that Jesus has set before us. Here are a few examples.
There is probably no other place on earth where this concept has so affected the believers, than in China, a country of 1.3 billion. They consciously identify themselves as bondservants of Jesus Christ and choose a matching lifestyle. The rural underground Bible schools reveal quickly where bondservants are born.
I had the privilege of meeting a group of eager, young Chinese believers in training for ministry. Inside an old warehouse, I met 80 young men and women who huddled together for warmth in a dimly lit room. Their day began at dawn and lasted well into the night. Memorizing Scripture was the centerpiece of their studies. They also walked through each verse of the Bible under the teaching of an experienced elderly pastor/teacher. Their food rations were meager, their clothes were worn and dirty. But not one word of complaint was on their lips. To them, the privilege of studying the Word for three years and then being commissioned to plant churches for their Master was of greater value than any hardships they temporarily endured.
I interviewed a young man and a young woman who were about to graduate.
Their ministries would take them in different directions as church planters, but both knew their futures would involve great hardship. My question to each of them was simple, “What is your goal in ministry?”
They answered in agreement:
“We are honored that our Lord and Master has chosen us to serve Him by serving His Church.”
Their response has stayed with me over the years, and I remember clearly the look in their eyes when they uttered those words. With their heads bowed in submission, they spoke in a very soft, respectful manner. Later, they told me of their determination to plant churches or die in the attempt. They would work “hard” (a word I consider to be a great understatement) in order to see the lost of China come to know true freedom in Christ.
Why are there an estimated 120 million believers in that country? Mainly because there are humble bondservants like these, launching into ministry on a daily basis! I believe that apostolic leaders such as Paul, Peter and John from 2,000 years ago will one day sit together in heaven and compare similar stories with the modern-day bondservants of China.
One young pastor I met in Vietnam travels daily from his tribal village many miles in varying directions to share the Gospel with his people. In 10 years of ministry, he has established fifteen churches. The authorities have beaten him on countless occasions. His wife and children have also been beaten for their faith, and because of the work of their husband and father. God has supplied them with ample housing and enough food and clothes to maintain life and ministry. Are they rich in western terms? No. Are they rich in kingdom and spiritual terms? Absolutely!
I had the opportunity to interview this great servant of God. He was honored that I would take the time to ask him about his life, family and ministry, not considering himself worthy of the extra attention. He described the conditions in his region, the great poverty, and intense persecution by the authorities. He was once a communist party member and a police officer. Before becoming a believer in Christ, he persecuted Christians vehemently. When I asked what drew him to Christ, his response was immediate:
“I saw in the Christians a brokenness and humility that I didn’t understand. I hit them and they prayed for me. I abused them and they would not fight back. The more I persecuted the Christians, the more I wanted to be one of them.”
This is one of the mysteries of the Gospel. There is an attractiveness to those who are committed bondservants. In human terms, this is unexplainable. The ones who draw the attention of the unbelievers are those who take the abuse and beatings and follow the way of the Cross.
Bondservants of Jesus
Because of what it means to be a bondservant, Empower Ministries will not crusade for the personal rights and freedoms of the Church around the world. The national church leadership, in country after country, encourages Empower not to stand up and petition governments to lessen persecution on believers in Christ, demanding the observance of the basic rights of Christians. This is the “way of the world” they say; not the “way of the Cross.” Rather they ask for assistance to equip the bondservants with the tools necessary to fulfill their calling of winning the lost to Christ, regardless of the world’s and Satan’s obstacles.
God the Father watched as His Son was brutalized, humiliated and then crucified on the Cross. Jesus was never out of God’s sight. He could have called for thousands of angels to protect and defend Him. Instead, He chose to take on the form of a bondservant, suffer, and die for lost humanity. In the same way, we as the Church of Christ are not out of the watchful eye of our Heavenly Father at any moment. Those who suffer persecution are following in Jesus’ footsteps.
You may have noticed that every letter you receive from me is signed, “His bondservant, Ron Pearce.” There is a reason for this. Years ago when the Holy Spirit impressed upon me this truth, I determined to let everyone know that my heartfelt conviction was to lay down my rights in order to follow God as His bondservant. To me this visible sign was extremely important. I not only made the choice to live as God’s bondservant, but I wanted to testify publicly to that decision.
My goal in life (though I confess I am not always successful) is to refrain from rising up to demand fair treatment. It is my firm conviction that the Lord will defend and protect me. He will be the One who takes care of His servant. And I have seen this happen regularly over the years. God has provided all of our needs as a family. When persecuted and maligned, He has eventually brought out the truth and defended His servant.
One dear Christian leader from Vietnam was imprisoned twice for a total of eight years because of his faith in Christ. He told me that the pastor who twice betrayed him to the communist authorities intended to destroy him and his family. The experience instead, launched him into a new and more powerful ministry than he ever had imagined possible.
What lesson can we learn from this brother in Vietnam, a lesson to which I can also testify? God is not blind; God is not deaf. He sees and hears the situations and cries of His children. He tests us to confirm our commitment to living our lives as bondservants, and when confirmed, He pours out blessings and anointing beyond measure.
Calling All Committed Believers
Yes, we are bondservants. At least that is what we are called to be. To demand our personal, human rights and to flee from hardship and suffering is not the way of the Kingdom. Jesus created a new standard for us to follow. Those who would be truly successful in life must come to a full understanding of what God is calling us to be—bondservants of the living God.
All Scriptures from the Updated New American Standard Bible
© Empower Ministries 2008
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