Posts Tagged ‘Servanthood’

Put others first and you will be great

January 29, 2015

Mark-9 35

The Verse of the Day for January 29, 2015 speaks of the oxymoronic nature of true servanthood: the last shall be first and the first shall be last. If you want to be in the premier position as number one, then put yourself in the last position by putting others first, and you will be great.

Mark 9:35 (NLT)

He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

Other places in the Scriptures also reveal this striking portrait of a true servant of the Lord:

Luke 22:26 (NLT)

But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant.

A similar response occurs in Mark 10:43 (NLT)

But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant,

A particularly noteworthy verse is found in Matthew 20:27 (NLT):

And whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.

In following in the steps of Jesus Christ, one of the most noble character traits that a person can demonstrate is that of serving others. Throughout the life and ministry of Christ, he takes upon himself the form of a servant, thus modeling the behavior that he desires to see his followers emulate.

In the New Testament we find that the metaphor of the servant or bondslave is used in the Bible to portray this admirable heart of service. The distinction between the term “slave” and the “bond servant” which is translated from the Greek word doulos in the New Testament is that the servant or bondslave offers his life in “voluntary servitude.” Though often looked upon in a negative light, choosing to become a servant of the Lord is a most admirable character trait.

My attraction to this particular metaphor occurred more than 40 years ago when I was introduced to the concept of the doulos, translated “servant” but more accurately rendered “bondslave.” I produced an article “Doulos: A Different View of the Slave” published in 1975. In 1978 while completing my Master’s thesis, I explored the subject in light of Paul’s literary style in the Church Epistles. I went on to complete my Ph.D. in 1986 with a dissertation entitled Portrait of the Bondslave in the Bible: Slavery and Freedom in the Works of Four Afro-American Poets. Aside from a purely academic exploration of the topic of the bondslave, I have also endeavored to practically apply the precepts of this biblical term. I express my application of the principles of servitude found in this intriguing figure in the poem “More Than Metaphor”:

More than Metaphor

For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me:

and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another,

Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it

Matthew 8:9

 

To capture my essence I strive to find a word,

Phrase, image or mind picture to bring clarity,

To express my deep yearning for intimacy.

Like Paul, my calling card reads: “servant of the Lord.”

Each fiber of my being and each emotion

Pulsates with lifeblood flowing from a servant’s heart.

As I endeavor to learn and live to impart

The joy of serving with pure-hearted devotion,

I pledge to work in voluntary servitude,

As I fix my eyes, looking unto my Lord’s hands,

To heed His Word and to do more than He commands,

To serve with love from a heart filled with gratitude.

Beyond a single concept, more than metaphor

Is this branded bondslave, who embodies “the more.”

 

Listen to “The Servant Song” by Maranatha! Promise Band, as we close this blog entry.

Mark 9:35–First and last

January 29, 2014

Mark-9 35The Verse of the Day for January 29, 2014 expresses the paradox of servanthood: the last shall be first and the first shall be last. If you want to be in the premier position as number one, then put yourself in the last position by putting others first, and you will be great. A similar concept was expressed in another recent Verse of the Day taken from James 4:1 where we learn that that “the way down is the way up.”

Jesus Christ illustrates the same point that those who desire to be first should put themselves last and serve others first.  Nowhere is this portrait of a true servant of the Lord more vividly revealed than in the account where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples in John 13.

El_Lavatorio_(Tintoretto)A number of years ago, my wife and I received a special Christmas gift: a statue of Christ washing one of his disciples’ feet with the inscription John chapter 13 embossed on the base.  I was deeply moved when I opened the package and discovered such a priceless gift inside.   I recall a similar experience when I viewed another work of art that evoked a similar response.  In a journal entry written in 2003 as I was on my way to Dakar, Senegal, I described the situation and shared a poem based on the same account in John 13:

As I am enjoying the Vision of Madrid bus tour, I decide to get off at one of the stops—The Prado, the world famous museum housing a number of noteworthy works by such artists as Goya, El Greco, Velasquez, et.al.  Some of the most recognized works in the collection are religious themes and portraits based on incidents and individuals portrayed as if they were members of the contemporary society at the time the works were painted.  One particular painting, “El Lavatorio” by Tintoretto, deeply moves me in a profound way.  The larger than life painting depicts Jesus washing the feet of Peter, as the others have either had their feet washed or are waiting for the experience.  Once again I try to envision what the disciples must have thought when Jesus took a towel and a basin and began to wash their feet.  What an overwhelming lesson in humility.  As I reflect upon the painting which moves me to tears, I thought of this poem:

Let Me Wash Your Feet

John 13:4-5, 19

As Jesus put off his garments and wrapped a towel

around himself,

So I lay aside my pride with nothing to hide and

expose myself.

As a humble servant I long to wash your feet.

You could yourself

Perform this deed of loving service, but let me

serve you myself.

To allow me to wash your feet is to bless me,

as Christ himself

Blessed the Twelve before he departed from this earth.

You have yourself

The key to the door of blessing for you and me:

As Jesus took

Upon himself

The servant’s form

That I myself

Might freely give

To you yourself,

So I ask you

As Christ himself

Still asks of me,

So I ask you to

Let me to wash your feet.

“The Basin and the Towel,” musical composition by Michael Card, also portrays this moving account of John 13 in this video:

The Verse of the Day reminds us once again that those who would be great must first serve others.

basin and towel

Doulos: Free to serve

January 8, 2011

Galatians-5-13Taken from Galatians 5:13 in the New Living Translation, the Verse of the Day for May 22, 2015 highlights the paradox between freedom and servitude:

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

This verse and other related scriptures bring to mind the idea of the servant or slave who has been set free. In the early 70s or thereabout, I was introduced to the Greek term “doulos”, translated servant or more literally “bondslave,” one of the most misunderstood concepts found in the Scriptures. The portrayal of the servant or slave, as revealed in the Bible has particular significance to me for a number of reasons, aside from my being a descendant of slaves brought from Africa to America.

In 1975 I produced an article “Doulos: A Different View of the Slave.” In 1978 while completing my Master’s thesis, I explored the subject in light of Paul’s literary style in the Church Epistles. I went on to complete my Ph.D. in 1986 with a dissertation entitled Portrait of the Bondslave in the Bible: Slavery and Freedom in the Works of Four Afro-American Poets. Four years ago, I posted a blog at “Dr. J’s Apothecary Shoppe” that I am revising and re-posting in celebration of the original article published 40 years ago.

Being a doulos involves a deep commitment to one’s Lord and Master.

The term doulos has become an intricate part of my life since I first learned of the concept of the “bond servant” or “bond slave” back in the early 70s. Last year I celebrated the 35th anniversary of my publishing an article entitled “Doulos: A Different View of a Slave.” As used in the Bible, doulos is a metaphor that I have personalized and internalized. I explored the concept in Master’s thesis which looked at the literary style of Paul in the Church Epistles, where he opens the Book of Romans with his “calling card”: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle (note the order).”  In my Ph.D. dissertation I looked at the metaphor of the “servant” or “bond slave” in the Bible and in the works of four African American poets who were influenced by the Bible. Beyond that, the concept is deeply embedded into my soul, in that it has become the essence of who I am. I attempt to express that essence in this poem:

More Than Metaphor

Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle,

separated to the gospel of God

Romans 1:1

To capture my essence I strive to find a word,

Phrase, image or mind picture to bring clarity,

To express my deep yearning for intimacy.

Like Paul, my calling card reads: “servant of the Lord.”

Each fiber of my being and each emotion

Pulsates with lifeblood flowing from a servant’s heart.

As I endeavor to learn and live to impart

The joy of serving with pure-hearted devotion,

I pledge to work in voluntary servitude,

As I fix my eyes, looking unto my Lord’s hands,

To heed His Word and to do more than He commands,

To serve with love from a heart filled with gratitude.

Beyond a single concept, more than metaphor

Is this branded bondslave, who embodies “the more.

The basin and towel are symbolic of the essence of servanthood as demonstrated by the Lord Jesus Christ in John 13.

In discussing this topic of the servant or bond slave, an image almost immediately comes to mind: a basin and a towel, representative of one of my favorite passages regarding the ministry of Jesus Christ, who revealed so clearly the heart of a bond servant when he washed the disciples’ feet in the account from John 13. This very moving excerpt inspired another related poem:

Let Me Wash Your Feet

            John 13:4-5, 19

As Jesus put off his garments and wrapped a towel

around himself,

So I lay aside my pride with nothing to hide and

expose myself.

As a humble servant I long to wash your feet.

You could yourself

Perform this deed of loving service, but let me

Serve you myself.

To allow me to wash your feet is to bless me,

as Christ himself

Blessed the Twelve before he departed from this earth.

You have yourself

The key to the door of blessing for you and me:

As Jesus took

Upon himself

The servant’s form

That I myself

Might freely give

To you yourself,

So I ask you

As Christ himself

Still asks of me,

So I ask you to

Let me to wash your feet.

One of the ancient practices associated with bond servants in the Bible is the year of the Jubilee, the Old Testament practice whereby the 50th year was a special sabbatical period when Hebrew slaves were released from their obligation of servitude, and they were free to leave their masters and go out on their own. These servants could by their freedom of will choose to serve their masters for the rest of their lives in light of the close relationship they had established. On my 50th birthday, I wrote “This Year of My Jubilee” which alludes to this Old Testament practice:

This Year of My Jubilee

Exodus 21:1-6

Leviticus 25:1-17 

 

I stand alone, clothed only with the wind

At the end of my seventh sabbath year.

Gathering of blessings now flow through my mind

As the shofar’s call resounds in my ear

To proclaim this year of my jubilee.

I reflect upon the wonders of this grace

Wherein I stand, a bondslave now made free.

In this golden moment as I embrace

The truth and pledge to love as you command,

Pierce my ear–place your brand upon my soul.

Enlighten me so I may understand

That to run to serve is life’s highest goal.

Unfold before me pleasures of your ways

And seal my vows to serve you all my days.

Once more Michael Card has the perfect song entitled “Jubilee” to accompany this poem.

I will conclude this entry by posting a PDF of the original article “Doulos: A Different View of a Slave” which was first published in 1975. Accompanying the article is a letter to  Apostle Thamo Naidoo to whom I sent the original article along with two of the poems posted above: “More Than Metaphor” and “This Year of My Jubilee.” I am grateful to my beloved Brother Lester Wiley Carver, who encouraged me to post the article. I trust that it will minister to all who read it. I welcome any comments or thoughts that this post might have inspired.

Before reading the article, listen to a powerful song written and performed by Dean Ellenwood, who captures the depth of commitment embodied in the individual called of God to be a  bondslave, a true Doulos. 

Doulos

Doulos: A Different View of a Slave

When a believer accepts Jesus Christ as Lord, that individual assumes the position of a “servant” or “bondslave”–a doulos