You Gotta Serve Somebody

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I like Bob Dylan. Sometimes, approximately 18% of the time, I actually understand what he is saying. In 1979, he said "You gotta serve somebody." He was right. The question is not whether we will serve. We all do, and we all will. The questions are 1) whom and/or what we will serve, and 2) whether we will serve as free people or as slaves. These are fundamental questions, and the Bible offers profound answers.

"For freedom, the Liberating King has set us free. Therefore, stand firm and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (douleias)" (Gal. 5:1). Paul wrote these words to the churches of Galatia. These people had been rescued by Jesus from bondage to the hostile spiritual powers of the Bogus World System (Gal. 1:4; 4:9). They were "foolish" people being hypnotized by legalistic agitators (Gal. 3:1 ; 5:12). Sadly, these people were turning away from the grace of the Gospel and the power of the Spirit (Gal. 1:6).

Galatians 5:1, in context, functions as a hinge between an extended theological argument against the legalistic agitators and a compelling call to the life of the Spirit. Jesus, the Messiah or Liberating King, "gave himself" on the cross to set us free (Gal. 1:4). Therefore, as people who have been freed by grace, we are called to stay free, to resist any return to the futility and despair of slavery to anything or anyone besides our Liberating King. That is the point of Paul’s letter, but many of us miss that point most of the time. We seem to prefer rules and regulations to grace and freedom.

Galatians 5:13 tells us what we are set free to do. "For you are called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but do the work of slaves (douleuo) for one another through love." What? We are set free from slavery, and commanded to resist any return to slavery so that we might express and live into this freedom by voluntarily doing "the work of slaves" through love? Yes, that is the paradox of our freedom and the heart of our Christian ethic.

This ethic is based on the example of Jesus, the Incarnate Logos who washed feet (John 13), the One who "existed in the form of God" but emptied himself through sacrificial love "by assuming the form of a slave (doulos)" (Phil. 2:6-7). We are to love others as Jesus has loved us. That which means we must serve as Jesus served. He told his disciples

"I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."

(John 13:15-17)

Three truths can help us remember this ethic and live by it.

  1. We are called to serve through love by the power of the Spirit. We must walk by the Spirit to serve through love (Gal. 5:16, 22) .
  2. The Spirit graciously gives us gifts for service. We must serve according to our gifts (Rom. 12:6-8).
  3. Because we serve by the Spirit's power and according to his gifts, there is no room for personal pride. We must follow the example of Jesus, who, in "the form of a slave . . . humbled himself" (Phil. 2:7-8). Christ's ethic of service is an ethic of humility. His call to exercise our freedom by doing the work of slaves is a call to do the work of the Kingdom by imitating the Liberating King.