The glorious doctrine of liberty which is characteristic of the ministry of the apostle Paul must ever be ours to maintain against all odds. It is interesting, however, to notice that, while this liberty is sounded out with clarion notes in the epistle to the Galatians, at the close of the epistle the apostle shows that he, the champion of freedom, who stood alone before the Council at Jerusalem against those who would bring the believer into bondage, was at heart the bondslave of Jesus Christ: 'I bear in my body the marks (stigmata, brand marks of a slave) of the Lord Jesus' (Gal. 6:17). Again, in Galatians 5:13, 'For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another'. Redemption, which sets us free, binds us for ever to the Lord: 'Ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price' (1 Cor. 6:19,20).
The reader should remember that in the following passages the word 'servant' in the Authorized Version is the translation of doulos, meaning, literally, 'a slave':
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1).
Ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake (2 Cor. 4:5).
If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ (Gal. 1:10).
He took upon Him the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7).
The servant of the Lord must not strive (2 Tim. 2:24).
Peter, James and Jude, equally with Paul, rejoice to call themselves 'the bondslaves of Jesus Christ' (Jas. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1). In the following passages in the A.V. the word translated 'to serve' is, in the original, douleuo, 'to serve as a slave':
That we should serve in newness of spirit (Rom. 7:6).
Fervent in spirit; serving the Lord (Rom. 12:11).
Use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another (Gal. 5:13).
Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9).
The first occurrence of doulos in the New Testament is in Matthew 8:9, and the words of the centurion give us a good idea of what the service of the Lord's bondsmen involves:
For I also 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.
The words of Mary might well be the motto for all who would serve thus: 'Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it'.
The second symbol of service that we are to consider is that of the builder. We propose to divide the subject into three sections: the foundation, the building and the materials.
(1) The foundation. Every building needs a foundation. A house 'founded upon a rock' stands; 'built upon the sand', it falls (Matt. 7:25-27). The foundation for all spiritual building must be Christ:
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:11).
All service subsequent to the initial service of the apostle Paul, is related to his work, as the work of the builder is to that of the architect. 'As a wise architect ("master builder": Greek, architekton), I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon' (1 Cor. 3:10). No service that we can render can be acceptable unless we build upon the one foundation laid by God's architect, which foundation is Christ Himself.
(2) The building. Our chief concern is in the building; God Himself has secured the foundation. If we are to serve acceptably, not only must we build upon God's foundation, but we must see that what we build is God's building, for any other erection there is unwarranted:
For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building (1 Cor. 3:9).
How much service is rendered useless by the one fact that what is being built is not 'God's building'. Each reader who reads these words of God, should review the work he has in hand, and ask himself whether or not his energies are engaged in 'God's building'. This enquiry must not be limited to social and philanthropic service, for the highest service, even the preaching of His Word, may fail in relation to 'God's building', as did that of those who preached Christ 'even of envy and strife' (Phil. 1:15).
(3) The materials. In any building scheme, quite apart from spiritual things, the material used is of great importance - as can be seen by inspecting the architect's specifications for a large building. Supposing that we are building upon the true foundation, and that we are occupied with God's building, all will be in vain if our material is not according to specification. It is evident from 1 Corinthians 3 that the building material represents the builder's 'work' and that it is to be tried by fire:
Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is (1 Cor. 3:12,13).
Enough has been said, we trust, under this head, to throw some light upon service viewed as building. We now close with a reference to the third subdivision:
Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves (Rom. 15:1).
Support the weak, be patient to all men (1 Thess. 5:14).
The first thought is that of burden-sharing. Galatians 6:2 does not exhort that the strong should bear the burdens of the weak, but that each should bear the other's burdens. How far do we respond to this? Perhaps our own burdens would be lightened if we thought more of the burdens of others. A person may feel unwell and very sorry for himself, but an accident to another, happening in his presence and demanding immediate help, will usually enable him to forget his own troubles in the endeavour to share others which are greater.
Some burdens are referred to as 'infirmities' of the 'weak', and, with regard to these, those who are 'strong' must remember that their strength is not for selfish ends but for the common good.
Finally, burden-bearing must be accompanied by patience, and must be devoid of self-pleasing; otherwise the service rendered will lose its spiritual value.
Ambassador, Apostle, Angel, Bondservant, Builder, Burden- bearer -- These constitute the Christian's 'A.B.C' of service. When they have been learned, we shall be able to make further advance.