Slaves of Jesus (1 Corinthians 4)

It was just a simple contract, written in the spring of 1951 by a young man in California, who happened to be, of all things, a candy maker. It was nothing fancy, not written in fine literary style or with great eloquence. But nevertheless, it was a contract that changed the course of history. So, what made this contract so significant? Well, there were two things. One was who the contract was made with, and the other was the peculiar commitment that it contained. These two things made this an extraordinary contract that ended up changing the world forever.

Let me fill in some blanks for you. This contract, made with God, and signed by the young man, made one simple and yet profound statement. It read: “I am your slave.” As for the man who signed the contract, some of you may have heard of him. His name was Bill Bright. Only 24 hours after Bill wrote and signed this contract, this ordinary yet extraordinary man was given a vision to start a ministry. This ministry was named Campus Crusade for Christ. I’m sure for many of you, that name rings a bell. It has become one of the largest and most influential Christian organizations in the world. It has taken the message of Jesus to millions of people across the globe and continues to do so, even today. It has literally changed the world. And it all began with a simple contract of four little words…“I am your slave.”

When I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Bright talk about this watershed moment in his life. He would often tell us how that contract was not just a one time promise, but a philosophy that permeated the whole of his life. It influenced every choice he made and every step he took along the way. And for anyone who knew Bill Bright, they can testify that this was indeed true. Until the day he passed away at age 81, he lived his life sold out as a servant of Jesus Christ.

To the world, this seems like a foolish decision. Who would do such a thing? Who would ever want to live their lives as a slave? As is true of many things about the gospel, this is just another thing the world will never understand. They will never understand that being a slave of Jesus Christ is the best thing anyone could ever do with their life. For slaves of Jesus are also servants of the King.

Someone else we know understood this. Someone else made this kind of a contract with God, and it too changed the course of history. His name was Paul, who calls himself “a servant of Christ” and tells about his life of slavery to Jesus in 1 Corinthians 4. Here, he illustrates the not-so-glamorous life of a slave. He writes that he and the other apostles (the other servants) are “on display at the end of the procession…like men condemned to die in the arena…a spectacle to the whole universe…fools for Christ…weak…dishonored…hungry and thirsty…in rags…brutally treated…homeless…we work hard…when we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly…we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world” (9-13). Ouch.

The picture we have here is profound. In ancient times, whenever a nation would conquer another nation, they would return home in a grand victory parade. The leader of the battle, often the king, would ride high and exalted at the front of the procession; the soldiers would be lined up proudly behind him, and last of all, at the end of the procession, would be the prisoners of war. These are the conquered enemies. They would be shackled to each other, often bruised and bleeding, and drug through the cheering crowds. It was a stunning display of the power of the victorious nation over the defeated one. The more dangerous captives would be put to death, while the rest would become lifelong slaves to their conquerors. As slaves, they would often be hungry and thirsty, dressed in rags, and harshly treated. Their job was to work hard, in such a way that none of us could even begin to understand. As for how they were to respond to cursing, persecution, and slander, they would have had to endure it and answer kindly, or else they would be killed. They would be treated like the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. Sound familiar?

This is exactly how Paul describes his life, with the metaphor of a slave, a metaphor with far too many similarities to his own life. What’s wrong with this picture? This doesn’t sound like the “wonderful plan God has for your life” that Bill Bright always talked to people about! This sounds like an awful plan. It was certainly not an easy road. For the apostles, sharing the gospel in a culture of persecution, these things were very true for them literally. And it is still true for many Christians in the world today who are persecuted and suffer brutal treatment, including losing jobs, homes, and loved ones. But they refuse to recant. They gave their life to Him, and for Him, they are willing to endure whatever sacrifices they have to. For they chose to be slaves of Jesus.

When Paul was describing his very literal state of affairs, it certainly would have shocked the Corinthians, who were too busy imagining they were the kings of the procession, struggling with a bad case of pride. Some of them had issues with Paul, apparently focused on ways he was falling short of their expectations. And most of their criticism, it seems, was rooted in an over-inflated self esteem. They were acting, as Paul humorously pointed out, like they were rich and wise kings, deserving of honor. They were acting as if they were entitled, thinking certain things were not good enough for them. They had know-it-all attitudes that led them to judge and criticize others, especially their leaders. They seemed to think they knew better than them, could do better than them, and in a nutshell, were better than them. Instead of realizing that their leaders were servants of God who were to be judged by God and not by them, they decided they would hold the gavel. And as Paul points out, at the root of all of this was pride and arrogance. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, for us American Christians, this is something we can understand quite literally. All of us struggle with pride issues…pride in our accomplishments, our gifts and abilities, our careers, our education, our family backgrounds, and just good old pride in general. Every single one of us suffers from an over-inflated view of ourselves. Even when we struggle with self-esteem, our lack of self-esteem is also rooted in pride, because it is an overestimation of our own self importance. And as pride did to the Corinthians, our pride also leads us to criticize and judge others, especially our leaders. Pride…ugh.

And the cure for pride is not to lower our self-esteem. It is instead, to get “self” out of the picture completely. The cure for pride is to turn our eyes off of ourselves and onto Jesus. It is to focus on how He was on earth—humble and self-sacrificing, and how He is in heaven—a glorious King. Imitate the one, bow down to the other. Focusing on Jesus will serve as a powerful antidote to our pride. Paul understood this well. He was an imitator of Jesus, in his life and in his ministry. That is why he could tell those he was leading, “imitate me.” He was living a life of humility, thinking not of himself and his own life, but only of what he had to give to Jesus. He was living the life of a slave. He had signed the contract.
How about you? Have you signed the contract? Have you decided you are going to be a “slave of Jesus?” Even more, are you living like one?

Agreeing to be a slave to Jesus will be a blow to our pride, for the life of a slave requires a radical attitude shift…
As a slave, our focus is on serving our master.
As a slave, we have no rights of our own.
As a slave, we don’t hesitate to obey the one who commands us.
As a slave, we don’t have any of our own possessions, they all belong to the one who owns us.
As a slave, we go anywhere that our master tells us to go, no matter what the sacrifice.
As a slave, we respond to those who hurt us with forgiveness and love.
As a slave, our life is not our own, it belongs to another.

So, if you haven’t already done so, get the pen and paper of your heart ready and sign that contract. Give your life to Jesus. Become His slave. But be careful, because you never know what he might do through that simple act. He might just use you to change the world.