The Law of Bondservants--Part 1
Feb 15, 2008
The Apostle Paul introduces himself more than once as "a bondservant of Jesus Christ." (Example: Romans 1:1.) But are we not supposed to be Sons, rather than bondservants? What was Paul talking about?
Being a bondservant is a step toward Sonship, because no one will become a manifested Son of God unless he is first a bondservant. Let me explain. Not all sons are Sons. When a son is born, he differs in no way from a servant, and must be under tutors and educators until he grows to maturity (Gal. 4:1-3). Paul tells us that God's under-age children must be trained until they have "faith" (Gal. 3:25).
Now faith comes by hearing, Paul says in Rom. 10:17. In both the Hebrew and the Greek, the words for "hearing" are also the words for "obeying." In other words, we could just as easily translate this, "faith comes from obeying." The best way to express it fully would be to say that faith comes by hearing and obeying.
Paul was not speaking of justifying faith, which is that initial faith in the blood of the Lamb that gives birth to a baby Christian. There is more than one level of faith, and for this reason Paul tells us in Rom. 1:17,
"For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'But the righteous man shall live by faith'."
The first level of faith is the Passover-level faith, by which we are justified and "leave Egypt" on our way to the Promised Land. The second level of faith is the Pentecostal-level faith, by which we learn to hear and to obey the voice of God as He writes His law upon our hearts. This is what we learn for the rest of our time in the wilderness as we prepare for the Feast of Tabernacles, by which we inherit our Promised Land--the glorified body.
God seems to establish everything by the law of two or three witnesses, and establishing faith in our hearts follows that same pattern.
The point is that for God to instill in our hearts a true Pentecostal faith, we must learn to be led by the Spirit. We must learn to hear and obey His leading. Any time God speaks, it is a law to us, a command that ought to be obeyed. This is quite different from our Passover experience which required no works and no obedience at all. But that is because Passover signifies coming out of Egypt, while Pentecost commemorates Mount Sinai, where God spoke the Ten Commandments, and the people heard the voice of God. Pentecost, then, has everything to do with obedience.
This brings us to Paul's position as a bondservant. A bondservant is one who has learned obedience. Any Christian who thinks he may bypass obedience and go directly to the full authority of the manifested sons of God is greatly mistaken. God has no intention of giving such authority to those who have not first learned obedience. To go from Passover to Tabernacles requires learning obedience through Pentecost.
Pentecost is the realm of servanthood. It is our opportunity to learn to hear and obey. When we are yet immature and relatively ignorant of the mind of Christ, we often dig in our heels and resist the Holy Spirit. How often have I heard it said, "The Lord told me to do this, and I went kicking and screaming!" This is, of course, the way a child reacts to a parent who tells him to do something that he does not want to do. We all go through this stage of development. But such obedience is not what God is looking for.
There are two types of obedience: immature and mature. Immature obedience is when we obey because we must, fearing the consequences of disobedience. Mature obedience is when we obey because we love the Father and are also in full agreement with the command. In such cases, the Father's command is not really a command at all. It is not really a law at all, in the sense that we normally think. God's commands are simply an expression of His will--and ours. God no longer has to command us by law, but has only to show forth His will--and we are delighted to obey. It is a law only to the reluctant.
Obedience is not really obedience until we stop viewing His commandments as laws and start seeing them as the expression of BOTH of our wills. Then and only then can it be said that the law is written in our hearts. Up to that moment in time, all laws are yet being imposed upon us from on high and there is still resistance from our own will.
The purpose of Pentecost is to bring servants by law into the position of voluntary bondservants from the heart. The law regarding this is found in Exodus 21.
" (2) If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. (3) If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him."
There was more than one way to acquire a slave in those days. This law, however, speaks specifically of a "Hebrew slave," and this means that the slave was a citizen, a son of the covenant. When we give it a New Covenant application, it speaks prophetically of a citizen of the Kingdom. A citizen might have financial problems and be forced to sell his land inheritance. Then, in order to survive, he might become the slave of another land owner.
He was expected to "sell himself" in blocks of six years, after which time he would be set free in the Sabbath year. If he sold himself in the middle of a Sabbath cycle, of course, his time would be shorter. In the Sabbath year, the master was supposed to set the slave free and give him liberal provisions for the coming year (Deut. 15:12-15). Furthermore, such biblical slavery was not to be oppressive. Lev. 25:39-41 makes it clear that the master was to be kind and generous, considering his slave to be as a "hired servant," rather than as a slave in the way the world normally thinks.
Another way that a man might acquire a slave would be if a man fell into sin and was required by law to repay his victim more restitution than he was able to pay. In such cases, his land inheritance was to be sold to pay the victim. If this payment was still inadequate, then the sinner was to be "sold for his theft" (Ex. 22:3). This indicates a court-ordered time of slavery. In such cases, the one who purchased him would pay off the remaining debt to the victim, and the slave would then have to work for his master for a specified amount of time to cover the cost.
James B. Jordan writes in his book, The Law of the Covenant, p. 77, "The purpose of slavery, as we shall see, is to train irresponsible men into productive covenant members." (I met James while living in Washington State some years ago. He was teaching courses on Bible Law at a law school in the Seattle area.)
If the bondservant has relatives who are in a position to redeem him, they are expected to do so. Near kinsmen are given the right of redemption (Lev. 25:48). This was one more safeguard to ensure that the slave would not be mistreated. It is presumed that a near kinsman would be more likely to treat him kindly. In all of these laws, God shows that he cares for slaves as much as the rich and powerful.
The Sabbath years were rest years for slaves. The Bible is not clear if all slaves were to be set free regardless of the circumstances of their slavery. If the slavery were caused by simple poverty, then certainly they were to be set free in the seventh year. But it might be that they still lacked the money to redeem their land inheritance, and so they may decide to return to their original master as slaves for another six years. Theoretically, this situation might continue until the year of Jubilee, when all debt was cancelled and they were allowed to return to reclaim their inheritance.
To be continued.
This is the first part of a series titled "The Law of Bondservants." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones