Form of a Slave
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. (Philippians 2:5-7 NRSV)
I looked up the word form to find a more detailed explanation of this concept. Here is the definition.
Morphe – (through the idea of adjustment of parts); shape; figuratively, nature:--form.
The idea spoken of in the New Testament of living as a slave of Jesus Christ has long found some resistance inside me. I am just being honest here. This morning as I read a devotional explaining the position of slaves in the days when the Bible was written awakened within me this old feeling. So I decided to face it more intentionally and find out what is connected to this familiar feeling. If I am to become more and more like Christ, and Christ took on Himself the form of a slave, I need to deal with this resistance that may be preventing me from moving forward into a perfect reflection of the One I have chosen to follow.
The main identifying factor about being a slave is that a slave is not autonomous. A slave does not have the freedom to do whatever he feels like doing if it is different from what the master wants from the slave. In other words, slaves are not in charge of their own life.
This is where most of us begin to feel really uneasy, particularly in our culture where independence is cherished as one of the most valuable tenants of freedom. We have long assumed that independence and freedom are pretty much synonymous and that anyone suggesting otherwise is out to deceive us and maybe even enslave us. We become extremely defensive of our freedoms and rights and we honor those we send off to war for our country, insisting they are there primarily to defend our right to be independent and free of the control of others.
But there is actually a lot of deception and contradictions in these assumptions, and recently activities are increasing to strip away most of our freedoms in the name of protecting them. But that is another subject that I don't want to discuss here. Suffice it to say that not everyone claiming to set us free can be trusted to deliver the truth on this matter.
And that brings me to one of the most important points about this issue of slavery that came to my attention this morning: the issue of trust and respect.
Some years ago I was introduced to a very enlightening seminar called Love and Respect which I purchased and have watched a number of times. Each time I review the principles presented in that seminar which is a wonderful revelation of some long misunderstood principles about male-female relationships, I am reminded of how much the male psyche craves genuine respect. This sounds quite strange at first and even chauvinistic to some who don't understand this concept. But Emmerson and Sarah Eggerichs do a very good job of explaining this core principle from the Bible in a way that makes sense. Men need unconditional respect in the same way that women crave unconditional love. If either side is deprived of their basic need for very long the relationship comes under increasing stress.
Again, that is a most fascinating and important topic; but I don't want to get too far off onto that right now. I only mention it to provide better context from where my own understanding is coming from and to make a connection to an observation that began to emerge in my heart this morning.
I am starting to sense a hidden resentment that has lingered deep inside of me for most of my life that is connected to this issue of respect. Until I listened to this seminar a few years ago, I had never been able to explain or even understand the nature of some of my feelings. But once I grasped the truth that men need respect even more than they desire love, it suddenly begin to all make so much more sense to my male mind. If you have not been exposed to this teaching by the Eggerichs I highly recommend you make the investment to get their material. It is extremely helpful and enlightening if you are serious about learning how to better relate to your spouse, or anyone of the opposite sex for that matter.
What stirred inside of me this morning however, had not so much to do with the journey of my own marriage that passed the 35 year mark yesterday. As much as I need to practice these things to improve my own marriage – and I certainly am a long way from being a successful example of these things, what caught my attention today was this residual resentment that surfaced again about how God relates to me. If God demands that my relationship with Him be on slave terms, then my typical shared belief in freedom so common in my culture must be at odds with this idea of being a slave that seems to pop up so much in the writings of the apostles and even the teachings of Jesus. How can I have the freedom that God talks about and yet be a slave? Aren't the two mutually incompatible? Isn't this an oxymoron?
What came into the mix this morning was the issue of respect. If God demands that I must be a slave in relation to Him while He created me to thrive on respect, it seems to be opposites. Yes, I have heard explanations offered by people trying to put these issues into the same box together, but their arguments usually fail to be convincing for me. They sound more like cover-ups rather than useful explanations. In short, most of the reasons offered have done little to awaken any feeling of being respected by God who created me with this need as one of the most basic parts of my makeup.
Yet I was reminded of a compelling story that Emmerson gave as an example of how men might experience an intense level of respect that could inspire them like nothing else.. He talked about a general in the military who decides to personally hand-pick a small team of men to train into an elite unit that he plans to personally lead in a secret ops mission that will be highly dangerous and may likely result in casualties. The method that this general uses to earn the loyalty of these men and inspire a willingness to do anything asked of them to the point of death involves this element of respect.
Emmerson painted a scenario where this general stands in front of his men after a grueling training session and shouts at them while they stand at attention. He tells them that they stink, that they are not yet qualifed to carry out the destiny he has in mind for them. But in the very same breath he also reminds them that he is the one who hand-picked them for this unit. He is the one who believes so strongly in each one of them that he was willing to invest everything to offer them this chance at fame and glory. He reminds them that the reputation of this unit will leave its mark for generations after their exploits become public, whether or not they survive.
He tells them that he believes deeply in them, that he has great faith in them even though they still are failing to meet his expectations at this point in time. He reminds them too that he is very much a part of their team in this mission, that he will be at the front of the charge when they go into battle and that he may be the first to die as a result. But his faith in these men is so strong that he is willing to risk everything with them just as he is seeking to inspire them to do for the sake of their country.
The point that Emmerson makes with this story is that almost any male hearing this kind of talk is very likely to feel intense emotions that will inspire and transform them from average to outstanding. The faith that this general exhibits in these few elite soldiers inspires them to have faith themselves as well as in their leader. In addition they will have a desire to train even more intensely to meet his high expectations. The respect that he has for them with such intensity awakens a natural response of a sense of honor and a willingness to die for those they believe they are protecting. In short, men were born for honor and respect while the female population is more oriented for love, nurture and other characteristics more commonly associated with women.
This is not to say that men do not need love or women do not need respect. But what it does reveal is that maybe for too long we have stressed the importance of love so much that we have overlooked the fact that men are wired differently. We are in danger of missing a vital insight of how men are best motivated. And if this is true – and I believe it is – then I would expect God to relate to us in a way that would awaken our love and respect for Him. For it is a principle of truth that love awakens love. And in the same vein it is just as true that respect awakens respect.
The more I think about it the more I realize that respect and faith have a very great deal in common. They may not be synonymous but they are very closely linked to each other. Without feeling respected by someone it is extremely hard to have faith in them. Which brings me right back to my own internal confusion emerging from life-long teachings about God that usually picture Him as insisting that we have faith in Him, apparently demanding obedience from us while expecting us to think with the mindset of a slave. To my thinking the two sides of this argument seem totally incompatible with each other, at least in the way they have been linked for so long.
How can I have faith inspired in my heart toward God when at the same time I feel He does not respect me? If I am to relate to Him as a slave and yet my deepest, most fundamental core need as a male is to feel respected, how does this fit together? For a male in particular, feeling respected is what awakens trust and faith and loyalty. So how can living as a slave of Jesus Christ like Paul and other apostles claimed to live, work for me? Were they onto something that I have missed? It must be!
What came to my mind this morning as these thoughts were swirling around was the passage at the beginning of this about Jesus and how He took on the form of a slave. It began to dawn on me the truth that God is interested in showing me respect just as that general in the story was seeking to convey his enormous belief and pride into the minds and hearts of those he was preparing to team up with him in mortal combat. The very same techniques that men have learned to inspire loyalty and devotion to each other in military exploits are similar to ones that God has already used to awaken even more intense loyalty and devotion in those joining His cause of freedom.
While it is always hazardous to use human analogies to explain heavenly principles, I find that this story has helped me to begin to grasp something I believe God wants me to understand and better appreciate. It is true that God is not in the fighting business like our military is designed to do, spreading death and destruction while claiming to defend freedom for a select group of their own. Deception is the currency of the kingdom of Satan which relies on force and violence, fear and intimidation to achieve dominance over others. But there are elements of truth that can be ferreted out of even Satan's methods at times that can help us to better understand the pure truths of God's kingdom with which we are usually less familiar. That is what I am starting to see here.
Paul is saying that God indeed did everything possible to earn my respect. As the highest general in the universe, Jesus came to this earth and condescended beyond my ability to comprehend in just becoming a human being to start with. But at each step along the way of His journey into humanity, He consistently kept humbling Himself and refused to ever exploit His own advantages or superior abilities. He did this in order to earn the respect of those He was seeking to redeem. Like the general in the story, Jesus was willing to fully identify Himself with those He was seeking to inspire with faith in Him so as to elicit loyalty and a willingness to follow Him out of an appreciation for the respect that He wants us to see in His attitude toward us.
But even beyond this, Jesus consistently practiced all the radical things that He taught when He came to this earth. He did not just teach about loving and forgiving your enemies but He demonstrated it all throughout His lifetime. He did not just teach us to not resist an evil person but He showed us up close what that looks like under the most severe abuse, torture and humiliation. Jesus did all of this in order to earn the respect of anyone who would question the viability of the things that He taught us about the best way to live and how to live in total dependence on God. Jesus is the ultimate demonstration of one who should earn our respect if anyone might be.
I don't recall ever thinking about God showing me respect before. This is certainly not a topic of preaching that I can recall ever hearing. We talk about love so exclusively in our Christian teachings that it can almost obscure every other issue; and because the male need for respect has for so long been ignored in Christian teaching, I am afraid that many have failed to see how far God has really gone to awaken in every man a deep response of devotion in the way that He created males to respond.
As I meditate on this passage in Philippians and another in 1 Peter 2, I am beginning to see that God has not overlooked this issue but that likely it is Satan who has so successfully buried this truth under his deceptions that we have not appreciated it like we should.
God in the form of Christ came to join us in our mess in this sinful world. He did not sit aloof in heaven directing us as to what we should do while unwilling to get into the dirt and grime and the trenches of danger alongside us. This passage in Philippians tells us that God has done everything possible to try to show us how much faith He has in us and that He respects us far more than we are willing to even imagine. Just writing these things creates mixed feelings within me as my own heart struggles to believe that what I am saying is really true. What my head is discovering is often far ahead of what my own heart is yet willing to fully embrace. Yet I have learned that while I cannot force my heart to believe anything, if I am willing to be honest and trust God to transform me in His time and with His methods, sooner or later my heart will begin to latch on to what I am learning about what is right.
There is tremendous damage inside of not just my heart and mind but in every human who lives in this world of sin. God's rescue operation relies partly on the willingness of people who are being reclaimed from the slavery of the enemy to become loyal soldiers of a new army made up of captured victims from the enemy's camp. When those held hostage by sin are awakened to the real truth about their condition of abject slavery through the deceptions of Satan, and they choose to accept the offer of real freedom from God's side, they are then inducted into an intense training program to learn to work closely and directly under the leadership of heaven's General who has already positioned Himself in the trenches with us and offers to personally train and equip us with all the skills necessary to succeed. Then He plans to use us in the plans He has to help rescue even more people from the tyranny of sin.
But this is where the mentality of 'slavery' comes into play in our relationship to God. While our hearts understandably react with resentment at the thought of being a slave in the sense that sin defines slavery, at the same time we need to understand the importance of explicit obedience when it comes to high-risk operations like what is expected of a secret ops unit. No one in their right mind would expect a soldier functioning in a highly disciplined operation to live as though they could follow their own whims or impulses irregardless of what was expected of them by their leader. This would be a recipe for disaster and failure. The same is just as true in the spiritual war in which we are engaged.
Satan has led us to believe that freedom is defined as following our own impulses, indulging in any pleasure that makes us feel good and not having to suffer any unpleasant consequences for any of our choices. But this is one of the most subtle lies of the enemy that is deeply embedded in our fallen psyche. It is true that freedom does not mean anarchy. We can usually grasp that much. An undisciplined, out-of-control child is not really free either but is in a most pitiful condition and is usually very miserable as a result. The highest form of true freedom is when a person has been taught to be highly self-controlled and in harmony with the authorities under which they live.
Satan has led us to think that anything that limits our ability to do whatever makes us feel good at the moment is an infringement on our freedom and we sometimes take this as a sign of disrespect. But sadly w are living with a whole generation of young adults that have largely been raised with the idea that freedom and selfishness are almost synonymous. But freedom from discipline is not actually freedom but is in reality slavery to the control of demonic influence and deception. The only true freedom is found in being restored to our original design as reflectors of the divine image which only can bring the highest sense of satisfaction, fulfillment and joy.
Yes, it is totally true that God loves us unconditionally and that living in His love is something we all need, crave and should enjoy. But it is equally true while largely overlooked, that we also must appreciate the respect that God has shown to us and become much more aware of the enormous trust that He has in us if we are to ever to be able to respond with the kind of saving faith that naturally awakens when we see His true attitude towards us. God both loves us unconditionally and respects us unconditionally. That is the core explanation of why we are actually more free than we ever dared to imagine. We are so free that God respects our choices to remain in slavery to sin while He still does everything possible to win us away from that self-destructive system and bring us back into His kingdom of life.