February 28, 2008

Life from the heart

While I often say that I “worked like a slave” on a project, I really have little idea of what slavery is like. Although it has been abolished in many countries for many years, online sources say that slavery is still secretly practiced in some places with as many as 27 million slaves worldwide.

The dictionary says a slave is someone deprived of personal freedom and compelled to perform labor or other services. They are treated as the property of another person, household, company, corporation or government (chattel slavery) and held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase, or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to receive any compensation for their labor.

As I read this, I better understand some of the biblical descriptions and allusions to slavery. In those days, slaves could be well-treated or not. Some were given a measure of respect and happy to be in their situation. They were fed, cared for, protected, and had meaningful work. They loved their masters and even if freedom was possible, they preferred to stay with them.

While we don’t agree with the idea of slavery, today’s version of employment is similar—not that a boss is a “slave driver” as commonly complained, but every worker does his job so he will have what it takes to be fed, cared for, protected, and have something meaningful to do with his life. Same goals, different method.

The idea of slavery is sometimes used to describe Christians. We have been redeemed or purchased (by the blood of Christ) from the bondage of sin and have a new ‘master’ who takes care of all our needs. Because we love our Master, we serve Him with all our heart.

Ephesians 6:5-8 mixes this depiction with some directions given to actual slaves. It says, “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.

My devotional reading today picks up on the idea of doing the will of God from the heart. While the writer emphasizes the importance of our will, I say again that this is not talking about my will, but the will of God who lives in my heart. If He were not living in me, there is no way that I would want to obey Him, never mind be able to do it.

A well-known Chinese Christian named Watchman Nee taught me (from his books) that every human being has intellect, emotions, and will. These are faculties of our human nature and govern all human behavior. Even our body experiences (sickness, injury, pleasure, warmth, etc.) are responded to by these faculties. We have feelings and thoughts about them, and make decisions because of our experiences.

However, Christians are to live by the Spirit, not by our human nature or our fleshy experiences. The Spirit is the avenue by which God speaks to us, convicts us of sin, tells us what to do, enables us to hear Him, gives us spiritual discernment. These are heart issues that go beyond the normal human experience because a person without Christ knows little if anything about them.

When the Spirit controls me, my intellect, emotions and will are to fall into line with whatever He says or asks of me. If He says I must visit someone, my reasoning might say that I am too busy, or that person has had enough visitors. I may feel negative about visiting, or may want to do something else, but I’m to ignore all that and follow His direction.

It could go the other way. I might decide that I want to visit that person, but the Spirit tells me to wait, or to not go at all. That may not make sense to me, but I’m to disregard what I think or want or feel, and obey the Holy Spirit. He is my Master and I am His bondslave.

The will is not the controlling factor of my life; Jesus Christ is. Certainly I’m to yield my will, but when I do, it is not always a clear-cut case of do this or don’t do this. Often I have no idea what He will next ask, only that He asks me to trust and obey Him. In other words, my will is not about selecting the will of God and complying with it, but sitting down with a “whatever You ask” attitude, even a “whatever You ask” expectancy.

A slave sometimes anticipates the desires of his master, but even a slave never moves on that anticipation without verifying that this is indeed what his master wishes. His dedication is total. This is the same dedication Ephesians 6 asks of me to my Master. I’m to joyfully let His Spirit lead me without considering what my will, emotions or reasoning might want or say, because if I let that trio rule, all they ever do is get me in trouble!

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