Serving from sonship

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28

Sonship with the Father will always lead to serving others. But serving others does not always lead to sonship with the Father.

Jesus was teaching His disciples about greatness in the Kingdom of God. If we want to be great, we must go low. If we want to be top dog, we must be the last one in line. Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve. If we, as His disciples, are to imitate His life with our own, we too must make it our lifestyle to serve others (and not to expect to be served).

Yet, our servanthood has to come out of an identity of sonship. On the one hand, if we try to elevate ourselves and don’t serve others, we become the younger son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Yet, if we serve out of obligation–thinking that if we perform all of our duties then God will owe us good things–then we become the older son.

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.

Luke 15:28-31

When we serve, we must do so from an intimacy with God the Father. We must serve from an overflow of the love God has for us and the love we have for Him. Everything we do to serve others must be “rooted and established in love” (Ephesians 3:17) and not out of obligation. True servanthood comes from sonship.

When all we have is obligation and duty, we are operating out of a performance mentality of the older brother. We are not acting as a son but a slave. We are hoping to win points with God by doing good things for Him. We ended up serving others for Him and not with Him. Eventually we’ll wonder, “What’s in it for me” just as the older son did. We’ll forget that, as a son or daughter of God the Father, everything He has is ours.

Many Christians in the Church who are always serving look like the model Christians (because they follow all the rules), yet they have hearts that are far from the Father. We have churches full of older sons, thinking that God owes us something for our good behavior and good works. Yet, intimacy with the Father–the overflow of the love of God in their lives–is gone. They are demanding, harsh, competitive, impatient, angry, and condemning behind closed doors all while looking like they have it all together. Their love tank is on empty.

God is calling us to be servants, but not out of obligation and duty. God is calling us to serve out of the overflow of our love and intimacy with Him. He’s calling us to be sons and daughter first, and then servants second. This is who Jesus is. This is who we are called to be as His disciples.

Are you serving others? Where does your service come from in your own heart? Is it duty? Is it obligation? Or is it love?

Elemental Spiritual Forces

Paul is trying to explain to the Galatians why they no longer need to be enslaved to the Law. He uses the analogy of a young child who needs guardians to watch him until he is old enough. He writes, “as long as he is a minor, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything” (Galatians 4:1 NET).

Then Paul delivers the good news: “So also we, when we were minors, were enslaved under the basic forces of the world. But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights” (Galatians 4:3-5 NET).

That phrase “basic forces” of the world is sometimes translated “basic principles” or “elemental spiritual forces” of the world. In the Greek it is simply the word stoicheion (pronounced stoy-kee-on). The reason the English translators have a hard time with his word is because is has layers of meaning, especially in the polytheistic culture of the Roman world.

Stoicheion means: a single letter of the alphabet, an element, a first principle. So it can be used to reference an elementary principle of faith (like the Law) or an elemental building block of nature (like wind, fire, water, earth, stars, etc). We might use this word today to describe the elements on the periodic table or the Bill of Rights. And one can see how, in a polytheistic culture where things like earth, wind, fire, trees, stars, lunar and solar seasons all had spirits associated with them that were worshiped, this word stoicheion would have layers of meaning.

This is why Paul said to the Galatians: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces (stoicheion)? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!” (Galatians 4:8-10)

To the Jewish Christians, Paul was saying, “Now that you’ve been adopted into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and now that you’ve been given the Holy Spirit, for you to think that the observance of Jewish holy days will make you righteous is tantamount to astrology and the pagan worship of seasons.”

He was trying to help them see that the stoicheion of Judaism was similar to the stoicheion of the pagan Roman world. Both religious practices lead to slavery. Trying to be justified by the Law is enslavement to the demonic religious spirit just as trying to be justified by pagan religious practice is enslavement to demonic spirits behind the pantheon of gods. (“…the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God.”- 1 Corinthians 10:20)

Rather than return to elemental principles of the world, which amount to worshiping the elemental demonic spiritual forces, Paul reminds them of who they really are in Christ. He writes, “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:6-7).