Devotion for Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Lectionary Readings for the Third Sunday after Pentecost:
Matthew 10:5, 21-33
Collect of the Day: O God, because Your abiding presence always goes with us, keep us aware of Your daily mercies that we may live secure and content in Your eternal love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: Lord of Our Life and God of Our Salvation (LSB 659)
Who is your master? Our epistle lesson for this past Sunday makes one thing abundantly clear about our lives here on earth: we are all slaves – the only question is: who is your master?
The argument that breaks out is that God, of course, saved us, and so we are not enslaved to anything! And that is true…kinda. Paul explains himself when he writes in the first part of verse 16: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” Now, he does go on to tell the reader that he’s using these ‘human terms’ so that we would better understand our position, but that doesn’t negate the truth that you are serving a master, and that master isn’t you.
The world likes to tell us that we are our own masters: ‘it’s all about you’, ‘you deserve it’, ‘treat yourself’ – but all of those messages are lies. What are they trying to get you to do? Usually it involves giving them money for something, thus making them the master of the moment, no matter what lies they whisper in your ear to get you to part with your own property. All the world wants a piece of you, and if someone comes up to you and tells you that you are your own person, that you’re in charge, and that you deserve this or that, try to find out what they’re selling, because I assure you that they are trying to sell you something.
That being said, we don’t’ like to think about those terms of slavery, and so St Paul is often criticized when he points this out. “How dare he say I’m a slave! I’m free!” Jesus, of course, got the same rebuke if you remember. He told His listeners that He would set them free, and their response was that they were children of Abraham and had never been enslaved to anyone! But they were, just as we are, enslaved to our own sinful desires. That’s what St. Paul is explaining in the text today.
“17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”
You have been set free to be enslaved again? Not exactly, take another look, “having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” Now, I’m not going to go into decision theology and whether or not you choose to follow God or not, that’s not what getting at, nor is it what Paul is getting at. I said it before: we are all slaves. There is no other way to live this life, we are all slaves to our master, but who is your master? Scripture tells us that we were bought, at a price. Were once we were slaves to sin, death and the power of the devil, we were bought by a new master, who paid for us. St. Peter tells us the price that God paid to buy is back in 1 Peter 1:19 when he says that we weren’t bought with gold, “but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” We have changed ownership, not been freed and re-enslaved. In this passage today, Paul is saying that, yes, while you are still slaves (there’s nothing we can do about that) your new master is going to give you freedom…eventually. And what freedom it will be!
“19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
You see, in your slavery to sin there was an illusion of freedom. When you were enslaved to sin, you had the ‘freedom’ to choose whichever sin you wanted to commit! What a great selection! But that’s no freedom at all – you were still sinning. Now that you have been transferred from that master, your new one is giving you a great gift, actual freedom: eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. While the first master makes it look like we have choices, the truth is that in 30, 40, 80, 100 years, whenever we die, all semblance of choice will be removed, and you will have earned the wages of sin: Death. Eternal death and separation from God. But under the new master, who yes, lays out a more ‘restrictive’ selection of choices in this life, we have something greater to look forward to: eternal life in heaven.
Not a fair trade? You wouldn’t be the first to argue that. There are many who have left the church because they found the life that God had called them to to be too restrictive and ‘no fun.’ I recently read someone accuse Lutheran Church-Canada beliefs to be ‘fundamentalism’ and called us a ‘guilt-based religion’ for teaching the Bible as written, and calling a sin a sin instead of allowing anything and everything in the name of ‘love’, their idea of love in any case. But this is what slavery is about – we don’t even know we are enslaved, and so we rail against those around us who disagree with what we say.
So, who is your master? I know that the vast majority of you reading this devotional are saying ‘God’, and I also know that many of you are uncomfortable with this idea of being His slave, but we shouldn’t let the softening of terminology in our English Bibles get the better of us. This isn’t the first place we hear this term, actually, we hear it a lot more than we realize. The fact is that every time you read the word ‘servant’ (doulos in the Greek) it means slave too. It can mean both, and in that time period there were a lot more slaves than servants. The parable of the servants, who were servants of the master? Slaves have masters, servants have bosses. How about Jesus’ own words in Matthew 10:24 – “A disciple is not about his teacher, nor a slave(servant) above his master.” As well as countless other places. We are God’s slaves.
Be proud, and say it with conviction: I am a slave of Christ! I am a slave of the Triune God! Why? Because ours is a loving master, one who provides for all we need in this life as a good master should: food, home, security, and safety. Is the work hard? Yes, but what work worth doing isn’t? We don’t work to our glory, but to the glory of our Master. We don’t look to our own desires, but to the desires of our Master and what He tells us we should and shouldn’t cling to in this life as good. But again, I can pretty more see many of you cringing…I’m cringing too if I’m being honest. Slave and master are terms that we have ‘grown out of’ we aren’t that ‘barbaric’ anymore. We have been ‘enlightened.’ But again…that’s a lie. It’s a lie told by those who don’t want to be beholden to anyone, master of their own ship, leaders of their own causes, and in charge of their own lives.
So I ask: What’s the difference between the words ‘master’ and ‘God’? Essentially nothing. There is really no different between the two in the eyes of those following a god. Your god is something or someone whom you put before everyone and everything else in your life. They are the reason you do what you do – you live for them, and you place their wants and needs before the wants and needs of anyone else around you. That is a god. And what does the Bible say about them? “You shall have no other gods.” You shall have no other masters.
But as Scripture tells us, we are really not very good at keeping that one, are we? That’s what St. Paul is telling us today. It all comes back to this commandment. ‘You need to be careful,’ he tells us, ‘not to keep going back to your old master, the one who let you do whatever you wanted, because that’s not good for you. Instead, you need to realize that your new master is looking out for your best interests. He knows what you need better than you do – He literally made you, and knows you better than you could ever know yourself. Yes, it seems restrictive, and no, it’s not easy, but He is with you though it, and He has promised you true freedom at the end, not this imagined freedom that only leads to an eternity of enslavement and suffering. So, don’t keep going back to your old master – repent – turn from your sin and receive that free gift of forgiveness that Jesus won for you.’
There is freedom in Christ – there is true freedom under our new master, because the binding that kept us enslaved to the evils of the world have been broken. There is freedom from eternal suffering and hell. There is freedom and an eternity in heaven to look forward to.
Now, I’ve rambled quite a bit in this one, and I hope you were able to follow. It took me a long time to write, because the truth is, no, I’m not comfortable with this language either – that’s the difficulty with living as a 21st century north-american: we don’t like this idea of slavery. But when you really thing about it, doesn’t it bring you a modicum of comfort? To know that your Master, the One who owns you outright, is the same one who created the heavens and the earth; He’s the same One who provides you with all you need to support this body and life; and He’s the same One who has promised that He will one day bring you to be with Him in paradise forever. That is the kind of master I have no problem wanting to serve and looking to for help.
In Christ and His service,