photo by Laura Evans
[H]ow can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
Galatians 4:9 ESV
Dear ICB family,
The Bible gives us penetrating insight into the human soul. Tucked away at the end of this verse is a short phrase that provides us with an example of such insight: "whose slaves you want to be once more."
Surely Paul has made an overstatement here, right? No one wakes up one morning and says, "You know what I really want? I want to be a slave. If only I had a taskmaster over me to whom I could grovel!"
In fact, in our day, authority, submission, or service to others amounts to secular blasphemy. We're free. We serve no one. We submit to one. We are our own authorities.
Or so we say. The reality, however, is that the throne of the human heart cannot remain empty. If one master is removed, another will most certainly take its place. If one god is set aside, another will fill the void. And we will be the first ones to ensure the vacancy is filled.
The throne of the human heart cannot remain empty.
But why? What drives us to set up masters over ourselves when, in our day, nearly all we can talk about is our freedoms and our rights? Why is it that we actually want to be slaves?
Deep down, we as human beings know something. It's probably not a conscious thought to most, but as surely as we all know what love is without ever being taught it and even without being able to properly define it, so, too, we all know that we by ourselves can never satisfy our deepest longings. We were not designed to be able to do so. We lack the internal machinery needed to produce the joy and satisfaction that our souls long for as much as our lungs long for oxygen. Our domestic economies are fully dependent upon imports. We must look outside ourselves.
Though few would admit it, we all know it. At least we all instinctually perceive it, even if it's not a conscious thought. So we go in search of a master that we think can get us what we need. In other words, we want to be slaves.
We all know that we by ourselves can never satisfy our deepest longings.
The answer, then, is to be dependent on nothing, right? Surely the answer is to be set free from all masters. Some people do in fact sit down on the throne of their own hearts. Such people are perhaps the silliest of all. The very existence of the throne is indicative of the fact that we ourselves cannot ultimately satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. We need an external source of hope and meaning and everything else, and that need is due to the fact that we are essentially dependent creatures who could never possibly meet our greatest needs ourselves.
So what is a person to do? The biblical answer is not to cast off all masters. The biblical answer is to cast off all masters that can never satisfy and replace them with the one master who can. Israel was not freed from Egypt to remain from then on masterless. They were freed from Israel so that their good King Yahweh could take evil king Pharaoh's place.
Cast off all masters that can never satisfy and replace them with the one master who can.
So don't fight your urge to run back to slavery only by casting off other masters that enslave you. You must do that of course. But it is equally important to ensure that God takes up his place as your new master. Exactly as we have always wanted, this master is also infinite father and caring husband and faithful friend. He's powerful enough to be able to supply all our needs and loving enough to use that power for our good. He is the source outside ourselves that we were built to be connected to and therefore live.
So come. Submit to his light yoke. Embrace the only one whose slave you actually want to be.*
Grace and peace,
*Is it right to consider ourselves slaves of God? Didn't Jesus say, "No longer do I call you servants [literally slaves or bondservants], for the servant [slave] does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends" (John 15:15)? Yes, and this same Jesus told the parable that ends with "So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants [slaves]; we have only done what was our duty" (Luke 17:10). Furthermore, Paul begins Romans by calling himself a slave of Christ Jesus, and he begins Titus by identifying himself as a slave of God. James and Jude begin their letters similarly, and so does Peter in his second letter. So yes, it is right to consider ourselves slaves of God. We are not only slaves, of course. We are also friends and children and heirs and brides. Even so, we do not dare give up the very precious title "slave of God."