As we approach this subject and its personal application in detail to our lives, there are three preliminary things which need to be said to prepare us to understand the low and humbling position which He wants us to take.
In the Old Testament two sorts of servants are mentioned. There are the hired servants, who have wages paid to them and have certain rights. Then there are the bond-servants, or slaves, who have no rights, who receive no wages and who have no appeal. The Hebrews were forbidden ever to make bond-servants of their own race. Only of the Gentiles were they permitted to take such slaves. When, however, we come to the New Testament, the word in the Greek for the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ is not "hired servant" but "bond-servant," by which is meant to be shown that our position is one where we have no rights and no appeal, where we are the absolute property of our Master, to be treated and disposed of just as He wishes.
Further, we shall see more clearly still what our position is to be when we understand that we are to be the bond-servants of One who was Himself willing to be a bond-servant. Nothing shows better the amazing humility of the Lord Jesus, whose servants we are to be, than that "though He was in the form of God, He counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied Himself and took upon Him the form of a bondservant" (Phil.2:6,7) -- without rights, willing to be treated as the will of the Father and the malice of men might decree, if only He might thereby serve men and bring them back to God. And you and I are to be the bond-servants of Him who was and always is a bondservant, whose disposition is ever that of humility and whose activity is ever that of humbling Himself to serve His creatures. How utterly low, then, is our true position! How this shows us what it means to be ruled by the Lord Jesus!
That leads us to something further. Our servanthood to the Lord Jesus is to express itself in our servanthood to our fellows. Says Paul, "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus, the Lord, and ourselves your bond-servants for Jesus' sake." The low position we take toward the Lord Jesus is judged by Him by the low position we take in our relationship with our fellows. An unwillingness to serve others in costly, humbling ways He takes to be an unwillingness to serve Him, and we thus put ourselves out of fellowship with Him.
We are now in a position to apply all this much more personally to our lives. God spoke to me some time ago through Luke 17:7-1O. "But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterwards thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do."
I see here five marks of the bond-servant. First of all, he must be willing to have one thing on top of another put upon him, without any consideration being given him. On top of a hard day in the field the servant in the parable had immediately to prepare his master's meal, and on top of that he had to wait at table -- and all that before he had had any food himself. He just went and did it, expecting nothing else. How unwilling we are for this! How quickly there are murmurings and bitterness in our hearts when that sort of thing is expected of us. But the moment we start murmuring, we are acting as if we had rights, and a bond-servant hasn't any!
Secondly, in doing this he must be willing not to be thanked for it. How often we serve others, but what selfpity we have in our hearts and how bitterly we complain that they take it as a matter of course and do not thank us for it. But a bond-servant must be willing for that. Hired servants may expect something, but not bond-servants.
And, thirdly, having done all this, he must not charge the other with selfishness. As I read the passage, I could not but feel that the master was rather selfish and inconsiderate. But there is no such charge from the bond-servant. He exists to serve the interests of his master and the selfishness or otherwise of his master does not come into it with him. But we? We can perhaps allow ourselves to be "put upon" by others, and are willing perhaps not to be thanked for what we do, but how we charge the other in our minds with selfishness! But that is not the place of a bond-servant. He is to find in the selfishness of others but a further opportunity to identify himself afresh with His Lord as the servant of all.
But there is a fourth step still to which we must go. Having done all that, there is no ground for pride or self-congratulation, but we must confess that we are unprofitable servants, that is, that we are of no real use to God or man in ourselves. We must confess again and again that "in us, that is in our flesh, there dwelleth no good thing," that, if we have acted thus, it is no thanks to us, whose hearts are naturally proud and stubborn, but only to the Lord Jesus, who dwells in us and who has made us willing.
The bottom of self is quite knocked out by the fifth and last step -- the admission that doing and bearing what we have in the way of meekness and humility, we have not done one stitch more than it was our duty to do. God made man in the first place simply that he might be God's bond-servant. Man's sin has simply consisted in his refusal to be God's bond-servant. His restoration can only be, then, a restoration to the position of a bond-servant. A man, then, has not done anything specially meritorious when he has consented to take that position, for he was created and redeemed for that very thing.
This, then, is the Way of the Cross. It is the way that God's lowly Bond-servant first trod for us, and should not we, the bond-servants of that Bond-servant, tread it still? Does it seem hard and forbidding, this way down? Be assured, it is the only way up. It was the way by which the Lord Jesus reached the Throne, and it is the way by which we too reach the place of spiritual power, authority and fruitfulness. Those who tread this path are radiant, happy souls, overflowing with the life of their Lord. They have found "he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" to be true for them as for their Lord. Where before humility was an unwelcome intruder to be put up with only on occasions, she has now become the spouse of their souls, to whom they have wedded themselves for ever. If darkness and unrest enter their souls it is only because somewhere on some point they have been unwilling to walk with her in the paths of meekness and brokenness. But she is ever ready to welcome them back into her company, as they seek her face in repentance.
That brings us to the all-important matter of repentance. We shall not enter into more abundant life merely by resolving that we shall be humbler in the future. There are attitudes and actions which have already taken place and are still being persisted in (if only by our unwillingness to apologise for them) that must first be repented of. The Lord Jesus did not take upon Him the form of a bond-servant merely to give us an example, but that He might die for these very sins upon the cross, and open a fountain in His precious Blood where they can all be washed away. But that Blood cannot be applied to the sins of our proud heart until we have been broken in repentance as to what has already happened and as to what we already are. This will mean allowing the light of God to go through every part of our hearts and into every one of our relationships. It will mean that we shall have to see that the sins of pride, which God will show us, made it necessary for Jesus to come from heaven and die on the Cross that they might be forgiven. It will mean not only asking Him to forgive us but asking others too. And that will be humbling indeed. But as we crawl through the door of the broken ones we shall emerge into the light and glory of the highway of holiness and humility.