‘Living No Longer for Ourselves’
“For the love the Christ has compels us, because . . . he died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them.”—2 Cor. 5:14, 15.
1. What is the common response to the ideas of freedom and slavery?
HOW highly prized freedom is! On all sides today persons extol freedom and equality. The ideas of freedom and independence are so prominent that many rebel even at the thought of having to be directed by someone else, or, in effect, living for someone else. You may have heard such ones say, ‘I want to live the way I want.’ They do not want to be slaves to anyone. To most people, the very word “slave” brings to mind scenes of past centuries when hopeless men strained at the oars of a galley, labored in a quarry or served the will of some cruel master.
2. Is slavery something affecting only people of past generations?
2 The bad effects of slavery—of humans existing as no more than the property of another person—reach down even to our time. A 1972 United Nations report stated that ‘the origin of the social strife in many countries today is directly attributable to various forms of slavery. Recently large-scale massacres in several countries have been perpetrated by peoples formerly enslaved, against those who had once been their masters.’
3. Why can it be said that slavery is more widespread today than is usually thought?
3 ‘Well, that does not involve me; I’m no slave,’ you may think. However, a renowned writer who observed firsthand the slavery of the Roman Empire proved that every person in the entire empire was, in a sense, a slave. By the same reasoning, the slave population today includes all mankind. That renowned writer, the apostle Paul, did not consider himself exempt but, in writing to Christians at Rome, said: “I am fleshly, sold under sin. . . . I behold in my members [a] law warring against the law of my mind and leading me captive to sin’s law that is in my members.”—Rom. 7:14, 23.
ARE WE REALLY FREE, INDEPENDENT?
4, 5. What evidence is there that all of us are enslaved?
4 The apostle Paul did not mean that his own parents willingly had sold him into captivity to sin; nor did our own parents do that to us. But Paul understood that, by deliberately choosing to sin, our common forefather, Adam, sold himself and all his future offspring—all mankind—into bondage to imperfection, sin and death. (Rom. 5:12) Undeniably this reaches down to our time and includes us all, for we see around us, and in our own personal lives, evidence of this bondage—evidence in the form of hurtful mistakes, sin and sickness.
5 Yet there are those today who boldly claim that they have freedom. Some proclaim their sexual freedom. But does their way of life indicate that they are actually free? True, they may be living for themselves, gratifying their own passions. That, however, only underscores the fact that they are slaves to imperfection and sin. What of the man whose greed drives him to gain money, possessions or prestige? He, too, grows older and weaker, succumbs to some disease and finally dies. That is true even of the leaders of civil, women’s and minority “rights” movements. The end for all is the same—death—proving that they are indeed slaves of Kings Sin and Death.—Rom. 5:21.
6. This enslavement should lead to what questions on our part?
6 Does this mean that man’s situation is hopeless? Is there no emancipation from sin and death? And if there is a provision for release, can you still live just as you want, or is something required of you to benefit from this provision?
7. How has provision been made for release from this bondage?
7 A fundamental teaching of the Bible is that God, in his mercy, made provision for man’s release from bondage to sin and death. This was by means of his only-begotten Son, who became the perfect human Jesus. In harmony with God’s purpose for him, Jesus laid down his life sacrificially as “a corresponding ransom for all.” (1 Tim. 2:5, 6) Though the ransom or redemptive price was thus paid “for all,” not all will fully receive its benefits. Why not?
8. Why do not all humans receive the benefits of the ransom?
8 It is only those with an approved standing before the Creator who gain the full benefits of the ransom provision—permanent release from sin, sickness, old age and death. While all are invited to gain that approved standing, not all want to accept it because of the responsibility that is involved. Many do not want to act in harmony with the fact that a ransom or redemptive price has been paid in their behalf. They do not want to acknowledge that they have been bought and that Jehovah God and Jesus Christ are their rightful Owners or Masters, deserving of full obedience. All who persist in disobedience or who later renounce Jehovah God and Jesus Christ as their Owners lose out on the benefits of the ransom provision.—Matt. 10:33; John 3:36; Heb. 10:26, 27; 2 Pet. 2:1-3.
9. What choice is set before all mankind?
9 The question before all humans, therefore, is, Whom do I want to serve voluntarily—sin with death in view, or God and Christ with life in view? (Rom. 6:16) ‘That is not much of a choice,’ some may say. ‘I’d rather die than be a slave forever.’ But is that sound reasoning when it comes to serving God and Christ? Did not Jesus say that the “truth will set you free”? (John 8:32) Should we, therefore, not expect service to God and Christ to offer the kind of freedom that every honest-hearted person would desire? Consider:
A DIFFERENCE IN MASTERS
10. What type of “masters” do Christians have in heaven?
10 There is good reason for humans to want to be slaves of God and Christ. They are unlike the cruel masters of past centuries who brutalized and exploited their slaves and cared little about their welfare and happiness. What Jehovah God and his Son have done for mankind testifies to their depth of concern and boundless love.
11, 12. In what ways are we indebted to God?
11 Jehovah God is the One to whom we are indebted for life. ‘He created all things, and because of his will they existed and were created.’ (Rev. 4:11) He could have executed the death sentence upon the disobedient Adam and Eve before they were able to become parents. None of us would then have been born. However, moved by merciful consideration for their unborn offspring, Jehovah God allowed the first human pair to continue living and to procreate. Despite the unappreciative attitude of most of their descendants, he did not withhold from humankind his generous provisions for sustaining life. (Matt. 5:45) Even the “pagans” could not disagree with the apostle Paul’s statement that God does “good, giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts to the full with food and good cheer.”—Acts 14:17; Ps. 104:13-15, 24.
12 But God’s expression of love and undeserved kindness did not stop at this point. So that sinful, undeserving humans could choose to come into an approved relationship with him and be freed from bondage to sin and death, God did not “spare” his dearest Son from undergoing a shameful death. (Rom. 8:32) For the majority of mankind the opportunity for life free from death that this affords will become theirs upon being raised from the dead. (Acts 24:15) Think of it, Jehovah God did this for humans who did not even acknowledge his authority in their lives. As the apostle Paul wrote to Christians at Rome: “God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”—Rom. 5:8.
13. Why are we indebted to Jesus Christ?
13 The purchase of sinful mankind with “precious blood” was also an outstanding evidence of Jesus’ own deep love. (1 Pet. 1:19, 20) As Jesus himself put it: “I surrender my soul in behalf of the sheep. . . . This is why the Father loves me, because I surrender my soul, in order that I may receive it again. No man has taken it away from me, but I surrender it of my own initiative.” (John 10:15-18) “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.” (John 15:13) Jesus actually did more than that. He died, not only for his friends, but for the world of mankind in general that did not acknowledge any accountability to his Father. (1 John 2:2) Now, what man would have been willing to do that for people who had no respect for his father? We are indeed indebted to Jesus Christ for purchasing us at the cost of his life, opening up to us the opportunity to gain freedom from sin and death.
14. How should we respond to this indebtedness?
14 In view of the great love of God and Christ, is your heart stirred to want to be in their service? Do you feel like certain men of ancient times who, though offered freedom, voluntarily chose to continue in slavery to their kind and generous Hebrew masters? (Ex. 21:2-6) That is the heartfelt response of those who appreciate what Jehovah God and Jesus Christ have done in their behalf. As Paul wrote, “the love the Christ has compels us.” (2 Cor. 5:14) Observe that he did not say that God compels or that Christ compels humans to take up faithful service to them. On the contrary, the compelling force is “the love the Christ has.” And, since Jehovah God has the same love for us as does his Son, God’s love has like compelling force.
15. What is the nature of a Christian’s relationship with Jehovah and Jesus Christ?
15 The relationship that you can enter into with God and Christ, if you have not already entered it, is not a formal or impersonal one, but warm and close. On his final night as a human with his disciples, Jesus warmly assured them: “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends, because all the things I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15) By this Jesus was not saying that their real position was no longer that of slaves, for they still owed their lives to God, and soon Christ was to pay the “redemption price” for them. He meant that he was not treating them as mere slaves, ones who just get assignments but no intimate information. No, they were to be treated as “friends,” as trusted and respected confidants.
16. Why is service to God and Christ not burdensome?
16 So we see that there is nothing burdensome about slavery to God and Christ. Their commands are based on love and serve to protect obedient ones from injury and to ensure their lasting happiness and welfare. (1 John 5:3) No oppressive yoke awaits those who, motivated by love, choose to disown themselves in order to be slaves of God and Christ. “Come to me,” said Jesus Christ, “all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and become my disciples, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30) With such loving masters, what rightly disposed man or woman could possibly want to pursue a course of self-willed independence?
A SLAVE DOES WHOSE WILL FIRST?
17. What effect should the love of God and Christ have on the way we live our life?
17 If the love of God and Christ compels you to serve them, this will be reflected in the way you live your life. You will not be living for yourself. As the apostle Paul wrote: “[Christ] died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them.” (2 Cor. 5:15) Just what does this involve?
18-20. (a) As illustrated by Jesus, what comes first if a person is no longer living for himself? (b) Did Jesus mean that we are useless?
18 Ponder a literal slave-master relationship. Would a faithful, trusted slave put off serving his master or treat such service as of minor importance? Would he give first attention to his own comforts or personal interests in life? Most certainly not! Then what about slaves of God and Christ?
19 An illustration used by Jesus Christ gives a forceful answer to this question. He drew upon the fact that then slaves who worked in the field might also serve the evening meal to their master. This was viewed as something to which the master was entitled. Jesus said: “Will he [the master] not say to him [the slave], ‘Get something ready for me to have my evening meal, and put on an apron and minister to me until I am through eating and drinking, and afterward you can eat and drink’? He will not feel gratitude to the slave because he did the things assigned, will he?” Then, regarding the fulfillment of their assignments, Jesus advised his disciples to say: “We are good-for-nothing slaves. What we have done is what we ought to have done.”—Luke 17:7-10.
20 Jesus was not here recommending that Christians constantly be tearing themselves down, depreciating themselves, thinking of themselves as useless. No, but he was advising them to keep clearly in mind their relationship to God and his Son. As Christians, it is not their personal will and comforts that come first, for Christ died that they “might live no longer for themselves.”
21. Why is ‘living no longer for ourselves’ very difficult at times?
21 Of course, service to God and Christ is not always easy, but never is such service the reason for problems. In itself it is a source of joy and refreshment. Humans without faith and wicked spirit forces, however, are the ones that make things hard for Christians. (Eph. 6:11, 12; 2 Thess. 3:1-3) This has been the experience in modern times of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses, especially in lands under dictatorial rule. Often they have been persecuted because of obeying Jesus’ command to preach and teach God’s Word. (Matt. 28:19, 20) At other times persecution has come upon them because, out of faithfulness to God, they refuse to get involved in the political and military affairs of the nations. (John 6:15; 17:16) The ‘line of least resistance’ would be to give in, to live ‘good, moral lives,’ while accommodating the demands of the totalitarian governments. But these Christians are not living for themselves. They are servants of God and Christ. Appreciating the boundless love that they have been shown, they are willing to suffer, yes, even to die, in faithful service.
22, 23. (a) What did young Witnesses in Czechoslovakia endure? (b) What enabled them to continue faithful?
22 Thus, in the book Even Under the Sky There Is Hell (1971, page 117) a Czechoslovakian reporter described the cruel treatment of Jehovah’s witnesses in a Communist labor camp during 1951: “I will always remember with admiration and recognition Jehovists [Jehovah’s witnesses], mostly young boys, who refused military duty and were condemned for it. Even here they remained in their faith . . . and they refused to work in uranium mines. Commanders of the camps used everything they had at their disposition to force them to do the work, but everything they tried was in vain; most of them would rather die than work in building the Soviet atomic threat. The chief of the camp Palacek made them stand for days in front of headquarters in snow drifts in the [-]30° C. [-22° F.] winter weather pouring water on them till they were frozen. It was a terrible sight, which will haunt me till I die.”
23 What enabled these young men to maintain faithfulness? They appreciated that they had been bought with “precious blood” and did not want to prove false to their Owners, Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. They had the firm conviction that, though killed by men, God and Christ would not forget them and would restore them to life. They believed the inspired assurances: “God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name.” (Heb. 6:10) “Whoever seeks to keep his soul [life] safe for himself will lose it, but whoever loses it will preserve it alive.”—Luke 17:33.
24. In what related situations can we show that we are not ‘living for ourselves’?
24 While you individually may never face such a severe test of your faithfulness to God, are you, nonetheless, even now putting him first? Maybe the test of your faithfulness involves family members—perhaps they abuse you, saying you ‘take your religion too seriously.’ Or, possibly your schoolmates or workmates put pressure on you to abandon your Christian principles. What are you doing and will you do in the face of such difficulties? Giving in to the persecution or pressure might seem to make life easier, more bearable; whereas proving faithful to God may mean continued or even increased abuse for a while. If you bear in mind your indebtedness to God and Christ, you will make the right decision. You will continue to “glorify God.”—1 Cor. 6:20.
USING YOUR “FREE” TIME
25. What, besides faithful endurance when we are persecuted, is involved in ‘living no longer for ourselves’?
25 Living no longer for ourselves involves more, though, than faithful endurance when we are being persecuted. Christians are urged: “Whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men, for you know that it is from Jehovah you will receive the due reward of the inheritance. Slave for the Master, Christ.” (Col. 3:23, 24) Hence, living no longer for ourselves includes every aspect of life—morals, how one thinks, acts, talks and works, wifely subjection, husbandly exercise of headship and obedience to parents.—Col. 3:5-22.
26. What exceptions do nominal Christians make in the way they conduct themselves?
26 You may, however, have observed that many professed Christians make exceptions. It is well known that even among nominal Christians who have a certain sense of decency, wild unrestraint—drunkenness, immorality and destruction of property—often accompanies festivals that are linked to church holidays. Vacations, evenings and weekends are also times when more and more people feel they are free to “live” as they please.
27, 28. (a) While there is a time for relaxation, what will true Christians not do or think? (b) In what fine ways do they use their “free” time?
27 Relaxation and pleasure are, of course, useful in achieving a balanced life and personality. And a genuine Christian rightly uses some of his time in pursuits that are relaxing and pleasurable. But he does not live solely for pleasure. He does not ration off some specific part of his life as “my time,” during which he can forget that he is serving God.
28 That this is so is seen from the fine way in which Christian servants of Jehovah use their “free” time. High on the list of pleasurable things they do are things directly related to their worship. They delight to speak about their Creator and to attend Christian meetings each week. The wholesome association and instruction received make these meetings most enjoyable. Even when families are away traveling, they may include some Christian meetings in their plans. Thus they enjoy an added pleasure—the opportunity to meet new friends, spiritual brothers and sisters, in another city or country. When situated some distance from a Kingdom Hall, perhaps camping in the woods, they find joy in meditating about their Creator and Scriptural discussions as family groups. Then, too, many of Jehovah’s witnesses schedule their vacation period to include benefiting to the full from one of the large Christian conventions arranged each year.
29. When giving thought to our use of “free” time, what might we beneficially consider?
29 So when you personally give thought to evenings, weekends or vacations, reflect on your standing before God and Christ. Endeavor to do that which will refresh you physically, mentally or spiritually. Have as your goal gaining strength that you will put to good use in continued service to God after the “free” period is over. While the world may say, ‘Get away for a while and forget your regular routine,’ demonstrate your appreciation for what God and Christ have done for you. Avoid things that could disturb your conscience and cause you to look back with regret on what might otherwise have been a rewarding and refreshing time.
30. What questions arise regarding those who claim to believe in God but live for pleasure?
30 Really, the servant of God should have in mind doing all things to the glory of his Creator. (1 Cor. 10:31) Though imperfect, he should strive to control sinful inclinations and not ‘present himself as a slave of sin.’ (Rom. 6:16) You may have noted, however, that some persons who say they believe in the Creator and his Son lead daily lives that center on having all the pleasure they can get here and now. What is lacking? Might it be that they see no hope for the future? Just how is your day-to-day living influenced by your view of the future? This we leave for the next article to consider.