Selfless, Timeless, Limitless
Today I want to talk about devotion. I’m not talking about an Olivia Newton-John Hopeless Devotion (some of ya’ll don’t even know what I’m talking about… ask your parents…) I’m talking about Douleuō devotion. It’s something that I spoke with our worship team about a couple months ago, but I think we all can learn from it. Douleuō is pronounced "doolay-yoo’-oh", and this word means to be devoted or to worship by serving as a slave.
Now, before you get all bent out of shape about the word “slave”, let’s talk about slavery in the First Century. When the New Testament was written, over half the population under Roman rule were slaves of some kind. Doctors were slaves to the wealthier families. Scribes were slaves to wealthy families, governmental officials and rulers. Often times, slaves honestly had better lives than free men that were peasants. We aren't talking about the kind of slavery we picture when we hear the word. In the first century, there was really nothing wrong with being a slave. Even gladiators were often slaves, and I’m pretty sure they could have "opened up a can" on their owners. But why didn’t they? Because slavery was not a “bad” thing at that time. It meant that you were a contracted, often times paid, live-in servant. Sounds pretty good, right? So how does the Bible use this concept?
There are quite a few passages in the New Testament that use this word to define service to (or worship of) God. But let’s focus on one specific passage, 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10. Pay close attention to verse 9:
"2 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath."
"for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve (douleuō) the living and true God"
Here’s the deal: Paul is writing this letter to the church in Thessalonica. He writes this incredible greeting that is basically a brag session about how amazing these guys in Thessalonica are. He talks about how they turned to Christ in spite of significant persecution. Can I just say that Paul, who had been shipwrecked, was beaten numerous times, fed to wild animals, and imprisoned, if he calls your persecution significant, it was probably legit.
At the end of Paul’s statement, he says that the Thessalonians turned from serving their idols to serve (douleuō) God. He is saying that these guys’ faith and commitment was so intense that it reminded him of how a slave serves their master. He makes the statement that the Thessalonians’ faith is so bold that when Paul travels around to other places, people actually tell Paul about how great these guys are. ('Your faith in God has become known everywhere.") Imagine if your church was talked about in your community like that? Honestly, reading about what Paul thinks about these guys kinda makes me feel like a spiritual weenie……
So, with that being said, how can we apply this? What are some ways to describe what slavery-based servitude looks like?
Selfless Devotion: There is no thought of personal preference. At all. Period. The master says jump, and the slave says, “how high?” Or maybe if they were 90’s slave, they would’ve said, “lemme air up my pumps…” (Who remembers those?) Here’s what that looks like for our lives: If God asks it of me, then my only response is obedience. No bargaining, No substitutes, just Obedience.
Timeless Devotion: If the master wants the slave to get up and get him a glass of water at 2:00am, guess what the slave is doing at 2:00am? This part sounds difficult, but timeless devotion comes easy when you’ve given in to selfless devotion. Here’s what it looks like for our lives: If you’re obedient to him, then your service to him will always be at the right time. If the Holy Spirit tells you to do something, and you dismiss it, then you are only reducing your sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, and choosing to not be used. God can simply use someone else to carry out the task on time, and then guess what? You end up being the one that misses out on the blessing. But also, if your service is for selfish reasons, then timing doesn't matter. God can and probably still will use it, but you may never see the real blessing. And what you thought was going to be a blessing will turn out to be a burden. I see people start things or “do stuff for God” all the time, but they do it for recognition, the reward isn’t enough to continue carrying the burden, and they burnout and quit. “Selfish" Devotion leads to ”tiring” devotion, but selfless devotion leads to timeless devotion.
Limitless Devotion: When the slave is selfless, and his devotion is timeless, he is not at all concerned with the difficulty of the task that he’s been given. He 100% all-in trusts the master’s judgement of whether something is “doable.” These Thessalonians endured so much persecution because of their faith in Christ. They didn’t complain, and if they did, it wasn’t openly. They just did what they knew they were supposed to. The were selflessly obedient to whatever God asked of them. Here’s what this looks like for our lives: No matter what, God has put the resources inside of you to see it through, but the outcome most often depends on you. Sometimes things are only doable when you stretch yourself. When you stretch yourself and depend on God, you’ll see new resources come out of you that you didn’t even know you had; resources that God had already planted in you. But we also have to remember, sometimes things are only doable when you ask others for help.
Here’s a little secret tip that I’ve learned over the course of my ministry. If you find yourself up against something that without a doubt you believe God has called you to do, but it doesn’t seem doable. Here’s what you do:
Get in the presence of God.
However that looks for you, get in the presence of God. Because in HIS presence, what seems impossible is possible. Some of the best things I’ve done in my ministry, that had the most impact, were things I didn’t think I was capable of. I knew God wanted me to do it, and I knew that it would bring him Glory, but I was limiting myself. That’s dangerous, because by limiting myself, I was actually putting a limit on what God could do through me. But, when I would put myself in a posture to be absolutely in His presence and earnestly seek him, creativity would come, vision would come, and an overwhelming passion would well up inside of me to see it through.
It reminds me of when Elisha was coming to the end of his ministry in 2 Kings, and he told Jehoash, the King of Israel to shoot an arrow out the East Window. Elisha told him exactly what to do. He even said that the arrow that he was shooting was the Lord’s arrow of Victory of Aram, but the King was still the one that had to pull the bowstring back. Just a little side note: the further you stretch the string back, the further the arrow will go when it’s released.
The further you stretch yourself now, the further you’ll go when you're truly released.
So he shoots the arrow, and Elisha gives him the promise. He says you’re going to strike the Arameans down.
Then Elisha told him to strike the ground. It says that Jehoash shot the ground 3 times and stopped. The problem was, Jehoash had twice that many arrows in his quiver. God had given him what he needed, but he limited himself there in the intimate place, which ended up limiting his victory later. Instead of putting an end to the Arameans, he only defeated them 3 times, and Israel ended up being oppressed for years. Because Jehoash limited himself, he was only able to receive half the promise.
Don’t limit yourself when you serve a limitless God because you aren’t the best version of you yet. Don’t settle for half of the promise. No, become a slave to God - DOULEUŌ and say, whatever, wherever, whenever, God I’m yours.
So let me ask you a question. How are you doing with these three areas of your personal devotion to Christ? Are you a slave to Christ?