For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.
It’s always uncomfortable to hear the translator use the word ‘slaves’. It accurately represents the Greek, but we prefer the sound of the word ‘servant’. Perhaps this is because the brutality of slavery in the United States makes the word seem inappropriate for the Christian community. Or perhaps the word ‘serve’ is slippery enough that we can avoid the radical portrait of life in Christ that is portrayed here. We turn ‘serve’ into a generalized kindness, not a real sacrifice for the sake of another. We get to keep our sense of independence and avoid the notion that I am bound to others in the community.
A mature faith isn’t enslaved by others – but it does sacrifice for them. When I hold my tongue I am making a sacrifice. When I choose not to take offense at some slight, I make a sacrifice. When I speak the truth in love, I make a sacrifice. When I refuse to take sides, when I resist partisanship, when I support the community’s decision though I personally disagree, I make a sacrifice. When I don’t regard them as my marbles to take home, I make a sacrifice.
None of this represents a surrender of my own self; it is a gift of myself, a free choice, a conscious choice for the sake of others. This was the example given to me by my Lord. It was not a wimp who bent down to wash the feet of his disciples; it was a strong and courageous leader. And he bids me follow where he has led the way.