The beloved apostle Paul in said 1 Cor. 7:23, “You are bought with a price; be not you the servants of men.” We wish to be free from the oppression of tyrants and from sin. It is also true that every man serves some master. Libertines are in the worst kind of bondage – slavery to sin (Jn 8:34 f; Rom. 6:16-23). The desire to be absolutely free, without the guidance and restraint of God, is disastrous. Man was not designed by the Creator to live this way. If he attempts to do so, he becomes like a runaway car without a driver. Christ came to free us from sin (Jn 8:32), but when freed from sin, we immediately become His servants (Rom. 6:5-7, 15-18). A servant of righteousness is the same as a servant of Christ. Paul and Peter both described themselves as servants of Christ (Rom. 1:1 f; 2 Pet. 1:1). Peter said in 1 Pet. 2:15, 16, “For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as servants of God.”
The man who serves God must serve Him only. He dare not attempt to serve two masters; this is an impossibility without loving the one or hating the other (Matt. 6:24). If we are the servants of God and of Christ, we cannot at the same time be the servants of men. Paul was not speaking of physical bondage, since some Christians of that day were slaves and were instructed to obey their masters. Just how can we be brought under spiritual bondage to men?
Some brethren of New Testament times were brought under bondage by Judaizing teachers (Gal. 2:4; 4:3 cf; 4:9; 5:1). Any laws of men being taught today are parallel (Col. 2:20-23). When we let false teachers deceive us, either in morality or religion, we have become their servants. They may promise us liberty in order that they may ensnare us (2 Pet. 2:18, 19 f; Eph. 4:14). Sincere Christians can be “beguiled” by “subtlety” (2 Cor. 11:3 f; Col. 2:4-8 cf; 2:18)
We can become the servants of men by giving allegiance to a religious head other than Christ. Roman Catholics with their Pope are not the only ones guilty of this. There are always some in the church who love the “preeminence” (3 Jn. 9). These may be preachers, elders, or prominent members of the church. They may not have any official position, but we must not follow any man, except as that man follows Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Elders were never intended to be the dictators of the church or to usurp any of Christ’s authority (1 Pet. 5:3). The Christian who follows an elder into apostasy cannot expect to escape personal responsibility.
There is another way in which we may become the servants of men, and that is by developing a materialistic, worldly attitude. This may be divided into two parts: (1) a desire for material goods, (2) a desire for the approval of men. We are warned against the love of money and the desire for riches (1 Tim. 6:3-10). This can lead to a bondage not only to the money itself, but to the men who control it and finally to the Devil, since he controls the kingdoms of this world with their riches. Those who love money will do almost anything to get it and to hang on to it. Those who control the money will then demand that we serve them instead of Christ. Many a Christian has lost his soul in this manner. Men neglect their wives, their children, and finally, the Lord by trying to advance themselves in a job that demands too much of their time and energy. This is in addition to the fact that many employers demand that the men under them break even the moral laws of God: that they lie, cheat, and steal.
Because of this danger we must learn to be content with what we have (Heb. 13:5). It is not a sin in itself for a man to desire that his family have a decent house and car, clothes on their back and food in their mouth. In fact, man is commanded to provide for the necessities for his family (1 Tim 5:8) but this becomes sin when that man puts these goals ahead of doing right and serving God.
The desire for the approval of men is equally dangerous. Rom. 12:2 tells us, “Be not conformed to this world.” We will conform if we need the approval of men. We will not do and say certain things for fear of offense; we will not resist sinful customs such as drinking and immodest dress. A woman cannot always be in style and be modest, in spite of what some preachers say. Style, or fashion, is admittedly based upon the lust of the eye and the pride of life. The Christian who does not dare to be different is doomed to be a slave of men. Many have been the servants of men for years and do not even know it, being self-deceived.
The less material goods we require to satisfy us, and the less we care about what others think and say about us, the freer we are from servitude to men. We must make a commitment to serve God and follow Christ, allowing no man to bind or deceive us. As Joshua said so long ago, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Jam. 24:15). Brethren, “be not you the servants of men.”