This is a recap of the Encounter Class I taught at UPLIFT this year. Find out more about UPLIFT by going to upliftonline.com
I don’t have tattoos or piercings. That actually makes me a little different from most of the young adults I know. It’s not that I’m against tattoos or piercings – I’m against needles. I can get shots and give blood, but I can’t watch them or look at the needle. If I even think about it too much, I can get light headed.
So the thought of getting a tattoo or piercing kinda freaks me out. But if other people want to do that to their bodies, more power to them.
Some people take their piercings very seriously. But I want to look at how piercing is connected to another topic: SERVANTHOOD.
Think about this question: Who do you serve?
You’re initial response may be that this is a free country and you are nobody’s servant. But the more we think about it, the more we realize just how little freedom we actually have.
Some of us may feel like we are servants to our boss. Our employer runs our life. He makes our schedule. He tells us when we can eat lunch or when we can take a break or when we can go to the bathroom. We have to get permission to have time off so we can hang out with friends or go on trips with our families.
Or what about parents? Some teenagers may feel like they are always being bossed around by their parents. You find yourself saying things like It’s my room, why do I have to keep it clean for you? But I did the dishes last time! Why do I have to be home by 10:30? All my friends are staying out until midnight. I’m 16, I’m practically an adult! Maybe you feel like you parents are all up in your business, always telling you what to do or not to do.
Some of us may be servants to brands. We dress in all Nike everything – or Underarmour – or American Eagle. Every time you see that little green circle with a weird mermaid in it you instantly HAVE to have a caramel frappuccino. You can’t wait for the newest iPhone to come out. Our lives can be controlled by certain brands and companies without us even knowing.
How about fandoms? Maybe you know what Hogwarts house you’re in. Maybe you go see every Star Wars movie the night it comes out. You dress up in cosplay and attend conventions. You talk in movie quotes. You look down on anyone who has seen the movie but not read the book. How much of your life is spent in a fantasy world?
The list could go on and on – athletics, sports teams, popularity, smart phones, social media, pride, greed, self-image, etc….
Everyone serves someone. That was true in the movie, and it’s true in real life, too.
So I ask you this question: Given the choice between a life of freedom and a life of servanthood, which would you choose?
Seems like a simple, straightforward question. Obviously, we would all want to choose freedom. But it’s not so simple as that. Let’s find out why.
CHOOSE YOUR MASTER
In the book of Romans, Paul has some interesting things to say about freedom and servanthood. Check out this section from Romans 6:16-23 (New Living Translation):
Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.
Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.
When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
A few observations: 1) Paul is aware of the fact that “Everyone serves someone.” It’s not a question of if we are going to be enslaved, but to whom we are going to be enslaved. 2) There are only really two options for masters – God or the world, righteousness or sin, life or death. 3) We get to choose our own master! The choice must be made, but it will never be made for us. We will be servants to someone/something, but we get to choose.
The choice is ours to make, but it’s not always an easy one. What the world has to offer looks so enticing. Think about Eve with the forbidden fruit – it looked delicious. Think about Jesus being tempted in the wilderness as Satan showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their wealth – how hard would that be to turn down?! The world is offering us all we ever wanted – popularity, wealth, power, influence, “freedom.” It all looks so enticing. But it’s all a lie. It won’t lead you where you truly want to go. It’s not fulfilling. It won’t make you any happier of better off in life.
Do you know how I can say that with confidence? Because I look at the news headlines, and it seems like almost every week another celebrity has taken his or her own life. I think of Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Avicii, Chester Bennington, Robin Williams, and the list goes on and on. Household names, TV Stars, Rock Stars, Fashion Designers – people who had it all yet felt so unfulfilled. They felt so enslaved that they could only think of one way out.
I’m also reminded of this video from Jim Carrey not too long ago:
You know who else knew about this better than just about anyone? Woody, from Toy Story 2:
In Toy Story 2, Woody is presented with a choice. He is accidentally sold at a yard sale and is picked up by a collector. Woody then realizes just how valuable he is to the world. He’s a highly prized collector’s item, and he is offered the chance to become world-famous. Woody sees his face on posters and lunch boxes and yo-yos. He is given everything he ever wanted…if he agrees to be shipped to the other side of the world and put on display behind a glass case never to be played with again.
There’s always a catch.
But Woody realizes that true freedom for him is found with Andy. Woody was not made to be a collector’s item. He was made to be loved and played with. He’s not just a toy, he’s Andy’s toy. Woody had a choice to make, and that’s the same choice we have to make today. Who are we going to serve?
I hope you’re beginning to see how the choice between freedom and servanthood isn’t quite so simple. What sounds like freedom can ultimately lead you down some dark paths, and you will wind up serving people who don’t really care about you. But when you choose to submit yourself in service to God, that’s where true freedom lies.
MAKING THE CHOICE
It’s not an easy choice to make, though. Let me draw your attention to an obscure little law in the Old Testament that connects the ideas of piercings and servanthood.
First, some context: Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for around 400 years. Then God, through Moses, delivered his people from Egypt. They are now a free people who are becoming their own nation. God led them to Mount Sinai where he gave the people his LAW – codes and regulations for everything from religion to government to personal finance. And yes, slavery was built into the system. But this slavery was more for economic reasons than we typically think of today. If a person fell on hard times, either extreme poverty or loads of debt, he could essentially lease himself off to a wealthier family. He would become their slave for a period of time in order to get out of poverty or pay down his debts. But God also built this into the system, too. Every seven years all debts were to be cancelled and all slaves were to be set free.
I would LOVE it if our government would cancel our student loan debts after seven years, but whatever.
But what if, after seven years, your servant doesn’t want to go free? What if your servant refuses to leave? God had a law for that, too.
Exodus 21:5-6 – But the slave may declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I don’t want to go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door or doorpost and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will serve his master for life.
Deuteronomy 15:16-17 – “But suppose your servant says, ‘I will not leave you,’ because he loves you and your family, and he has done well with you. In that case, take an awl and push it through his earlobe into the door. After that, he will be your servant for life. And do the same for your female servants.”
This raises all sorts of questions for me.
First, what’s the significance of piercing an ear at the doorpost?
The piercing mentioned was not done with a needle, it was done with an awl. An awl is a leather working tool that has been around for thousands of years. You can still pick one up today at your local hardware store. It’s main purpose is punching holes in leather – like making new holes in a belt. Using an awl to pierce an ear would hurt. But it would also be permanent. This would leave no small hole that would close up soon. It would be a large, permanent piercing. this was not a decision to be made lightly.
This was a permanent statement of devotion.
So why the ear? Think about it. If you are wearing earrings, can you see them without looking into a mirror? You can’t see your own earring. Earrings are accessories for other people to see. For a servant to have his/her ear pierced like this, it was a reminder not to themselves but to other people that he/she is devoted to this particular master.
This was a permanent, public statement of devotion.
But more than that, why would this piercing ritual have to be done at the doorpost? The front door is the most public place in the house. It’s where people come in and go out. It faces the main road. Anyone can see your front door when they look at your house. This ritual was done in public for all to see. The servant and master were essentially allowing the whole community to witness this act of submission.
This was a permanent, public, community-wide statement of devotion.
I see a lot of connections to baptism in this piercing ritual.
Why would anyone choose servanthood over freedom?
It’s right there in the text. The servant realizes that he loves his master and his master’s family. He knows how well off he has it. He is treated well. He is fed well. He has a place to sleep and clothes on his back. After seven years his master’s family has become to feel like his own family. Why would he want to leave? In leaving his master, he may find himself back in the same situations that got him to this life of slavery in the first place.
The decision to attach their identity to their Master had nothing to do with how great of a servant they were but how good their Master was.
When it comes to our relationship with God, our commitment to him has nothing to do with our own righteousness or how good we are. It has everything to do with how loving and gracious God is. And there is no better Master to whom we could devote our lives.
Where is Christ in this passage?
Whenever I am looking at a passage in the Old Testament, I ask myself where can I see Christ in this? I believe Jesus can be found throughout the Old Testament. So where do I see him in this obscure little law tucked away in Deuteronomy?
It’s pretty easy if you think about it.
Christ was pierced. He wasn’t pierced through his ear, but he was pierced through his hands and his feet and his side and his head. He was pierced from head to toe. His whole body, not just an ear, was pierced in submission to God as his Master.
Christ was pierced, not at a doorpost but on the cross post. He was pierced through on a cross on display for all to see. His piercings were permanent (the only man-made thing in heaven), and his commitment was public for all to see.
Jesus said, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” He was pierced in submission to God, and he call each one of us to carry our cross and follow him.
Finally, what does this mean for us today?
I can’t say what it should mean for you to be pierced, but I can tell you what it meant for me. When I was in high school, between my freshman and sophomore year, I was at a summer camp. Each night of camp we ended with “Circle of Friends” – a time spent singing as the night wound down. On this particular night of camp, a lot of emotions were running high. Many teenage campers needed someone to talk to. It ended up that all the youth ministers and counselors were busy talking and praying with campers, so they put some of us high school guys in charge of leading the songs.
It was my turn, and I can’t really tell you what songs I led. But I remember looking around the circle and seeing the Spirit of God at work in the lives of my fellow teenagers. And in that moment I felt God tell me that this was what I was supposed to do with my life. I felt God call me to minister to teenagers. And from that point on I set my sights on becoming a youth minister.
Not for the fame or the prestige, obviously not for the salary. But rather in submission to God’s will for my life. I guess you could say that was the night I went to the doorpost.
Have I been a perfect servant? Capital N-O. But thankfully, it’s not about how good of a servant I am – it’s about how great of a Master God has been, is, and will be.
God is worth going to the doorpost for.
Here’s the paradox of freedom. When we try to do like Frank Sinatra and do it “my way,” the life that looks like freedom can lead to heartache, destruction, slavery, and death. But when we choose to submit our lives to God (not my will but Yours be done), that’s where we find true freedom to be who we were made to be and to live the life we were made for.
True freedom lies in the path of submission.
How can that be true? Because there is a transformation that takes place. Check it out:
John 15:15 – “I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.”
Galatians 4:7 – Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.
When we submit ourselves as slaves to God, he never leaves us as slaves. There is a transformation that turns us from slaves to friends of Jesus, children of God, full heirs of the promise of eternal life with God in Christ.
That sounds like all we could ever truly want.
I AM PIERCED
Can you tell God, “I love my Master; I am well off here; I do not want to leave”?
There is a song I grew up singing called “Pierce My Ear.” It’s based on this law from Exodus and Deuteronomy. And the more I researched this idea of being pierced, the more I came to appreciate this song.
Pierce my ear, O Lord my God
Take me to Your door this day
I will serve no other god
Lord, I’m here to stay
For You have paid the price for me
With Your blood You ransomed me
I will serve You eternally
A free man I’ll never be