Today is Remembrance Day when we remember all who served and died in the cause of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. I watched the footage of the journey of the Unknown Warrior from France to Westminster Abbey in 1920. It is such a poignant film and can be viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvOI4RPe8v0
As I was watching it made me think about the way we honour the service of the millions of men and women who served their country, many dying in that cause. The mothers, wives and children of the First World War generation who fought and served on the frontlines in land, sea and air are nearly all dead now. Every town and village up and down the nation has a memorial to those who went to war and never returned – WWI had such a devastating impact on the whole nation, as did WWII.
After the Great War was over, the battlefield graveyards were turned into pristine monuments, beautiful and sacred places. On one hand you have the terrible reality of war – on the other, we visit those places today and find monuments that speak of noble deaths, and reveal the terrible loss in the numbers of graves and the names of the unfound fallen on the memorial walls:
- At Ypres – the Menin Gate with the names of 54,395 men whose remains were never found
- The Somme – Thiepval with the names of 72,337 men whose remains were never found
- Passchendaele – Tyne Cot with the names of 34,959 men whose remains were never found
Colossians 3:22-24, ESV, ‘Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.’
Galatians 3:27-28, ‘For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’
Paul writes unusually in Colossians 3. Normally, in the ancient world, bondservants or household slaves were not addressed in letters such as this, only the masters were. This indicates the important place bondservants had in the early church. It also demonstrates how the church regarded both masters and household servants as of equal merit in the things of the Kingdom. He wrote earlier in Galatians 3, there is ‘neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.’
In Colossians 3:11, he had already alluded to this, ‘Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.’
The servant’s primary responsibility was to do the will of another. Paul counselled them not to render service only when the master’s eyes were on them, but to work hard and diligently at all times in their service. Their motivation was to be of pure origins: fearing the Lord Jesus and working as if for Him.
Rightfully in our modern understanding of the heinous nature of human slavery – this seems a barbaric injunction; yet, we must remember that the Roman society was built on slavery and there were draconian measures in place to ensure that slaves fulfilled their duty. In our modern, liberal democracies we can lobby, organise and work towards societal change; in the ancient world, if you didn’t conform you were beaten, starved, were imprisoned or were executed.
It is not that long ago that our nation practised such barbarity…and there are presently estimated to be 136,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK – this sis terrible. Please pray for their emancipation and freedom.
The fear of the Lord Christ was to be the motivation for whole-hearted service in whatever setting one found oneself in. Again, in Ancient Roman society, slaves did not have any inheritance rights. When Paul said that there was an inheritance awaiting which the Lord Himself had set aside for them – that was revolutionary stuff. They might have been owned by their earthly masters, but they were in reality serving their just, gracious and fair heavenly Master.
Although Paul writes that Christian bondservants or household slaves should work heartily as unto the Lord and not unto men – we should not sanitise the reality of this for some. Many served in harsh difficult circumstances that were anything but pleasant. A good, kind master was not the norm in that society. Masters saw their slaves as their property and treated the slaves as sub-human chattel.
If the slave had a Christian master, that would have made a big difference to their lives; however, many slaves in the church would have been serving non-Christian masters who reflected the attitudes, behaviour and norms of the wider society. This would have meant a terrible, harsh and dangerous life – we should underestimate what our Christian forbears had to go through as they sought to live out their faith while being good, loving and gracious God-fearers.
Paul comes back to one of his favourite, great theological truths – in Christ, we are all His people whether slave or free, male or female, Jew or Greek. We may owe human authorities or people due deference, honour and service, but as Christians, our service is for the Lord in every given setting we find ourselves in.
Like Paul, we too can grow in Christian maturity to such an extent that we learn to be content whether our lot is advantageous to us or destructive to our bodies.
Reflecting on Remembrance Day where I started – the service of our forbears, and of those who serve in the Armed Forces today, is a matter of great honour and lasting respect. These men and women answered the call to serve their country in ways that none of us, who have not served in this way, can understand or comprehend.
The Unknown Warrior buried in Westminster Abbey fought and died in terrible conditions – his service of his country took place in violent, dirty and terrible conditions. There was nothing sanitised about his service – nor of the millions of others from many nations who served their countries also. Their service was all very real, human and horrific.
As we honour their deaths today, I am a great admirer of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and believe passionately in honouring their sacrifice – let us remember for our tomorrow they sacrificed their today.
- There is a huge cost to true service. The graves and memorials to the fallen testify to that. The stories of the lives of those who came back home from war also testify to the lasting impact of their service upon their mental, psychological and physical well being. War is terrible.
- As we reflect on the Bible passages about Christian service – let’s not kid ourselves that it is easy, doesn’t cost us that much really, and won’t impact the quality of our lives in this world. We do not serve a church, or a ministry, or a vocation – first and foremost, Christian service is given to the Lord Christ.
- The next time you consider whether the service you are giving as a Christian is too costly – remember that while it may impact our ability to enjoy the pleasures and distractions of this world, there is an inheritance awaiting which the Lord Himself has bequeathed as ours for our service.
- Don’t judge the service the Lord calls us to by the cost, but by our obedience, humility and the grace He supplies to enable us to go the extra mile, work for Him in the settings He calls us to, and reveal His life as we daily die to self. We are called to another’s service – the service of our Lord and Saviour.
Father, we honour the memory and lives of all who have served our nation in the cause of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Bless those who mourn, and uphold all who are still suffering from the effects of their service. Lord Jesus, we dedicate ourselves afresh to Your worship and service. Holy Spirit, help us to count the cost and to still pay the price that our service will demand. In Jesus’ name and for His glory. Amen