Summary: Genuine Christian servanthood is expressed in sacrificial and exemplary living.

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Title: Fools for Christ

Text: I Corinthians 4:1-21

Truth: Genuine Christian servanthood is expressed in sacrificial and exemplary living.

Aim: I want the result to be a servant attitude and actions.


John Woolman was a Quaker who grew up in Pennsylvania in the early eighteenth century. He was a contemporary of George Washington. When he was a boy he was given to the things boys often do—in this case throwing rocks at a robin’s nest occupied by baby robins just hatched. Of course, the mother robin was protective, and young John nailed her with a rock. She fell to the ground dead. Woolman wrote later in his journal, “At first I was pleased with the exploit, but after a few minutes was seized with the horror at having, in a sportive way, killed an innocent creature while she was careful for her young.” That moment was a turning point in his life.

Despite this turning point he still struggled with other forms of youthful temptations, but he held firm to the Bible and the Quaker meetinghouse. In his twenties he heard the voice of God that set him on a path of servant leadership. The voice set him on the course of anti-slavery. He said, “I had many fresh and heavenly openings, in respect to the care and providence of the Almighty over his creatures in general, and over man as the most noble amongst those which are visible.” The heavenly openings he mentions came from Scripture. From Ezekiel, he read of the duty of being God’s “watchman”—recognizing that God was calling him to be the watchman for slaves.

An opportunity soon came. His employer owned a black slave woman and sold her. The employer asked John Woolman to write a bill of sale. He obeyed, but it was an incident that would set him on a course of turning the Society of Friends (Quakers) into an anti-slavery movement. It is a common misunderstanding that Quakers were opposed to slavery from the very beginning. They were not. Many of the affluent Quakers owned slaves. For the next three decades—until the time of his death at fifty-two—Woolman devoted his life to anti-slavery activities.

Unlike many abolitionists, Woolman was no firebrand. He was gentle and persistent. He wasn’t a strong man physically, but he accomplished his mission by journeys up and down the East Coast by foot or horseback visiting slaveholders. His approach was not to censure but to raise questions. What does the owning of slaves do to you as a moral person? What kind of an institution are you binding over to your children? Person by person, inch by inch, by persistently returning and revisiting and pressing his gentle arguments over a period of thirty years, the scourge of slavery was eliminated from the Quakers, the first religious group in America to formally denounce and forbid slavery among its members.

In addition to his personal conversations, Woolman wrote essays and spoke at meetinghouses. He spoke at the yearly meeting of the Friends. Though his primary focus was on slavery, he was also concerned over the treatment of Indians and other humanitarian causes.

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