What does it mean to be a Slave for Christ?
Are you devoted to Christ or a slave to your misguided will and to the manipulation of others?
Did you know that as growing and mature Christians, we have to realize that we belong exclusively to Christ? If you are a leader or pastor in a church, this is even more essential! He purchased us out of sin and doom into His love, care, and grace. He took us from sin and gave us a reason for being. Thus, at some point in our spiritual development, we have to comprehend the magnitude of who Christ is and who we are in and to Him. We have to reach a point and say, I, body and soul, completely and totally belong to Christ as His pupil and His property! He is my LORD and Master and there is no better place for me to be! So, the answer to the opening question is: YES! Let's now see why.
Our Great Leaders, Prophets, and Apostles called themselves Slaves!
In Romans, chapter one, we see the Apostle Paul open His magnificent, theological treatise with an astonishing and seemingly humble statement. Paul, God's special chosen leader of the Gentiles and as leader of leaders and pastors gave an astounding proclamation. Keep in mind; he was among the highest of educated people of his time, once a member of the elite, coveted Roman citizenship, and a kingpin of his profession as a Pharisee who then climbed the ladder to the apex as a church leader. A person directly called and spoken to by Christ, a writer of half of the New Testament, and an Apostle, a real Apostle, not some self-proclaimed one made this statement: I am a devoted salve of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:1)!
In James, chapter one, we see that James, the brother of Jesus, the prime leader of the new, early Church, starts out his book in great humbleness by confessing who Jesus is. Jesus appeared to James after the resurrection and it must have taken some extra doing to regard Him transformed from an older brother, to Messiah, to lord, to Lord, to LORD in the heart of this younger brother. At some point, he became so indebted to his Lord and Savior that he freely considered himself a slave to Jesus as his identity. If you know anything about sibling relationships, this was a profound impact and greater than a mere, spiritual statement. He is not speaking of one who is in forced bondage; rather, he is one who has been freed and still desires to be indebted to and fully and completely serve Jesus with all of his life and strength to glorify Him. James realized that his life and purpose was all about who God is, and not who he is (Psalm 15; 101; Gal. 1:19; 1 Cor. 15:7; 2 Cor. 5:15-20; 2 Thess. 1:12; Titus 2:13; James 1:1-4; Jude 1:1).
Then we see Simon Peter do the same, claiming his role to be that of a bondservant. This once impetuous, rash, and willful follower, whose name Jesus changed to Cephas, which means, "Rock," the chosen stone to lead the Church had denied Christ, repented, and then became a dedicated, true servant. This is Simon who was one of Jesus' first disciples; he then became the principal leader in the early church. Peter was given the special call to be the foundation of the church and to feed the sheep (Matt. 15:15; 16:18; 18:21; Mark 1:16-18, 26-37; 5:37; 8:29; 9:2-6; 14:33; Luke 12:41; John 6:68; 21:15-19; Acts 10:18; 15:14; 1 Cor. 1:12; 1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1).
In fact, we can see this motif a lot in Scripture as it pertains to being a mature and devoted follower of God, one whose life is all about pursuing and glorifying God rather than self or culture. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew essence of this word in the context of leaders like the liberator and lawgiver Moses, the warrior leader and land taker Joshua, and even the warrior king David as well as God's mighty Prophets like Isaiah, were not only great and at the top of their game in leadership and excellence, they all claimed God as Lord and they were devoted slaves in bondage to Him. This was in a time when one-third of the world's population were victims of slave trade, or were bought then sold or born in indentured service, or captured as a war prize and sold to be a real suffering servant or just killed outright because they had no rights. They used this term that, in the Hebrew, meant to willingly commit oneself as a slave to a master, claiming no rights, in order to describe themselves as committed to him with reverence, respect, and utter devotion to their LORD Master. They, even with their position, praise, harsh circumstances, and call, knew who God was and who they were in Him (Ex. 21:5; Num. 14:24; Deut. 15:12-16; 34:5; Josh. 24:29; 2 Sam. 3:18; 7:5, 8; 2 Kings 21:8; Job 1:8; Psalm 78:70; 105:6, 42; 105:26; Isa. 42:1,53:11; Jer. 7:25; Amos 3:7; Zech. 1:6; Mal. 4:4).
So, what is a Slave? What did these Apostles mean?
It all comes down to one word that appears over one hundred times in the New Testament and what that word means in its original connotation, context, historical situation, and colloquial usage. When Paul and James called themselves "slaves" as some translations state, they used the term "bondservant" or "servant" or "devoted servant;" but after years of careful research, the term was found to clearly mean "slave." It did not mean just a servant or a follower or even a devoted follower. The word in the Greek is doulos or sundoulos, meaning to "bind" a person to another as a slave-nothing more and nothing less as a word meaning. In addition, there are six other better words that mean "servant." Conversely, any good word study will take into consideration the background and framework of that word, how that term is used elsewhere in Scripture and other ancient texts, and then its cultural usage to determine a more specific designation and application to that word. In regard to doulos, as in the above examples, the meaning of the word "servant," which is rarely translated as such, clearly meant a slave!
What was a doulos/slave? This was a person who was, in Greek times, the lowest form of a slave, totally at the master's disposal and even expendable. He/she was bonded to another person and had no rights, land, or money. Such people with that designation rowed the boats of war with a whip at their back. So, why is this used for a prime follower of Christ? Because; as the word denotes, we are "to bind" ourselves with Christ as our LORD Master. Thus, this term also refers to godly, mature followers of Christ as an awareness and practiced attitude of surrendered devotion because we are bonded to Jesus Christ as our Sovereign Lord and Savior to whom we owe an un-payable debt. These great, godly people were in total, surrendered devotion that the slave/disciple of the Lord has-a will that has been sacrificed to God's will and thus is totally at the disposal of our Lord! Paul's slavery was his freedom and reason. James' was his liberation and purpose; and it was, for Peter, his act of gratitude too. This was a profound testimony for Paul, Peter, and James and clearly applies to anyone daring to seek a leadership role in God's fruitful bride, His church! Who are we to ever think we are better and deserve a more pronounced position or title than an Apostle, Disciple, or brother of Jesus who declared they were Christ's slaves!
And yet, many Bible translators seem to skirt around the issue saying doulos meant merely "servant" or "bondservant," but as a term, doulos meant much more than a servant or an indentured servant. Elsewhere in Scripture, it means a slave as a mark of extreme, poured out devotion and submission. And yes, it is a bondservant; this may be an OK rendition, but again, this word is so much more than "servant" or even "devoted follower." However, this remarkable fact is rarely taught in our churches and even more rarely practiced by our leaders that as Christians, we are salves to Christ! Yes, if you ever read my favorite devotional of all time My Utmost by Chambers or garnered any Spurgeon or read Calvin, Luther, or ventured even further with John Owen or Pierre Viret or even the Green Letters, by Miles J. Stanford, or anything by Torrey, Murray, or Tozer, even some of my writing-you will see this theme. But sadly, most Christians and even fewer pastors will ever read these people or teach on the submission and Lordship of Christ because of a lack of spiritual maturity and conviction. In fact, this article was originally based on an exegetical project I did in seminary and on a sermon I preached twenty years ago. Nonetheless, learning or teaching about submission is not in vogue even in the Church or church leadership, perhaps where it most needs to be front and center.
Of course, slavery has some negative connotations. The human trafficking problem now is perhaps the biggest blight on humanity, sowing our darkest sin and our proficiency at not caring as a culture as millions of children and young women are bought, sold, and tortured right under our unconcerned noses. And then, there is the history of slavery and slave traders and the abuses and traffic that are heinous-not such a great testimony for Europe and early America. My great-grandfather was born a slave, and as a child, I knew him and heard him tell his stories. So, whenever slavery is mentioned, we put up our defensive mechanisms and either do not understand or else seek to counter the ideas that Scripture puts forth for us with our own. The result is an ineffective spiritual life and a refusal to go deeper in our faith and maturity because of our pride and our "commonsense" that does not really make sense.
What did they mean by this?
The context of the meaning to doulos is that we are bound totally and completely to Christ by His work and grace! Our close binding to Christ is our tie to Him, our motivation to realize our obligation to Him, our indentured and indebted willing service to Him. With this awareness, we must desperately and passionately, freely and gratefully cling to our Most High God and in so doing, be glad in Him. This is not just servitude; it is our life and responsibility, our purpose to know and peruse and then pursue His perfect plan. Then, we can be focused and consumed by the desire to know and follow the heart and will of our Lord God who so loved us, and who purchased us out of a slavery of sin and drudgery. We were bound to sin and helplessness; now we are bonded to a loving, caring Shepherd who desires to carefully carry us to His prime pasture lands and let us graze on His precepts, feed on His Word, and produce His call, the fleece to give Him glory and build His Kingdom. Need some mint sauce on that? Either we will be bound to Satan or bonded to Christ; who would be your best slave master? The loving Shepherd who deeply loves you and who has a great purpose for you, or the master of evil and manipulation who desires to leave you destitute and hopeless, even destroy and kill you off? One master has us bound by the chains of sedition, iniquity, guilt and subjection; the other Master gently leads us to His great pasture of love and care after paying off our incomprehensible pride. To whom will you be a slave (Matt. 25:21; 1 Cor. 7:22; Eph. 6: 5-9; Col. 1:7; 2 Tim. 2:24)?
What does this mean? For us, it means total, surrendered devotion to the Lordship of Christ; we behave toward Him as LORD, Redeemer, and Savior, not just a casual friend we can occasionally call "dada." To grow in our Christian formation, our will must be sacrificed to God's will so that we are totally at the disposal of our Lord. Our daily lives, our ministry, our plans and purposes, our thinking and actions must filter through the sieve of who He is and who we are in Him. So the refuse of our lives, our thinking and misguided tendencies, are removed and the purity of His percepts are mixed into us. We must come to a point where we are surrendered and totally devoted to Christ. And, if this is a problem (and I am sure it is; it has been for me), remember that it isn't easy; do not give up, but give in to Him. It takes time. We must be in prayer, be immersed in His Word, and be discipled so it can hit home in our ways and thinking (Acts 6:1-6; Rom. 1:1; 9:3; 12:7; 1 Cor. 15:3-8; Gal. 1:15; 2:20; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 2:8-3:13; 4:6)!
If we cannot get to a place where we honestly feel we are surrendered to Christ, it is OK for now; but, get a mentor, get busy, and do not dare ever lead by your own will. If you do not understand the Lordship of Christ, you do not belong being a puppet or leading a ministry where Christ's name is proclaimed! You have no business pastoring or ministering where you are the lead but Christ is not the lead of you! If so, you will not lead a church, you will lead a club, where Christ is not allowed inside; it is for whitewashed tomb folks only. How do we get out of our pride and faulty mindsets? It is easy in idea and tough in practice. Realize who Christ is, read the Bible through; take a year, do it slowly, and have a manner by which to observe the characters and deeds of God. You are a redeemed soul who didn't deserve to be purchased even as His slave! Notice His names and descriptions. The price paid by Christ can't even be fathomed, let alone counted, yet He paid it with His blood! It was all done by His blood; life is not about you, the church that you lead is not about you, your life is not even about you. You are to be about pointing to Him; how do you show your gratitude to Christ so when people see you, they see Him? Then, discover that you are His property and that this is good. You are paid in full; your relationship in Christ is secured and vital (Matt. 20:28; Mark10:45; Acts 20:28; Rom. 3:23-25; 1 Cor. 6:20, 7:23, Gal. 2:20; 3:13, Eph. 1:7; Phil. 3:1-14; Titus 2:14; Heb. 9:12; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 3:20; 5:9)!
Servant means a slave; the fact is that as a committed follower of Christ, I must attest that I belong completely and entirely to Christ. He purchased, restored, and renewed me and He empowers me. As a doulos, I can now understand my relationship and position in Christ. I can realize I am dependent upon and grateful to Christ as LORD. He is my only true Truth and rule for both the here and now and into all of eternity. And again, this is good; there is no better, safer, more pleasing to God and better for me than a life here as His slave. Get the horrific image out of your mind of Africans chained on a slave boat and then being sold on a stage show. Replace in your mind's eye the loving Shepherd in His great pasture showing you the way. Being a slave to Christ is not about degradation or subjection; rather, it is our liberation. Thus, I can and will trust and obey Him and follow His precepts! So, the question now is how are you going to live and express it? How will this help you lead and manage yourself, family, and church (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 1 Pet. 1:18-19)?
So, are you "souled" out to Christ? Do you realize that your life is His? The will you are to seek is His? Every breath you take, every step you take is marked by His love for you! Are you now absolutely sold out to Him as His slave? Are you able to know Him more and do His will with gratefulness and glee? Can I do as He calls, and not be embarrassed to declare His way as mine? Can I go as He leads to where He directs and can I trust He will not lead or call me where He will not take care of me? Being a slave in Christ means I can trust and obey Him and do this well! So, are you hopefully devoted to Christ? Can you see how many 70's love songs I snagged for this sentence? A slave is devoted to Christ; for a Christian, this must be the direction of our walk and the practice of our leadership for Him!
Can we be a slave today?
Slaves were indentured and could be bought and sold. A slave, in Greek times, was totally at the master's disposal and even expendable. The message that doulos gives, what Jesus taught and modeled, is about the love slave theme of Deuteronomy 15, obedience out of mutual love. We have been bought. What should hit home with us is our price tag, which should be the means to understanding our indebtedness and fill us with gratitude so that we are in total, surrendered devotion. This is the theme for us in Christ that the disciple of the Lord has a will that has been sacrificed to God's will and thus is totally at the disposal of our Lord (Gal. 1:15; 2:20).
Paul did it; he was an extreme example of multiplying networks and energizing and influencing people for the Lord. He left his cozy, great position as a Pharisee that he worked so hard for so long to obtain, and gave it all up to serve Christ and he did it with great zeal. By his example, and because of our Lord's command, our faith can be and must be of great value to Him. Christianity is not to be a spectator sport; it must be engaged by our best means for God's glory for all things in our lives-school, work, family, ministry, and relating to strangers. It must all glorify our Lord!
Being excited about who you are in Christ is an essential aspect of attracting people and motivating them for service to and leadership for Christ. We can see the call and the example in the Bible. We can also say well, I am no Paul; who is? But, what he modeled and taught is for every man, every person, for you and for me. Consider that new Christians bring in most of the new converts because they are excited and are energized. Even though new Christians may be ignorant on matters of theological understanding and apologetically, they are bringing people in versus people who have been Christians for many years who tend to lose their excitement, and thus, may rarely bring people into the church. As slaves for Christ, He is our excitement, our mission!
We are called not to abandon our responsibilities and duties, because Christ, as our ultimate Master, is the One we obey, respect, and worship. Even though a bondservant was the lowest form of a slave in Greek times, totally at the master's disposal and even expendable, we are at a high position in Christ. We are still deeply loved, deeply cared for; our price was high-even for God. He is not torturing and whipping us, we are not chained to a floor desperately hungry and thirsty, lying in our own dung. NO; we are forgiven, fed, and treated well. So, what we give back is of no comparison to what He has given us. Therefore, total, surrendered devotion to the Lord is not only feasible; it is a must that we can do joyfully. The sacrifice of our will to God's will is like trading in an old, rusted out, inoperable Fiat for a fantastic, new Ferrari. Even though we are totally at the disposal of our Lord, there is no better party in town or better place to be (Acts 6:1-6; Rom. 6:22; 9:3; 12:7; 1 Cor. 15:3-8; Gal. 1:15; 2:20; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 2:8-3:13; 4:6)!
Paul, Peter, and James, as well as many other Bible characters taught and modeled being a slave for Jesus; this was for our benefit, protection, and growth and to help us to remember who we are, who Jesus is, and to be humble. We glorify God with humility when we endure with our faith and character-no matter what we might face or experience. The chief purpose for Christians, above all else, is to glorify God (Luke 22:42; John 17:22; Eph. 4:1-16).
Remember, Christ is our great example for respect and endurance; He endured and suffered for you, He took your place in God's wrath, and as a sinless, innocent person, went to the cross for us all. We then follow in His steps-not for our salvation, as it has already been given to the Christian, but to show another picture to those who are watching us. We exemplify Him by being a good example! Why? He has healed and saved us, so we need to trust Him out of our gratitude, and allow Him to be our Shepherd, Guardian, and Lord over all.
We are Salves to the Good Shepherd
Christ the Shepherd provides for us an image of leading and protecting. Jesus comes as the Good Shepherd to rescue His lost sheep. We have gone astray and have given in to sin; He brings us back to His fold. We will pursue this as a contrast in an upcoming article or see our Bible study in John 10 (Psalm 23:1; Isa. 53:6; Jer. 50:6; Ezek. 34:5; Matt. 14: 13-21; John 10:11; Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:20; James 5: 19-20). "Shepherd" is also a name for Jesus (Psalm 23, 79:13, 95:7, 80:1, 100:3; Gen. 49:24; Isa. 40:11).
Jesus faced all of the temptations we face, yet remained true to and never disobeyed God. He cut no corners and took no shortcuts; therefore, we can have eternal life by receiving and enduring His extreme suffering that He did not deserve! When we are slaves to Christ, we submit to His greatness, perfection, and goodness and His sinless nature (Luke 14:25-33; Heb. 12:3-13; 1 Pet. 1:19). This is important because if Jesus were not sinless, He could not have been God nor paid the debt for our Redemption (Acts 3:14; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Pet. 1:19; 3:10; 1 John 3:5)!
Christ has made us right with God. So, how do we live that faith? How do we show our gratitude and response? We can only begin to fathom all the precious privileges and wondrous blessings given to us by Christ. We have the responsibility to act upon them for the growth of our faith, character, and maturity. Do we fully understand that we have been rescued from sin and darkness and from hopeless despair? Has that hit home? Are you filled with gratitude because of what Christ has done? To venture further in the faith beyond our saving faith, we have to take heed and be encouraged that God is our rescuer! Therefore, we are to respond in gratitude for His provision and gifts (Col. 1: 9-14; 2:7; 3:17; 4:2)!
The bottom line of being His slave is that the principles of the Gospel must impact us so we are influenced and energized by it. If the follower is ungrateful or a Christian leader is not humble and excited, the message we carry will drop off and fall flat. The learner and hearer will not desire something irrelevant and unexciting. If they see no good example or excitement in the leader, why would they want to be a part of it? The nature of the Christian life is the joy and excitement of being in Christ over all else, and this should be the biggest motivation so the excitement the leader receives from his growth becomes contagious to those around him; this is influence. Being in Christ means living our lives for Him with excitement in all times and all places. This is influence (Acts 2:18; 1Cor 7:22; Eph. 6:6; Col 4:12; 2Tim 2:24).
Being His slave means a more content life
The experience of knowing God is not a one-time event; it is a continual relationship, where we constantly rely on Him with conviction and compliance. He is the Hope we have; He gives us grace and peace. Our place and security are in Heaven to come and our joy can then be declared and lived out. Paul affirms that yes, for us as slaves to Him, Christ is sufficient for faith and salvation; nothing else is or could be. Yes, we do have hope beyond hope. If our place is secured in eternity-and it is, if we have a Savior in whom we can have faith and trust-and we do, then we can lead a life of endurance no matter what is thrown at us. These are things we cannot accomplish by our own means; we need Jesus. He needs to be placed first! Thus, Paul urges them and us to put Christ first, and to move on to spiritual maturity. From this perspective, we know His Truth so we can still be triumphant in Him in the time we have here on earth (Phil 1:6, 27; 2:12-13).
True spiritual wisdom is the growth of our faith plus the thinking and application of what Jesus has taught. The will of God is about learning about Him, following His decrees, and building fruit and character. After that, one can make good decisions and weed out false teachings and bad decisions and poor leadership. Seeking to place Jesus first and foremost so to follow only Him, and thus love, trust, and obey Christ is a mindset and lifestyle (Matt. 6:33; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:17; 1 Thess. 4:3; 5:18; 1 Tim. 2:4; 1 Pet. 2:13-15; 4:19).
The theme of doulos is "submission," a far cry from the American ideals of personal freedom, liberation, and choice. However, consider this; submission is not the tyrannical concept most of us harbor in our minds. Rather, it is freedom! It is a form of mutual respect. It allows us to be free, and to have the best of Him flowing in and out of us. It is a safe harbor of smooth waters keeping us protected from the storms of wrong actions and bad choices, all the things that the other master, the devil, offers us. Slavery in Christ frees us from bad thinking that leads to bad choices which, in turn, leads to a life of misery and trouble!
Being Jesus' slave means a more fruitful and triumphal life
What do authentic Christians look like? How do they behave? How should we? How do you line up? What does it take to understand that knowing God is not a onetime event? How can you know that you or any leader or person claiming spiritual maturity really has maturity? It is simple; watch how they respond in adversity. How they respond to being treated badly. Not being doormats, but acting by the Fruit of the Spirit and not the Fruit of the flesh. An attitude of a true disciple of Christ is submission; that of a truly-called pastor or ministry leader is servant hood. Anything else is not of God-period! If you want to grow in faith and be a leader, there is only one prime theme that should drive you: growing in Christ-likeness (Gal. 5).
Bringing forth fruit is the evidence of being Jesus' slave. Our faith is like the fruit from a tree, the by-product of a healthy, well-watered, and cared for tree. It is the same with a growing Christian. Christ's characteristics from the Holy Spirit are flowing in, through and then out of us; thus, our fruit is an offshoot of the care we make in paying particularly close attention to His Word so we can grow toward more righteousness. Our growth and development in Christ is paramount, and this results from our mindset and attitude in our relationships. This is the central feature of our faith and a true doulos servant attitude that does not just result from saving faith, rather springs from it (Gen. 1:28; Hos. 10:1; 14:7-8; Matt. 13:3-8, 31-32; Luke 8:11; John 14-15; Rom. 1:13; 15:30; 1 Cor. 16:15; Gal. 5; Phil. 1:11, 22; 4:7, 17; Col. 1:6; Heb. 12:11; 13:15).
We are to be worthy, meaning we are to behave as the One we represent, as the name "Christian" means to be like Christ in His character. We must be an "appropriate" or acceptable offering so we "deserve" our reward-but we do not earn it. Thus, we live in the manner of what we know and believe-and do it consistently. We do this when we are pursuing God and His righteousness, and believing His precepts, so He is more and we are less in our will. This is our "walk with God," meaning living out the daily Christian life thinking as He has called, behaving as we believe, and thus doing in response to His Work in and for us. It is also being empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is never a walk in our own will and strength; such a thing is prideful and disobedient to our loving Lord (Lev. 26:3; Ezek. 36:27; Mark 10:29-31; John 3:30; Gal. 2:20-21; 5:16; Eph. 4:1; 5:1; Phil. 3:10-14).
As His Slave we can serve well!
Who are we not to say that I am a slave of Jesus?