What does it mean that we are to be slaves of Christ?
Slaves or Servants?
Did you know that you will find the Greek word for “slave” about 150 times in the New Testament? That shouldn’t surprise us because they estimate that about one in four people in the Roman Empire were slaves, but the word “servant” is translated “slave” only in a few of those 150 times it’s mentioned. Why? The translators didn’t really like the word “slave” because of the connotations that word brought. They liked “servant” better than “slave.” Perhaps they thought it was less offensive to the reader to be called a slave than a servant, but either way, they did a great injustice to the Scriptures and I will tell you why, later on. The few times the authors actually wrote “slaves” and not “servants” were when they wrote that we are either “slaves of sin” or “slaves of righteousness.” For some reason, instead of translating the word “doulos” into the word “slave,” which it is, they translated it (miss-translated it) “servant” and there is a massive difference between being a slave and being a servant. A servant works for their master and then they go home. The master does not own a servant. They pay them for their work but a slave has no pay. They have no rights. They are not their own, however, a slave frequently becomes part of the family and a slave doesn’t have to worry where their next meal is coming from; they don’t have to worry about where they’ll sleep at night, and they don’t have to be worried about how much the rent is or the household bills. That’s because they are more than slaves…they are a part of the family. Such was the relationship between most of the slaves and the masters in the first century.
Love of Slaves
You wouldn’t think that the masters of the slaves would love them as one of their own, but indeed, they were as much a part of the family as the spouse and children were. One example was when a Roman centurion sent a man to Jesus to help him heal his servant or slave , it is written a “Roman centurion sent a man to Jesus to help him heal his slave. After Jesus “had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly” (Matt 8:5-6), so Jesus agrees to heal him (Matt 8:7) but the centurion doesn’t think he is worthy to have Jesus come to His house and says, I “am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant (doulos, “slave”), ‘Do this,’ and he does it’” (Matt 8:9), so the word is not “servant” but is “slave,” so the point of all this is that slaves are endeared to their master more than any servant would ever be, therefore to be a slave for Christ is better than just being a servant. A servant doesn’t know his master’s will like the slave does who lives with him. Slaves were more than just property, rather, in many instances, they were considered very much a part of the family. That’s part of the reason we should be slaves to Christ and not simply servants of God. He owns us…and that’s a good thing.
Why Servant and not Slaves?
As I touched on earlier, the translators did not like to use the word slave because there was just too much stigma attached to the word slave. They saw that as having a downside because it’s too humiliating, too belittling, and too condescending…at least that’s what they thought, so instead, they opted to cover up the word slave and replace it with servant, or sometimes rendered, “bondservant.” That’s why they wanted to eliminate the word “slave” entirely from the New Testament. Only when they wrote about our being either slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness is the actual word “doulos” or slave used. They said it’s just too negative, but they were wrong about that because if the Holy Spirit says we are slaves of Christ then that is what He intends it to be. If the Holy Spirit wanted to use the word “servant” (“pais”), He would have inspired the authors to write that down, but He most certainly didn’t (with the only exceptions being a slave of righteousness or a slave of sin. For those who have not yet trusted in Christ, they are servants…but servants of the Devil, being held captive by him (2nd Cor 4:3-4), however those who have died to themselves and trusted in Christ, they are no longer slaves to sin but slaves of righteousness. We are not servants of the flesh but slaves of the Master. The place of a slave in the family of God is reserved for the blood-bought saints of God. You and I were bought with a price…the price of the precious blood of the Lamb of God (1st Cor 6:20). We don’t own ourselves, nor does Satan own us anymore.
He is Lord and Master
Jesus is clearly our Lord and our Master. The Apostle Paul wrote that “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him” (Rom 10:12), and since He is the “Lord of all,” that means He is our Lord and you can’t have a Master or Lord and be a servant…the Master or Lord is over all…including His slaves. We can’t call Him Lord, Savior, and Master unless we are His slaves, because to be a Master insinuates that we are His slaves. A master doesn’t own a servant; a master owns a slave, otherwise we couldn’t call Him “master,” so since Jesus is our Master, we must be His own property, His own possessions purchased by His own blood, therefore “you (and I) are not your own” (1st Cor 6:19b), but rather, we are His.
What it means to be a slave of Christ is to be abiding with Christ like the slaves used to abide or live with their master. It means we submit our will to His will. It means we own nothing except that which He has given us (1 Cor 4:7). It means we are His possessions. It’s not as if we have a choice in the matter. Slaves are at the whim of the owner and not in control of their own lives. One good thing about being a slave of Christ is that we’re no longer slaves to sin or in bondage to sin. We were dead in our sins anyway, without even realizing it (Eph 2:1-2). This is why we must die to ourselves and live for Christ…we live for Him because we are owned by Him and whatever He desires should be whatever we desire. That’s because a slave knows his master better than a servant does and the rewards for slave are infinitely greater than just being a servant.
Read more here: How to Be a Servant of All
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.