“I’m not your slave!”
My inner child raged against my mother’s request to do one more chore. I may or may not have said that out loud, but I do remember thinking it frequently. What did my mom think I was, anyway? Free labor?
30+ years later I cringe when I think about my attitude towards my mother. I regularly employed the idea that housework was her job. I wan’t going to be unjustly taken advantage of by my mother, trying to get free labor from a 12 year old. What did she think I was, a slave?
Unloading the dishwasher once a day wasn’t going to kill me, and my mom knew that. In fact, she needed to smooth some of the rough edges off of my hot-living attitude. I don’t know if she ever knew exactly what I was thinking, and if she did – if it actually came out of my mouth – God forgive me and have mercy on my soul.
In the United States, I was raised to correctly assess the evils of slavery. No one should own another person against his or her will and force them to do labor. The problem was, that there is a whole other side of the coin that I didn’t know about.
The reason that I am even married to my husband, a Caucasian, is because his distant relative came to the United States in the early 1700s in conscripted service. He sold himself to slavery for a period of years, because he couldn’t afford the ticket to the New World. What started out as a prank- two young teens who dressed up as nobility, hunting on the land of an aristocrat, turned into a run for their lives. In a desperate search, running from a deadly situation in which his good friend was shot and killed, he found a generous benefactor who traded passage to the New World for several years of work.
Adam Zehner, 13 generations earlier from our present day Nei family, had no other option. He worked for years in the unbroken mountains of Pennsylvania, until his time was paid off and then, not unlike Jacob in the Bible, took for himself the daughter of his former owner/creditor as his wife. And thus, story of my husband’s line in America begins.
This story is different from the horrors of African slave trading. And Adam was a willing slave or indentured servant. He was unable to live, facing certain death, until someone stepped in to pay his passage to a New World. Most of us find ourselves indebted to someone at some point in our lives. (In fact, most of us are financially indebted and feel like slaves to our creditors today.) The debt I owed to my mother was much greater than I even realized. The debt of life. The debt of love. Until I became a mother, I had no idea the true sacrifice and magnitude of what my mother had given me. Because of her, I live. Along with that debt comes the privilege of belonging, value and love.
My tween-age attitude did not appreciate all that my mother had done for me. Cleaning was her job, not mine. I didn’t think about the 9 months she carried me, nor the sleepless nights, nor the meals she cooked every day for me. I did not consider the price she paid every day to make sure my life was easy. I did not consider her prayers and fasting for my spiritual health or her daily sacrifice for me – I honestly had a bad attitude. I just didn’t want to be forced to do something I didn’t want to do. It came down to pure selfishness. I didn’t seem to care about her feelings. I grasp the value of belonging, or want to take any responsibility for my place in the order of the family. On the other hand, my mother was the real servant. She modeled Jesus’ heart of taking on the role of a servant, instead of demanding veneration for what was due him. (More than we can possibly give!)
My heart rebelled against responsibility. I didn’t want any. I didn’t want to work and I didn’t want to be told to do what I didn’t want to do. In my mind, this was unjust slavery. When in actuality, my situation was much LESS like the plight of those stolen from their homes, starved, beaten and sold on auction blocks and much MORE like that of those who NEEDED someone to pay their way to a better life. Truly, all believers in Jesus walk in the benefits of what he paid by his blood. Without his payment and sacrifice, our eternal souls would still be in the middle of a deadly and dangerous situation.
And this brings me to an eye opening connection that I believe we have lost in our society and faith. This morning, as I read 2 Peter 1, I was stunned by a pretty simple truth.
Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ…
Bondservant. I wondered what the word actually means in the Greek? (Thanks Discovery Bible software!)
1401doúlos (a masculine noun, of uncertain derivation) – properly, someone who belongs to another; a bond-slave, without any ownership rights of their own. Ironically, 1401/doúlos (“bond-slave”) is used with the highest dignity in the NT – namely, of believers who willingly live under Christ’s authority as His devoted followers.
To be a slave of Christ is the highest honor. Living under authority is the highest honor. Why? Let’s look at this.
“A “slave (1401/doúlos) of Christ” is a person who belongs to Him as His Bride at the cost of His blood – and made part of His very body (cf.1 Cor 12:13 with Eph 5:25-32 and Rev 19:1-9). The intimacy of this love relationship transcends the earthly concept of slavery. Jesus Himself served as a willing slave to God during His sojourn on the earth, i.e. in His humanity as the Son of God incarnate (Mt 20:27).
Phil 2:7: “But emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant (1401/doúlos), and being made in the likeness of men” (NASB).
Therefore the believer gladly and boldly declares himself “an apostle and a slave(1401/doúlos) of Jesus Christ” (cf. Ro 1:1; Tit 1:1). This unique slave-hood characterized by the unlimited love Christ shows with the one who willingly belongs to Him (cf. Gal 2:20).”
I was blown away by this. The word slave has such a negative connotation in our society and world, because of the history of slavery in the United States, but the idea that we are bought from danger by the blood of Jesus and now have VALUE because of this sacrifice is incredible. Let’s read more of what the Greek implies in this understanding of slavery in Christ. The following excerpts are from the Discovery Bible Software, by Gary Hill. I am going to let this speak for itself, without any extra additions by myself. I hope you are blessed and challenged by the powerful position of the believer who submits to his or her value as a person owned by God.
The essential meaning of 1401 (doúlos) is belonging – and belonging to Christ is life’s highest honor. The slave of Christ then desires every decision (action) they make to be in faith (4102/pístis, “the Lord’s inbirthed persuasion“). This willing commitment means assigning self-government over to the Lord, in every scene of life. That is, to abide by His preferences because belonging to the heavenly Bridegroom.
Reflection: 1401/doúlos (a “bond-slave”) willingly recognizes Christ’s absolute authority in their lives, serving Him by faith in every scene of life. This happens by receiving the Lord’s continuous inbirthings by His rhēma-word (cf. Ro 10:17with 1 Jn 5:4). Accordingly, 4102/pístis (“faith, God’s inworked persuasions“) and 1401/doúlos (“slave”) are directly connected (Ro 14:18, 22, 23).
- 1401 (doulos) includes the meaning of “servant,” but explicitly means “slave” (i.e. the legal possession of another). Indeed believers are owned (purchased) by Christ – “bought with a price,” so that our lives are not our own (1 Cor 6:20).
[C.Spicq (1994: 1, 380), “It is wrong to translate doulos as ‘servant,’ so obscuring its precise signification in the language of the first century.”]
Christ, the Master, gave Himself for us at Calvary (cf. Gal 2:20; Rev 4:11), showing His rightful claim on our lives and worthy of all our love (willing submission). The slave of God (1401/doúlos) respects His unlimited and unqualified authority. Accordingly, Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ yet (kai) do not do what I tell you?” (Lk 6:46, cf. Mt 7:21).
Reflection: Ironically, we only become a slave of Christ because He sets us freefrom our sin (bondages). This is the only position of true joy and security!
Working it out . . .
- “1401 (doulos) properly means the ‘bond man,’ from deō ‘ligo,’ one that is in a permanent relation of servitude to another, his will altogether swallowed up in the will of the other” (R. Trench, 30, italics added).
[Christ‛s bond-servants (1401/doúlos) willingly waive all “rights” (Gal 2:20) to be self-determining. Ironically this obligatory service is still voluntary, and can only truly be done willingly (with a glad heart).]
Reflection: Christians proudly wear the title, “slave (doulos) of Christ,” living in the service of Christ and His love (cf. Js 1:1). Christ‛s bond-servant (1401/doúlos) finds self-esteem (not loses it) because they belong to Him. Christ’s slave (1401/doúlos) has the glorious privilege of loving the Lord with all their being, with the devotion and dignity of a Bride willing to do all His will.
Eph 5:29-32: “29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30because we are members of His body. 31for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. 32This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the Church” (NASB).
- In sum, 1401 (doúlos), like its cognate verb (1402/doulóō), refers to Christ’s absolute authority – as illustrated in Lk 7:8: “I say to my slave (1401/doúlos), ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
1401/doulos (1398/douleúō) involves the binding obligation to serve Christ as His willing bond-slave. G. A. Deissmann, “The translation of doulos by ‘servant‘ rather than ‘slave‘ [led] to the total effacement of its ancient significance (1965: 319). This ennobling title means the believer belongs to the Lord, who constantly “gives Himself away” in infinite love, through faith. Indeed, the doulos (slave) of Christ is His very Bride (cf. Rev 19:7-9). Accordingly, the faithful believer seeks to do all things in intimate partnership with Christ, as He births faith in the heart (cf. Ro 10:6-8,17; Heb 11:6). This is possible because the believer is joined to Christ as a genuine member of His very body (Jn 14:20; 1 Cor 12:13).
Example: The virgin Mary therefore likewise declared herself to be a bond-slaveof Christ: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” (idou hē doulē Kyrious). Also note the designation of “His douloi (slaves) the prophets” (Rev 10:7, 11:18; cf. 1:1; Ac 4:29, 16:17).
The world teaches freedom is independence from God, i.e. governing our own lives as we see fit. Self-determination and self-government however is deluded bondage. Only absolute dependence on Christ brings genuine liberty. Grasping this paradox is key to a meaningful life.
Reflection: People are not created autonomously as “a law unto themselves.” Our highest destiny is to be “theonomous,” i.e. completely submissive to our loving Lord – which is not hardship! On the contrary, it is the path to knowing our highest happiness by serving our heavenly Bridegroom.
True success in life is voluntarily serving – under God (i.e. as He leads). Christ Himself set this model by stating “the greatest of all” is “the servant of all.” Indeed, service done under Christ brings unmatchable dignity and eternal meaning.
Mk 10:44: “And whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave(1401/doúlos) of all” (NASB).
1 Jn 4:17: “By this, love is perfected (Gk perfect tense) with us, so that we may continuously have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.”
- K. Wuest, “Paul was bound to Jesus Christ by the bands of a constraining love. . . . Paul was born into slavery to sin by his first birth, and into the position of a loving bondslave of the Lord Jesus by his new birth. It refers to one who is in a relation to another which only death can break. Paul’s relation to Satan was broken by his identification with Christ in His death. He now is in a relation to Jesus Christ which will last forever, since Christ can never die again, and Paul’s life is Christ. It refers to one whose will is swallowed up in the will of another” (Word Studies, 2, Philippians, 26,27).
[“In commercial usage the Greek phrase eis to onoma [in the name] denoted a transference of ownership, as when money is paid ‘into or to the account’ of a certain individual, or is credited ‘to the name of’ someone (thus Heitmüller 1903: 127). On this understanding, the person being baptized passes into the possession of the Triune God (Mt 29:19) or the Lord Jesus (Ac 8:16, 19:5), and comes under new control and protection. Support for this view comes from 1 Cor 1, where Paul equates being baptized into his name (eis to onoma) with belonging to him” (Murray J. Harris, Slave of Christ, 110).]
- M. Luther, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all” (The Freedom of a Christian , cf. J. Dillenberger, ed, Martin Luther: Selections from his Writings, 1961, 53).
- Ceslas Spicq, “The slave has no family, having been deprived of the right to marriage (conubium); his conjugal union is only a de facto union (contubernium) . . . even his children ‘born to the household’ belong to his owner. The slave has no country – ‘our politeuma is in heaven’ (Phil 3:20) – and is considered as a foreigner: no Roman can be a slave at Rome; in Israel, cf. Lev 25:44-45; Ex 12:44; Lev 22:11 (Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Vol 1, 1994, 361).
“Paul, the former rabbi, i.e., theologian-jurist transposes this notion of servitude into the supernatural order . . . of being in submission to . . . the Master, becoming essentially a dependent individual” (ibid, 380-83).
The eternal significance that goes with slave-hood to God . . .
- Mt 20:26,27: “26It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant (1249/diákonos), 27and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave (1401/doúlos)” (NASB).
Murray J. Harris, “The emphatic position of diakonos and doulos at the end of their respective clauses focuses attention on this ‘great reversal’ in Jesus’ teaching” (Slave of Christ, 102).
- Mt 25:23: “Well done, good and faithful slave (1402/doulóō). You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your Master.”
- Mk 10:44: “And whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave (1402/doulóō) of all” (NASB).
- Believers belong to the Lord and serve Him alone – and by His direction, serve others as He imparts faith (4102/pístis, i.e. divine persuasion for it, cf. Ro 14:18-23).
Only the “doulos (slave of Christ)” enjoys the privilege of knowing Him by His continuous inbirthings of faith (inworked persuasion). This means wholeheartedly laying down one’s claims to live “independently” from God, and freely choosing total surrender to the Lord. This is true freedom, which deepens throughout the faith-journey (Gal 5:1).
Reflection: Slavery to Christ is a completely unique relationship where the believer enjoys unlimited, intimate relationship with the Master, living in the revelation of faith (cf. Jn 15:12-15 with Ro 12:2,3). Faith is not doing God’s will in our way. Faith enables the believer to do God’s will, His way.
- The Lord, the Creator, owns everything, so no one has “ownership-rights.” Because of this, we gladly drop “private agendas” and the very prerogative to live in “self-government” (cf. Gal 2:20). To willingly serve the Lord through faith fulfills the goal in life of hearing the unforgettable words from our Master’s lips: “Congratulations, good and faithful doulos (slave)!”
Mt 25:21,23: “21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave(1401/doúlos). You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave (1401/doúlos). You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master‘” (NASB).
Reflection: G. Archer, “We can never be used by people . . . when we are truly used by God!”
Calvin Coolidge, “No man was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”
- In sum, the believer belongs to Christ through His love-gift of salvation. Ironically true freedom only comes through the unique slavery (service) to Christ – in which Hislove delivers us from the enslaving bondage of sin.
[The Lord arranges all the physical scenes of life so we can best become like Him (develop in His holy character). See Ps 119:89-91.]
Reflection: It follows that people do not have the right to determine what God “must” give them – like temporal prosperity (“happy circumstances”) in order to follow Him! Rather, the Lord elevates the eternal over the temporal to best accomplish His eternal purpose in our lives (cf. Ro 8:28 with Eph 1:11).
Jn 15:5: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (NASB).
Only the slave (1401/doúlos) of Christ experiences glorification
Rev 11:18: “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth” (NASB).
Rev 19:5-9: “5And a voice came from the throne, saying, ‘Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.’ 6Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
“7‘Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.’ 8It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. 9Then he said to me, ‘Write, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”‘ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God'” (NASB).