Sunday, July 27, 2008

Servants Or Slaves

As I mentioned in an earlier post, while I was away on vacation I had the opportunity to read several things that I had been wanting to read and just had not had the time to get to. One of those things was the transcript to a sermon that was given by Dr. John MacArthur at this years' Shepherds Conference which he titled Slaves for Christ. Dr. MacArthur begins this sermon by saying, "Being a slave of Christ may be the best way to define a Christian."

As I read this sentence I had to ask myself, have I ever been in a church service where the pastor told the congregation that as a Christian we are to be slaves of Christ; that that is what defines who we are in Christ - His slaves? The answer is no, I cannot remember ever hearing this before. We are constantly told that we are sons and daughters of God, that we are fellow heirs with Christ, that we are to be His servants - and all of these things are true - but according to Dr. MacArthur the word that defines who we are is slave. Dr. MacArthur writes:
In contemporary Christianity the language is anything but slave language. It is about freedom. It is about liberation. It is about health, wealth, prosperity, finding your own fulfillment, fulfilling your own dream, finding your own purpose. We often hear that God loves you unconditionally and wants you to be all you want to be. He wants to fulfill every ambition, every desire, every hope, every dream.
Is this the gospel? Is God's purpose in saving us to make us prosperous, fulfill our dreams, and give us purpose? No, God's purpose in saving us is to make us holy, and to make us obedient. In other words, to make us like Jesus.

Dr. MacArthur then takes the rest of his sermon to develop what the Bible says about Christians being slaves of Christ and he points out right away that in the English translations of the Bible we completely miss what the Greek has to say on the subject; he says:
[I]f you read the New Testament in its original text, you would come away stunned really by how different the original text is from any English version that you’ve ever read...whether King James, New King James, New American Standard, ESV, NIV and you can name all the rest. All of them virtually have found a way to mask something that is an absolutely critical element of truth. In fact, the word “slave” appears in the New Testament 130 times in the original text. You will find it once in the King James, once the Greek word “slave” is translated slave. You will find it translated “slave” a few other times in other texts, like the New King James text and even the New American Standard text, and it will be translated “slave” when, one, it refers to actual slavery, or two, it refers to some kind of bondage to an inanimate reality. But whenever it is personalized, the translators seem unwilling to translate it “slave.”
This is all based upon how we translate the Greek word doúlos. This word is defined, "A slave, one who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another, his will being altogether consumed in the will of the other." (Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament ) By definition this word means a slave, yet our English translations of the Bible consistently translate this word as servant (or bond-servant) whenever it reefers to being a follower of Christ. Here are just a few examples:
Paul, a servant [Greek word doúlos - slave] of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
Romans 1:1

Paul and Timothy, servants [Greek word doúlos - slave] of Christ Jesus,
Philippians 1:1

Paul, a servant [Greek word doúlos - slave] of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,
Titus 1:1

James, a servant [Greek word doúlos - slave] of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.
James 1:1

Simeon Peter, a servant [Greek word doúlos - slave] and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:
2 Peter 1:1

Jude, a servant [Greek word doúlos - slave] of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
Jude 1:1

In each of these verses the author chose the word for slave (doúlos) to describe who they were and how they saw themselves in their relationship with Christ, and yet in our English translations this word is consistently translated as servant instead of slave.

Dr. MacArthur points out that in the culture of the first century, freedom was considered the pinnacle of life, and that personal dignity was attached to freedom. To be a doúlos (slave) in that culture was the exact opposite and the worst possible thing a person could become. Yet that is exactly how the apostles saw themselves - as slaves of Jesus Christ. And in that culture what did it mean to be a slave? It meant that you had no freedom, no rights, and no ownership of anything. You could not give testimony, and had no legal recourse in the courts. A slave had no citizenship and no possibility of fulfilling their dreams or desires; they could not do what they wanted but only what there master commanded.You had no choice or say in anything and could not own anything; you were fully and completely dependent upon the one who owned you. But as a slave you were provided for, cared for, and protected by your master. Everything that the slave needed for life came directly from the hand of his master.

What a beautiful picture of the Christian life; everything we need is provided for us and comes directly from the hand of God. Everything we have belongs to Him, and He, as our Master and owner, is responsible for our care and protection. As a slave of Christ we have no need to worry about anything, our Master has promised that He will care for us, He will provide everything we need, and all we are to do in exchange is obey. But unlike the slaves of the first century, our master and owner has also adopted us, made us a part of His family, and made is joint heirs with Jesus.

Dr. MacArthur goes into a lot more detail than I have here, so if you have the time I would encourage you to read this entire sermon (you can find it here: Slaves of Christ) and I also encourage you to take some time today to get alone with your Heavenly Father, to pray, and meditate on what it means to be a slave of Christ.
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MSW said...

I enjoyed this post. I haven't had time to read MacArthur's transcript yet. A few months ago I picked up a HCSB Illustrated bible and as I was reading through it, I noticed the translators substituted the word slave for servant. That got me thinking about these two words and I came to the similar conclusions you did at the end of your post. It's amazing how much we miss in some of the translations.
Your fellow slave in Christ MSW

Chris said...

Thank you for stopping by and thank you for your kind comments.

I also picked up a HCSB a few months ago as a possible alternative to my worn out NASB. I have continued to use it and really like the translation, but for some reason I was more comfortable with the ESV and ultimately chose that as the replacement.

I checked out your blog last night and it looks like some good stuff; I look forward to reading more!


Tyler Beach said...

A curious word doúlos. But none the less I think your spot on and I agree fully. It interests me that Christians today have a undue sense of entitlement that comes from thinking we have the rights of a servant, as aposed to the bondage of slavery! God Be praised we are considered even salaves to Christ!