There is a word in the Bible that causes much controversy these days because of its modern English connotation. The word is “slave” and depending on what translation you read may also be translated as servant or bondservant. Given the tensions of our day, the term servant is more palatable than the word slave, but we must recognize when the Bible uses the word, it often does not mean the same thing as it does to us today. For example, in Philippians 1:1, Paul refers to himself and Timothy as slaves of Christ.
This is not to be construed as anything negative, but as something to which we should all aspire. The Greek word for slaves here is δοῦλος (douloi), which means “pertaining to a state of being completely controlled by someone or something”1Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 471). New York: United Bible Societies.).. Given that definition, I definitely want to be a slave to Jesus. I want my life to be devoted to Christ.
Imagine if Jesus completely controlled your life. What an amazing aspiration! And yet, this is what it means for Jesus to be the Lord of your life. He’s in control of everything. Why is it we’re comfortable saying Jesus is our Lord, but we bristle at the thought of being His slave? I submit it is because we are reading God’s Word through a modern Western lens. We need to not get hung up on language that has been changed (sometimes drastically) since the time in which the Word of God was written. Instead, we should look past the words and understand what He is saying to us.
In Philippians 1:1, Paul is simply confirming Jesus is His Lord. The apostle understood what it meant for Jesus to be the Lord of His life. It meant something to Him. Today we say Jesus is our Lord with about as much conviction as we use when asking someone to pass the salt. But Paul knew to live was Christ and to die was gain (Philippians 1:21). He understood Jesus being Lord meant he himself was nothing (2 Corinthians 12:11) That’s what it means to be a slave of Jesus. It means your life is no longer yours. It’s all about Jesus Christ.
Paul had no problem identifying as a slave of Jesus. Labels meant nothing to him because his life was devoted to Christ. Nothing else in the world mattered to him. When Christ is everything to you, the term slave becomes a title of honor. A slave of Jesus is a person who can’t even breathe without God. When you devote your life to Christ, the arguments of society cannot offend you. There is only Jesus. We have nothing else but Him. He is our portion forever (Psalm 73:25-26). And that is more than we will ever need.
If you want to live your life devoted to Christ, accept that you must become His slave. If that thought troubles you, perhaps you think too highly of yourself. We are nothing compared to Jesus. Remember, He told His disciples the last will be first (Matthew 20:16; Matthew 23:12). Only the lowly will spend eternity with Christ (Matthew 5:3-5; Luke 16:22-25). I’d rather be a slave of Jesus than someone of note without Him. Christ is all we need, and we owe everything to Him.
- 1Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 471). New York: United Bible Societies.).