“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16 NASB). The believer is distinctly called “Christ’s slave” (1 Cor. 7:22). Once we were “slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6). Now we are enslaved to God. It is a rare unbeliever who sees himself as a slave to sin. It is almost as rare as a believer who sees himself as a slave to the Lord Jesus. Yet it is the natural derivative of the doctrine that Jesus is Lord and Master to every true believer.
Slave is an offensive word to most of us. Slavery involves the idea of injustice, a forced compliance which is demeaning to our humanity as those made in the image of God. Being a slave seems unacceptable. It seems so out of place because the ancient practice of slavery has largely been eliminated in the world. However, it is possible to see the word in a different perspective. Man is a creation of God and lives in a closed system under His Creator. He cannot escape. Even pagan religions often recognized
that all people are captives to almighty God. Our rights to make choices are only those which the moral Governor of the universe sees fit to allow. Man is self-governing only to the extent that God allows.
Enslavement to God means unconditional submission to Him. It is to bow down before His majesty, the all powerful Creator and Sustainer who is totally superior to us in every way. Whether or not we understand every implication of this role, we cannot claim to be the King’s subjects if we are not willing to have Him rule over us (Luke 19:27). It is not demeaning to any person to be the willing slave of One who loves us and gave Himself for us, paying the price of His life (Gal. 2:20).
The Meaning of Slave
The Bible has two words for one who serves God. The first is
diakonos, meaning an ordinary servant or attendant. Such were usually hired for wages and had certain rights. The word is used in Scripture both in an ordinary sense and also for those who serve the Lord. The word is translated ministers, as “minister of the Gospel” and is used for the office of deacons (1 Tim. 3:8; Phil. 1:1). There is however another word in Scripture for one who served—
doulos, meaning bondservant or slave. Slaves were either bought at auction or captured and enslaved. They had
no rights and received no wages. This word is used of believers, of the apostles, and even of the Lord Jesus Himself. It indicated total subservience to the will of God.
Believers are the slaves of God. We have been “bought with a price” and therefore are no longer our own (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23). The price paid was His precious blood (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Believers are redeemed people. The idea of redemption or ransom is to buy for a price. A redeemed person is one purchased by the Lord, therefore belonging to Him. This includes all he is, has or hopes to be. Money, time, enablements, knowledge of the truth are all His investment and gracious gifts. They are to be used for His glory.
The Example of Godly Slaves
The apostles were completely dedicated to the Lord and showed this by assuming the position of slaves of Christ. Paul used this reference to himself repeatedly (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Tit. 1:1). He included Timothy (Phil. 1:1) and Epaphras (Col. 4:12) in this company. He was so shut up to the purposes of God that he called himself “the prisoner of the Lord.” Peter belonged to this group (2 Pet. 1:1), as did James (Jas. 1:1).
All of the Lord’s followers are called to this designation and function (Eph. 6:6; Rev. 1:1). A believer, though free, is to consider himself or herself “Christ’s slave” (1 Cor. 7:22). Realizing this position, Christ’s slave must not be quarrelsome but patient when wronged (2 Tim. 2:24). If he wishes to be first, then let him be “the slave of all” (Mark 10:44).
The follower of Christ is only imitating his Master by becoming a slave. Jesus took the role of a slave, obedient to God the Father and served humbly as a lowly man. The Lord laid aside the privileges of divine glory to take the form of a slave (Phil. 2:7). He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). It was in consequence of this that God highly exalted Him and gave Him a name above every name. The Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah show Him as a true disciple whose ears were ever open to God (Isa. 50:4-6; Psa. 40:6-8).
The Master made a point of illustrating this truth, setting an example for His followers when He washed their feet (John 13:1-17). He took a towel and performed the work of a slave, asking them if they understood the meaning of what He had done. He said that although He was their Lord and Master, He had given them this example. He said, “a slave is not greater than his master.” He was the Master who had done this. They were the slaves. They were not greater than He and should not assume this same role, which was completely proper for them. True, He did not
call them slaves, but friends (John 15:14-15), but they called themselves that, for such they unashamedly were.
Would you willingly accept this term for yourself in relation to the Lord Jesus? Would you be willing to apply the significance of the term to the way you live?
The Function of Godly Slaves
The obligations of total commitment to the Master, faithful service and loyalty, are basic to this role. We might add the need to be profitable to the Owner, as in the parables of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) and of the pounds (Luke 19:11-27). Each story illustrates the Lord’s expectation that His people live in such a way as to use what He gives us to advance His interests and increase the profit to Him. It is the unprofitable slave who is declared to be worthless and wicked. It is the good and faithful slave who is commended, having invested what was given in a wise way. The profit of a slave is truly evidenced only when he exceeds what might be called basic obligations. He is unprofitable if he has only done what he
ought to have done, the minimum duties (Luke 17:10).
The typical professing Christian ought to consider this carefully when weighing the acceptability of his lifestyle, priorities and service. Most are living on a very low level indeed in this respect.
How can we know what the Lord desires for us to be in this role? How shall we personally apply this profound realization? More is required than mental agreement, especially when it is without remedial action.
We might begin by ridding our minds of the thought that God is obligated to us in the slightest way. The reverse is true. “It is of the Lord’s mercy that we are not consumed” (Lam. 3:22). We are the object of undeserved favor called grace, not under any divine obligation. By seeing ourselves as being on a grace basis with God and by strengthening the attitude of loving appreciation we will have less difficulty in accepting our proper roles. It would help us to see that we are simply stewards (managers) of what God has given to us, not owners ourselves. That is how the Lord views us.
Each day therefore should be dedicated to God with the sincere prayer that we might be profitable to Him that day. What matters is what He wants, not what
we want. Complete availability to the Master, at His beck and call, is the responsibility of a good slave.
We might reflect upon the qualities of a good worker or servant and seek to incorporate these qualities into our lives. These include:
Prompt response to requests or orders is a positive trait, especially when accompanied by a cheerful spirit that does not complain.
Hard work or diligence endears a worker to any boss. The lazy man or slacker is a bane on the workplace (Prov. 10:26; 18:19; 24:30-31).
Dependability is a must. Jeremiah 48:10 reads, “Cursed be the one who does the Lord’s work negligently.” Careless or poor service in the things of God is an insult to Him.
Skill or competence in what we do is important. One should be a “worker that needeth not to be ashamed” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Loyalty has become a rare quality, but workers who are loyal to their employers are the backbone of any group. We should be loyal to Christ, to the church where we fellowship and to our fellow servants or slaves. The devoted slave in the Old Testament never wanted to leave his master (Exod. 21:5-6; Deut. 15:17) even when he could.
Observant workers should not need to be told every thing they need to do. They see needs and quietly do what is needed without prompting. The servant looks for opportunities to serve.
Getting along with others on the team is a must. Those who are easily offended, critical, complaining and argumentative never seem to be in short supply. Wherever they are they seem to cause problems instead of helping form solutions. If they will not change, it is usually necessary to get rid of them in the interests of peace and unity on the team.
The Hindrances to Living As Godly Saints
No believer will be a godly slave who considers this role to be demeaning or something to be resented. Such a person will be far more interested in his rights, his fulfillment in life, his own interests, than in seeking the glory of God. Can we joyfully accept our role out of deep gratitude to the One to whom we owe everything? Can love for Christ motivate us to the necessary life of sacrifice?
Like any aspect of godly living, we will need to be grounded upon a deep and sincere faith. Do we believe what the Word of God says as to our calling? A superficial faith which agrees with truth, without personal application, will never lead to godly service. If we are satisfied with the outward forms of Christian living such as church attendance, plus generally moral lives, then we will never rise above this. If Christ is worth anything, is He not worth all?
The role of a slave requires humility and submission to proper authority. Neither of these qualities is widely respected today. Pride in the form of independent and unteachable attitudes is common. Few would accept the challenge of the Lord Jesus. “Take My yoke and learn of Me for I am meek and lowly” (Matt. 11:29). Many want to give orders who have never learned to accept orders. They are too undisciplined to be good soldiers. People are taught that submission means inferiority and denial of proper respect or rights. This teaching has been extended even to small children.
The underlying truth simply is that when people
lack deep commitment to Christ and a real consecration of their lives, they will never accept the role of being His slaves. Those who do accept this role will still need to work daily to improve their function and profitability to the Lord. They will need to seek opportunities to serve others in His name.
Does the church of Christ have responsibility to cater to weak and carnal believers to make
them happy? Or to preach only what they want to hear? Read 2 Timothy 4:3 on this point. Is this consistent with the spirit of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:12 who had legitimate rights that he was not willing to claim in order to advance the Gospel? Luke 17:7-10 illustrates the proper attitude of a true slave who claims no rights and expects no thanks but serves faithfully.
In the end, he says he is unworthy as a slave because he has only done what he should have done. This is light years apart from contemporary attitudes. Believers today expect to be admired, appreciated, recognized, affirmed and asked their opinion. No doubt this is effective in handling (or manipulating) people for one’s own purposes. However, the slave of Christ will neither seek nor expect such flattering treatment. Our loving service is to the Lord Jesus Christ, not unto men.
The Rewards of Being Godly Slaves To Christ
Why should anyone want to be a slave of Christ? Many think that it is enough to say they have “accepted Christ,” and have assurance of Heaven and eternal life. Now they are free to live as they please, gaining the most they can squeeze out for themselves. They can have all this and Heaven too, the best of
both worlds. The fallacy of this thinking is shown by the Lord’s words in John 12:25 and Luke 9:24. To live for Christ here and now is to save your life. To live for the present life only will mean that you will throw it away. Think that through carefully.
The believer now is building his eternal home out of his present deeds (1 Cor. 3:11-15). His acts which are like gold can be precious in God’s sight, or they can be mere wood, hay and stubble. He can lay up treasure in Heaven (Matt. 6:20; 19:21) increasing his heavenly reward, gaining reward for so much as a cup of water given in the Lord’s Name (Mark 9:41). The same passage that calls attention to the evaluation of our own lives and service as believers also stresses the highest motivation —loving appreciation for the Lord (2 Cor. 5:10,14-15).
Peter wondered if serving the Lord by leaving everything would be fully rewarded. The Lord assured him that he would not only receive a hundred times as much
in the present life but much more eternally (Mark 10:28-30). Do you think it will pay to be regarded as Christ’s faithful and wise slave (Matt. 24:45-47)?
Lesson 5 The Disciple As A Slave Of Christ
1. The New Testament mentions many who considered themselves slaves of Christ. In what way did these men demonstrate this truth in their lives?
2. Read Philippians 2:3-11 and John 13:1-17. What qualities of a servant do you see Jesus displaying in these passages?
3. Paul reminds us that we are “bought with a price” and therefore are Christ’s slaves (1 Cor. 7:22-23). Consider what it means to be a slave of Christ. Share your thoughts on this. Refer back to the checklist at the end of lesson 4 for some practical applications.
4. The Lord of Glory relinquished His “rights,” the enjoyment of His divine prerogatives, when He humbled Himself to the point of slavery (Phil. 2:6-7). What “rights” or self-interests do you cherish which may hinder your giving yourself to the wholehearted service of God? What specific steps are needed to overcome these hindrances?
5. Many believers say they are not familiar with the doctrine of the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). However, Matthew 6:20; 19:21; Mark 10:28-30; 1 Corinthians 3:14; Hebrews 6:10; 2 Peter 1:11 are among many verses teaching this subject. Would you consider it righteous of God to make
no special recognition of a devoted and sacrificial life here on earth? In what practical way
should it affect your daily life? Should this add to the supreme motive of love for Jesus (2 Cor. 5:14-15)?
6. In all honesty, explain if this teaching troubles or offends you in any way. What then is the answer to you?