“Servant” or “Slave”?

Almost all English translations of the Bible render the Greek word doulos, when used in reference to our relationship with Christ, as “servant.” It is true that we are “servants” of Christ. However, mere servanthood does not carry the full meaning of the word doulos. John MacArthur (The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 28) explains:

There are at least six Greek words for “servant,” and doulos is not one of them. For example, diakonos (from which our word deacon is derived) means “servant.” Oiketes speaks of a domestic servant. Pais denotes a young boy who runs errands. Huperetes (usually translated “minister”) literally signifies a low-level servant who pulls an oar on the lower deck of a large ship. Leitourgos, also meaning “minister,” designates someone who performs some kind of religious service. Therapon, used of Moses in Hebrews 3:5 (“faithful in all His house as a servant”), refers to a dignified kind of high-level service. And there are several more specific Greek words that describe service in terms far loftier and more respectable than doulos.

Doulos speaks of slavery, pure and simple. It is not at all a hazy or uncertain term. It describes someone lacking personal freedom and personal rights whose very existence is defined by his service to another. It is the sort of slavery in which “human autonomy is set aside and an alien will takes precedence of one’s own” (Murray J. Harris, Slave of Christ, 112). This is total, unqualified submission to the control and the directives of a higher authority – slavery, not merely service at one’s own discretion.

We must be aware of the differences between a servant and a slave. Harris (Slave of Christ, p. 18) quotes Dr. Josef Tson, a Romanian pastor who had been arrested and imprisoned in 1974 and 1977, then exiled in 1981, and who “forcefully expressed his preference to be introduced simply as “a slave of Jesus Christ”:

In twentieth-century Christianity we have replaced the expression “total surrender” with the word “commitment,” and “slave” with “servant.” But there is an important difference. A servant gives service to someone, but a slave belongs to someone. We commit ourselves to do something, but when we surrender ourselves to someone, we give ourselves up.

What does this understanding of our position as slaves of Christ has to do with Paul’s response to the false teachers in Galatia? What does it imply in our own relationship with Christ as Christians and in the daily decisions we make? Read or listen to the sermon Slave of Christ based on Galatians 1:10-12.

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4 thoughts on ““Servant” or “Slave”?

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  1. Wow! What a powerful message! And I still haven’t read the actual message itself. We are the Lord’s. He owns us. In a sense, we don’t have a say on what we want to do. It is Jesus’ will that we ought to follow no matter what; whether we feel like it or not. Honestly, I have yet to reach that level of maturity and surrender to Christ.

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  2. Slavery is a shocking word to see in the Gospels. It reminds us of the most frightening evil that human beings have committed against their fellow human beings. Using slavery as an analogy for anything spiritual greatly saddens me. It makes me think that people do not understand the magnitude and the gravity of the evil of slavery. Surely you can be devoted and submit to God’s will. But this is not slavery. Slavery was an evil invented by man. Let us not forget that, or attempt to turn it into some allegory for divine intention.

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    1. We are not the ones using the word “slave” as an image of our relationship with God. The Bible used it. Jesus spoke about it. Its evil is contingent upon the evil of the slave’s master. If the master is God, the Lord is Jesus, then to be a slave, to be his slave is ultimately good for us. For nothing can be better than to be bound to a benevolent Master.

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  3. 1 Cor.6:19-20 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. Therefore we are His slave and I’m too slave. Even before i am slave of Satan the bible speak in John 8:44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lust of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning and abode not in truth because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own for he is a liar and the father of it. But now I thanks to God through Jesus Christ my iam now His slave.

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