Jesus calls his followers to be his slaves, not his hired servants.
Does the Lord call us to be his servants? A young undergraduate in our Bible study for international students was interested in the Bible. But she made it clear that she did not want to become a Christian.
“To become a Christian, you are supposed to be a servant! I cannot become a servant!” she would say with disdain.
The young lady clearly came from a family with a lot of money. She appeared to have the best of everything, including: cars, clothes, and accessories. We suspected her family had servants as well.
Did the Lord call the Followers-of-Jesus to be servants, and if so, what does it mean to be a Servant-of-God?
Let us consider what it means to be a servant. What is our popular conception of the term servant?
Over the years, there have been several popular British TV Series featuring the English upper class and their servants. There was always high drama between and among those who served and those who were served. The servants were at-will employees hired to serve the upper class.
I had a Great Grandmother who immigrated to America from England and another from Germany. As new immigrants they each entered the workforce cleaning the home of a wealthy American. According to old Census Reports, my Great Grandmothers were “domestic servants.” They were hired for an hourly wage to do a menial task.
Two common threads permeate these examples. The servant is hired for a wage to do a personal task that we don’t want to do or that we are no longer able to do. And second, the servant can at any time be fired from service or chose to leave service on his or her own volition. But is this the Biblical concept of servant?
In the King James Version of the New Testament, the English word servant(s) is used approximately 154 times. Only twice the underlying Greek word is misthios for hired servant, which is perhaps our most common idea of the meaning of the word servant. Misthios is used by Luke in the story of the Prodigal Son who came to his senses in a pig farm and returned to his father asking if he could be a hired servant. Misthios is also used by Matthew in the story of the hired workers sent into a vineyard.
Twenty-five times the underlying Greek word for our English word servant(s) refers to other ideas, such as: child slaves, attendant, menial domestic, household servant, minister, officer, or official.
But 127 times the underlying Greek for our English word servant is doulos, meaning slave or servant who is bound to involuntary servitude. The doulos may be a slave for seven years or for an entire lifetime; a person may be a voluntary or an involuntary doulos, but the key is bondage. For whatever reason a person became a doulos, the person was then bound to be subservient and under subjection. The doulos was a slave and no longer free to leave or to do as he pleased.
And doulos is the very word that the Apostles used to describe themselves and their relationship with the risen Christ. Doulos is also the word that the writers of the New Testament called the believers and Followers-of-Jesus in the early churches.
The Apostle Paul said in his letters that he was a doulos (hereinafter “slave”) of Jesus Christ. Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Galatians 1:10; and Titus 1:1.
Paul tells the Christians in Rome that they had become Slaves-of-God. Romans 6:22.
Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that even though they were freemen of Rome, once they accepted Christ that they were now Slaves-of-Christ. 1 Corinthians 7:22.
Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus that they should be Slaves-of-Christ. Ephesians 6:6.
Paul tells the Christians at Colossae that Epaphras and Tychicus were his Fellow-Slaves in Christ/the Lord. Colossians 1:7, 4:7.
Paul writes to his spiritual son and protégé, Timothy, and admonishes him as to what the Lord’s slave must be like, referring to Timothy.
The Apostle Peter said that he was a Slave-of-Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:1.
Peter admonished Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia that even if they were free within the Roman Empire, yet they were to live as Slaves-of-God.
1 Peter 2:16.
Jude said he was the Slave-of-Jesus Christ (his half-brother). Jude 1
The Apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, referred to himself as the Slave-of-God. Revelation 1:1.
In Revelation the blood of the martyrs is referred to as the blood of his slaves.
An angel of the Lord admonished John in Revelation not to worship him as he was a Fellow-Slave-of-God, along with John and the other brothers in Christ. Revelation 19:10, 22:9.
So 0ur young international friend got it wrong. The Lord does not call the followers of Jesus to be hired servants; he calls them to be slaves.