Slaves of Christ

Slaves of Christ

Two pervasive images in the Bible describe God's people: Slaves and Sheep. What are we to make of such comparisons? Let's begin with the slave metaphor and tackle the sheep next time.

A Happy Slave?

I recall the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ – Bill Bright – often referring to himself as a "happy slave of Jesus Christ." What did he mean? Was that a proper metaphor for him to borrow? I believe it was, as you'll see below. But first, let's back up a moment ...

American vs. Biblical Slavery

When we read the Bible, we often import our personal context or conception of things upon the text – and slavery is a clear example.  Slavery by American ancestors (chattel slavery) was a great depravity – reducing men, women, and children to generational poverty and degraded status. It was egregiously evil, and we're still suffering its consequences today.


However, Biblical slavery – in the Jewish context – was not like 1800's American slavery. It was not based on a person's race but upon their indebtedness. If you owed someone, one way to clear your debts was to work for them as a slave, which today we might rename, an indentured servant. In the Jewish community, the term of service was often six years (Exodus 21:2), after which a slave was freed from service and debt.

Nevertheless, even Biblical slavery conveyed some nuance of ownership and authority over another person. Understandably, we bristle at the word ownership, (because we can't divorce the notion from our conception of American slavery). Yet in the Biblical context, I've noticed occasions  where slavery is actually considered a virtue or a cherished identity marker. I'd better explain that fast before you stop reading!

Examples of 'Slave' as Positive

If you skim the New Testament, you'll quickly discover Jesus, Paul, and others borrow heavily from the term – slave – to describe an aspect of a believer in a positive light. The word for slave in Greek is doulos, which is interchangeably translated slave, servant, or bond-servant. Below are examples:

  1. "Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, ... set apart for the gospel of God."  Romans 1:1
  2. "... the one who was called as a free person is Christ's slave."  1 Cor 7:22
  3. "If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ!"  Paul in Galatians 1:10
  4. "Tychicus, a dear brother, faithful minister, and fellow slave in the Lord ..." Colossians 4:7
  5. "Epaphras, who is one of you and a slave of Christ, greets you. He is always struggling in prayer on your behalf ..."  Colossians 4:12
  6. "Paul, a slave of God and apostle of Jesus Christ ..."  Titus 1:1
  7. "James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ ..."  James 1:1
  8. "Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ ..."  2 Peter 1:1
  9. "Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ ... to those who are called ..."  Jude 1:1

What are we to make of this? It is clear from the list above that early disciples of Jesus were quick to identify themselves as slaves of his. Slaves. One who has given up freedom and rights and comforts and privileges – to belong to someone else.

When one comes to know Jesus and all he's accomplished on their behalf, he or she gladly bows the heart to his Lordship. Ownership. His all-encompassing Authority. It is in yielding our lives to him that our hearts are set free. To be owned by Jesus means: well-being, flourishing, protection, security, nourishment, and care.

A New Identity

Even more notable – Jesus called his followers to adopt the moniker of slave as their new, privileged identity:

  1. "... whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  Mark 10:44-45
  2. "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also."  John 15:20

The Slave Is Brother and Friend

What Some Call Chains, I've Come to Call Love.

It is only the slave of Jesus who discovers lavish, unexpected privileges. For Jesus goes further, adding additional identity metaphors – calling us brothers (Matthew 28:10, Hebrews 2:11) and friends (John 15:15).

  1. "Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family: therefore, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers."  Hebrews 2:11
  2. "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you."  John 15:15

Jesus is King of the Kingdom, and many of his Kingdom ways are counterintuitive. Only in giving our lives to the Ownership and Authority of Jesus Christ can we experience actual freedom and life!

Bill Bright was right: I can be a happy slave of Jesus Christ! Next time: Sheep.