People ask me all the time, What is a Doulos? Great question! And the answer is one we should all be intimately familiar with because it has to do with our personal identity; to be specific: our identity in Christ.
Doulos is the Greek word for slave. It is found 124 times in the New Testament. In most instances Doulos is translated in your Bible as the word “servant,” although this is an unfortunate rendering. We’ll get to that.
Perhaps the most profound reference to Doulos in the Bible is associated with the LORD Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:6 informs us that Jesus “emptied Himself and took on the form of a Doulos” when He was sent to earth. Further, we are instructed to have the same attitude as Christ – the attitude of a slave – and to follow His example of humiliation. To be transformed by renewing our mind with the Word; to be conformed to the image of Christ, means, in part, to identify with Him as a slave.
Paul, the author of Philippians and most of the NT epistles, introduced himself to his readers as “a Doulos (slave) of Jesus Christ.” So did Peter and other writers of the New Testament. It seems odd that Jesus and his followers would identify with the lowest class of people, the most despised and least esteemed social status one could have in the Roman Empire. Even when we think of slavery in our Western, 21st century mindset, it connotes indignities, injustices, and the worst degradations forced upon mankind. Slaves were looked upon and treated the same way in Greco-Roman Empire. It wasn’t honorable to be a slave.
When Jesus got up from the last Passover meal with His disciples, knelt and washed their feet, He was doing the chore only a slave would do. It was shocking to those who related to Him as Master. Yet, Jesus did it as an example to be followed. He ended His lesson with the imperative, do for one another as I have done for you; “a slave is not greater than his master,” no doubt referring to what is now expected of those who follow Him as Master.
It is important to understand that a servant is not the same as a slave. A servant is associated with the work he does. A slave is associated with the one who owns him or her. There is a certain degree of autonomy with a servant. He may chose what he does, for whom, how long, etc. A slave forfeits all rights of his own. He exists for one thing ONLY: to do the will of his Master and to please the one who owns him in everything.
I hope you begin to understand the association with being a true disciple of Jesus Christ and being His slave. Unlike any negative connotation of slave/owner relationships we may have, Jesus is the best Master anyone could ever have. He only has our good in mind. His will is perfect for us. We submit to His will because we love Him and are secure in His perfect love for us.
In the Old Testament, provision was made for a unique relationship between slave and master. When a slave had fulfilled an obligation to the master, yet desired to continue in the same relationship because of love for the master, the slave would submit to a ritual, have his ear pierced thereby identifying him as a “bond-slave.” This is no doubt the idea of a Doulos carried over in the New Testament. We are bond-slaves of the Lord Jesus. Love has bound us together eternally. All of my hopes, dreams and aspirations are now subsumed in the will of my Lord. To call Jesus my Lord (GK. Kurios) is to identify Him as my Owner and Master. Both Doulos and Kurios are correlatives. They are the language of slavery.
To be identified as Christ’s slave is one thing, it is quite another to see yourself as a slave to others. The Apostle Paul, speaking of his stewardship to preach the Gospel, makes this incredible statement in 1 Corinthians 9:19: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a Doulos to all.” He is speaking of a transformation he made and a identification he chose. In order to reach and win men and women to Christ, he humiliated himself, adapted to culture and became a slave. It makes me ask, What I may be willing to do that I might win a soul for Christ?
There is a true story told of two Moravian missionaries back in the 18th Century – young men in their early twenties – who found out about the plight of African slaves in the West Indies. They knew the Gospel had not reached these slaves who would otherwise perish without the Gospel. These two attempted to board a slave ship in Denmark, loaded with 3,000 slaves and bound for some Caribbean island. The ships captain, who was also the slave owner, was a self-proclaimed atheist who declared, “No preacher will ever stay on this island.” These two young men, with their whole life ahead of them, chose to sell themselves into slavery in order to get on that ship and have the opportunity to share Christ. What would motivate anyone to make that kind of sacrifice? They had the rights of free men, but understood they were already Christ’s slaves. For the love of their Master and the opportunity to bring people to Him, they chose to become slaves to win slaves for Christ. Their story inspires me immensely!
Gail and I have chosen to live out our call to the nations under the banner of Doulos Global Ministries. I can’t think of a better metaphor to represent who we are and what we do. To all who partner with us in your prayers. finances, and going, thank you for joining with us as we are sent to the increase the Kingdom of God worldwide.
Your servants and bond-slaves of Christ,