Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 26: Sunday
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.
Sunday’s Bible reading is Philippians 1–2. In the very first verse, Paul identifies himself as a slave of Christ Jesus, and these opening words to the church in Philippi set the tone for the entire letter, for Philippians is an epistle of ministry.
I used the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation of Philippians 1:1–2, because it is one of the few English translations that correctly renders the Greek word, δοῦλοι, douloi (the plural of doulos), as slaves. In his sermon, “Slave for Christ,” John MacArthur said, “There are six words, at least, for servant, doulos is not one of them.”1 In a sermon the following year, he said:
Now you could check every Greek lexicon there is and you will find no usage of that word other than the word “slave.” What is remarkable about this is though this word is used about 150 times in the New Testament in one form or another, 130 times doulos itself, and then sun doulos in the verb form, douloo, though it means slave, always means slave, only means slave, out of the 20 English translations of the New Testament, there are essentially 20 English translations of the New Testament, only one of them always translates doulos slave, 19 of them equivocate and do not do that. They even invent a hyphenated word for which there is no parallel in Greek, bondservant. There are only two options in Greek…servant or slave. There’s no middle concept.2
In this letter, we see not only Paul’s care and work in ministering to his fellow believers as a slave of Christ, but we also see the dynamics of the attitudes and actions of service—the whys and hows of ministry.
Paul’s love for Christ and love for his fellow believers in Christ, and the joy that is a fruit of that love are seen throughout these four chapters, even as Paul urges and exhorts the Philippians to love and serve one another, following Christ’s example. And the example of our Lord Jesus Christ is found in Philippians 2:5–11, the heart of this letter.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave*, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Philippians 2:5–11–
In his article, “Slaves of God,” Edwin Yamauchi writes:
When the Son of God, who clutched not His equality with God but divested Himself of His garment of Glory, came to earth, He donned not the royal robes of a king but the soiled apron of a slave. He who descended from heaven came not to earth’s heights but to its depths. As a faithful Slave He served, and as an obedient Slave he went to that ignominous death, from which Rome exempted her citizens and which she reserved especially for slaves.3
In his book, Desiring God, John Piper states that, “Love is the overflow of joy in God which gladly meets the needs of others,”4 but if I can have the temerity to reverse his phrase, from reading Philippians, I believe joy is the fruit of our love for Christ, and our love for others that flows from our love for Christ. And our love for Christ, in turn, comes from God’s great love for us—“We love, because He first loved us,” (1 John 4:19).
Not only Paul, but all for whom Christ became a slave, are now slaves of Christ.
Live as freemen, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as slaves of God.1 Peter 2:16†–For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be slaves of one another.Galatians 5:13†–
Dr. Yamauchi concludes:
In Juvenal’s Rome “Sons of men freeborn give right of way to a rich man’s slave.” Like that slave we can boast in another’s affluence that is ours to enjoy in the presence of reputedly free men who are beggars by comparison. If this were all, we might be content to simply translate the term doulos Christou as simply “the servant of Christ.”
But if the title doulos Christou is an appellation of honor as it declares what we are in our relationship to the Sovereign of the Universe, it is also a designation of humility as it reminds us of what we are in ourselves….
It is also a phrase that reminds us of our ransom from another master at an incredible price. It was not with the fabulous sums of all the royal estates we were bought, nor was it for handsome features or some prized skill we were purchased. But rather unlovely, without any merit, rebellious at heart, we were redeemed with the precious blood of the Master Himself.
Having thus been bought by Christ we are entirely His….
Since we are slaves and not aristocratic lords we ought not to deem ourselves too high and mighty to soil our hands with work. The lot of a slave was one of toil. So Paul labored night and day to the point of exhaustion (I Thes. 2: 9). Since we are slaves we can expect the circumscription of our own rights and desires. If we are truly Christ’s bondmen we shall forego these for the sake of serving and saving others (I Cor. 9:19). Since we are slaves we cannot think ourselves worthy of any thanks for what we do (Lu. 17:10). We should be prepared to labor graciously and gratuitously at thankless tasks all our days. Our very lives ought to be expendable.
Only as we acknowledge that we are indeed the slaves of Jesus Christ and realize in our lives all that this implies, may we hope to hear the Master say at the day of reckoning, “Well done, thou good and faithful slave.”5
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Scripture quotations marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
1John MacArthur, “Slaves for Christ,” August 5, 2007. This article originally appeared here at Grace to You.
2John MacArthur, “Slaves of Christ,” March 5, 2008. This article originally appeared here at Grace to You.
*I have substituted the word slave for the NASB translation of δούλου as bond-servant.
3, 5Edwin Yamauchi, “Slaves of God,” Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 9.1 (Winter 1966) 47, 48–49. On page 40–43, you will find the section, “The Word “Slave” and The Translators of The King James Version.” It’s very helpful in understanding why doulos was translated as servant rather than slave in the KJV New Testament.
†The translations of Galatians 5:13 and 1 Peter 2:16 are from page 46 of “Slaves of God.” http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/bets/vol09/9-1_yamauchi.pdf
4John Piper, Desiring God (Multnomah, Portland OR: 1996) 96.
Original content: Copyright ©2011–2012 Iwana Carpenter