I heard an interesting sermon from John MacArthur this week. It got me thinking. It was about being slaves of Christ. You can read, listen to, or download this sermon here. He said that a believer’s true position in Christ has been diluted by the translators’ choice of the word servant and bond-servant for the Greek word doulos. They have consistently translated the word doulos which means slave, as servant. Doesn’t that change the flavor of service to the Lord? Being a servant indicates that we can and do serve Him at our own will and pleasure, and slave means we submit our will to an alien will and then the matter is out of our hands.
The bible is clear in its description that believers are slaves, not servants. In every case where the word doulos is used it means slave, and the New Testament uses it 130 times. We are not servants of Christ, we’re his slaves. Even emphasizing the point in using the word minister, in 1 Corinthians 4:1 Paul said they were ministers of Christ but the Greek word is under-rower. The Roman trireme had three levels and the slaves chained to the oars at the lowest level were under-rowers.
Now, that notion is unpalatable in this “you can do anything” liberated free culture. It is anathema to the promotion of Christianity as a free-ing religion. It is certainly revolting to this generation of ego-driven self-gratification seekers in the secular world. But it is what it is.
I am reading the bible through and I notice that a well-known phenomenon that will happen at the end of days also happened from the beginning. In the end, Revelation tells us the antichrist will place a mark on the hand or forehead of all who worship him. (Rev 13:15-17). The mark allows people to buy and sell, but its reason for being is not the economy, it is a mark of allegiance and worship of the beast. That the mark allows a person to also participate in the economy is a by-product of its placement on the person.
Jesus also sends an angel to place a mark on the forehead of His 144,000 who evangelize the world. (Rev 7:3-4).
Who brands his slaves? The master. Who puts a mark of ownership on his slaves? The master. Jesus is the ultimate Master and we are His ultimate slaves. That He puts a mark on us should not be surprising. We happily read language in the bible that says ‘we are His’. But when you look at the Greek word for ‘His’ it really means slave, and that’s when people balk. Did you know that ancient Romans marked runaway slaves on the forehead with the letters FUG (for fugitivus)? The notion of marking ownership of those who belong to Him was shown in the bible to have happened from the beginning. And here comes the use of the word forehead again.
In Exodus 28:36-38 we see the LORD instructing Aaron to order a gold plate made, “You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And you shall put it on a blue cord, that it may be on the turban; it shall be on the front of the turban. So it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.”
Deuteronomy 6:7-9 “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” The symbols mentioned here are phylacteries, a set of small cubic leather boxes painted black, containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, with leather straps dyed black on one side, and worn by observant Jews during weekday morning prayers. They were in use by the third century BC.
In the bible, forehead is used a lot to show identification with God (or with the antichrist.) We think of forehead as the exterior part of the face above the eyes and under the hairline. But in the bible forehead was used also to indicate what was inside the head. Wayne Blank explains it well. The Bible doesn’t just use the term “forehead” to describe what is physically foremost inside the head, as not just a bodily location, but also what is consciously a heart condition, much more like the term “heart and mind” is used today.
In Ezekiel 9:4: “The LORD said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.” A mark – literally, “Tau,” the name of the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The old form of the letter was that of a cross.
Summary of our true position
A slave was exclusively owned by one master. He was expected to demonstrate complete and constant obedience and availability to that master. He was subject to one alien will (because no man can be a slave to two masters) and was completely dependent on his master for everything. All discipline and reward came from that master. Are you uncomfortable with this lifestyle? Well, did you ever pray, “not my will but thine be done”? (Luke 11:1-2; Mt 26:42). Do you love the book of John, reading it well and recommending it heartily? It says in John 5:30 “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” There are many other examples of Jesus reiterating that His will not be done but the Father who sent Him, and as an example to His children to do the same. Yes, we are His children, we are His beloved, we are His bride, all nice, but we are also His slaves.
We use that term so casually today. Teenagers sneer, “What am I, your slave?” We say we slave away at the sale mines. We are slaves to things, like “I’m a slave to…ice cream. We slaved over a hot stove all day. But when we read of our true position in Christ, slave, we balk. “No, not me”, you think.
But we will be slaves to Him throughout all of eternity: Revelation 22:1-4: “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.”