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Slaves for Christ

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
January 19, 2024 3:00 am

Slaves for Christ

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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January 19, 2024 3:00 am

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When a pastor says to me, how can I talk to my people about being slaves to Christ when they have in their past history the abuses of slavery? Well if you think that's hard, how can Jesus talk to people living in the midst of a slave-dominated society about the fact that being a Christian was being a slave to Jesus Christ? Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. Across the Western world, personal freedom is a cherished value. Some go to war to win it, governments are founded to preserve it, and nations celebrate it as the U.S. does every July 4th. So if personal independence, personal freedom, is so important, how could being a slave ever be a good thing? Consider that today as John MacArthur brings a message every believer needs to hear. It's called Slaves for Christ, and it's generated a lot of controversy since it was first preached. And it's easy to see why those here at Grace to You chose it for the study that we're airing titled Foundations Volume 2, a collection of ten of John's most memorable sermons. Now to explain why being a slave is crucial to your life as a believer, here's John MacArthur. We're going to turn to a subject in the New Testament that as I think about it is largely ignored and overlooked, and I've been made aware of that in recent months. It was not too many months ago that I was flying on one of those jumbo jets from Los Angeles to London, in the process reading a book that dealt with the issue of slavery in the New Testament time and in the New Testament text. It set me thinking in all kinds of directions. I actually finished the book on the flight.

I was so wrapped in my attention to this particular theme. Being a slave of Christ may be the best way to define a Christian. We are, as believers, of Christ. You would never suspect that, however, from the language of Christianity.

In contemporary Christianity the language is anything but slave language. It is about freedom. It is about liberation. It is about health, wealth, prosperity, finding your own fulfillment, fulfilling your own dream, finding your own purpose. We often hear that God loves you unconditionally and wants you to be all you want to be. He wants to fulfill every ambition, every desire, every hope, every dream.

In fact, there are books being written about dreams as if they are gifts from God which God then having given them is bound to fulfill. Personal fulfillment, personal liberation, personal satisfaction, all bound up in an old term in evangelical Christianity, a personal relationship. How many times have we heard that the gospel offers people a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?

What exactly does that mean? Satan has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and it's not a very good one. Every living being has a personal relationship with the living God of one kind or another, leading to one end or another. But what exactly is our relationship to God? What is our relationship to Christ?

How are we best to understand it? Well if you read the New Testament in its original text, you would come away stunned really by how different the original text is from any English version that you've ever read, whether King James, New King James, New American Standard, ESV, NIV and you can name all the rest, all of them virtually have found a way to mask something that is an absolutely critical element of truth. In fact, the word slave appears in the New Testament 130 times in the original text. You will find it once in the King James, once the Greek word slave is translated slave. You will find it translated slave a few other times in other texts like the New King James text and even the New American Standard text and it will be translated slave when one, it refers to actual slavery, or two, it refers to some kind of bondage to an inanimate reality. But whenever it is personalized, the translators seem unwilling to translate it slave. For example, in Matthew 6, 24, Jesus said this, no man can be a slave to two masters.

What does your Bible say? No man can serve two masters. The favorite word for slave is servant...favorite English word.

Very often bond servant is used which tends to move in the right direction but is not exactly slave. You have a word used 130 times in the New Testament. You have other uses of that word with a preposition, sundulas, which means fellow slaves, used about a dozen times. You have the verb form used another approximately a dozen times. So you have at least 150 plus usages of just three of the words and there are others in the group with the root, doul, d-o-u-l in English for doulos. There are about twenty established English translations of the New Testament, about twenty.

Only one of them...only one of them always translates doulos, slave...only one. And it is a translation of the New Testament written by a formidable scholar in New Testament Greek who studied the original papyri and things like that by the name of E.J. Goodspeed. Have you ever heard of Goodspeed translation? Goodspeed is a well-known scholar.

For fifteen years he was a pioneering professor of New Testament Greek at the University of Chicago. The Goodspeed translation always translates doulos as slave. And when you read it, it gives you an entire different sense of our relationship to Christ. You do have a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. You are His slave.

That's putting it as simply as I can put it. There are six words at least for servant. Doulos is not one of them. There is diakonos from which we get deacon, oiketes, related to oikos, house, a house servant, pis, having to do with one who serves by instructing the young, huperetes, a low level, third level under-servant, literally an under-rower, the third level on a galley slave, someone who pulled an oar down at the bottom of a great ship. Leitergos, another kind of service, usually associated with religion, pidiscae and maybe misthios that can be translated minister. There are plenty of words for servant. There's only one word for slave, doulos and sundulos.

Yet in the history of the evangelical translation of the Greek into the English, all the translators consistently have avoided the use of the word. Now you might suggest that therefore it's disputed, that maybe doulos isn't quite as clearly slave, but that's not the case. But they avoid it nonetheless.

Doulos is not at all an ambiguous term. They are trying to avoid something. It's not about a lack of linguistic information, it might well be a lack of courage, conviction. As I said, they will use slave if it literally refers to a slave, a physical slave, or if it refers to bondage to an inanimate object, like being a slave of sin, or a slave of righteousness. But when it comes to being a personal relationship with God or Christ, they back away from the word slave inevitably and use some form of the word servant. This is a matter of preference in all cases to accommodate.

And we ask, to accommodate what? Well I suppose to accommodate the stigmas attached to slavery. That was a couple of months ago, I was at a pastors conference back in North Carolina and I had a Q&A session with some pastors and one very gracious pastor stood up, he was a black pastor, and he said to me, how am I to communicate to my congregation that they are the slaves of Jesus Christ when slavery is such a distasteful part of our past?

And he really had put his finger on the issue. I would venture to say that slavery is probably a distasteful part of everybody's past. It's no more distasteful to a black pastor who is three or four or five generations removed from actual slavery than it is to me who am equally removed from slavery, but it is just as distasteful to me to buy and sell humanity in the fashion that slave traders did it.

Nobody thinks very positively about slavery. But when you come to the New Testament, you can't get around it. Open your Bible, if you will, to Ephesians chapter 6...Ephesians chapter 6, and we're not going to be able to unfold all of this. This is a huge subject and not going to try to do too much.

I kept you a little long this morning so I'll let you out a lot early tonight. But I just want you to catch a few insights into this. In the sixth chapter of Ephesians, you have an illustration where slave is used and it is used because the Apostle Paul in writing to the church at Ephesus and to all other believers who would read this, knows that he is addressing slaves. And so he addresses them in verse 5 of Ephesians 6 as he addresses their masters in verse 9. And here there is no reluctance on the translators of the New Testament to use the word slave because he's talking to slaves. Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh with fear and trembling in the sincerity of your heart as to Christ, not by way of eye service, not just when they're looking as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart. There you have the introduction of the phrase slaves of Christ...slaves of Christ. This is not just true of actual slaves, this is true of all of us. And the translators of the NAS are comfortable to use the word slaves of Christ rather than servants of Christ because that metaphoric use is built upon the literal use of slaves who are being addressed in verse 5, so they can't really get around it. So here we have an honest translation of doulos, slaves of Christ, in a sense forced by the obvious object of the statement that is actual slaves. Turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 7 and I'll come back in reference to other things in that text a little later.

But in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 you have a very similar situation where in verse 22 Paul is regulating people's human relationships once they've come to Christ. It says a lot in this chapter about what do you do if you're married to a non-believer? What do you do if you're a widow? What do you do if you're a virgin? What do you do if your father has a virgin daughter? What do you do if you've lost your spouse?

Should you remarry and who should you remarry? It's all about these relationships now that you're in Christ. And he talks about those that are slaves. He who is called in the Lord while a slave, in a sense, is the Lord's free man. Likewise, he who is called while free is Christ's slave. There you have the same phrase again, slaves of Christ. And again, there's no reluctance on the part of the translator to say slave because he is talking about actual slaves. And in verse 23 it makes it very clear what constitutes slavery.

You were bought with a price. There is no more defining expression in terms of what it means to be a slave. It means to be owned. It means to be owned. This word doulos in the Greek should never be translated anything but slave...never.

Do you remember these words? Matthew 25, 21. Well done, good and faithful.

That's what you have read all your life. That is not the word for servant. That is not any of the six words for servant, that is doulos, well done, good and faithful slave. And the NAS is true to that translation. Well done, good and faithful slave.

Why? Because it's drawn out of a parable taught by our Lord about a man who had slaves. So whenever, in a sense, the New Testament is forced, sort of, to acknowledge that the metaphor, the analogy, or the object of the statement is in fact a slave, then they will maintain that slave language.

But in other cases, they will change it as fast as they can. Now the problem with this is it shuts out the clarity and the power and the richness of this metaphor. You would understand that when you give somebody the gospel, you are saying to them, I would like to invite you to become a slave of Jesus Christ. I would like to invite you to give up your independence, give up your freedom, submit yourself to an alien will, abandon all your rights, be owned by, controlled by the Lord. That's really the gospel. We're asking people to become slaves.

I don't hear a lot of that slave talk today, do you? We have by playing fast and loose with the word doulos managed to obscure this precise significance and substantial foundation for understanding biblical theology. Now, lest you think again that I may be overemphasizing this narrow usage of the word doulos, I tracked it through all of the lexicons that is sources that analyze the original meaning of Greek words. The sum of all of that is best contained in a massive set of books written by Kittel or pulled together by...edited by Kittel, which is the last word and more than the last word, enough and more than enough on anything you want to know. And in Kittel, the article on doulos, this is what it tells us. All the words in the doulos root group describe the status of a slave. The meaning is unequivocal, the meaning is self-contained, and here's something Kittel never says, it is superfluous to give examples or trace history.

It's not even debatable. He goes on to say, and this is a very technical source, it describes this doulos, a kind of service which is not a matter of choice for the one who renders it, a kind of service which he has to perform whether he likes it or not. It describes one subject totally to an alien will, the will of the owner and in total and utter dependence on that owner. That's what the word means. It is the word for slave.

Now let's go into the Greek and Roman world of the New Testament. When we say slave, we have a rather distant, somewhat detached historical revulsion to the word slave. If you think that's a hard word for us to swallow, imagine how hard it was for those living in the midst of slavery to swallow that idea. When a pastor says to me, how can I talk to my people about being slaves to Christ when they have in their past history the abuses of slavery? Well if you think that's hard, how can Jesus and the Apostles of the New Testament talk to people living in the midst of a slave-dominated society, ten to twelve million slaves at that very time about the fact that being a Christian was being a slave to Jesus Christ? There wouldn't be any distant foggy idea of what that meant.

They would know exactly what that meant, precisely what it meant. Now remember, for Greeks, elevated people, the citizenry, freedom was the pinnacle of life. Personal dignity was attached to freedom.

Being a doulos was the worst, it was the opposite. Let me tell you about slaves in the Greek-Roman world. They had no freedom. They had no rights. They had no ownership of anything. They had no legal recourse in the courts. They could not give testimony as a witness in a law case. They had no citizenship. They had no possibility of doing what they wanted to do. They weren't asked, say there, Mr. Slave, what would you like to do to be fulfilled? They weren't asked, what do you think your purpose is?

Can you dream your dream so I, your master, can fulfill it? Bizarre. They had no choice about anything. They owned nothing.

They couldn't be citizens and they couldn't be a part of the army, the military. They were totally dependent on whoever owned them. It doesn't mean that it didn't have some benefits. They were provided for, cared for, protected, in many cases treated kindly, compassionately, loved within families. But to the Greek and the Roman philosophically and socially, freedom was the pinnacle of life. So free men had only scorn for slaves, and slaves longed to be free.

That's grace to you. It's John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary. The title of today's lesson is Slaves for Christ.

It's part of John's study, Foundations Volume 2. Well, John, of all the message in this Foundations series, Slaves for Christ stands out from the rest just for the title alone. The notion of being a slave has difficult connotations in today's society, and talking about it even in a biblical context is enough to create a stir. But generating controversy, that wasn't your goal in preaching this message. No, my goal was to identify the believer's relationship to Christ. If Jesus is Lord, then I'm his slave. That's the New Testament.

That's not arguable. The contemporary Christian church has really never made any kind of clear issue out of this. In fact, just the opposite. They want to tell people that God loves them, and they're wonderful, and they're kings, and they're priests, and the Scripture does say that. And God wants to give you everything that you want and that you desire, and you know, that can get carried away into the prosperity gospel as we all know.

But the reason I did this message some years ago is because I never heard anybody talk about believers being slaves of Christ. That is exactly what we are. Yeah, we're bought with a price.

Bought with a price. We're not our own. We do his will and only his will.

We are dependent on his care and his resources and his provision, and he rewards us according to our faithfulness in serving him. The good news is that while on the surface this sounds like it's, you know, conventionally foolish to bring something up like this because people hate the idea of slavery. We have to redefine slavery in biblical terms, and when you really see it for what it is, it is a most thrilling, most elevating, glorious truth, and I think you miss really the heart and soul of how you relate to Christ if you don't understand you're his slave. That's what he has called you.

That's how he identifies you, and you respond by calling him and identifying him as Lord. Now I've written a book on it called Slave, The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ. Again the title, Slave, The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ.

One of my very favorite of all the books I've written. You can order one from Grace to You today. Just order the book Slave.

Thanks, John, and friend, this book takes an in-depth look at your identity in Christ and his relationship to you as Lord, showing you exactly what it means to follow Jesus. To order your copy of Slave, contact us today. Call 800-55-GRACE or visit our website, Slave is available in soft cover for $10 and shipping is free.

The title one more time, Slave. This book includes a built-in study guide with helpful questions that are great to use in a small group or midweek Bible study. Again, to order, call 800-55-GRACE or visit And when you visit, be sure to catch up on the articles from the Grace to You blog. Look for the series of posts called The Lordship of Christ, with articles on topics like the relationship between slavery to Christ and true liberty, why we call Christ Lord, and what it means to have dead faith. The blog is one of thousands of free resources available at our website, including more than 3600 sermons that are free to download in MP3 and transcript format. Our address again, Now for John MacArthur, I'm Phil Johnson. Remember to watch Grace to You television this Sunday on DirecTV channel 378. Then be here Monday when John shows you an important aspect of your identity in Christ that you may never have considered. It's another 30 minutes of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-19 05:47:12 / 2024-01-19 05:55:45 / 9

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