Shipwrecked Faith from a Shipwrecked Church
Reflections on the book of Jude
The Blessings of Slavery
Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James,
to those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ.
Jude, along with Paul and others in the New Testament, continually referred to themselves as “bondslave” or “bondservant” or “doulos” in the Greek— which is a strange combination of words to describe yourself. Bond and slave.
Actually, the English word “bondslave” or “bondservant” is an invented, contrived, hyphenated word that has no parallel in the Greek and was created by modern translators of the Bible to avoid the negative stigma associated with the word, slave. They didn’t want the readers of the NIV, ESV, NASB, RSV, ASV, among others to feel convicted or troubled or uncomfortable by the true definition of doulos which is, and always has been, slave. Not servant. Not employee. It’s simply, slave.
After all, the two words completely contradict each other. You are either free or slave. There is no middle ground. You can’t have it both ways, not matter how uncomfortable slave makes you feel.
What Does it Mean to be a Slave
Just saying the word today in our politically charged cultural environment makes you feel a bit uneasy, doesn’t it? But for me, the word slave brings back memories of the groundbreaking miniseries I saw in the late 70’s titled Roots.
Every evening, from the 23rd to the 30th of January, my family and I and 130 million others sat glued to the tube in our respective living rooms and watched Alex Haley’s opus unfolded before us in living, brilliant Technicolor.
It was an amazing piece of forgotten American lore— painstakingly tracing the life and lineage of a common slave, Kunta Kenti, from his capture in the African bush in 1750 and ending with his descendant, the Pulitzer Prize winning author Alex Haley— portrayed by James Earl Jones. It seemed like every African-American movie star that was popular at the time was in that movie: Ben Vereen, Academy Award Winner Louis Gossett Jr., Cicely Tyson, Scatman Crouthers, LaVar Burton, Leslie Uggams, John Amos, Richard Roundtree and a host of others.
Years later, filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg would also try to capture the horrors of slavery with movies like Amistad— which was like Schindler’s List for slaves, only worse. What Schindler’s List did for the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany, Roots did for African slaves in the Bible belt.
The repercussions of Haley’s book and movie were staggering.
For example, in my sophomore year of college, probably as a direct result of the movie Roots, we all were required to take a race-relations course or workshop or encounter group or something as part of our core curriculum. Most of what I remember of our time in my first and last encounter group was that all the white students in the class had to apologize for the sins of their ancestors— even if none of them, obviously, had ever been slave owners. I don’t really remember what we all did in that encounter group, but we passed and earned our freedom.
So somebody must have apologized to somebody for something.
Back to the Roots of the Matter
Looking back, I think those 9 plus hours of watching Roots opened my eyes, for the first time, to the inherent evils of slavery and the hopeless plight of slaves in the deep South. What I came to truly understand from my Roots experience was that slavery was bad— real bad. Unbelievably bad.
Slavery, by definition, took away a person’s right to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” In its raw form, slavery took from a person their personhood. Slavery reduced a human being— one created in the image of God, to the status of a possession, a mere living tool, of having the value of simple cattle.
And it always brought out the very worst in human nature.
Think about it, you had slave owners who would dress up their kids on Sunday and cart them off to church to hear the preacher proclaim the matchless grace of God. Maybe the text was from the pen of the Apostle Paul, from the book of Galatians. Maybe it went something like this, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Then, when back on the plantation, ignoring the Sunday message, after the feast of fried chicken, homemade biscuits, and cool lemonade— that very slave owner, still dressed in his Sunday best, would beat or berate a slave for failure to meet expectations, or for longing for freedom, or for wanting his family to stay together and not be sold off to another plantation in a neighboring county, or… and the list goes on and on and on.
Shamefully, you would even have so-called Christian slave owners who felt it was their God-given right to own other Christians as slaves and then treat them harshly and with evil intent knowing, full well, that the grace of God forgave the sins of both.
For some reason, the right of absolute power over the life and future of another human being never seems to bring out the best in fallen humanity.
History shows us that you don’t have many accounts of slave owners reaching out to their slaves with a ministry, missionary-type of mindset. No, there are not many accounts of a slave owner taking his slaves under his wing and into his own house to teach them, love them, accept them, nurture them, or minister to them as Christ commands us to do to the very least among us.
Did you ever wonder why?
Have you ever heard the old proverb, “Blood is thicker than water”?
Sometimes it is. And, sometimes it isn’t.
Sadly, I think it all depends on the color of the skin from which it bleeds.
Slavery seemed to always bring out the worst in people. Always.
Did you ever wonder why?
Who Do You Trust?
If you were a slave, and you had the chance to escape or earn or fight for your freedom, would you choose to remain a slave? I don’t think so. It makes no sense to choose to remain a slave when freedom is the other option—or when anything is the other option.
Who would trade their freedom for bondage? Would you?
Would you give up your right to yourself in exchange for anything? Would you voluntarily submit your will, the absolute sovereign right to your life and death, to your reputation and fortune, to your happiness and fulfillment, to somebody else? No way. Why?
Simple. You just can’t trust people that much.
“Oh, sure you can. You’re just being too cynical.”
Ok, think about it.
We, as a society, really don’t trust our spouses. We have an entire segment of the legal profession solely dedicated to the art of crafting ironclad pre-nuptial agreements before a man and woman, deeply in love, publicly pledge their lives together in marriage.
“Honey, you know I love you with all my heart and soul. And, I solemnly pledge to spend the rest of my life with you, forever, which is a really long time! Uh, but just in case it doesn’t work out and either you or I decide to dump one another and make the same pledge of life-long commitment to someone else… uh, how about we determine now how we’re gonna divide up the stuff then? You know, to kinda get a jump on the property settlement part of our divorce. How about if you keep your stuff and I’ll keep my stuff? You take the girl and the house and I’ll take the boy and the boat. Whatdayasay? Sound fair? You wanna sign?”
We don’t trust our parents. We don’t trust good ol’ mom and dad, the Ward and June Cleaver of the Cold War generation and the Frank and Marie Barone of the War on Terror generation. We don’t trust them to make any decisions about our future mate or occupation or anything that pertains to us. Nuthin’— even with all their years of parental wisdom and life experiences. We don’t even trust them to give us any advice unless, of course, we are desperate enough to actually ask for it. And even then, if their parental advice doesn’t line up and affirm what we want to do, it’s “Thanks, but no thanks.”
We certainly don’t trust our employer enough to give them authority over our lives. If we don’t like what our employer does, or says, or thinks, or the hours they schedule for us to work, or the salary they agree to pay us for that work, or our vacation and retirement package— we defiantly punch the clock, flip-off the boss and shout, “Nobody’s gonna treat me like that. I quit!” And it’s back to the want ads again.
And as far as trusting the government goes, well, I really don’t think we need to run that trail right now, do you?
Bottom line: You and I both know that there’s no way we would ever give anyone absolute power over our lives. Never! It’s simply not going to happen and it’s not in our nature.
Servant or Slave?
But one of the amazing truths in the Scriptures for me is the fact that the word slave, or doulos in the Greek, is exactly what the heroes of the Bible call themselves.
The Kunta Kinte of the New Testament.
You have Paul (Rom. 1:1), Peter (2 Peter 1:1) and Jude all calling themselves slaves of Jesus Christ. Just like in Roots.
Only there was a difference.
In Roots, free people were forcibly and violently taken from their homes and made into slaves against their will. In Jude and elsewhere in the New Testament, free people voluntarily gave up their freedom and independence and self-will to become life-long slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ. And they did this gladly and with great, abounding joy.
This is what it means to be a doulos of the Lord.
The Blessings of Slavery
The word slave, doulos, means: “one who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another, his will being altogether consumed in the will of another.” Note some key words: permanent, servitude, consumed, and another. Jude was saying he was in a permanent relationship of servitude (slavery) to another (Jesus) and his will was consumed in the will of another (Jesus).”
It’s the very example Jesus gave us of His relationship with His Father.
John 4:34 – “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.”
John 5:19 – “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”
John 6:38 – I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
John 8:28 – “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.”
So what about you? Is your will totally consumed in the will of the Lord? Are you enjoying your position as a slave, a doulos, of Him and do you recognize it as the greatest honor ever bestowed on you? Have you relinquished all control over your life today and your future tomorrow into the hands of the One who knows the number of hairs on your head? Have you submitted your entire life to Him knowing that He cares deeply for you, even more than you can imagine?
Are you a doulos, a slave of the Lord Jesus? And, if so, do you wear your badge of permanent servitude with pride?
Consider again how the saints of old described themselves and pray to do likewise. Why? Because you have been bought with a price and are now His special possession (1 Cor. 7:23).
So relax, abide, and enjoy the blessings of slavery to Him.