This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. (Rom 1:1, NLT)
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God. (Rom 1:1, NIV)
I have put these two translations of the same text together for a reason. It is a reason which is very important, especially to the way we think today. It is all about just one word, the Greek word doulos. I don’t want to get into an argument about which is the best translation, but there is an important point to be made here.
I studied ancient Greek at school (and I know that some of you will be referring to the fact that I am fairly ancient, so just leave out the comments, eh?) I was taught that the word doulos is properly translated as slave, which is how the New Living Translation words it. The NIV talks about servant, some other translations are the same, and yet others use the word bondservant.
Why is it all so important? What difference does it make? After all, Paul was a truly wonderful servant to Christ Jesus!
I agree with that, but it is the difference it makes to how we see ourselves. Nobody believes in slavery any more, and rightly so. I think that the trade unions, thousands of people and quite a few of my family would all be more than a little upset if they lost their career of being a Civil Servant and were told that from now on they would become Civil Slaves! But that is the point here! If we are Civil Servants, or any other kind of servant, we can look forward to holidays, maternity/paternity leave, pay rises and retirement. As a final resort, we can leave and get another job if we don’t like it!
Not so a slave! Slaves have no rights. Slaves cannot give a month’s notice and go.
I am not calling for the nationwide return of slavery, but maybe our attitudes to Christ and his Kingdom are a wee bit wrong? I am sure that we all serve Christ, and so we should, but do we take a break, a holiday? Do we sometimes disagree with the management and refuse to cooperate? Do we sometimes go behind the boss’s back and do the opposite of what we have been told to do?
Jesus tells us, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matt 11:29-30, NLT)
When an ox was put in a yoke, it had no option but to go where it was led, and to carry the burden. It was a form of slavery! Jesus is telling us that we too have work to do, work that we should not say ‘no’ to. We have no option but to follow and carry the burden. But he also tells us that he is gentle and the burden is light – and that the work will actually give us rest for our souls!
We are rightly glad to break the chains of our slavery to sin, but do we get a bit reluctant to chain ourselves in slavery to Christ? Perhaps we miss rather a lot if we have an employee-with-rights attitude to our roles in the Kingdom?
I know, for one, that I take too many days off! And sometimes I don’t even have the courtesy to phone in sick!