I wonder how many of us would admit that a shift is in order. Wondering what I’m thinking? Well, who’s got a problem or two? Or six? Even if we weren’t dealing with a new disease sweeping around the world, I suspect most of you who admitted to issues would still have raised your hands.
We all have problems, right? What I want to consider today is this: Maybe we shouldn’t.
Don’t worry. I’ve not given into the prosperity mindset that says we can wish all our dreams into reality. Instead, perhaps a critical mental shift is in order.
Bill Bright, American Evangelist
The question of life is not whether we are slaves, but whose slaves are we? ~Bill Bright, founder of Cru, formerly Campus Crusade for Christ
The founder of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), Bill Bright, was an evangelist who dedicated much of his life to discipling new Christians. Growing up, his children often heard him repeat one of his famous lines, “I am just a slave of Jesus Christ.”
His son Brad didn’t fully understand all his father meant by that simple statement when he was younger. In Bill Bright’s book My Life Is Not My Own, published after his death, Brad writes an introduction, including a poignant story we should all consider.
Son’s memory dictates a shift is in order.
Shortly after I graduated from college, a young reporter from a Christian magazine came to interview my dad. “Dr Bright,” he said, “could you share a problem you face that the average Joe Christian can relate to?”
“I don’t have any problems,” my dad replied with quiet confidence. The reporter responded, “Dr. Bright, don’t over-spiritualize. We all have problems.” Suppressing his frustration, the reporter repeated the question several different ways, always receiving the same response.
Finally, my dad looked him directly in the eye and said, “Young men, you need to understand something. I am a slave of Jesus. It is not the slave’s responsibility to be successful, but simply to do what the Master asks. When you understand this, you will realize you don’t have problems. All that’s left are opportunities to see the Master work.”
At that moment, it hit me: My dad actually believed with every fiber of his being what he had just said. That experience created a seismic paradigm shift in my thinking that eventually sunk in and changed my life. The true genius of Bill Bright was his view of God.
We Are All Slaves
More than once, Bill’s colleagues and associates asked him to tone down the use of the word slave. They suggested that because of the connotations we have today, something different, something softer, would be better.
For most of us, very negative pictures come to mind when we hear the word slave. Involuntary servitude, lasting a lifetime. Cruel masters or at least uncaring masters with cruel foremen in charge of the slaves. Poor living conditions. Forced familial separations. Dehumanizing practices.
Slavery in the Roman Empire
Slavery is not a new issue. In Rome and the surrounding area, as many as one in three were slaves. People came into slavery through conquest, piracy, robbery, and trade. For example, if you owed someone money, you could work it off by working for them (slavery); however, the interest was usually so high that you never paid off your debt. The culture of the time viewed taking slaves after a battle as confirmation of the victor’s “cultural superiority and divine right to rule over others and exploit those persons for absolutely any purpose whatsoever.”
A Biblical Shift Is in Order.
Bill Bright, however, saw slavery to Jesus Christ as a voluntary choice, one that led to an abundant life of faith, hope, and love. Where did he get that thinking? The Bible.
Consider that the apostle Paul starts out his letter to the church in Rome by saying, “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.” And he’s not alone. Other biblical authors used similar phrasing, early church leaders like Peter, James, and Jude.
Some translations use the word servant or bond-servant in place of slave, which carries a different feeling for us today. According to the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, the word Paul, Peter, and the others used in the original Greek means “one who is a slave in the sense of becoming the property of an owner.”1 The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament adds that the emphasis is “on the slave’s dependence on his lord.”2 These definitions line up with our concept of slave.
But a small shift is in order in our thinking. It’s important to note that in Rome, it wasn’t just the lowly and downtrodden who were slaves. “In some languages of the ancient Middle East a phrase meaning ‘slave of the king’ or ‘servant of the king’ had become the title of an important person in the government.”1 In other words, the Emperor’s trusted advisors, counselors, and officials.
Jesus’s thoughts on slavery.
We must also consider Jesus’s own words. In John 8, He was talking to some Jews who believed in Him when He said, You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (verses 31-32).
The believing Jews responded (indignantly, in my mind), We have never been slaves to anyone (verse 33).
And then Jesus does what He does so well. He changes their perspective, broadening their thinking past what they’d ever considered. Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin (verse 34).
And the apostle Paul’s.
Following this line of thinking, Paul writes to the church in Rome,
Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living. (Romans 6:16-18, NLT).
To many Western minds, the phrase “slaves of Jesus” is said to be a turn-off. The truth is, becoming slaves of Jesus is how we can “turn on” the power of God in our lives. ~Bill Bright, founder of Cru, formerly Campus Crusade for Christ
Bill Bright wrote in his book My Life is Not My Own, “The question of life is not whether we are slaves, but whose slaves are we?” (page 28).
I have asked Christians, “Do you want your attitudes, actions and will to obey the Lord Jesus in all things?” Many are quick to say an emphatic yes. Then I ask, “Are you ready to love, trust and obey Him no matter what?” Again they say yes. Now that is the attitude and heart of a slave of Jesus!3
1Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 740. Print.
2Rengstorf, Karl Heinrich. “Δοῦλος, Σύνδουλος, Δούλη, Δουλέυω, Δουλεία, Δουλόω, Καταδουλόω, Δουλαγωγέω, Ὀφθαλμοδουλία.” Ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich. Theological dictionary of the New Testament 1964– : 261. Print.
3My Life Is Not My Own: Following God No Matter the Cost, by Bill Bright, Regal, 2010, p. 26.