Three years ago I bought John MacArthur’s book, Slave, and although I was keen to read it, I put it into my book shelf and forgot about it. Occasionally I’d walk past it and remind myself that I needed to read it, but it never seemed to be the right time. A few days ago I was reminded of it again and started reading it. I could not stop! It’s one of those books I can honestly say is life changing. I really believe that I was not meant to read it until this point in time, as it has answered so many questions I’ve been grappling with.
Christianity is a hard slog. The Bible tells us it will be, and it says that we are to bear our own cross daily, but there are just some days when the weight of being a Christian is especially heavy. I am finding more and more, that people are offended and angry that I am a Christian. People I work with and come across, generally really like me until I tell them I’m a Christian, and then it turns to revulsion and exclusion. Initially people are attracted to my friendliness and warmth, but they despise the source of it. It displays to me even further that as Christians, we are aliens in a foreign land. This is not our home and we don’t belong here. I am never tempted to walk away from my faith, but some days I’d like a positive response to my faith as opposed to horror. I’m not expecting it though and I’m sure things will just continue to get worse. At times I worry about this, and I worry about how I’ll hold up through it all. We all like to think that we’d have never been on the sidelines shouting, “Crucify Him,” but we’re deluding ourselves. All of this has had me thinking about how I’m to respond, what I’m to do, how I’m meant to live as a Christian through it all, and that’s where the book Slave comes in.
John MacArthur shares with us that the word ‘servant’ in the Bible has been incorrectly translated. The original texts do not translate to servant, they translate to slave, and it is with this correction in mind that we look to how we should live. We are slaves of Christ. He is our Master. We are to live as a slave lives, in total obedience and submission to our Master. MacArthur gives a brilliant insight into the lives of slaves in the Roman Empire, and he refers to the slave imagery used so richly in the epistles. Even the apostles called themselves slaves of Christ, and they eagerly embraced the term, understanding fully what it meant and how it applied to their Christian lives. What I find so stunning about it all, is the way the Lord has taken us from the slavery of sin, into slavery of righteousness. We have been snatched from an evil and cruel master, to one who is holy, blameless, righteous, and Almighty. The Lord is our Master and the realization has given me such profound joy. Why? Because all I am called to do is exactly what the Bible tells me to do. Here’s an example. Recently someone hurt me very badly, and every time I think of it I wince in emotional pain. I have forgiven them, but I still wear the scars of such deep betrayal and cruelty. Last night when I was praying about it, I remembered the words of Jesus in Luke 6:28, ‘bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.’ At first I balked and then thought, ‘I’m just not ready to do that Lord. I can forgive them, but I’m not sure I’m ready to pray for blessing.’ The words of John MacArthur struck me again, ‘I am a slave of the Lord, and I will obey Him.’ I was then able to pray that the Lord would bless this person who hurt me so horrifically, and I felt such a release from it. In my own strength I can do nothing, but when I remember my identity in Christ, as His slave, I can be obedient. I understand and can relate to the slave imagery and all I want to do is please my Master. He paid for me with a price, I am His possession, and without Him I am and have nothing. As a slave longs to please his master, so do I as the slave of Christ long to please Him. Please don’t get me wrong; it’s not about works, it’s about obedience and submission. It’s about living the way we are called to live in His word.
You may read this and wonder why I hadn’t worked it out before. I had, but not to this level. I have been a Christian for 27 years and for many of these years I have zealously studied the Bible. I always knew that Jesus was Master and I was His servant, but not to the same level as I now understand. A servant is a hired worker; a person who is paid, and can choose where they work and who they work for. A slave is not. A slave is purchased by an owner and they become his possession. It is the same way for us — Christ purchased us through the shedding of His blood. We had nothing to do with this purchase — we made no choice, we added nothing. We were chosen in Him, and by Him before the foundations of the earth were laid. Just as a servant has no say in who purchases them, neither do we as Christians. But when we have been purchased by the Lord, there is such joy and celebration. We are now out of bondage and into the freedom and under the Lordship of Jesus Christ! This is mind-boggling! And this gives us so much freedom to simply serve the Lord and to remain focused on Him alone. Everything else is secondary to our Master and doing His will.
It is because of this understanding that I can now stop worrying about how I should live, and how I will cope. It’s more than trust in the Lord, it is a recognition that like a good master looks after his slaves, I will be more than looked after by my Master. My Master will not allow anything to happen to me that He doesn’t wish for me. All of His discipline, chastisement, blessing and provision come out of His love for me and His desire for me to be His humble and dutiful slave. I am so thankful for this.
John MacArthur writes, ‘Jesus also used slave language to define the reality of what it means to follow Him. Discipleship, like slavery, entails a life of total self-denial, a humble disposition towards others, a wholehearted devotion to the Master alone, a willingness to obey His commands in everything, an eagerness to serve Him even in His absence, and a motivation that comes from knowing He is well pleased. Though they were once slaves of sin, Christ’s followers receive spiritual freedom and rest for their souls through their saving relationship with Him.
Against the historical backdrop of slavery, our Lord’s call to self-sacrifice becomes that much more vivid. A slave’s life was one of complete surrender, submission, and service to the master—and the people of Jesus’ day would have immediately recognised the parallel. Christ’s invitation to follow Him was an invitation to that same kind of life.’
I just cannot explain the book in a way that truly gives it the justice it deserves. It is filled with Scripture and Biblical examples and it presents such a profoundly simple picture in a way that makes you catch your breath. Through reading this book and seeing the relevance of the slave imagery and analogies, I am filled with more joy imaginable for the life I will continue leading as a slave of Christ.