If you would open your Bible John chapter 15, John chapter 15, I just want to read two verses to you – verses 14 and 15 – and from this address an issue that is of deep concern to me. It was in the spring of last year that I got on a airplane to fly across the Atlantic to England to minister at the Banner of Truth Conference at Leicester University north of London. I had a wonderful week with some precious, precious men there from the UK and from other parts of Europe who gathered around the great doctrines of Scripture. It was refreshing to my own soul, deeply refreshing to my own soul.
One of the different things about it was I was put in a dorm room. Usually I’m in a motel or a hotel, or sometimes staying with someone in their home. But on this occasion I was put in a tiny, tiny dorm room, which is in a very, very old building at the university when dorm rooms were designed by the architect who did prisons. You talk about minimal treatment, this is it.
I had this little tiny bed made of metal with a rather old mattress that allowed you to experience the metal. There was a funny little shower that I could get in sideways, and a showerhead that hit me right in the side of the head. There was a tiny metal table, and on that metal table was the quintessential English teapot; that was it. And I was there seven days. There was no restaurant. I walked two miles in the morning to get a loaf of bread and some cheese, and came back and tried to store up enough for the day. Occasionally I got in line at the school for a meal.
I was locked up in that room. It was really one of the best things that ever happened to me, because my life is so busy and so interrupted by so many things, that I was able to focus. I put on my Bose noise-canceling earphones on, and turned on classical music, and studied the theme that I want to talk to you tonight about. And by the time that week was over, I was deeply refreshed in my understanding of the whole of the New Testament and of the whole of my relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. I was so lit up spiritually by the experience of the study, in particular during that week, along with a brief preparation for the message that I was giving every day. This captured my heart in profound ways, and by the end of the week I had really felt like I had captured it.
I was getting on an airplane and a guy handed me a book Pierced for our Transgressions, about 500 pages on the doctrine of imputation substitutionary atonement by the Oak Hill group over there. I read that all the way on the flight home the glories of this great doctrine. So it was one of the most profoundly rich spiritual experiences. And what dominated my thinking, looking at the cross of Christ and His sacrifice for me, and understanding what I’d been looking at all week, what dominated me was the concept that I am, and all Christians are, slaves of Jesus Christ, slaves of Jesus Christ.
In John 15:14 this is what you read: “You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” This is one of the richest of all passages.
The word of note here is “slaves.” “No longer do I merely call you slaves, no longer do I only call you slaves, I now call you friends. But you are friends who are slaves, because you are My friends if you do what I command you.” It is that about which I want to speak.
If I were to ask you, “What is the fundamental truth? What is the foundational reality? What is the distinguishing fact of Christianity in three words?” what would you say? Think about it. What essential core confession should boldly mark your church? What essential core confession should boldly mark your ministry? What theological absolute should govern your life and your church?
Well, if you haven’t arrived there, here it is: Jesus is Lord. That is the great Christian confession. If you will confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be – what? – saved. That is foundational. “And no man can say Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit,” 1 Corinthians 12:3.
But that is not how contemporary evangelism is done. We are told Jesus wants to be our personal Savior. The ambiguity of that phrase suites the current vagueness of the gospel. A personal relationship with Jesus? What in the world does that mean?
I did a radio interview on a large major metropolitan talk show Christian station with a host, who happened to be a woman, who did the three-hour afternoon Christian counseling talk program. And as she was interviewing me about one my books it was clear to me that she was pretty superficial in her understanding, even of the gospel. So off the air during a commercial break I said to her, “How did you become a Christian?” She said, “Oh, it was great.” She said, “One day I got Jesus’ phone number and we have been connected ever since.”
That’s exactly what she said. I said, “Let me process that a little bit. You got Jesus’ phone number and you have been connected ever since. Just exactly what does that mean?” to which she replied, “What do you mean, what does it mean?”
And then she said to me, “How would you explain how you became a Christian?” and so I did; to which she replied, “Oh, come on. You don’t have to go through all that, do you?” She had a personal relationship with Jesus, which meant that she personally defined it.
By the way, the devil has a personal relationship with Jesus and it’s not a good one; but it is very personal. And I will tell you something else: every unregenerate person on the way to hell has a very personal relationship with Jesus, and they don’t define it; He does.
The idea is that Jesus is just waiting for you to personally define what you want from Him; and He’ll fulfill all your wants, all your desires, and all the purposes that you can imagine for yourself; even make you healthy and wealthy. He becomes your buddy who loves you and only wants to satisfy all your dreams. In fact, if you listen to the kind of psychological sensual preaching today you’d think Jesus thinks your sins are funny.
But when you listen to Jesus, at the very core and center of all of His teaching was that He is not your buddy, He is Lord. And He didn’t hold back on that, and He didn’t mitigate that, and He didn’t tone that down, and He said that both to those who believed in Him and those who did not. He is absolute sovereign Master, and He never hesitated to declare it to friends and enemies. All who follow Jesus truly have yielded completely to His lordship.
Listen to His words back in the 13th chapter of John and the 13th verse: “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.” No equivocation.
You say, “Okay, okay. We know that, we know that.” And I know you know that. And I know you know that I know you know that. You say, “Where are you going with this?”
The true reality of Christ’s lordship has been all but obscured and eclipsed in the church, not just in the contemporary generation, but for centuries, for centuries. The reason 20 years ago I wound up writing a book on the lordship of Jesus Christ wasn’t because something went wrong 20 years ago, it had been going wrong a long, long time, and I wanted to help you regrip this great truth.
I want to make two points tonight. One: Jesus is Lord, Kurios. Kurios is used 747 times in the New Testament; that’s right, 747 times in the New Testament. Just to break that down in a little smaller bite, in the book of Acts it’s used 92 times. The word sōtēr, savior, is used twice. Kurios means one who has power, one who has absolute authority, one who has total right to command; that’s kurios. It is a synonym with another word. The other word, which is a synonym, is despotēs, from which we get the English word “despot.”
If we were able to come down to the finest point where these words may have a nuance of difference, we would say, as some lexicographers do, that kurios is sovereign Lord, which speaks of the fact that He is at the pinnacle, He is at the top; and despotés speaks of absolute Lord, which simply emphasizes that He is over everything and there is no other Lord. Both words, by the way, are extremely powerful words. And both words are part of the vocabulary of slavery. Both words are essential to the world of slavery.
If you will look at Jude, verse 4, you will see the use of both words there used as synonyms. At the end of verse 4 in Jude we read about “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ; our only Despotēs and Kurios.” To say Jesus is Lord is to say He is the sovereign ruler and the absolute ruler; that is what those words mean. It is not to identify Him as deity in particular; it is certainly not limited to that. It is to acknowledge Him as absolute sovereign Ruler, Master with absolute dominion. Let me bring it down.
In the culture, to say someone is lord or despotēs means he owns slaves. You’re not the lord of no one. You’re not the absolute ruler of no one. And you’re not the sovereign ruler over people who have an option. And you’re not the absolute ruler over people who have an option. Any denial of that aspect of the lordship of Jesus Christ is heresy.
The church – including all pastors, elders, deacons, and people – is an assembly of those who by the power of the Holy Spirit, according to 1 Corinthians 12:3, have confessed Jesus as Lord, according to Romans 10:9. That’s what a church is. Our life is not defined by our own will, our own wants, our own desires, our own ambitions, our own self-conceived purposes, dreams, hopes. As true Christians, our lives are defined as subjected to, submitted to, under the total power and control of our Lord. That is why Jesus could say repeatedly in His invitations to follow Him, “If any man will come after Me, let him” – what? – “deny himself.” It’s over. It’s over. You give up all control. “Take up your cross” – that is you give up so much it could cost you even your life – “and you follow Me.” That’s absolute lordship.
Who would really imagine that this great glorious truth most basic to the Christian gospel would be lost in the so-called church, and we would have people getting Jesus’ phone number and getting connected to Him on their terms? These are strong words and these are bold words.
But let me make the obvious connection. There’s no such thing as a kurios without a doulos. There’s no such thing as a master without a slave. You’re not the master of nobody. This is all part of slave language. One word axiomatically, self-evidently implies the other. If He is Lord, He has slaves. If Jesus is Lord, then those who call Him Lord necessarily are His slaves.
He makes the obvious comment in the form of a question. Luke 6:46 He says this, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord,’ and do not what I tell you?” That is the basic understanding of the relationship between kurios and doulos.
It was most defining, simple, world-dominating idea. The numbers go as stretching out into the tens of millions of slaves living in the world of that time around the Mediterranean. They knew exactly what a kurios/doulos relationship was; everybody knew.
“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord,’ and do not what I say? This is incongruous. This is ridiculous. If I’m Lord, you’re a slave.” That’s the second point: Christians are slaves. Christians are slaves.
Now you might have a hard time kind of buying into that for a minute here. The word doulos is used 130-plus times in the New Testament, 130-plus times. Actually, if you add sundoulos, slaves together with, and some verb forms, it gets up to 150 times. And we are called in 1 Corinthians, for example, 7:22 and 23, Christ’s doulos or douloi, plural.
Here’s the thing you need to understand. Doulos – common word – means one thing: slave. It’s all it ever means; all it’s ever meant; means nothing else. It’s not ambiguous. It means a person owned. It means a person with no rights, no freedom, no standing.
A slave – listen – could not own property, could not give testimony in a court of law as a witness in a case, could not seek reparations from a civil court of law, because he had no rights. No autonomy and no freedom. Doulos means that. There are six other Greek words used in the New Testament that can be translated “servant,” six other words. Doulos is not one of those words.
As I was working on this after I got back from over in England, I reached up on my shelf and pulled down my “Kittel tome,” the most comprehensive Greek dictionary, and I went to the article on doulos, and this is what I read in what has to be the most authoritative treatment of the word available. This is the summation of the opening paragraph.
“The meaning of doulos is so unequivocal and self-contained that it is superfluous to give examples or trace its history.” Now for Kittell to say that is a huge concession, because if they had their way, they would go on for 40 pages. Are you kidding? “The meaning is so unequivocal and self-contained that it is superfluous to gives examples or trace its history.” And then it says this: “It is distinct from servant, and defines someone who does not do what he does as a matter of choice, but is subject totally to an alien will. He is under obligation and total dependence on his” – by the way – “kurios.”
Unfortunately, though the word doulos always means this, and it appears 150 times in some form, 130 times as doulos in the New Testament, it is rarely ever translated “slave.” The only time typically your English Bible – whatever version you have – will translate it slave is when it’s referring to an actual literal slave, or when it’s referring to an inanimate object like being a slave of righteousness. When it’s used to refer to a person related to Christ they will not translate it slave, they equivocate. And you’ll find the word “servant” and the sort of nonexistent hybrid word “bondservant,” for which there is not Greek equivalent. Why?
One scholar did a survey of twenty English translations of the New Testament; only one of them always translated doulos as slave, only one, and it happened to be a somewhat obscure translation: E. J. Goodspeed, a 1930s Chicago University Greek, cutting-edge Greek scholar. None of the others did. Since then I have found out that J. Adams has a little translation of the New Testament – you may find, or have one in your study somewhere – that is faithful to the word doulos. And I also understand, although I haven’t checked out every source, that the new Holman Christian Standard Bible attempts to be faithful to the translation of the word doulos. It’s unequivocal in its meaning; all scholars agree.
I recently talked with the publisher of another new translation. We sat down and I said, “What did you do with doulos?” to which he dropped his head and looked up and said, “Servant.” I said, “Why?” We had many discussions; we had many discussions; we had many discussions. “It’s offensive.” I said, “A lot of things in the Bible are offensive. Why?”
I have up in my study, given to me by a friend who’s here, the first study Bible in the history of the world: 1560, The Geneva Study Bible, first edition, first printing, 1560: “Doulos, doulos, doulos. Servant, servant, servant, servant.” What has happened is from the very get-go, English Bible translated has shielded us from the impact of this word, and it has contributed to this necessity to battle for the issue of lordship, because it sucked out the other component: slave.
Slavery, the word doulos, plain and simple, indicates that you are owned. No freedom, under the total control of an alien will. Absolute, unqualified submission to the commands of a higher authority. Once you get that, then you understand, for example, why Jesus said this, Matthew 6:24. Here’s the Greek: “No man can be a slave to two masters.” If you translate it “servant,” it doesn’t have any impact.
“No man can serve two masters.” Are you kidding? How many bosses do you have?” If you’re talking about serving someone – if you’re a waiter, you’ll serve however many tables are there and how many people are sitting at the table. That doesn’t make any sense. But if you translate it right, “No man can be a slave to two masters,” then it makes sense, because you can’t be absolutely totally owned by two people; only by one. Here’s the difference. A servant works for someone, a slave is owned by someone.
This isn’t anything new. 1966, 1966 Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Number 9 – Number 1 I should say – Winter 1966, an article by Edwin Yamauchi – fine scholar. Yamauchi writes that by the end of the 13th century slavery disappeared from Northwestern Europe. “Slavery, therefore, was known to the 17th century Englishman at least at the beginning of that century, not as an intimate accepted institution, rather as a remote phenomenon. Slavery” – he writes – “in their minds evoked the extreme case of a captive in fetters, so they wanted to avoid the implication of cruelty inherent in that imagery and they translated it servant. But in doing so” – he said – “they have unwittingly diminished the force of the actual biblical expression.”
They did it in the first English translations, and they kept doing it, and kept doing it, and kept doing it; and they’ve just done it again. That’s a whole different deal if you’re evangelizing someone and you say to them, “I come to you in the name of Jesus Christ to tell you that He is commanding you to bow your knee to Him, confess Him as Lord, deny yourself, and become His slave.” That’s biblical evangelism.
This is what it means to follow Christ. That’s why Jesus said, “Count the cost.” Right? “You have to hate your father, hate your mother, hate your sister, hate your brother, and your own life. Take up your cross.”
You’d better think about it. You’d better think about it like a man going to build a tower. You’d better think about it like a man going to go to war. You’d better make sure you’re you can make the required sacrifice, because self-denial is very difficult, because self-love is very dominate. But once you understand this concept, the whole Old Testament – the whole, rather, New Testament opens up like a flower. Then all of a sudden when you read, “You’re not your own, you’re bought with a price,” boom, you understand it. Your body is not your own, your mind is not your own; it’s Christ’s.
Listen to the words of Peter: “False prophets, false teachers with destructive heresies denying the Master who bought them.” Any denial of the lordship of Christ is a damning thing. Any denial of slavery on my part is a horrendous misunderstanding of what Christ asks of the sinner. You were bought. Acts 20, “You were purchased with His blood.” First Peter 1:18, “You were bought, redeemed, not by gold or silver or precious stones, but by the blood of Christ.”
Put yourself in the position of the early church. They’re going to go out and evangelize. Here’s what they’re up against. They’re going to preach Christ crucified, they’re going to preach Messiah is God; and Messiah as God is killed by the Jews using the Romans as the executioner. This is a very hard message for any Jew to believe, that the religious elite, studious, versed in Scripture would prompt the execution of the incarnate God and Messiah. That’s why Paul says that this message, this preaching of the cross is to the Jews a what? A stumbling block. So you’re trying to convince Jews that God died, that the Messiah died on a cross – bizarre, ludicrous – killed by Gentiles.
Then you’re trying to convince the Gentiles that a crucified Jew is the God of the universe; and for them that is foolishness. And then you can add on top of that, you’re telling both of them that they need to become slaves of this God, and submit their entire lives to an alien will, give up all their freedoms, all their own ambitions, all their own ambitions, all their own dreams, all their own desires, and totally deny themselves and follow Him even to the death. You talk about a counterculture evangelistic strategy; you’d have to ask the question if the Lord made it as absolutely impossible as He could.
I was with Carey Hardy at a pastor’s conference back in North Carolina some months ago and having a wonderful time there, and there was a Black pastor who stood up and talked a little bit about slavery, because it was on my mind then. And he said, “You know, that’s really tough for us, you know, asking people to become slaves, because we’ve got a lot of history with that, and it’s not real good. And how do I tell them?” He asked it in such a great way. “How do I deal with that with my people?”
And what I said to him was, “Look, the Bible doesn’t commend slavery, the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery; the Bible simply borrows the metaphor. The Bible doesn’t damn the institution of slavery, but it does say, ‘Owners ought to treat their slaves right. Slaves ought to be faithful to their owners.’ And for some people that was the best of all worlds, better than being a day laborer, especially if you had a benevolent master.”
That’s not the point. Jesus didn’t come to abolish slavery. If He did, He failed. The apostles didn’t come to abolish slavery. If they did, they failed too, because it’s still around in the world. Jesus just borrowed the metaphor, because it’s so perfect. In fact, when the gospel began to move out into the world, the apostles understood it.
Peter preaching in Acts chapter 2 taking his stand with the eleven, explaining what’s going on on the Day of Pentecost. Verse 18 says, “Even on My slaves.” This is God referring to His people as slaves.
In Acts chapter 4, verse 29, when they began to be persecuted, they rose up again and preached the gospel again. It said in verse 28, “The Gentiles and the peoples of Israel just did whatever God’s hand and God’s purpose predestined to occur. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy” – not bond-servants, that’s just a hyphenated non-word – “grant that Thy slaves.”
Earlier, Peter referred to the Old Testament text where God’s people were called slaves there. Now Peter refers to himself as a slave. They got it, and they lived in a world of slaves that they understood it very, very well.
That pastor was struggling because some of his people were looking back five generations and thinking about slavery. These people weren’t looking back five generations and thinking about slavery, they were in the middle of it. You know, whatever sort of residual stigma it might have in our culture, there was no residual stigma in that culture. A slave was like a tool. You could kill your slave if you wanted to, and there were no reprisals in the course. A slave was like a tool. And to say that this one, this crucified man is asking you to become His slave is beyond absurdity. Everybody who is free wanted to stay free. Most people who were slaves wanted to be free.
In the 16th chapter of Acts and the 17th verse, Paul – you know the story in Philippi. “And there’s this slave girl,” – verse 16 – “has the spirit of divination,” – she’s demon-possessed – “and bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling.” She follows after Paul. This is just the kind of PR person you don’t need.
“Following after Paul, and she kept crying out, saying, ‘These men are douloi.’” Even the demons knew that those who belonged to Kurios, Jesus, were douloi. The knew it from the Old Testament, Peter knew it about himself, even the demons knew it. “These are the douloi of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” Of course, Paul shut her up, because that would just confuse people to have Satan supporting them.
This is how it goes. Colossians chapter 4: “Epaphras, who is one of your number,” – and here for reasons that I don’t know and couldn’t find out, the NAS all of a sudden pops up with – “a bondslave of Jesus Christ.” It’s doulos. Peter knew he was a doulos. The demons know those who belong to Christ are douloi. Paul knows Epaphras is a doulos.
In 2 Timothy 2, verse 24, now we’re talking about pastors. Here we are, guys. “And the Lord’s douloi, the Lord’s douloi must not be quarrelsome, kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That’s us. That’s how we are described. That’s how we’re defined.
In 1 Peter 2, verse 16, “Act as free men. Do not use your freedom as a covering for evil. You’ve been given freedom in Christ, freedom from sin, freedom to do what is right. “Do not use your freedom as a covering evil,” – don’t be an antinomian – “use it as douloi of God.” Again, the general statement of Peter, he recognizes he’s a slave, the demons recognize those who belong to the Lord are slaves, Paul recognizes that Epaphras is a slave, and here Peter identifies all believers as slaves of God.
I just can’t resist the book of Revelation. As I told you, there are many of these. But in the book of Revelation it says in verse 1, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His slaves, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His slave John.” What you have here is the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show to His slaves: His slaves then, His slaves now, His slaves into the future, His slaves until He comes. We’re His slaves. They were His slaves in the Old Testament, they were His slaves in the New Testament. They were His slaves in the book of Acts. They’re His slaves in the epistles. They’re His slaves in the book of Revelation on to the end. We’re all slaves, because that’s what kurios means.
And just to follow this through, chapter 7 of Revelation, and verse 3, when it comes to protecting, sealing, it says in verse 3, “Do not harm the earth or sea or tress until we have sealed the slaves of our God on their foreheads.” And then you have the 144,000. That force of Jews during the time of the tribulation, they’re going to evangelize to the Jewish nation, and probably far beyond that; they are slaves. They were slaves in the Old Testament, they were slaves in the gospels, the were slaves in the Epistles, slaves in the present, slaves in the time of the tribulation.
Chapter 10, and verse 7, you have another reaching back. “The voice of the seventh angel, and he’s about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as He preached to His” – and here it’s servants; sometimes bondslaves, sometimes bond-servants, sometimes servants. Who knows why they move around with all those words. It’s doulos, douloi. “He preached to His servants the prophets.” Preachers are slaves. It’s not servants, it’s slaves. Servants work, take their money, and go home. Slaves are owned. Servants work for whoever they choose to, slaves are bought and work only for their master.
And it goes on like that. Chapter 19 of Revelation tells us that one day in the future “the Lord is going to avenge the blood” – verse 2 – “of His douloi.” He’s going to avenge the blood of His douloi.
Verse 5: “A voice came from the throne.” Now you’re in heaven, folks. Now you’re in heaven. And heaven is saying “Give praise to our God, all you His douloi.” You’re going to be a slave, my friend, when you get to heaven, and you’re going to be a perfect slave when you get to heaven. But you’re going to be a slave.
You think that’s stretching, go to verse 3 of chapter 22. Let’s go to heaven for sure. There’s the throne of God, verse 3, “the throne of the Lamb, and His slaves shall serve Him.” You’re going to be a slave in heaven.
Verse 6: “He said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true.’ The Lord, the God of the spirit of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His slaves the things which must shortly take place.” You never stop being a slave, and He never stops being Lord. That’s why you can identify yourself like this.
Romans 1:1, “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus.” Oh, it says bond-servant here, but it’s slave. Or Philippians 1:1, “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.” Or James, “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Or Peter, 2 Peter 1, “Simon Peter, a slave.” Or Jude, “Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ.” And then Revelation 1:1, “John, a slave.”
Now you think there might be a stigma with that because of five generations back? How do you think that flew in a slave world? This is so missing from Christian vocabulary. But once you get it, then all of a sudden when the Bible says you were chosen, you say, “Wait a minute. Like when a master went into the slave market and chose a slave?”
Yeah. And then you were bought like when the master paid the price for the slave, and then you were owned, and then you were subjected, and then you were dependent, and then you were disciplined, and then you were called to account, and then you were evaluated; but you were also protected, and provided for, and rewarded. That’s all slave talk. Changes the whole paradigm of one’s relationship to Jesus Christ. The gospel is a call to slavery, and you just have to decide whether you would rather be a slave to Jesus Christ or the devil.
That was the introduction; let’s go back to the text. If you think I’m kidding, that’s the sad part. If you go back to the 15th chapter of John this what I love, this is what I love. We’re still talking about slaves here. Go back to verse 10: “Keep My commandments.” Go back to verse 12: “This is My commandment.” Verse 14: “You do what I command.” It’s all about commanding, and that’s slave talk. Verse 17: “This I command you.”
The fundamental issue in slavery is obedience, submission. But it doesn’t end there. “I don’t just call you slaves, I now call you” – what? – “friends. I call you friends.”
You know, that was really rare, from all that I could read. But that’s what Paul asked Philemon to do when Onesimus went back, to embrace him as a friend and brother. Remember that, verses 15 to 18? It was rare, but it happened, and it happened in the church. But here’s the distinction: “I don’t any longer just call you slaves.” Here’s why: because a slave doesn’t know what his master’s doing, you know. “Go over there and do that, and don’t ask me why.” Right? Right? You don’t owe the slave any information. Point and shoot, that’s it. “Do what I tell you.”
But among the slaves there would be slaves who became privy to the master’s intentions, to the master’s motivation. They got on the inside, they got to know his heart, and they needed to know why he did what he did; and he needed to tell somebody that, and there were slaves that became friends. And the distinction was you were a friend when you knew why he was doing what he was doing. “I’ve called you friends,” – why? – “for all things that I have heard from My Father I’ve made known to you.” That’s what takes you from the hoi polloi to the intimate circle.
Caesar an illustration. Caesar was the lord over everybody, but there were people in the life of Caesar who were close to him, who were confidants of him, who necessarily had to have a fuller explanation for the things that were in the heart of their leader in order for them to do their job well. And there were men who were drawn to intimate affection and friendship because they held things in common, because they were attracted to each other, because they needed each other’s wisdom. Caesar was always Caesar, but there were among those over whom he had absolute authority, those who also knew his intimate motives. This is just magnificent.
Obedience does not make you Jesus’ friend, obedience proves you are His friend, because you can’t be obedient unless you know His intensions. We are slaves, no question. But we are slaves who have become the most intimate friends, because He’s told us everything.
First Corinthians 2:16, “You have the mind of Christ.” I know how He thinks. I know what He wants me to do, but I know why He wants me to do it; I know. Ask me what His motives are, I will tell you. All have been revealed.
The lordship controversy with its silly notions of Christ as Savior and not Lord, with the silly kind of “come to Christ now and consecrate later” idea I think would have been a far less acceptable, far less influential. I think it would have faced insurmountable obstacles if this had been translated correctly, and it’s the only issue that I know of in Scripture like this.
Consider what this truth would mean for the prosperity gospel: “Pssst, gone, gone.” It disappears in a cloud of smoke. Or the market-driven philosophy that appeals to people at the level of their fallenness and promises to give them what they lust for in their unredeemed condition, or the “your best life now.” Or the postmodern concept of truth, which means you get to define it the way you want; or the Jesus that’s your personal Jesus. They’re just absolutely obliterated by the kurios doulos relationship.
He is Master; I am His slave. But I’m not just a slave, I am a friend, and He’s a perfect Master: perfectly wise, perfectly compassionate, perfectly kind; perfectly, profoundly inexplicably, endlessly generous. But He is my Master. He alone provides all I need. He is my only protector. You understand that?
In the spiritual realm I only have one protector; my Lord is my protector. I have only one provider; my God supplies all my needs. Christ is my protector in that no one can lay any charge to the elect; it is Christ that justifies. He’s my Great High Priest who intercedes for me. His is my discipliner. Every branch He prunes and purges. Every son He scourges. He is my rewarder. And one day – think of it – one day I will become a joint heir with Christ and I will take my place seated with Him on His throne. I can deal with a Master like this.
You say, “I’m struggling a little bit. I don’t know about this.” Turn to Philippians 2. I need to stop, but I’m not going to stop quite yet. Philippians 2. If you’re feeling this is beneath you, get ready; you’re about to be smitten.
Verse 5: “Have this” – well, verse 3. Let’s go back. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard, let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” That’s slave attitude. I promise you, men, you’re going to see this everywhere you look in the New Testament now.
“Don’t look on your own interest, on the interest of others. Have this attitude in yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, didn’t treat quality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave.” Please, “slave.” Every time I read “bondservant.” Aye yai yai. Slave. So this is beneath you, you think, huh?
He became a slave. How far down did He go? “In the likeness of man, humbled Himself, becoming” – what’s the next word? – “obedient” – that’s what slaves do – “all the way to the point of death, even death on a cross.” He – can I say it? – took up His cross and followed. He denied himself. He perfectly obeyed the will of the Father. What did He say? “I only do what the Father tells Me to do. I only do what the Father shows Me to do. I only do what the Father does. I only do the will of the Father.”
Oh, by the way, verse 9: “Therefore, God” – what? – “highly exalted Him, and gave Him a name, bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” What is that name? Lord. Lord. “And at that name which belongs to Jesus,” – the name Lord – “every knee should bow of those who are in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and every tongue to confess that Jesus Christ is” – what? – “Lord.”
You say, “Well, I’m confused. I thought we were sons.” Oh, come on, don’t mix your metaphors. Sure we’re sons. We’re also branches. We’re also a bride. But you don’t mix all the metaphors. Slavery’s talking about one thing; and I’ll tell you, the dominant component in the New Testament is slave talk.
I need to just close on one other text. It’s 17 of Luke, verse 7: “Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he’s come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’?” Nobody is going to say that, because that’s what slaves are supposed to do. You don’t say, “Oh, hey, thank you so much. Come in and eat.” No.
“Will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat’ – sure, that’s what slaves do, they serve their master – ‘and then properly clothe yourself, clean up, and serve me until I’ve eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? He doesn’t thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too,” – I love this – “when you do all the things which are commanded you, say this,” – what does it say? – ‘We are unworthy slaves; we’ve done only that which we ought to have done.’”
Our Father, we thank You for a wonderful time in Your Word time, a great time in worship. We bless, we bless You for the love that reached down and bought us out of the slave market of sin, made us no longer slaves of sin but slaves of righteousness, slaves of the one who personifies righteousness. We have been captured, we have been enslaved, but our capture is a despot of love and mercy, who makes us friends, and then makes us sons, and then makes us heirs – sweet Master, sweet slavery. Teach us, Lord, to observe all things that You have commanded us. To Your glory we ask these things. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.