Doulos, What Does It Mean? – Part 1
Doulos, it is a strange sounding word, and no, I didn’t make it up. So, what does it mean? I don’t know, it’s all Greek to me, but seriously…it is Greek. Doulos is a Greek word that is used many times in the New Testament. In fact, it is used 125 times and is translated; 118 times as Servant, 6 times as Bond, and 1 time as Bondman. The Greek dictionary defines Doulos as:
- a slave, bondman, man of servile condition
- a slave
- , one who gives himself up to another’s will those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing His cause among men
- devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests
- a servant, attendant
Historically speaking, during the New Testament times, a bondman or bondservant was someone who had been an indentured slave. They had owed a debt and were that person’s servant until the debt was paid. Notice that I said had been. After the debt was paid, sometimes the servant enjoyed their life as a servant and voluntarily stayed on as that person’s slave for life. At that point, the owner would put the servant’s earlobe against the doorpost and drive a spike through it, identifying that person as their Doulos. So, a Doulos is a slave for life, by choice.
This explains why the writers of the New Testament used that word so often, it defines just what a Christ follower should be. Even a demon possessed slave girl used this word to define Paul and his disciples in Acts 16:16-17 “16 It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.”
Paul used it repeatedly, as in Romans 1:1 “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,”. And again in 2 Corinthians 4:5 “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. “. Notice in this verse he said, “your bond-servant for Jesus’ sake.” In serving Christ, we must serve each other. Remember, Christian means Christ-like. We are called to be disciples and a disciple is someone who imitates the one they are following. Jesus was the perfect example of a servant. Philippians 2:7-8 “7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
Paul also used it to illustrate why he doesn’t seek to please men in Galatians 1:10 “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”
He used it in Philippians 1:1 “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:” again Paul used Doulos to explain what Christ did for us by leaving the glory of heaven and coming to earth to die on a cross in Philippians 2:5-11 “5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Paul referred to himself and his companions in the faith as bondservants, Colossians 1:7 “just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf,” also in Colossians 4:7 “As to all my affairs, Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord, will bring you information.” And in Titus 1:1 “Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness,”
He even gives instructions on how a Doulos should act in 2 Timothy 2:24-25 “24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,”.
Peter refers to himself as a Doulos in 2 Peter 1:1 “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:” John also refers to himself as a Doulos in Revelation 1:1 “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John,”
We’ll conclude our look at the word Doulos in the next installment. See you then.
Doulos, What Does It Mean? – Part 2
Well, here it is, I have saved the best for last, or at least as far as I’m concerned. Out of all of these passages and many others, my two favorites are James 1:1 “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.” And Jude 1:1 “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ:” What makes these my favorites? I’m glad you asked. James and Jude are believed to be the half-brothers of Jesus. When we read through the Gospel accounts, we see that, during His life, Jesus’ earthly brothers didn’t believe in Him, and frankly didn’t want to have anything to do with Him. John 7:1-5 “1After this, Jesus traveled around Galilee. He wanted to stay out of Judea, where the Jewish leaders were plotting his death. 2 But soon it was time for the Jewish Festival of Shelters, 3 and Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! 4 You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!’ 5 For even his brothers didn’t believe in him.” But, in all honesty, wouldn’t we do the same thing? I mean, think about it. If you had siblings, there were times in your life that you thought, “Mom and dad think they don’t do anything wrong.” And, you may even believe that still, but imagine being the siblings of the Christ…God in the flesh…He literally never did anything wrong. So, how do you think that made His siblings feel? But, the beautiful thing is that after His resurrection, they believed and they didn’t stop there. Both James and Jude considered themselves to be bond-servants, voluntary servants for life, of Jesus Christ. Notice that Jude even says, “Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James”. He mentions that he is the brother of James, but doesn’t even feel worthy to be called the brother of Jesus, the Christ. What a transformation. But, you see, that’s what Christ does in our lives, He transforms us to be more like Him.
So, now that we know what a Doulos is, what do we do with this information? Knowing what it means is one thing, but doing something about it is another. James 1:22-25 “22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.” We can’t stop at knowledge, we must strive to be a bondservant of Christ. So, how do we do this, as we saw in 2 Timothy 2:24-45, we can’t be quarrelsome, but we must be kind to everyone. We also need to be able to teach. You might be thinking, “I’m not a teacher, that’s definitely not my gift,” and you may be right, but you can still share what you know. I love to cook, it is one of my passions. If someone gets me talking about food and cooking, I get excited. We love to talk about what we are passionate about, so the first step is to become passionate about Christ. If you aren’t there yet, start by reading the Gospels and seeing what Jesus did for you. In fact, personalize it when you read it. For instance, when you read John 3:16, everywhere it says “the world” or “Who Ever” insert your name…He did it for you. One of my favorite verses is John 21:25. After twenty-one chapters of talking about all that Jesus did for us, he ends the book with this verse, “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” Let that sink in for a minute. Look at the room you are in and think about just how many books it would take to fill that room. Just for fun, I did the math. My office is 10’X12’ with 8’ ceilings and taking the average mass of a book, which is 108 in2, I found that it would take fifteen thousand three hundred and sixty books to fill this little room. That verse said that the world couldn’t contain the books that would be written. That’s how much God loves us.
The next one is the tough one, we must be patient when wronged…ouch! I don’t know about you, but I tend to want to get even, so I need to keep that in check. And, we need to gently correct those who are in opposition, or another translation says, those who oppose the truth. Notice it says, gently. Some of us are ready to correct everyone, but we must do it gently because, as this scripture says, that way we might be able to lead them into the truth. Also in Proverbs 15:1 we read, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”
So, in conclusion, we must be a doer, not just a hearer. Many people say, “Knowledge is everything”. The truth is Knowledge is nothing if you do nothing with it. So, let’s get off our collective butts and start doing. Let’s take this information and apply it to our lives. Let’s all strive to be bondservants for Christ, and for each other. 1 Corinthians 13:13, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”