Doulos: Free to serve

Galatians-5-13Taken from Galatians 5:13 in the New Living Translation, the Verse of the Day for May 22, 2015 highlights the paradox between freedom and servitude:

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

This verse and other related scriptures bring to mind the idea of the servant or slave who has been set free. In the early 70s or thereabout, I was introduced to the Greek term “doulos”, translated servant or more literally “bondslave,” one of the most misunderstood concepts found in the Scriptures. The portrayal of the servant or slave, as revealed in the Bible has particular significance to me for a number of reasons, aside from my being a descendant of slaves brought from Africa to America.

In 1975 I produced an article “Doulos: A Different View of the Slave.” In 1978 while completing my Master’s thesis, I explored the subject in light of Paul’s literary style in the Church Epistles. I went on to complete my Ph.D. in 1986 with a dissertation entitled Portrait of the Bondslave in the Bible: Slavery and Freedom in the Works of Four Afro-American Poets. Four years ago, I posted a blog at “Dr. J’s Apothecary Shoppe” that I am revising and re-posting in celebration of the original article published 40 years ago.

Being a doulos involves a deep commitment to one’s Lord and Master.

The term doulos has become an intricate part of my life since I first learned of the concept of the “bond servant” or “bond slave” back in the early 70s. Last year I celebrated the 35th anniversary of my publishing an article entitled “Doulos: A Different View of a Slave.” As used in the Bible, doulos is a metaphor that I have personalized and internalized. I explored the concept in Master’s thesis which looked at the literary style of Paul in the Church Epistles, where he opens the Book of Romans with his “calling card”: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle (note the order).”  In my Ph.D. dissertation I looked at the metaphor of the “servant” or “bond slave” in the Bible and in the works of four African American poets who were influenced by the Bible. Beyond that, the concept is deeply embedded into my soul, in that it has become the essence of who I am. I attempt to express that essence in this poem:

More Than Metaphor

Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle,

separated to the gospel of God

Romans 1:1

To capture my essence I strive to find a word,

Phrase, image or mind picture to bring clarity,

To express my deep yearning for intimacy.

Like Paul, my calling card reads: “servant of the Lord.”

Each fiber of my being and each emotion

Pulsates with lifeblood flowing from a servant’s heart.

As I endeavor to learn and live to impart

The joy of serving with pure-hearted devotion,

I pledge to work in voluntary servitude,

As I fix my eyes, looking unto my Lord’s hands,

To heed His Word and to do more than He commands,

To serve with love from a heart filled with gratitude.

Beyond a single concept, more than metaphor

Is this branded bondslave, who embodies “the more.

The basin and towel are symbolic of the essence of servanthood as demonstrated by the Lord Jesus Christ in John 13.

In discussing this topic of the servant or bond slave, an image almost immediately comes to mind: a basin and a towel, representative of one of my favorite passages regarding the ministry of Jesus Christ, who revealed so clearly the heart of a bond servant when he washed the disciples’ feet in the account from John 13. This very moving excerpt inspired another related poem:

Let Me Wash Your Feet

            John 13:4-5, 19

As Jesus put off his garments and wrapped a towel

around himself,

So I lay aside my pride with nothing to hide and

expose myself.

As a humble servant I long to wash your feet.

You could yourself

Perform this deed of loving service, but let me

Serve you myself.

To allow me to wash your feet is to bless me,

as Christ himself

Blessed the Twelve before he departed from this earth.

You have yourself

The key to the door of blessing for you and me:

As Jesus took

Upon himself

The servant’s form

That I myself

Might freely give

To you yourself,

So I ask you

As Christ himself

Still asks of me,

So I ask you to

Let me to wash your feet.

One of the ancient practices associated with bond servants in the Bible is the year of the Jubilee, the Old Testament practice whereby the 50th year was a special sabbatical period when Hebrew slaves were released from their obligation of servitude, and they were free to leave their masters and go out on their own. These servants could by their freedom of will choose to serve their masters for the rest of their lives in light of the close relationship they had established. On my 50th birthday, I wrote “This Year of My Jubilee” which alludes to this Old Testament practice:

This Year of My Jubilee

Exodus 21:1-6

Leviticus 25:1-17 

 

I stand alone, clothed only with the wind

At the end of my seventh sabbath year.

Gathering of blessings now flow through my mind

As the shofar’s call resounds in my ear

To proclaim this year of my jubilee.

I reflect upon the wonders of this grace

Wherein I stand, a bondslave now made free.

In this golden moment as I embrace

The truth and pledge to love as you command,

Pierce my ear–place your brand upon my soul.

Enlighten me so I may understand

That to run to serve is life’s highest goal.

Unfold before me pleasures of your ways

And seal my vows to serve you all my days.

Once more Michael Card has the perfect song entitled “Jubilee” to accompany this poem.

I will conclude this entry by posting a PDF of the original article “Doulos: A Different View of a Slave” which was first published in 1975. Accompanying the article is a letter to  Apostle Thamo Naidoo to whom I sent the original article along with two of the poems posted above: “More Than Metaphor” and “This Year of My Jubilee.” I am grateful to my beloved Brother Lester Wiley Carver, who encouraged me to post the article. I trust that it will minister to all who read it. I welcome any comments or thoughts that this post might have inspired.

Before reading the article, listen to a powerful song written and performed by Dean Ellenwood, who captures the depth of commitment embodied in the individual called of God to be a  bondslave, a true Doulos. 

Doulos

Doulos: A Different View of a Slave

When a believer accepts Jesus Christ as Lord, that individual assumes the position of a “servant” or “bondslave”–a doulos

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6 Responses to “Doulos: Free to serve”

  1. churchmouse Says:

    Thank you for this comprehensive article on slavery in the Bible — much appreciated, including the article from 1975.

  2. Helene G. Smith Says:

    What a powerful and beautiful message. The music, the video poems and the Word moved me to tears. This ministered to my heart this morning. Rather – this was Christ ministring to my heart as no one else can. All praise and glory to Him and. Thank you –

    • Dr. J Says:

      Helene,

      Thank you so much for your kind expression of gratitude for the blog entry on doulos. As you can see, the subject is so important to me. I am blessed beyond measure by your comments.

      Dr. J

  3. Dessie M. Sanders Says:

    Good day, Dr. Johnson. I am ABD for the Ph.D. in Literature at UT Dallas. I find your dissertation highly insightful, since I am doing research of how Black female characters are portrayed as bond – servants in American literature.

    -Dessie M. Sanders

    • Dr. J Says:

      Dr. Dessie-to-be,

      Thanks for stopping by Dr. J’s Apothecary Shoppe and taking the time to leave a note. I appreciate so much your gracious comments. Best regards and blessings for success, as you complete your journey.

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