Christians have always understood the paradox: in the service of God is perfect freedom. John MacArthur’s sermon and promo for his book Slave doesn’t seem to appreciate subtleties like paradox. He recognizes that the δοῦλος – κύριος metaphor is a metaphor; but he doesn’t seem to recognize that it is an inadequate ultimately judged inadequate by Jesus and Paul.
A twenty-minute check in the library confirmed that MacArthurs conclusions after three years of intensive study are basically valid–on the literal level and with one important exception.
Two standard Greek reference sources, Kittle’s famous Theological Dictionary and Bauer’s lexicon as edited by Danker in the third edition. Both agree that δοῦλος basically means “slave.” Both of these sources also agree that in Greek culture the whole idea of slavery was degrading, whereas in the middle eastern world of great empires, the kings ministers were called “slaves” or “servants.” In that context, it was considered an honor to be the δοῦλος of a great king.
This concept was transferred in the Hebrew Bible to the privileged servants of the Lord: Abraham, Moses and the prophets. The Lord keeps his servants in a special relationship to himself:
Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? (Numbers 12:6-8)
Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).
It is in this sense that Paul applies the term δοῦλος to himself and other members of the apostolic team; other Christians he normally calls brothers and sisters. The expression paradoxically implies humility and service on one hand, but honor and authority on the other hand.
Jesus and Paul both recognize the inadequacy of the expression δοῦλος to convey our relationship with God. Jesus said,
I no longer call you servants . . . Instead, I have called you my friends (John 15:15).
In the epistle to the Galatians, Paul compares the relationship slaves to heirs. The whole point of Galatians is to reject the imagery of slavery in favor of the mature and free relationship that adult children have with their father. Galatians is the magna charta of Christian liberty and the manifesto of the Reformation.
Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts . . . so you are no longer a slave, but a son or daughter (Galatians 4:6)
The Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother . . . we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman (Galatians 4:26,31).