What does it mean to be a slave? In our culture today, the term slave is so stigmatized that its hard to say much of anything about it. It’s even harder to imagine why a 1st century Jew would say it about himself – as the slave of his half-brother. Jude’s letter to the churches, most likely in Syria, opens the same way that many of Paul’s and Peter’s letters do: Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ.
Bondservant, I think, is what many translations have decided on rather than “slave” because of our cultural connotations with the word slave. However, they might have done better to leave it as it was. Jude, having first attempted, along with his family, to reclaim Jesus and hide him away as a lunatic, eventually was ‘converted’. Whether it was during his experiences along with James, Jesus’ other half-brother, as a missionary, or some other time, we’ll never know. But what we do know is that the one who tried to put his brother away, now sees himself as not a brother first, but a slave.
An obedient servant. And why is this significant? In almost every other religion, anyone with even the faintest of blood ties to the founder tries to take power, to gain control, to wield the power authoritatively, etc. But Jude calls himself, as does Peter, as does Paul, a slave. An obedient servant. Nothing more, nothing less.
As Paul puts it, in Christ’s Kingdom, all our roles are changed and so should our expectations about them. To us, who come from this world, down seems up, right seems left, you give up your life to find it. All of this seems backwards. But if that is indeed true, that the one who wishes to be the leader must first be the servant of all, then it makes sense that:
Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ.
What does this mean? It means that a bondservant is interested only in his master’s interests, not his own. It means that a bondservant undertakes many and even dangerous missions for the sake of his master, at no thought to his own welfare or personal safety. It means that a bondservant leaves it to his master to take care of his future, his well being, and his family. It means that a bondservant conditions his mind, his thinking, his behavior, to both reflect and be filled with his master. It means to be, if your master is Christ, Christian.
But we do not serve an overlord, or a wicked despot, though Jude calls him ‘master’ – in Greek, ‘despot’. We serve one who serves:
Phil. 2:7: But made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men…
As we rise, as we go about our business; if we have been claimed by Christ, we should take a moment, and pause, and think on what it means that we have been called, purchased, and serve the living Christ. We should think on what it means to be a Bondservant.