After Gabriel announced to Mary that she would become the mother of God’s Son, she responded with joyful submission: “‘I am the Lord’s slave,’ said Mary. ‘May it be done to me according to your word’” (Luke 1:38). Certainly Mary had many unanswered questions at this point, but her trust in God was quite evident.
The word slave commands our attention. Slavery was a part of that culture, but we must not assume that use of the term implies harsh or inappropriate treatment. First, Mary was “the Lord’s slave.” God always treats people fairly and rightly (see Deut. 32:4). While He expects them to serve Him, it is in serving Him they find true fulfillment and purpose in life. Second, the Greek word translated slave means “handmaid” (as it is rendered in the KJV) and “female slave, voluntary or involuntary.” Mary’s service clearly was voluntary; she had a willing and even joyful attitude.
The feminine noun here translated slave also is used in two other places in the New Testament: Luke 1:48, where Mary again uses the word to refer to herself, and Acts 2:18, where, in delivering the inaugural sermon of the early church, Peter quoted Joel 2:29. In its masculine form, the word appears a total of 124 times. Appearances occur in verses such as Luke 2:29; John 8:34-35; Romans 1:1; Philemon 16, where the word is used twice in the same verse; and Revelation 1:1, where it again is used twice in one verse.
In considering the role of a slave or servant of the Lord, we do well to remember the guidelines God gave His people in Deuteronomy 15:12-18 regarding the treatment of slaves. A Hebrew slave was to serve for six years and was then to be set free in the seventh year. But if the slave wanted to stay, he or she could: “But if your slave says to you, ‘I don’t want to leave you,’ because he loves you and your family, and is well off with you, take a awl and pierce through his ear into the door, and he will become your slave for life. Also treat your female slave the same way” (vv. 16-17). When one understands the love and character of God, the servant of God knows he or she wants to serve God forever!
New Testament passages that reflect God’s expectations of masters regarding their slaves, and thus reflect God’s own character, include Ephesians 6:7-9 and Colossians 4:1.
Copyright © 2016 B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this article are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.