Why are we afraid of the word “slave”? The common Greek word for a slave (doulos, pronounced DOO loss) was used over 120 times in the New Testament, but many English translations never say “slave” even once. Instead, the more pleasant-sounding word “servant” is used. Perhaps we avoid the term "slave" because it brings up unpleasant memories in history--bondage, loss of freedom, inhumanity.
But if slaves in recent centuries were treated shamefully, how was it for slaves in the first century? Here's the picture: Roman slavery was at its worst at the birth of Christ. Masters had the right to torture or kill their slaves. As Aristotle had put it, a slave was only a “tool that is alive.” Not until the second century did the emperor Hadrian require the masters to get permission from the court before killing a slave. Not until the fourth century did the emperor Constantine outlaw the practice completely. Even Constantine, however, said it was all right if a slave died accidentally as the result of a good flogging!
Personal freedom was the prized possession of the Greeks. They so valued the right to choose to live as they pleased that they felt only contempt and revulsion for the position of a slave. The slave was one who:
a. Had lost his personal rights
b. Was owned by someone else
c. Was compelled to do the will of his master
d. Was totally dependent on his master to supply his needs.
Consider then, that God's own Son emptied himself and took on the form of a “slave” (Phil 2:7). Consider that Paul was proud to call himself a “slave” of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:1). Consider that if Jesus is really your Lord, then you are really his “slave.”
Our picture of a slave, then, is a servant bound in chains—the chains of love.