Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38, N.K.J.V.)
Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she was the woman chosen by God to bring the Messiah into the world was beyond shocking. It was absurd. It was unthinkable. It was impossible. Mary was a virgin, and virgins don’t conceive and give birth to children. Logic dictated that she look at Gabriel and say, “Have you lost your mind?”
To Mary’s credit, though, that wasn’t her response. Oh, sure, she did ask the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). But asking how something will happen is not the same thing as denying that it will happen. Her heartfelt response was, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
The Greek word translated in the New King James translation as “maidservant” is doule. It is the feminine version of the Greek word doulos. A doulos/doule was a slave. Certain translations of doule — “handmaid” (K.J.V.), “servant” (N.I.V., N.L.T., N.R.S.V., E.S.V.) — downplay the crudeness of the word and make the reading more palatable to the reader. Unfortunately, softening up the translation also robs the word of its purest imagery. Both doule and doulos come from the Greek word deo, which means “to bind.” This explains why the Holman Christian Standard translation goes with the word “slave” in its translation of Luke 1:38 and the New American Standard Version goes with “bondslave.”
By calling herself a “slave” of the Lord, Mary joined an impressive group from the New Testament. Paul called himself a doulos of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Titus 1:1). Peter did the same (2 Peter 1:1). So did James (James 1:1) and Jude (Jude v.1). Timothy is also called a doulos of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:1).
Actually, the fact is that every Christian should see himself or herself as a slave of Jesus. As Paul describes the situation in Romans 6:15-23, the lost person is a slave (doulos) of sin until he or she believes in Jesus as Savior and thus becomes a slave (doulos) of Christ and righteousness. The Christian being a slave to Jesus also ties directly into the idea of the Christian being bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1).
Needless to say, the role of a slave is not one that equates with pride, arrogance, haughtiness, or ego. It doesn’t equate with self-will or independence, either. To the contrary, it speaks of submission and brokenness. The only agenda a slave has is the agenda of the master. The only work a slave does is work sanctioned by the master. The only purchases a slave makes are purchases approved by the master. Summing it up, the job of a slave is to do the bidding of the master. God didn’t need Mary to submit an alternate plan, one that made more sense to her. He just needed her to carry out the plan He was ordering.
You’ve probably heard a preacher make reference to those famous words from Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21, 23). That’s the praise that every Christian wants to hear from Jesus in the afterlife. Well, guess which Greek word is used for that word “servant.” You got it, it’s our word doulos.
So, Christian, if you want to hear Jesus praise you in the afterlife, you must play the role of slave to Him in this life. This is the role that Mary, Paul, Peter, James, Jude, Timothy, and all the other New Testament believers played, and it’s the one that you and I are called to play today. Of course, I don’t have to tell you that when you stop chasing your wants, desires, dreams, goals, and aspirations and start acting like Christ’s slave, it will change your life. You might lose some friends. You might take a hit financially. You might slide down the social ladder a bit. You might even get labeled a religious fanatic. It will all be worth it, though, when you at last hear Jesus say to you, “Well done, good and faithful slave.” And you can rest assured that He is a Master who rewards His slaves handsomely.