In the book of Philippians, Paul introduces himself as a “doulos” of Christ Jesus. “δοῦλος” (doulos), often translated as “servant” or “slave”, speaks to the heart of Christian discipleship. 

In the Roman Empire, a doulos was indeed a slave, bound to their master’s service. They existed entirely for their master’s benefit. Yet, here’s where it becomes deeply profound.

By identifying himself as a doulos, Paul conveys that he has willingly dedicated himself to Christ, committing his life to serve and honour Him. It’s a relationship not driven by duty, but by fervent devotion and love.

Philippians 2:5-7 gently reminds us: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant (doulos), being born in the likeness of men.”  

This passage tells us that Jesus became a doulos for our sake. He set aside His divine privileges to serve, suffer, and ultimately provide a path to salvation for humanity. This act is the essence of humility and love.

Embracing Servanthood

Paul’s acceptance of his identity as a doulos of Christ beckons us towards a life of servanthood. Embracing servanthood doesn’t mean devaluing oneself, rather it is a discovery of our genuine worth in serving others. 

In your daily routines, actively seek opportunities to serve, be it at home, within your local community, or at church. Remember, in God’s realm, those who serve are esteemed the highest.

Humble Leadership

Jesus was the epitome of humility. Therefore, our leadership in any capacity—whether within family, work, or ministry—ought to be marked by humility. To lead as a doulos is to place the needs and well-being of others before one’s own benefit.

Final words

In dedicating ourselves to service ( just as Paul did, and even more so Jesus) we begin to experience steadfast dedication, transformative humility and selfless action. Herein lies the power of the Gospel.

How can we deeply internalize the essence of “doulos” on our faith journey?

Questions For Further Discussion

1.    How does Paul’s self-identification as a “doulos” of Christ in Philippians challenge our contemporary understanding of leadership, authority, and service in the Christian community?

2.    In what ways does the concept of “doulos” in Philippians invite you to reframe your personal relationships, commitments, and priorities in your daily walk with Christ?

3.    Reflecting on Jesus’ own embodiment of “doulos” as described in Philippians 2:5-7, how might we be called to demonstrate similar humility and servanthood in our interactions with others, both within and outside the church?

Samuel Thambusamy is a PhD candidate with the Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life.