Dartmouth, Yale and Harvard, elitist colleges on the East coast of America, are constantly vying with each other in various competitive events. Recently my granddaughter, who attends Dartmouth, excelled in an annual towing event by beating Yale in sculling (rowing). She is the coxswain (captain), the stroke who sets the rhythm for the rowers or oars as they race to the finish line.

The beginning sentence in seven New Testament books, Romans through Revelations, contains the word “bond-servant.” Bond means “firmly attached” while the Greek word for servant is huperetes, “under rower,” a loathsome term to the upper crust Corinthians. Corinth was the most sophisticated and wealthy of the Greek cities. Much like Yale and Harvard, it had numerous merchant vessels and a large fleet of war ships, all based on the design called, triremes – galley slave ships. Their propulsion was accomplished by three tiers of slave rowers, each tier set above the other with slaves chained to their benches. The top oars were 32 feet long, while the bottom tier oars were 16 feet long.

Slaves occupying the lowest tier were called “huperetes.” They had the least value and were considered worthless. They were chained to their benches until death took them. Their only purpose in life was to obey the command of the captain through the drumbeat set by the coxswain of the galley ship. His cadence determined the speed of the ship.

Five aspects of our Christian servitude can be gleaned from the Bible’s view of “bond-servant”: 

  1. The under rowers – us – had to row to the drumbeat set by the Captain – Jesus. 150 oars rowing in perfect cadence; perfect harmony.
  2. The bottom oars or sweeps were shortest; they had to synchronize with the other rowers. If one rower was out of perfect synch then other rowers were disrupted, causing the ship to lose speed, endangering the ship.
  3. They had to trust the captain. They had no idea where they were going. Their job was to row not navigate. Theirs was a work of obedience, trust and faith.
  4. Theirs was a life of total commitment. They weren’t concerned about the affairs of the world.
  5. They had no honour in themselves – only in satisfying the desires of the captain. Paul and other writers use of the term “bond-servant” describes the depth of commitment they had to the Lord – Captain.

An under rower – “…I’m not my own. I belong to Jesus.”

An under rower – “…for in Him we live and move and have our being.”

By Gordon Kler