1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God
2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures,
3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh,
4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
If I asked you right now “Who are you?”, you would probably answer with your name, family relationships, occupation, and perhaps even any affiliations you had with professional organizations. If you had been knighted by the Queen of England, you might include “OBE” (“Order of the British Empire”) after your name. If you were writing for a medical journal, perhaps “MD” or “PhD” would follow your name, as well as any distinguished fellowships you held. These kinds of things help to identify us and they establish our credentials – not to mention giving us an opportunity to boast a little bit. Even pastors aren’t immune to it, and you will often see Christian writers identifying themselves as “Bishop” or “Dr.” The bottom line is that we often identify ourselves to others through our achievements, or though our association with others who have great achievments. That identification becomes part of how we define ourselves, how we see ourselves in relation to the world and other people. We crave uniqueness and separateness, and yet at the same time we crave acceptance and togetherness. It’s a strange dichotomy, but it is part of human behavior.
But what about Paul, once known as Saul of Tarsis? Look at how he identifies himself at the beginning of his many epistles. I won’t list them all here, but most often he starts his letters with something like “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” (2 Timothy 1:1) After reading Paul’s letters and the account of his early ministry written by Luke in the Book of Acts, we can have little doubt about Paul’s authority as an apostle and evangelist. Even if he had NOT identified himself as “an apostle,” we would have called him such, simply on the authority of his words and his teaching.
What strikes me, though, is that Paul also identifies himself another way. In the first verses of his letters to the Romans, the Philippians, and to Titus, Paul calls himself (and also Timothy) a “bondservant” of Jesus Christ or of God. The Greek word Paul uses is “doulos,” which can mean “slave” or “bondservant” or, to use a medieval term, “serf.” When Paul does use such a term, he always mentions it BEFORE identifying himself as anything else. Here in these verses from Romans, he begins “Paulos doulos” – i.e. “Paul slave.”
For someone who is about to try instructing a group of believers in proper doctrine, introducing yourself as a slave may seem a curious thing to do. However, just like any of us, Paul also takes care to point out just WHO he is a slave to: Jesus Christ. In fact, the next three verses tell us briefly about Christ, the “master” of this “slave.” By establishing who Christ is, Paul is also identifying himself. It is akin to saying “I am Joseph, viceroy to the Pharaoh of Egypt, who is master of the Lower and Upper Nile, conqueror of Thebes and Alexandria, founder of Cairo, and direct descendant of Khufu who built the great pyramid.” It is like identifying yourself as “Karen, secretary to the President, who is Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Unites States.” Paul is essentially saying “I am a slave, but look at who my Master is!”
Psalms 84:10 (NIV)
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
By identifying himself as a “bondservant” or “slave” of God and Christ, Paul is telling us two things:
1) He is called and bound by God to do God’s will.
2) He is happy to be a slave to God and to be doing His will.
Are you and I bound to God’s will like that? Are we slaves to God? Are we called to do His will, and so we act according to His commandments, His judgments, His statutes, His law? Do we identify ourselves as His servants?
Someone asks “Are you a Christian?” We often respond simply “Yes,” or some might be more specific and say, “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.” But do any of us ever say “I am a slave to Christ”?
What amazes me about Paul’s identity as a “bondservant” is that he was a slave who operated so freely within his faith. He was unafraid to offend his Master because he knew his will was bound up by God’s will. By giving himself so completely over to God’s will, Paul MADE himself a slave! Yes, God’s will is irresistable, and as Jonah showed us, God will find a way to persuade us to do what He asks. Still, Paul embraced his role as a servant of God, surrendering his whole being – even his body – to do whatever God asked of him.
Let us reflect on Paul’s servitude today. Let us not just look at Paul’s words but at his behavior and his attitude. Look at Paul’s joyful surrender to God’s will, his willingness to face persecution and death for the furtherance of the gospel of Christ. And look at Paul’s Master! Who would not want to serve such a One?
What we should remember is that we are children of God before we are fathers, mothers, doctors, lawyers, pastors or priests. We can be servants of God even as we parent our children and practice our jobs and minister to others. We can be slaves of Christ Jesus even as we are salesmen and teachers and chauffers and farmers. The question is always “Whose will am I trying to fulfill?” When we put God’s will ahead of our own, then we are His servants. When we do not, we serve only ourselves. Whom will you serve today?
Father God, my Master and my King, please accept my service today. Teach me Your will and Your way, and let me be so completely Yours that when I act, all anyone ever sees is You. I would indeed rather be Your doorkeeper than spend any time at all in places of wickedness and sin. Guide my steps aright, Lord God, and bind me to Your will. Amen.