Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God—Romans 1:1 (ESV)

A Slave of Christ

When Paul greeted a church in one of his letters, he usually referred to himself as a servant of Christ Jesus or an apostle (or sometimes both as he did here). The original word for “servant” in Greek is doulos, which means a “slave” or a “bond-servant”. In both the Roman and Jewish cultures that Paul lived in, slaves had no freedom and were the property of their owners, but the Old Testament dictated in Exodus 21 the laws governing ownership of slaves.

We think of slavery as a concept of forced servitude against someone’s will, but Jewish law provided that if a slave declared love for the master, then that slave could willingly enter into permanent ownership by the master. Paul gave his life to Christ three days after meeting him on the road to Damascus. As a slave, Paul declared his love for Jesus and willingly surrendered all his personal rights in order to enter into permanent ownership by the master.

The term “slave” has negative racial connotations in society, so perhaps the word “bond-servant” gives a better explanation. The idea is that the servant had some sort of financial bond or debt obligation on his head. In order to pay off the debt, the servant would enter into a forced labor arrangement with the master. In our case, as we’ll see later in Romans, our debt is the wages of sin (death), which can only be paid for with the blood of Christ. In return for the forgiveness of our sins, Jesus asks for the only payment we can offer: faith in Christ alone for what He has done.

The Call of Christ

Paul claims that he was called to be an apostle, but who called him? The Greek word klétos can also be translated to the word “invited”. Here, the call is the divine invitation to follow Christ. In Acts 9, Saul of Tarsus was not seeking out Jesus, but rather Jesus extended a divine invitation to Saul.

This invitation is similar to the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22, where Jesus concluded that “many are called but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The wedding feast itself is symbolic of salvation, which is the gift which we accept from Christ when we follow Him.

An Apostle of Christ

The Greek word apostolos refers to someone who is a messenger or who has been sent as a representative on a mission. So while those who are saved in Christ are His bond-servants, we are not treated cruelly by our Master or forced to do menial tasks. Christ calls us to follow Him so that we will be saved. He loves us and even though we have surrendered all control of our lives to Christ, He still entrusts us with the mission to spread the gospel to others.

Set Apart for Christ

Finally, Paul concludes the verse by stating that he is set apart for the gospel of God. The word used for “set apart” here is aphorizó, which I expected to be another word for set apart, which is “holy”. However, this word appears to just simply mean being physically separated. The Greek for gospel is euaggelion, the translation of which we’ve all heard: “good news”. Specifically, this good news is in reference to God’s good news of the Messiah and His coming.

Taking the entire sentence as a whole, we might have surrendered our personal claim on our lives to Christ, but He has called us to be set apart in order to represent Christ, to be a messenger for Christ and to be given a mission for the good news of the gospel. Christ loves us and has entrusted the gospel to those who follow Him to share that good news with others.

My prayers for today:

This might be the first verse of the book of Romans, but it’s not the first sentence. Paul continues this sentence through verse 7.

I want to live as one enslaved to Christ. I must remember that I was bought with a price (1 Corinthians 7:23), and I am set free from the penalty of sin because of that price that was paid (Romans 6:22). As a slave, I want to keep what the Lord says that He desires for me at the forefront of all my thoughts and actions.

I want to follow the call of Christ, because to all those who receive Him and believe in His name, they have the right to call themselves children of God (John 1:12). Not only do I not want to disappoint my Master, but I also do not want to disappoint my Father who loves me and adopted me into this family.

I want to be a representative of Christ. I don’t want people to see me when they look at me, but I want them to see Christ. I should live my life as a new creation in Christ, for my old self has passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I want to live set apart for Christ. I want to live a different life that’s unlike that of the world: the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). By living set apart from the world, I can more effectively represent Christ.

However, living set apart from the world doesn’t mean to avoid it completely or to shun others, because we are also called as followers of Christ to be set apart for the good news of Christ. Good news is meant to be shared with others, not kept to oneself (Matthew 5:14). As I live set apart from the world, I want to live a life where I embrace those opportunities to share the good news with others.

Advertisement

Greetings

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God—Romans 1:1 (ESV)

Each of the apostle Paul’s letters started out the same way: he introduced himself and those working with him. Although Paul only mentioned himself in this particular greeting to the Roman church, he included many others by the time you read to the end of the letter.

You can’t get past the first word of the book of Romans without considering the author of the letter. In Acts 22, Paul gave a testimony of his life while addressing the people of Jerusalem. He was born Saul of Tarsus, but he was raised in Jerusalem and thoroughly trained in Jewish law. His zeal for the law led him to persecute and murder Christians until the resurrected Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus. Blinded by the Lord for three days, Paul did not receive his sight until the Holy Spirit came upon him.

Paul saw his sin.

There are different circumstances through which God brings us to our knees because of our sin. It’s interesting that Paul’s sight in particular was taken away after he Jesus confronted Paul over his atrocities against Christ and His church. I wonder if Paul felt fear at what occurred after his encounter with Christ, or perhaps he felt helpless. We might think that we have certain aspects of our lives under control, but we have no control over the physical capability to see.

Perhaps Paul saw the faces of those he persecuted and murdered. Without his sight, he might have played those scenes back over and over again through his mind. Perhaps without his sight, it was the only way for Paul to truly see (at the exclusion of everything else) that he had sinned greatly against God, even in his zeal for pursuing Jewish law. If he had not been blinded, he might never have dealt with his sin, and he probably wouldn’t have repented of it either, nor seen that he needed a Savior.

Paul saw Christ’s forgiveness.

After Paul accepted Christ, he went from town to town into the synagogues and preached Christ with the same zeal as he had when he persecuted Christians. Paul’s experience with Jesus on that road had changed his life and became a living testament to the power of the gospel. After all, if Christ could even forgive Paul for the murders of His followers, then there are few sins too great for His forgiveness.

I wonder if some of us cannot see the greatness of Christ’s forgiveness because we can’t see how great our sins are. When I remember the things that I have done in my life that have damaged relationships, harmed myself, and brought shame upon the Lord, it helps put the size of Christ’s forgiveness into perspective. I have victory over those sins only because Christ’s forgiveness is so great, and that victory should bear fruit in my life as a changed man.

Paul saw Christ’s love.

What would cause a zealous Jew to change his life in such a remarkable manner? It could only be the work of the Holy Spirit. While Paul was blind, he suffered the consequences of his sin for just a few days, because the Lord had plans for Paul. When the Holy Spirit came upon Paul, not only was Paul given back his sight, but it was a sign of approval from the Lord that Paul belonged to Him. God did not cause Paul to suffer in blindness for the rest of his life. He turned Paul’s life around and sent him on a new path to spread the gospel throughout the Mediterranean nations.

Christ doesn’t leave us in our sin. He cleans us up, prepares us for His good work and purposes, and then leads us to where we should go and what we should do. Christ loved us so much that He died on the cross for our sins, but our life has to have greater purpose and meaning so that sacrifice isn’t made in vain with empty lives spent in our own pursuits. Jesus continued to teach the disciples after His resurrection and prepared them for what lied ahead. This is why Jesus gave us the Great Commission, because the gospel is “good news” and good news is meant to be shared with others in service to Christ.

My prayers for today:

Paul had a lot to say in one simple greeting, and he said it with the lifetime of experiences that he had before and after that meeting with Christ on the road.

I want to see my sins as detestable as God sees them. I pray that I would not minimize or rationalize them to protect my reputation, pride and ego.

I want to see Christ’s forgiveness as bigger than those sins. If my sins are small to me, then Christ’s forgiveness means little. Christ’s forgiveness for me should mean so much to me that I would repent and walk in righteousness through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I want to see Christ’s love in proportion to that forgiveness. Because Christ loved me so much that He died for me and my sins, my reaction should be to allow Him to change my life and for me live it in the way that He directs it.

Hitting the reset button

I hit the reset button on my blog. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

When I was a kid and I played video games with my brother, we could only get about 10 minutes in before one of us got fed up with losing and reset the game before it was finished. It was usually an act of frustration, submitting the victory to the other player without giving them the satisfaction of an actual victory. You limited the damage to your pride, waited for the game to start over, and jumped right back into the fray, hoping for better fortunes the next time around.

Sometimes life gets to the point where we need a reset. Life becomes littered with a series of bad habits where we neglect our physical and mental health. Life crowds out spiritual development with activities. Early morning quiet times get pushed out of the way because we stayed up too late the night before filling our heads with work or mindless entertainment, and we had to sleep in through our normal time for prayer and study. Regular Sunday morning worship gets pushed out of the way for youth sports leagues or tailgating. Accountability and Christian community get brushed aside because we don’t have time to devote to even one more thing. But really, are we devoting our time to what really matters?

Sadly, I am guilty of a few indictments in that paragraph.

Thankfully, the gospel is also a reset. We are born in sin. Our natural thoughts and actions are sinful. We were dead in those trespasses, until Christ, who loved us in spite of all those sins we had committed (whether past, present or future), bore the penalty of those sins for us upon the cross. Jesus hit the reset button for us so we would not remain dead, but have everlasting life through Christ.

I looked at my blog a few months ago, and I decided that I just didn’t like it. I didn’t like the content. It wasn’t going in the direction I wanted it to go. It wasn’t valuable enough to me to devote much time to it. Blogging is probably passé now that Twitter has shortened everyone’s attention spans anyway. I hid all my previous posts. Some of them may come back, and others may just disappear into the matrix.

So, I’ve hit the reset button. I decided I want to study the book of Romans, and I want to share it with others. If you’re interested, please come back tomorrow. Seems like a new year is a good starting point for a new beginning.