A Servant’s Perspective

A Servant’s Perspective

Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Lesson 02: Romans 1:1

The first words of the book of Romans tell us a lot about its author, and they reflect its main themes.

Romans 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God

This first verse shows us that the author saw himself as belonging to his Master, Jesus Christ, and that he was called to serve as an Apostle promoting the good message God had made known.

The message is summarized in this book of Romans in three main themes:
1. We are restored to fellowship with God only by what Jesus Christ accomplished.
2. Those restored to fellowship with God always show changed lives.
3. Lives changed by God ought to effect the society in which they live.

Living by these principles is neither common, nor valued in our world. Instead of seeing our hope and purpose centered in Christ, we are faced everyday with self-centered attitudes that are poisoning our society. Instead of asking what is right and what is true, people are asking what will further their own personal interests.

The idol of “Self” has become the god of our modern culture. Ego has become the center of our attention and concerns. Moral law has been re-written to justify anything that promotes a person’s self interests. Even much of our worship has been turned into entertainment to gratifying the god of self.

We live in an era where things are badly out of order. The idea of man being created and redeemed to serve God, who is truly his Lord, is not well liked, nor has it ever been truly popular. Individuals, homes, schools, businesses, churches, and governments don’t like to admit that there might be absolute standards they must obey. God is usually re-defined in some way that limits his authority over us. Even our duties to others are modified so that they will mostly benefit the doer.

One of the things most people try to avoid is being in the position of a servant. How different is Paul’s attitude as he begins this letter to the Roman believers.

Romans 1 begins …

Romans 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God

The author of this book is the Apostle Paul.

We know from the rest of Scripture that he was born Saul of Tarsus. He was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin and a citizen of the Roman Empire. As a very gifted student of the Hebrew Scriptures he went to study in Jerusalem. His teacher was Gamaliel, one of the most celebrated rabbis of that era. Even today Rabbi Gamaliel is quoted and honored among the Jews. As a strongly committed Pharisee Saul lashed out at the Christians. He saw them as a new sect that threatened the traditions of the rabbis.

Saul’s life changed dramatically. As he traveled to Damascus, fully authorized by the high priest to hunt down and arrest Christians, the risen Christ stopped him, set him free from his bondage to sin. Jesus put faith into Saul’s heart enabling him to trust in the work of Jesus as the promised Messiah.

Soon Saul was promoting the Christian faith. He told the gentiles about the ancient promises and principles of God’s word. He explained to both Jews and gentilesthat Jesus was the Messiah promised ages ago in Scripture. In his travels outside the Jewish communities, Saul became known by the Greek name, Paul.

While on his third missionary journey he wrote his letter to the Romans. Paul had not been able to get to Rome in person. So he wrote this letter to tell them what he would have taught if he had come in person. Romans comprehends and summarizes the basics of the Christian faith.

Paul considered himself a “servant” of Jesus Christ

Romans 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God

Paul used this unpopular idea of servant to summarize his relationship with Christ. We need to know what he meant.

In the Roman culture slavery had become very abusive. The Greek word used for bond slaves was doulos (δοθλος) which is the word Paul uses here. In Rome slavery had become ownership of the servant. They were forced into service against their will and often treated abusively. Even today we think of slaves as people who are demeaned and mistreated.

However, that would not be how a Jew of Paul’s training would use the word. Nor does that oppressive idea fit with what Paul is saying about his relationship with Christ.

In his law, God had explained what his people ought think about being servants. Back then, People weren’t hired with contracts and pay-scales in the way they are today. To work, they willingly bound themselves to a master to work faithfully expecting fair wages. Debtors could work their way out of obligations by working as servants. Law breakers not guilty of capitol crimes had to work to pay off those they victimized. There were no jails or prisons in God’s law.

Unlike the pagan nations, God’s people were to treat those who work for them with respect. The biblical idea of slavery should not bring up the cruelty and racial bondage we usually think of. Ownership of a human, or the sale of a human, was a serious crime in God’s law. Slavery could not be forced upon anyone unless it was to pay off debt from a crime. Slaves were never to be mistreated and had to be released after a set period of time. Abuses are not inherent in the idea of servitude according to God’s law.

There is a sense in which all believers are to be servants of Christ. Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers saying, “And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Corinthians 3:23), “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:1-20).

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul called believers “… bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (Ephesians 6:6). In 1 Peter 2:16 Peter told believers to act, “… as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.” Later in this book of Romans Paul develops that theme even more as he applies it to Christians.

Certainly a Christian’s relationship with Jesus Christ can’t be compared with pagan slavery. Paul was not abused or forced into service against his will. He found love, not abuse, from his master. Paul became a most willing servant of Christ. His hardened will was changed by the Holy Spirit who gave him spiritual life.

But he did consider himself as a purchased possession of his loving Lord. That’s what makes human ownership of another human so wicked and immoral. People belong to their Creator, not to other creatures. Believers belong to their Redeemer, therefore it is wrong for men to possess other men.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

1 Corinthians 7:22-23, “For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.”

In the Old Testament godly men were often called “servants of Jehovah” ‘eved YHVH (עבד יהוה). This title was used of Abraham, Jeremiah, Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah and many others. The Messiah himself is called a servant in the great passages of Isaiah (49:1-7, 52:13, 53:11).

Paul was glad to be under the mastery of Jesus Christ. This duty and devotion to his loving master is the first thing he mentions in describing himself to the Roman readers.

Jesus told his followers they would be better to be servants than masters in his kingdom. Luke 22:25-27 reads, “And He said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called “benefactors.” But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.’ ”

This is how we ought to see our work for Christ. We ought to think of ourselves as servants, purchased by our Lord’s own death in our place, so that we can do the work of the one who loves us so. We ought to love being the subjects of the King of kings.

Paul understood his service to be in the office of an Apostle

Romans 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God

When the church of God entered a new era after the death of Christ, officers were appointed. Titles were needed to identify these offices. Words that already existed were used.

The church was to be governed and instructed by Elders. The Greek word for Elder is presbuteros (πρεσβυτερος). It literally means someone who is older or wiser. This word was already used in Israel as a special title for the spiritual office of teacher and overseer.

The church was to be served by Deacons. The Greek word deakonos (δεακονος) literally means someone who serves. In the general sense anyone who serves could be called a deacon. When the Jewish office of Levite ended with the finished work of Christ, there was a need for a new office to carry out the daily administrations of God’s church. A new office of service was created by God’s direct command. The ordained deacons were to care for the needy, maintain the place of worship, and act as daily administrators of the church’s resources.

And the church was to be established and set on its course by Apostles. The Greek word Paul uses is apostolos (αποστολος) which means “someone sent forth with an assignment.” As a general term “an apostle” is anyone sent out with an assigned duty. In New Testament times cargo vessels were called “apostolic boats”, boats sent on a mission. In that general sense, all believers sent out to serve God may be called apostles. In a more specialized way certain men sent out on special missions were “apostles.” The word is applied to Barnabas, Apollos, Timothy and others. But there was a very specialized use of the word for a limited number of men chosen by Christ. The office of Apostle applied only to the original 12 chosen by Christ, to Matthias chosen to replace Judas, and to Paul, who was specially chosen by Christ.

All holding the office of Apostle met these qualifications:

  • They were directly chosen and called by Jesus Christ. (John 6:70, 13:18, 15:16,19, Luke 6:13, Acts 1:24-26, Galatians 1:1,6)
  • They were eye-witnesses to Christ, his teachings, and his resurrection. (Acts 1:8,21,22, 1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:8, Galatians 1:11-12, Ephesians 3:2-8, 1 John 1:1-3)
  • Their calling was affirmed by special supernatural signs and miracles. (Matthew 10:1,8, Acts 2:43 3:2, 5:12-16, Romans 15:18,19, 1 Corinthians 9:2, 2 Corinthians 12:12, Galatians 2:8)

This means that the office of Apostle could not continue past the first century. Unlike the other church offices described in the New Testament, no qualifications were stated by which new Apostles were to be chosen by the church.

Due to that direct calling by Christ, they had a unique authority. They ordained elders to rule in the newly established churches. They had direct revelation and instruction from Jesus Christ. They uniquely explained the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ. They laid the foundation of the church upon which later generations were to build.

Paul was to serve as an Apostle. He was called to that office directly by the risen Christ.

Paul was set apart to promote the good news God had revealed.

Romans 1:1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God

Some times men are set apart by the church for special assignments such as being missionaries, ministers, Sunday school teachers, elders, deacons, heads of committees. Paul and Barnabas were set apart for the first missionary journey in Acts 13:2. The setting aside Paul refers to here was his special call to explain the gospel. It was his calling to make known the saving work of Christ. This is why he gave up his comfortable life as a respected rabbi. This is why he spent the time and effort to write this well planned out 16 chapter book to Rome.

In a similar way we are all are called to obey God and to tell others about the gospel of Christ. We are not all set apart in the special way Paul was. However, when God gives us a duty in any area of life we must let nothing else interfere with it. We must carry it out as if we were given over to be bond-servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We each have divine callings in our lives too.

We must be devoted to each of our duties as servants of Christ. Some of you are called of God and gifted to be engineers, machinists, mechanics, sales representatives, managers, designers, students, teachers, home makers, husbands, mothers or fathers … many things.

The ways of our Master must be carried out in every assignment given to us by God

  • We have a duty toward ourselves to maintain a personal walk of devotion to Christ. Every day we need to learn more about his word, talk with him in prayer, encourage his people, obey his moral principles, and hope in his promises.
  • We have a duty to our family to be a good spouse, child, parent and family member.
  • We have a duty to our church, the spiritual family. There we must be faithful in worship, fellowship, and in promoting its work and ministries.
  • We have a duty to our calling at work to bring forth our provisions from our labor, and to do that faithfully.
  • We have a duty to society to help and encourage others in our community.

We are to carry out each duty as bond-slaves of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must honor him as our master and do all things within the boundaries of his standards.

The world sees these areas of life only in how they bring personal gratification. To our fallen souls, all work and relationships are to satisfy our own feelings and desires. God is seen only as one of the ways for getting what we want as individuals. Ego becomes god, and self-gratification becomes the standard for all judgments and decisions. When seen this way our order of priority is confused. Our personal lives, families, worship, work and society become twisted and wounded.

As Paul shows us here, to be what God has made us to be and redeemed us to be we need to fulfill our callings as those who are bond-servants of Jesus Christ.

The tragic myth of the world is the belief that freedom is found in serving one’s self privately, in the home, in church, on the job, in the workplace, and in society. Proverbs 16:25 warns us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”

The most frustrating and oppressive servitude is to live as if you were free from God. The most satisfying freedom, is to be a devoted servant of Christ.

When we serve our Lord Jesus Christ in each duty he gives us, remaining within his boundaries, giving him recognition for every ability and blessing, we begin to discover the wonderful blessing of what God can make of our lives.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies

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