As we make our entrance into this mighty epistle we start with Paul’s introductory greeting. Paul has never been to the church at Rome. He knows many there who make up the church, but for many this would be their first direct contact with the apostle.
Now he starts it off the common way letters began in that day, which was for the author of the letter to identify himself immediately. Paul, – nothing unusual there – but then he shares with us 3 facts about himself, that when taken together give us the sum total picture of this man and also can be viewed in this context as Paul’s personal mission statement for his life.
- A servant of Christ Jesus
- A called Apostle
- Set apart for the gospel of God
We will be looking at all three of these in greater detail as time progresses, but today our focus is on the first thing he says. The first thing Paul wants these folks (most of whom he’s never met) to know about him is that he is a servant of Christ Jesus. Notice what he does not say. “Paul – a mighty apostle –a powerful man of God who heals the sick and causes demons to jump out of people everywhere I go.” No, the first and most important thing Paul wanted no doubt about in the mind of his readers was that he was a servant. He was a slave of Christ Jesus. In the Greek language he was what is called a doulos.
Let’s break this down by looking at several elements that when put together show us exactly what a doulos is.
When we look at the definition of the word slave we see it means “someone who is legally owned by another person and is forced to work for that person without pay.” We also see it means “a person who is strongly influenced and controlled by something.” Slavery is horrible. Slavery is despicable. Right now, according to the A21 campaign “there are more slaves in the world today than at any point in human history, with an estimated 27 million in bondage across the globe. Men, women, and children are being exploited for manual and sexual labor against their will.” No doubt about it, slavery is one of the vilest expressions of human depravity on the planet. So why does Paul use it to describe his life with Christ? It’s because as we will see in the next point, he is a voluntary slave. He is “devoted to another to the disregard of his own interests.” The wonderfulness of Christ and the forgiveness he has freely given Paul has created this effect. He who has been forgiven much, loves much. Paul loves Christ so much that he wants to subject his entire person to do his will.
2. Voluntary submission of ones will
In Exodus 21 we see an interesting shadow of this. Here Moses is distributing the law to the children of Israel and he is sharing that God has made provision for people who have gotten into slavery to get out of it and go free. It states that in the seventh year of that person’s servitude he is to automatically be set free. However, it then says a curious thing. It says that person has the right to make himself a voluntary lifelong servant of his master: “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.” Here is a beautiful picture of life with Christ, friends! Christ sets us free from the slavery of sin, and then when we behold how beautiful and how amazing he is, we have the right and extraordinary privilege to make ourselves a voluntary servant of Christ for life. It’s important to note that the servitude Paul is talking about is voluntary. J. Vernon McGee puts it like this
“The Lord Jesus Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, but He never makes us His slaves. You must come voluntarily to Him and make yourself His slave. He will never force you to serve Him. He said even to Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” (Luk_13:34). On another occasion our Lord said, “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (Joh_5:40). It is wonderful beyond measure that you have the privilege of making yourself a bondslave to the Lord Jesus Christ. You must do it on your own; He will not force you.”
3. A servant, attendant
This just cements what we have already seen. Once we voluntarily submit our will we get busy serving our Savior, who is also our Lord.
Based on the above, a paraphrased way to read this first part of Romans 1:1 could be Paul, one who has been so marvelously and irrevocably changed by the amazing love and grace of Jesus Christ that I have now willingly and voluntarily submitted my entire being – Mind, Will, and Emotions – my entire life, to pursuing him and doing his will.
So if we are honest here, reading this kind of commitment can be tough when we compare ourselves to it. We say to ourselves “Wow! Now that’s some serious commitment. Am I that committed?” If you’re like me, more than likely you would agree that most of us are not there yet.
I think admitting that is healthy. I also think it’s healthy to seek God to ask him to help us change and deepen our commitment and to strive to identify those areas and challenge ourselves in it. However, what is not healthy is self-condemnation. If you have come to Christ, Romans 8:1 says you are no longer under condemnation. Listen – we are on a journey in which progression and growth, not perfection is the aim. The truth of the matter is that we will never achieve perfection in this life. So let’s pursue God and make changes…but let’s enjoy it in the process. Amen?
Questions for Reflection
- Is every Christian called to be a Doulos?
- Think of a time when you submitted your will to God’s will and didn’t do something because you felt it would displease him. Do you know that like a child who does the right thing when he doesn’t know his dad is watching, you put a smile on God’s face when you did that?
- Take a few minutes to pray and ask God what areas you have not submitted your will to him. What will you do about it?
Well, that’s it for this time. Thanks again for being here! Hope you are finding these studies beneficial. 🙂
Until next time I pray that God richly blesses you and yours!