I find the New Living Translation version of the opening verses of Romans 1 much easier to follow than the ESV, so here it is:
‘This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord. Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name.
And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people’. Romans1:1-7, NLT.
This version separates out more clearly the complex syntax of many other translations. The book of Romans focuses on the Gospel of God (the word ‘God’ is used 153 times – more frequently than any other book of the New Testament) rather than instructional or correctional missives to specific churches, as in Paul’s other letters. Paul had been hoping to get to Rome, but was prevented by the Holy Spirit as the timing was not yet right. He wrote this letter to lay out the whole Gospel, in case he never got to visit them.
In stating his credentials, at the beginning of the letter, Paul’s first claim is that he is a slave of Christ Jesus! And this is what I want to look at today. In our modern world, where slavery and human trafficking, heinous crimes of abuse against vulnerable people, are more prevalent than ever before in history, the very concept of the word ‘slave’ is an affront to civilised society. There is the connotation of captivity, restriction of movement and expression, subjugation, work (maybe unpleasant) without remuneration and complete lack of freedom to do one’s own will. Is this the same type of slavery Paul intended when he calls himself ‘a slave of Christ Jesus’? In many ways, yes!
Paul chose to commit himself to the service of God as if he were a servant. ‘Most translations of Romans 1:1 use either slave or servant in defining Paul’s relationship with the Lord, but the phrase “bond servant” is actually the most accurate. In effect, a bond servant enters into the relationship voluntarily with the understanding that it’s a lifetime commitment, with no provision for release’ (gracethrufaith.org). Paul gave himself unreservedly to the work of the Lord, following his conversion, for the rest of his life. He restricted his movements and speech to the promptings of the Holy Spirit; he subjugated his will to that of God’s; his work for God was unpaid, in the earthly sense; he was severely physically punished many times because of his public proclamation of the gospel of Christ and he gave up his personal freedom to follow God’s plan for his life.
Is this an example of life at the extreme? The sort of life that only the very few are called to? I suggest not. This is the extraordinary ordinary Christian life to which we are all called when we give our hearts to Jesus! There are offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher, inhabited by those who have been assigned a specific mission, and St Paul was clearly an apostle, but we are all equipped to demonstrate aspects of these giftings in our daily lives. Every one of us can be sent out (like apostles), prophesy, tell others about Jesus (evangelise), care for others (pastor) and teach what we know of Jesus to those around us, even though we may not assume the office of that gifting! Paul says, in verse 5, that ‘Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them’.
Whenever we serve God, in whatever capacity and gifting, we do indeed carry His authority and it is a privilege to serve. The big question today is ‘Would we describe ourselves as bond servants to Christ Jesus, too?’ Are we living a life of submission to God, where we freely say, ‘Lord, I want your will to be done in my life? I give you all my hopes and plans, my dreams and desires and I ask you to replace them with your own. I give you all my time and talents and ask that you use them to bring you glory. I freely do your will, not to earn your favour, but in response to the love you have showered upon me by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
Being a bond servant of Christ is not condemnation to a life of limitation and drudgery, but an invitation into a life of freedom and joy, revelation of the Father and a meaningful, hope-filled existence of sharing the love of Jesus.
I’ll close today’s notes with a link to an uplifting chorus which, for me, sums up the heart of a bond servant to Christ, by The Gaither Vocal Band, ‘Prisoner of Hope’.