Freedom is a blessing that many of us enjoy--especially those of us living in America. It's something men prize; it's something men fight for; they even give their lives for it. But when taken to an unhealthy extreme, freedom can easily digress into its ugly little brother, individualism. When that happens, men begin to think that freedom is found only in self-rule and gained when all masters are done away with. Stephen shows us in this message that freedom isn't the absence of a master . . . it's having the right master.
If you were asked to come to the microphone this morning and introduce yourself; if you were asked to not just give us your name, but to tell us something about yourself in 15 words or less; in fact, if I asked you to share something significant about your life in less than 15 words, what would you say?
After thinking it through, you’d have another problem. How do you state something significant about yourself – some accomplishment or award, and remain or at least appear to remain humble at the same time. You also might be torn between what you think of yourself and what others know about you, and so you wouldn’t want to get up here and exaggerate and say something about yourself and have someone in the audience burst into laughter. That’s a dead give away. Someone’s perspective of you may be vastly different from your own.
I thought it was interesting that my little girl drew a picture of her family – at least how she saw it. There was mom, a sister, two brothers, and me whom she drew as a skinny bald headed man with just a little hair sticking out around my ears. . .I don’t look anything like that. We tend to view ourselves differently than others see us.
How do you view yourself and what would you describe about yourself that you consider significant.
I read just this past week the story that toward the end of his life, Albert Einstein, the famous and brilliant physicist, mathematician, theorist, took down off the wall of his home the picture of Isaac Newton, the great scientist and replaced it with a picture of Albert Schweitzer, the medical doctor who built a hospital in Africa for lepers. Einstein commented to a close friend that he was way overdue in replacing the image of success with the image of service.
Near the end of his life, Albert Einstein, winner of the Nobel prize, wanted to be known more for his service than his success.
Centuries before Albert Einstein lived, another man made a similar, yet much more profound declaration.
The Apostle Paul had served the Lord for 20 years – he had 10 more years before the curtain closed on his incredible life and his international ministry. The father of the Gentile church – the brilliant theologian and master orator and defender of Christianity would soon pass off the scene. He was about to write the greatest theological treatise in the history of the church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
His letter begins with an introduction of himself. It takes less than 15 words, and yet you discover in it what Paul considered the most significant things in his life.
If you haven’t already, open your Bibles to Romans chapter 1. The first 15 words of this great letter read: “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”
Three words have come to my mind and heart as I have read and re-read and re-read and re-read Paul’s introduction of himself.
Three words that swirl around Paul’s introduction – three concepts that could revolutionize every believer here who grasped them and embraced them as Paul evidently did.
The first word is the word - OWNERSHIP!
“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus.” 1:1
The most significant thing that Paul wanted everybody to know about his life, at the very beginning of his letter, was that he belonged to Somebody else.
The impact of Paul’s choice of words is lost on us unless we get a sense of the context of servants in the Roman empire.
Historians tell us that there were as many as 600,000 servants living in Rome during the time of Paul. One historian by the name of Richard Alston wrote a book entitled, Aspects of Roman History, AD 14-117. In it he writes these simple yet insightful words about what it meant to be a slave during the time of the Apostle Paul.
Slaves were owned. They had no control over their labor or their bodies. They were property to be disposed of as their master pleased. Slaves could be both and sold and subjected to almost unlimited violence. Slaves were treated as objects; they were not regarded as men or women, but as things devoid of souls; they were animals with voices. The Romans were unsentimental about slavery. Slaves were economic units and were accounted for as such. Vedius Pollio ordered a slave to be thrown to his collection of carnivorous fish for breaking a glass. . .when some slaves belonging to a particularly brutal master killed him, the Roman senate ruled that, as was their law, all the slaves of that household were to be killed. The chance of freedom was slim. Slaves met even more brutal conditions in the mines where life expectancy must have been very short, though not as short as that for slaves condemned to the games. Being condemned to the mines or the games was recognized as a death sentence. Slaves working as personal servants had an easier life. Trusted slaves were often paid, though their wages had no legal status; the owner could reclaim the money at any moment.
Without a doubt, Paul’s reference to himself as a doulos – a bond-slave was a description of humility and submission to Jesus Christ.
Of all the things Paul could have said about himself; he was a leading Pharisee – a diligent observer of the law. He had been tutored by the great Gamaliel and was a member of Israel’s supreme court, the Sanhedrin. He had already planted churches and won perhaps thousands of converts to Christ. He was a brilliant theologian and had the miracle working power of an Apostle and he had healed the lame and the blind. He’d even raised someone from the dead – as a further attestation of his apostleship.
Of all the things he could have said, he said first of all, “I’m somebody’s servant . . . and my master’s name is Jesus Christ.”
The term doulos was not only a description of humility, it was also a place of honor.
In the Old Testament, all slave owners were to release their servants every 7th year. The servant role within Israel was not an issue of race or class, but economics. Often times a person would become an indentured servant to pay off some debt.
However, if, at the end of 7 years, the servant wished to remain within the household of his master, that Israelite Master would take him to a priest or judge where they would pierce that servants ear. From that time on he was known as a bondslave – he could have been free, but he chose to remain as the servant to his kind master.
Exodus 21:5 and 6 reveal, “If the slave plainly says, “I love my master . . . I will not go out a free man, then his master shall bring him to a judge . . . and then pierce his ear . . . and he shall serve him permanently.”
Whenever he went out in public – wherever he walked, wherever he went, his ear, as it were, proclaimed his love for the Master. And he also served as a testimony to the kind, generous, gracious character of his master.
I found it interesting to discover that it wasn’t uncommon for men in Paul’s day to refer to themselves as servants of the Emperor.
A Greek inscription found where Paul once lived and served contained the words, ‘Agathopus, servant of the Lord Emperor.’
It would be a great statement of loyalty and deference to the Emperor to call yourself his servant.
The Lord God of Israel used that phrase to honor some of his followers:
In Genesis 26:24, God referred to Abraham as , “my servant Abraham.”
In Numbers 12:7 the Lord said, “My servant Moses, is faithful in all mind house.”
In Joshua 24:29 the Bible speaks of Joshua as “the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord.”
In 2 Samuel 7:5 the Lord said, “Go and tell my servant David . . .You shall build
me a house to dwell in.”
In Isaiah 20:3 the Lord referred to Isaiah as His servant.
The readers of the letter called Romans would have picked up on this designation as one of honor and one of humility.
Paul is saying on the one hand, I have no rights of my own, I am owned property; I have no will of my own, I am subject to do My Master’s bidding. And while others are impressed to be named a loyal servant of the Roman Emperor, he is impressed to be the loyal property of Jesus Christ.
It is the issue of ownership!
Ladies and Gentlemen, if you can settle once and for all the issue of ownership, you will settle every other issue in life.
Let me go back to what Alston revealed about 1st century slavery. He wrote,
“A slave was owned” – does Christ really own your life?
“A slave had no control over his labor” – does Christ really control your career?
“A slave had no control over his body” – does God own your body or do you do with it whatever you want?
“A slave was property to be disposed of as his master pleased” – does God really have the right to dispose of your life as he pleases, or must He give a reason, or an explanation, whenever He does something with your life?
See, it’s possible for us to be God’s children, but I wonder how many of his children are truly His servants.
When I was growing up, there were chores my three brothers and I had to do. We were the four sons of my father, there was no doubt about that – we were his children but we didn’t like being his servants, right?
Now, I’m making my kids do those same chores. They have to take turns doing dishes – now I do want to say that doing dishes for them isn’t what doing dishes was for me. For my brothers and I to do the dishes meant we filled a plastic bucket up with warm water in the sink – put in soap and got the water all bubbly – then took a washcloth and literally washed the dishes – then you turned on the hot water and rinsed it off – and then you handed it to your brother who’s been snapping you on the leg with that drying cloth to immediately dry those dishes and then put them away. That’s doing the dishes. Today, doing the dishes is putting them in the dishwasher . . . and they still want an allowance! For what?!
They say, “Aw Dad. . .” Tell us about how it was when you had to walk to school in the snow, barefoot and shoot a rabbit along the way for lunch.
A few weeks ago when my parents were here for the missions conference, my father was talking with a couple of my kids about his childhood on the farm. I couldn’t help but laugh – and say under my breath, get ‘em Dad. You see, he literally did walk about 2 miles to school in Minnesota – even in the winter. When the snow was really high, he said to my children, his father would give him a ride to school on the tractor, but only when the weather was really bad. He told my kids how when he got to school, which was a one room schoolhouse for grades 1-8 with a wood burning stove, he’d take that raw potato out of his coat pocket and he’d go up and put his potato on top of the stove so it would cook throughout the morning. He had a little pad of butter in his coat pocket. And that was his lunch. My kids just sat their looking at him, probably wondering, “Were you in the civil war too?
One things for sure, everybody here has it easier than our somebody else – some of your parents and grandparents immigrated here and some of your grandparents and great grandparents were slaves.
But just because somebody had to do that work, or live that hard life, or endure that struggle because that was their lot in life – that didn’t mean they had to have a good attitude.
See, you can be somebody’s servant and at the same time have an apathetic, dispassionate, or even bitter spirit.
You won’t pick any of that up in Paul’s letter. He’s so excited about being the disposable property of God that he puts that first in his letter – in the very first verse – it’s as if he says, “Hey everybody, I’m somebody’s servant – and that Somebody is Jesus Christ – and I get to do His chores.”
So, it should come as no surprise then, that following Paul’s description of who he was, you discover what his “chore” was for God.
The second word that comes from this text is the word, ASSIGNMENT!
The text reads, “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle. . .”
His calling – an apostolos: someone sent out, commissioned for a task.
His credibilty – for ministry as one who would lay the foundation of the church was his apostleship. If he was not a true apostle, then the church had no reason to hear him out, and he had no right to speak with authority on behalf of Christ.
It was no small matter that Paul mentions his apostleship. In fact, it was an ongoing debate within the early church. The question was, “Was Paul really an apostle?!”
There were two qualifications for an apostle:
#1. He must have been a disciple who personally saw the resurrected Lord.
That’s why the dispute arose of course. Paul had come to faith in Christ 25 years after the Lord ascended to the Father. But Paul had seen Christ. Remember? On that Damascus road. And so Paul boldly defends his calling as an apostle. In I Cor. 9:1 he says, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Later in chapter 15 he states that he was visited by the resurrected Lord. Verse 7 reads, Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God, But by the grace of God I am what I am. . .” (15:7-10a)
The second qualification of an apostle; He must have been a disciple who was personally chosen by the Lord.
That’s the significance behind Paul’s declaration in Galatians 1:1 where he wrote, “Paul, an apostle, not sent from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ.”
In other words, Paul is saying, “I didn’t become an apostle because I decided to become one – or because men thought I should be one, but because I have seen the risen Lord and the risen Lord personally commissioned me to establish the church through the gospel of God.”
Ownership by Jesus Christ. Assignment from Jesus Christ.
The third word is PASSION!
Ownership, assignment . . . passion!
Paul continues with his introduction: “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”
Set apart can be translated, “marked off or separated unto.”
I have no doubt that this word from aforizw sent a message to the reader about Paul’s new passion.
He had been a Pharisee of the Pharisees. In other words he had been separated from anything and everything that would defile or corrupt a strict orthodox Jew. All Paul could see was the law of Moses and he diligently separated himself from anything and anyone who would detract him from his passion to observe the law.
But now, by faith in his resurrected Messiah, he is now separated unto the gospel.
The grace of God’s gospel was now his passion.
The word he used here - aforizw means, off horizoned. In other words, there is now something else that dominates the horizon of Paul’s vision.
What dominated the vision and heart of the Apostle Paul was the grace and gospel of Jesus Christ.
He had had religion – and he was summa cum laude as a student of the law. But it had not satisfied him. His passion was now the gospel of God that totally satisfied him.
You could say that Paul was a man who never fully recovered from he conversion to Christ.
You see my friends, he had discovered, that enslavement to Jesus Christ is true liberating freedom.
Have you ever thought about the fact that you also are somebody’s slave:
Some of you are slaves to the opinions of man – Paul wrote in Galatians 1:10. “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” In other words, your either interested in seeking the pleasure of people or the pleasure of God.
Others are slave to money or mammon (material gain). Jesus Christ said in Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to on and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Some are slaves to possessions, career, achievement, popularity. Others are slaves to immorality, pornography, lust, “whose god is their appetite.” (Phil 3:19); some are slaves to television – you bow down to it 3 or 4 hours a day . . . you might be a slave to past failure – a slave to fear of the future.
Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that you are somebody’s servant. The question is, whose?!
The answer to that is in the answer to this – what would you like to be known for. If you could choose one word that you would like to be used to introduce you to the world, what would it be?
There was a man who once read his own obituary. He awakened one morning to read in the newspaper, his life in review.
The editor had believed a rumor that he had died and had actually published this famous man’s obituary. The headline read, "Father of Dynamite Dies." He read the accompanying article that told of his discoveries with nitro-glycerin, his patents in both England and America for dynamite. Then the phrase caught his eye – “He will be remembered for creating the potential for mass destruction.” That so pained this man that he immediately established a trust from his own wealth and he created what would become the Nobel Prize - for chemistry, science, literature and, most notably, for the development and advancement of world peace. It worked. Today, when you hear that man’s name, Alfred Nobel, you don't think of dynamite and mass destruction - you think of the Nobel Peace Prize.
What if you were to wake up tomorrow morning and read your obituary. What would it say about you. Just who were you? And what would people remember most about you.
The secret to Paul’s life is discovered in the order by which he described himself. He was a servant before he was an apostle.
Paul said in the very first verse of this wonderful, powerful, Christ honoring letter, “I am somebody’s servant – and that somebody is Jesus Christ, and I am now passionate about my calling - totally dedicated to delivering the gospel.”
May we be more like him; known above everything else as Somebody’s servant. People who have found true freedom by becoming enslaved to that Someone and we are passionate about advancing the cause of His liberating gospel to the rest of the world.
Yes, we are Somebody’s servants – we are servants of the living God.