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Whose Slave Are You?

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 1:1

We are not apostles like Paul, but as Christians we are all servants of Christ Jesus. Paul opens the book of Romans by reminding us that we are not our own. We belong to Christ; we are His slaves.


Today we set sail into the book of Romans. We have just completed our journey through the book of Acts, which gives us the history of the early church and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, through the apostles.

The book of Acts is a bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament; it explains how we got from the old covenant into the new covenant. Having crossed that bridge, we now come to what is called, the Epistles. One little girl was asked what the epistles were, and she said, “They were the wives of the apostles.” Well, there is a connection; in fact, thirteen of these New Testament epistles, or letters, including Romans, were written by one apostle—the apostle Paul.

This letter to the Roman church was written when Paul was in Corinth. Paul actually dictated this letter, and a man named Tertius wrote it down. In Romans 16:22 we read, “I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.”

Now, we are going to spend some time in this epistle—in fact, more time than in any other book of the Bible! And that is because it is so foundational and helpful to the church and the believer.

Therefore, we are going to sail along here on our Wisdom Journey just a little slower than usual, as we try to understand this book and apply it to our lives today.

In the first century, the believers in Rome were facing pretty much the same things we are facing today. Immorality was rampant, marriage did not matter, perversion was celebrated, abortion was commonplace—in fact, killing a newborn baby was legal and acceptable if that baby was unwanted or disabled in some way.

During these days, the government was corrupt and oppressive. Nineteen-year-old Nero sat on the throne of the Roman Empire. He would eventually marry both men and women in public ceremonies. In fact, in one marriage to a man, Nero dressed up like the bride. Yes, the world back here in the days of the Roman Empire really is much like our world today.

So, what does that mean for us? Well, as far as God was concerned, first-century Rome was the perfect time and the perfect place to establish a New Testament church. Beloved, the darker the world, the greater the need for the light of God’s Word.  

Let’s begin with verse 1: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” When we write a letter today, we sign it at the end. But in these days, the author signed it at the beginning in an opening introduction.

And in this introduction, Paul brings up two concepts he considered to be the most significant in his life.

The first concept is ownership. Paul begins by writing, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.” He wants everybody to know that he belongs to somebody else. He does not belong to himself. He is a slave—the Greek term is doulos, a bond-servant.

This designation would have an immediate impact on Paul’s readers throughout Rome. Historians estimate there were around six million slaves in the Roman Empire at this time.[1] These Christians knew what slavery meant. Slaves were owned by others. They were considered property. They had no control over their own bodies. Their masters decided what they did and when.

Think about that: Paul could have introduced himself as the leading church-planting apostle, the evangelist who raised the dead, the church’s leading theologian, or something a little more flattering. No, before Paul tells us he is an apostle, he tells us that he is a servant of Christ.

Now you could be somebody’s servant and do everything you could to get out of work. That goes for modern-day employees too. I remember working in a grocery store as a grocery bagger, back in the days when you had to bag the groceries and then take them out and put them in the customer’s car, and you might get a quarter for a tip. That tells you how old I am. I also remember one of the other fellows who worked with me. He would disappear at times and never put in an honest day’s work. In fact, he worked harder to get out of work than he actually worked.

Paul is not that kind of employee, so to speak. He is not apathetic or lazy or ungrateful. He is so excited about being the servant of Jesus Christ that he puts that 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 have the greatest honor of serving Him.” Beloved, Paul understood that when Jesus Christ becomes your Master, you are freed from slavery to sin.

Ownership is the first key concept here. The second concept given here in verse 1 is assignment. Paul says that he is “called to be an apostle.” The Greek word, apostolos, means “sent one.” It refers to someone who is sent out, commissioned for a task.

This statement establishes the credibility for Paul’s ministry of laying the foundation of the church. If he had not been personally commissioned by Christ—a true apostle—the church would never have listened to him.

In fact, the subject of Paul’s apostleship will become an ongoing debate among some in the early church as certain people sought to discredit him.

Was Paul really an apostle? Did he qualify? Well, back in the book of Acts, as the apostles determined to fill Judas’s place with another apostle, they chose Matthias. And we are told what the two qualifications for becoming an apostle were: first, he had to have seen the resurrected Lord; and second, he had to have been taught by the Lord (Acts 1:21-22).

Paul had certainly seen the resurrected Lord on the Damascus road, when he was confronted and converted. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:1, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” So, he certainly meets that qualification.

We also know that Paul was trained by the Lord privately and personally, for three years in Arabia. Galatians 1 tells us about this, and also that he was taught the gospel personally by Christ Himself (Galatians 1:12-17).

We know too that Paul was given a tour of heaven. He refers to himself in 2 Corinthians 12:3-4, where he writes this:

And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

In other words, he was prohibited from talking about it.

I must tell you, I am a little disappointed by that. I wish Paul had been given permission to write an entire letter about everything he had seen in heaven. We are just going to have to wait until we see it too.

Paul meets the qualifications of an apostle, and he mentions here in verse 1 that he was “set apart for the gospel of God.” By faith in his resurrected Messiah, Paul is now set apart to deliver the gospel of Christ.

This ends the personal signature—the introduction—of Paul, the author of this letter. He is a slave who serves Jesus Christ. Now you might think that sounds too restrictive in life. Well, beloved, everybody is a slave to someone or something. You are either a slave to your own sin—whether it is hatred, or greed, or lust, or a hundred other things—and your life revolves around that enslavement; or you give your life to Christ and become His servant. And I can tell you, Jesus is a much better Master than anything else on earth.

So, the question for everyone to answer is this: Whose slave are you?

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