“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1)
How do you introduce yourself when you first meet someone new? What we say by way of introduction reveals a lot about how we identify ourselves and what we feel is important in our lives. Some people are sure to include titles when introducing themselves: “I am Professor John Jenkins” or, “Nice to meet you, I am Dr. Tom Thompson.” Sometimes, these titles also indicate what the person does for a living and, in many people’s opinion, this is often the most crucial information about a person. “Hi, I’m Fred Jones, CEO of Jones Enterprises.” “Pleased to meet you, William Smith, attorney-at-law.” Other people feel that it is who they are related to that is most important: “I am Mrs. John Smith” (i.e., my husband is of much greater prominence than myself) or, “This is Jane Rogers, First Lady of the Republic of Rogersonia” (i.e, the fact that her husband is the President of Rogersonia is what also defines her).
But what did St. Paul the Apostle, the great missionary to the Gentiles, the writer of more than half of the New Testament, formerly one of the most prominent members of the Sanhedrin feel was the most important facet of his identity? Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ. He was a servant of Jesus Christ. It is the One Whom he served that took the place of honor in Paul’s eyes, it was Him with Whom Paul identified himself. Even more than a servant, the word in the original here (doulos) means a “slave”; one who is in bonds, bound in service to another. More accurately, Paul is stating “I am Paul, a slave to Jesus Christ.” Since about a quarter of the population of the Roman world at this time were slaves to another, it certainly was not uncommon for people to identify themselves by the master they served. But Paul’s slavery was different. It was a voluntary servitude.
Jesus Christ calls us to serve Him, but He forces no one. The chains that bind us to Him are ones that we ourselves willingly put on. Even so, the man who preached so cheerfully of the liberty that is in Christ was happy to declare himself a bond-slave of the Same. For only in servitude to Christ is one truly free. We do not forfeit our freedom when we subject ourselves to the Lord, it is only then that we begin to know what freedom is. Before that, our slavery was of the most oppressive kind. We were slaves to sin; and sin is a cruel taskmaster leading every one of its servants to death.
Next, Paul tells his readers that he is “a called apostle” (as the original text more precisely reads). Paul chose to be a servant of Christ, Christ chose for him to serve as an apostle. This was the office in which he would serve God. Just as the many slaves of the governor of a Roman villa would all operate in different capacities within the household, so it is with those who serve Jesus Christ. Yet they are all slaves with none exceeding any other in status. The man who tends the garden is of no greater prominence than the woman who cooks the meals or the boy who draws water at the fountain. They are all servants of the same master.
Paul concludes his self-identification with the phrase: “separated unto the gospel of God.” Separated here carries with it a similar meaning as “holy”, “sanctified”, or “set apart.” Paul has been set apart for the use and purposes of God (which is what “holy” literally entails). Like the call to apostleship, this was also the choice of God — Paul did not determine himself that he would be separated or set apart for the use of God. Yet this was his life’s purpose, the assignment that the Spirit of God had for him to fulfill: the preaching of the Gospel. This separation suggests a sharp line of distinction drawn across the life of God’s servant, dividing into two all that he was before and all that he has been made by God. There is no intermingling of the two, no walking with one foot in the former and one in the latter. We are either separated unto God or we are not. And if we are separated then our every ambition, our every goal should reflect our earnest desire to serve Him and bring glory to His name. Paul had at one time been a different kind of separated man; separated unto the rigors and rituals of a religion that brought a different kind of slavery. But now he was separated unto God for the purpose of sharing the Gospel. At one time he was separated from God, now he was separated unto Him.
Paul would later write to the Church at Colosse:
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3)
He reveals that he possesses these qualities and that his own life was hid in Christ by this very first sentence in the Book of Romans.