“Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:1a)
Slavery. Not exactly a fun subject, is it? Most if not all of our association with slavery is negative, primarily because of the intense human brutality that is associated with it. Who could forget watching the TV mini-series called “Roots” and not come away with a total condemnation of slavery. Yet, while we recognize slavery’s inhumanity, we also know that this practice continues even into the 21st century. We may not see it in our country, but there are nations where it is still practiced. Sometimes it’s “under the radar,” and sometimes it is not.
There is another form of slavery that was “born” in the 1st century. Slavery as an institution was widely practiced in the Roman Empire. At least one estimate has suggested that one out of every three people in the Roman Empire was a slave. But that is not the concept we are thinking about here. We are thinking more of the concept that Paul introduced. He saw himself and other Christian leaders and workers as slaves of Jesus Christ. Some versions of the Bible prefer to translate the word in Philippians 1:1 as “servant.” That is a legitimate translation, though the meaning of the word itself is “bond-slave.” The idea of the word would not have been lost on Paul’s original readers at Philippi. Some of them may have had slaves and may have been slaves themselves. The Greek word “doulos” can refer either to a voluntary or involuntary slavery. Jesus never forces such on anyone. He Himself came and took the form of a “doulos,” according to what Paul said in Philippians 2. So, what we’re talking about here is a voluntary submission of someone’s life to the Lordship of Christ, acknowledging a total, absolute, and unconditional dependence on the Lord and a total commitment to do His will. Paul is making a clear statement that he has laid aside personal ambition in order to focus his life on serving Jesus.
We have to wonder: what would the state of Christianity be if every believer decided to lay aside any personal ambition in order to follow and serve Jesus as Lord?
Lord, Help each of us to consider and commit to this concept. Amen.