“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…” -Rom. 1.1
We are inclined to read right over the richness of language that Paul uses in the introductions to his epistles. Modern man is unfortunately accustomed to casual greetings; formalities required to structure a letter rightly- verbiage given to make way for fleeting conversations. But Paul did nothing casually. Every thought and prayer was calculated through the wisdom of the cross and centered upon the eternal purpose of God. He was led by the Spirit for the penning out of the choicest statements, “like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Not a syllable was haphazardly given. Every thought was articulated with great care, “seasoned by grace.”
It is to our detriment that we glide indifferently over the surface of any Biblical text, rather than pausing before it with reverent expectation. The Word is “living and active,” and we need to wait upon it prayerfully, lest we miss out on the sustenance it provides.
In this opening verse of Romans Paul is giving to the saints a description of his position and office. It is not something to be relegated to either “title” or “function.” This is cosmic language. He is coming out of the gate as only apostles can, giving description of his consciousness as a “sent one.”
Paul had been fastened to a “heavenly vision”; bound to a living message; chained to the Lion of Judah, and he had no desire to be freed from that glorious imprisonment. This is precisely the reason why apostolic servants are foundational to the faith of the Church. They have been formed at the hand of the Potter and thrust into the nations as ambassadors of His own character and wisdom. But we need to be cognizant of the fact that the apostolic call was not given to make Paul into an aloof figure in an ivory tower. His foundational role was meant to bring all who are “saints by calling” into the same kind of communion and inward abandonment that was his own portion.
“‘Slave of Christ Jesus’ is patterned on the familiar OT phrase ‘slave,’ or ‘servant,’ of Yahweh. The phrase connotes total devotion, suggesting that the servant is completely at the disposal of his or her Lord.” -Douglas Moo (NICOT, Eerdmans)
Seeing through an apostolic lens, Paul envisaged himself as being in chains for the Gospel (Eph. 6.20), for the “hope of Israel” (Acts 28.20), for Jesus Christ Himself (2 Tim. 2.8-9).
To be so “enslaved” was to be “free indeed,” and this produced in Paul a life of communion and intercession which fitted him to serve as one “set apart for the gospel of God.” If we would cling to a lesser kind of abandonment, we may find ourselves engaged in a plethora of ministerial activities, but we will not share in the glory that belongs to the bond-servants of Jesus Christ. We may be taken up with many labors, but we will not enjoy the light of the apostolic faith. There is a “ministry of the interior” that binds us to the altar of God, welds our hearts to a radical jealousy for His glory, and conjoins our souls with His own. We are not bond-servants merely because we suffer externally. We are bond-servants in the Pauline sense when our interior life is like unto Jesus’ own experience as the pattern Son. “I only do what I see My Father doing…”
Secret communion becomes for us a “joy unspeakable,” and intercessory engagement becomes our most cherished labor when we are inwardly abandoned to Jesus Christ. Paul was intimately acquainted with this reality, and if a display of the “manifold wisdom of God” would come through the Church in these last days, so also must we be.
“Am I fulfilling this ministry of the interior? There is no snare, or any danger of infatuation or pride in intercession, it is a hidden ministry that brings forth fruit whereby the Father is glorified. Am I allowing my spiritual life to be frittered away, or am I bringing it all to one centre- the Atonement of my Lord? Is Jesus Christ more and more dominating every interest in my life? If the one central point, the great exerting influence in my life, is the Atonement of the Lord, then every phase of my life will bear fruit for Him.
….What is the greatest factor of power in my life? Is it work, service, sacrifice for others, or trying to work for God? The thing that ought to exert the greatest power in my life is the Atonement of the Lord….Am I abiding? Am I taking time to abide?” -Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest, June 7th)
We are not to gauge our spirituality through endless cycles of human assessment. The examination of our faith which Paul encourages has only to do with discerning whether or not we are “living, moving, and having our being” on the ground of the Atonement. That is to ask, “What is the character of my interior life?” Am I abiding in His life? Am I weighed down with the cares of this world, or am I living inwardly as a “bond-servant” of Jesus Christ? Am I itching to find approval from men, or is the Lord Himself the one “before Whom I stand”? Am I frivolous and distracted by the synthetic lights of this age, or am I walking tenderly as one pierced by the life which is “the Light of men”?
Until my earthbound perspectives are leveled by the Cross, I cannot live as His bond-servant. But if I abide in the One Who bears the scars of that great Atoning work, I share in the very life of the age which is to come. If I am “crucified with Christ,” it is His own resurrection life that works “in me.” Am I conscious of that reality, or is my interior life congested and blurred by the “form of this world”? We need to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
The nations do not need a greater volume of sentimental religionists. The world is not perishing for want of novel methodologies. A million warm bodies with missiological opinions may fail entirely to set forth a true witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But a company of weak souls, gripped with a vision of the worth of Christ, living cruciformly, abiding in His Life- these will be His bond-servants, “set apart for the Gospel of God.” They shall fulfill “the ministry of the interior,” and by His “great grace,” a witness will be given, “even to the remotest part of the earth.”
“…God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son…” (v. 9)
Setting aside my public persona and what others might think of me religiously speaking, what is the true character and content of my interior life? Is it a messy, narcissistic conglomeration, or a clear, well-grounded abiding in the Life of the Lamb that was slain? By the grace of God, Paul’s interior life was the latter, and such is the Lord’s desire for the whole of His house.