Paul, a Servant of Christ Jesus- Romans 1:1

The verse we will examine is the introduction to a letter. Normally, in letter writing, the introduction does not contain much information or tell us much more than who the author is, but this is not the case with the letters of the New Testament. As we will see, there is a great deal of “information” to be found in this mere “introduction”. We begin with the author’s very name, here as “Paul”. Paul was formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, but, as is the case with many others in the Bible (Abraham, Jacob, Peter) his name was “changed” after his encounter with God on the Damascus road. This name change serves to symbolize Paul’s rebirth, to represent the fact that he was a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). This name change also represents the change in “personality” which had taken place in Paul. The Hebrew name Saul comes from a root which means “to ask”. Names in the Old Testament normally ended up describing well the character traits of the one with that name, so Saul would be one who liked to ask many questions, who sought answers, and consequently became one who usually knew the answers, as reflected in Galatians 1:14, where Saul was “advancing beyond my contemporaries in Judaism”. Saul also took great pride in this fact, as he himself refers to in Philippians 3:4-6. This is why the change to the name Paul is so significant, because the name Paul comes from a Latin word meaning “small”. This name was “given” to Paul in order to reflect not just his change in nature, but also his change in character, from proud Saul to humble (little) Paul. This change can also be seen in his self-reference as a “servant of Christ Jesus”. The Greek word servant here is doulos, and while the word Paul uses here is Greek, the idea is Hebrew. In the Hebrew culture a doulos was a bond-servant. A bond-servant was one who owed a debt which he was unable to pay. He was then placed as a bond-servant to the one he owed the debt to until the debt was satisfied. What most often occurred in this situation, is that if the bond-servant was serving a kind and benevolent master, he would choose to remain in the master’s service even after the debt was paid. They were, in effect, a “free slave”. They were those who freely chose servanthood because they recognized that they were better off as servants of their benevolent master than they were as “free” men. This is what Paul is to Christ Jesus, a bond-servant, a “free slave”, one who fully realizes that he is better off as a servant to his kind and benevolent master (Christ Jesus) than he was as a “free” man. A proud man would never refer to himself as a free slave, would never admit that he was better off being directed by another then by choosing his own way. In a paradox which accurately reflects the transformation in Paul, he is “proud” of the fact that he is a “free slave”. Paul also here encourages all who read this (including us) to become “free slaves”. He would like us all to understand that we are better off serving our kind and benevolent master (Christ Jesus) than we are as free men. By using this word in reference to himself, he encourages us to also see ourselves as “free slaves” as those who have chosen freely to serve a kind and benevolent master rather than serve ourselves, to understand that choosing to follow Christ Jesus as a free slave is the choice which ultimately leads to life and peace, while to continue to choose to follow our own way is the choice which leads to death and turmoil.

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