First Things First
Paul, James, Peter and Jude share a common bond. They each begin their epistles with the designation of themselves being “bondservants” of God. This word has little significance to our modern minds that are horrified by the idea of slavery. It was a very common word in the New Testament times because it was normal to see a servant or slave carrying out their duties under the hand of a master. Some became slaves as the Romans conquered nations subjecting the citizens to slave labor. Others became slaves because of debt and served under temporary conditions. No matter the reason, a slave was a person who gave up all their rights to serve to the wishes of the master.
Ralph Walker pointed out in a lesson recently the text of Romans 1 was significant because of the order Paul declared his pedigree. We all recognize Paul as the great apostle to the Gentiles who wrote most of the books of the New Testament. His missionary journeys fill the pages of Luke’s historical account of the early disciples. There were few men like Paul and fewer men today who measure to his stature. Writing to the Roman church, he begins his epistle in a manner characteristic of the humility of Jesus Christ. He does not boast of his place as an apostle or a man sent directly by God. His message is filled with admonitions of showing the Roman Christians the grace of God in perfect love. The readers will be startled to hear of the need to obey civil government and having a love for one another regardless of nationality. He begins his letter with servitude.
Paul sets the tone of the epistle in the verse few words. Paul was a bondservant. He did not begin with his apostleship. His message was one of humility. The pattern of service to the Lord must begin with servitude before it can show its true work. Everything begins with a cross. Other writers will use the same course in their letters expressing the need to be bondservants. This was not literary prose. The significance of Paul’s order was the feeling in the heart of his relationship with God and the importance of showing the brethren an example of true humility. There was much that Paul could boast as an apostle. He was a power broker in the community of Christians. However, to the heart of Paul, he was a slave to the mastery of Jesus Christ.
His letter shows that he was a servant and then he was called as an apostle. There is significance between the two. The first is what Paul was. The second was what he had become by God’s grace. He would not enjoy the second without the first. It was important to show to the brethren what must come first. The lesson still resonates with the hearts of God’s people today. First things first come from a heart of humility that knows the power of slavery to the Lord Jesus Christ. We serve a loving master who will care for us in every way. To be a faithful Christian we must first subjugate our whole lives to the will of the Father. First, become a servant. Then comes the work. Giving up our rights to the will of God is where we learn the heart of humility. Christians are bondservants. We serve. He rules. We obey. He commands. We hope. He promises. Thank God for the joy of being a bondservant of Jesus Christ.
True humility never makes a show of herself, nor uses many humble words. (Francis of Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, 1609)