Servant of God
Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness... (Titus 1:1)
Paul calls himself a servant of God. Servant, translates a Greek word meaning slave, whether literally or figuratively, involuntary or voluntary. It carries the sense of subjection and service. This Greek word comes from a root word meaning to tie or bind. It is closely related to a word meaning to beg. Putting all the meanings together, Paul was describing an intimate, all-consuming relationship with God, one which bound him to obedience and faithful service. It was a relationship based upon need: Paul was compelled to serve God as a poor, starving man is compelled to beg.
Is this an unique experience? Did Paul expect his readers to emulate this all-consuming slave-relationship with God? Did Paul endorse slavery as an acceptable social practice? Does the Bible encourage slavery? It certainly does not condemn it, and it frequently encourages slaves to respect their masters and to obediently and faithfully serve them. Here we see that Paul calls himself a slave of God. How can the Bible appear to endorse slavery while the concept is utterly repugnant to most Americans, Christian or otherwise?
There seems little doubt that Paul used a word that means slave, in the sense of unquestioning service to a master:
For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my SERVANT, Do this, and he doeth it. (Matthew 8:9)
Under Roman law a man could be made an involuntary slave, sold to pay for debt:
But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. (Matthew 18:25)
Paul directed that all Christian leaders should be slaves of those they serve. He offered the life of Jesus as an example of self-sacrificial service:
And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your SERVANT: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:27-28)
Jesus is an example of servanthood, but his sacrifice was voluntary. This means that Paul is using this word in the sense of a person becoming a servant voluntarily...compelled by love rather than by law. This perhaps is a clear distinction between slave and servant. A slave serve his master because the law commands serious consequences if the slave disobeys. A servant freely offers his time and energy to his master because love compels his service.
One word, but two distinct applications, depending upon motivation.
Paul's life as revealed in the Bible shows a man who voluntarily and sacrificially served God and others. However, there is strong biblical evidence that Paul's service was NOT one that he freely chose, at least not in the beginning. In fact, a more accurate description might be that Paul was a conquered slaveâ€ who became a dedicated servant to a Master whom he loved.
Paul's conversion was sudden and overwhelming, even violent:
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. (Acts 9:3-6)
For three day Paul was blind and evidently in shock...he did not eat or drink anything. (Acts 9.9)
God chose Paul for a specific purpose, and gave Paul no choice in the matter. Nowhere does Paul intimate that he chose God...he always describes it as GOD choosing him!
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake. (Acts 9:15-16)
As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. (Acts 13:2)
Paul regarded himself as bound by God, tied up as a captive slave.
And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: (Acts 20:22)
Paul said that he was compelled to preach, using a word that implies involuntary service.
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity (constraint, "up-arm") is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation (administration, "house-law") of the gospel is committed unto me..Corinthians 9:16)
The word necessity translates a Greek word that literally means up-arm, invoking an image of a strong man forcibly moving or controlling Paul. He adds the word dispensation, meaning house-law, implying that God's law requires him to preach.
Paul later writes that the love of Christ constrains us, using a Greek word that means to hold together, or even to arrest, as in arresting a wrongdoer.
For the love of Christ constraineth (holds together, arrests) us...(2 Corinthians 5:14)
Paul clearly states that Christians have been purchased by God and marked by His Spirit as belonging to God.
Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed (marked in ownership) us, and given the earnest (purchase money) of the Spirit in our hearts. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
In conclusion, Paul uses the institution of slavery as a way to describe one aspect of the relationship between God and Christians. God has purchased us and he owns us. He is sovereign over our daily life as well as our eternal destiny. He moves and controls us for His purposes.
Yet God is the perfect Master. All that He does in us, for us, and to us is for our benefit...our eternal benefit. He glorifies Himself through His rule over us, and at the same time He provides daily support and joy.
Slavery is evil in our eyes because human masters allow their sinful natures to hurt, damage, and depress their servants. Slavery can be celebrated as godly only if the Master is able to completely satisfy every need of His servants: physical, emotional, and spiritual. God does only good, and therefore His ownership and lordship over us is completely good.