“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.” (Romans 1:1)
It is February, 58 AD. Sitting in a room in the house of Gaius, a wealthy Corinthian Christian (Rom. 16:23), Paul prepares to dictate a letter to the church at Rome. His scribe Tertius is poised, ready to write.
To pave the way for his proposed visit, Paul feels directed by the Lord to explain the gospel he preaches. No doubt, many false rumors had trickled into Rome about him. Paul wishes to give a careful statement of his ministry, hoping that the Romans will give him a warm welcome upon his arrival.
What would be the best way to introduce himself? Paul decides, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to keep his priorities straight. Before everything else, he is a “servant of Jesus Christ.” Even his apostleship takes a subordinate role to the place Jesus occupies in his life.
Is your relationship with Jesus that important in your life? Is Jesus first in your priorities?
Paul’s Spiritual Condition: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ …“ (1a)
In a day when most people were actually slaves, Paul enjoyed the rare and much prized privilege of being a free-born citizen of Rome. Yet he deliberately chose to explain his relationship to Jesus by using the word “servant” (doulos).
The word “servant” is used in several contexts. It can serve as a generic term for any type of slave, or it can refer to a “love slave.” It can also be used as a title of honor and respect, equivalent to the Old Testament phrase “servant of the Lord,” descriptive of outstanding leaders as Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David and the prophets.
In the last usage, the focus is not on possessing a privileged office but on service to a greater authority. By using the word “servant” before mentioning his apostleship, Paul emphasizes that the authority he exercises is a derived authority.
Further, in light of how Paul speaks elsewhere of “the love of Christ constraining him” (2 Cor. 5:14), it seems reasonable that Paul views himself as a “love slave” of Jesus Christ. Insight into the meaning of being a “love slave” is provided by Deuteronomy 15:12-17 and Exodus 21:1-6.
Paul viewed himself as a “love slave” of Jesus Christ.
When a Hebrew bond-servant decided that he was better off remaining a servant to his Hebrew master and deliberately chose to refuse freedom, he could request to become a permanent part of his master’s household. “And it shall be, if he [the bond-servant] say unto you [the master], I will not go away from you; because he loves you and your house, because he is well with you; then you shalt take an awl, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be your servant for ever. And also unto your maidservant you shall do likewise” (Deut. 15:16-17).
This rite of expressing love to your master—of asking to become a permanent “love slave” in his household—is how you become a member of the “devoted order of the pierced ear.”
In making this decision, there were four factors that merited careful consideration.
It was voluntary: “If he say unto you, I will not go away from you” (Deut. 15:16a)
No Hebrew bond-servant was to be coerced into becoming a “love slave.” The only servants who remained in servanthood past the required six years were those who really wanted to. So also becoming a love slave of Jesus Christ is by free choice, for no one is ever forced.
No one is ever forced to become a love slave of Jesus Christ.
It was based on love: “Because he loves you and your house” (Deut. 15:16b)
The Hebrew bond servant had to initiate the request. He had to say something like this: “I do not want to go away from you. I love you and your house. I want to remain a servant in your household.”
No one would do this unless he had discovered a more happy and joyful mode of living than what he had known before he had become a servant. It would require a remarkably wise, loving, and kind master to produce such a desire. That is exactly what Paul had found in his relationship with Jesus with whom he had fallen deeply in love.
What does it mean to say, “I love Jesus”? Jesus Himself tells us:
- “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loves me not keeps not my saying: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me” (John 14:23, 24).
- “If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:10).
Love for Jesus is measurable. It displays its reality through obedience to God’s Word. When we really love Jesus, we find that His commands are not burdensome (1 Jn. 5:3). Service for Jesus is just as he promised it would be: “an easy yoke and a light burden” (Matthew 11:30).
It provided security: “Because it is well with you” (Deut. 15:16c)
Any Hebrew servant must have had great confidence in his master to become a permanent “love slave.” For in doing so, he placed into his master’s hands the responsibility for providing for his daily needs and directing his future destiny. How well he would be treated depended entirely upon the good graces and generosity of the master.
Jesus Christ provides tremendous security. He promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5). As a servant of Christ, Paul found that he was supremely happy and content (Phil. 2:17; 4:11).
As a servant of Christ, Paul was supremely happy and content.
God has promised to supply all the needs of His servants according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). Paul never found the first exception to this promise, nor has any servant of Jesus ever been disappointed.
Paradoxically, Paul found that being a “love servant” of Jesus produced new freedom. This enabled him to do what God wanted him to do and released him from the bondage of self, sin, and the fear of other people. “For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men” (1 Cor. 7:22, 23).
It was a permanent relationship: “You shall take an awl, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be your servant for ever” (Deut. 15:17)
A permanent mark was placed upon anyone who wished to become a permanent “love slave,” symbolizing that the bearer was a member of the “devoted order of the pierced ear.” The pierced ear became a visible symbol of the servant’s love and loyalty to his master. Have you made such a choice?
Paul had counted the cost, and he had made his decision. He had willingly surrendered all his rights, aspirations, and goals in order to become a permanent “love slave” of Jesus Christ. “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8).
Although Jesus did not require ear piercing with an awl to show permanent devotion, Paul was proud to be a member of the “devoted order of the pierced ear.” Just having his ear pierced didn’t mean the slave had to stay with his master. True, he had made a choice to serve; but he had to choose to live out that choice every day of the rest of his life.
In the same way, we may also bring our ear to the doorway of total consecration and let our Master place His mark upon us. Yet that decision is just the beginning point of a life of voluntary, love-driven service that must be chosen every day of our lives. Have you settled the question of allegiance and control of your life?
The primary consideration of a servant of Jesus Christ must always be to please his Master. Paul was so devoted he could say, “For me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). Is the desire to please Christ the chief priority in all your decisions, plans, and activities?
Paul’s Special Calling: “called to be an apostle” (1b)
Paul also had a special calling. This meant that he knew he was doing what Jesus wanted. He had a definite sense of the Lord’s leadership in his life’s work, for he had received the gift and responsibility of apostleship from the Lord. Do you sense God’s leading in your work?
Every Christian has a special calling. It may be that of a minister, a missionary, a teacher, a businessman, a craftsman, or a homemaker. Have you sought His help and counsel? Are you doing what you are doing because you know it is God’s will, or have you failed to seek His authorization?
There is great diversity in the way God leads. Remember that there is no division of life into the so-called categories of “secular” and “sacred.” To a member of the “devoted order of the pierced ear,” all he does is sacred. He tests everything by the Word of God and does nothing that will displease his Master. He remembers the command to glorify God in everything, whether it be eating, drinking, or anything else (I Cor. 10:31). If he cannot meet this requirement, he refrains from that activity.
Paul’s Specific Concern: “separated unto the gospel of God” (1c)
The word “separated” signifies one who is “set apart from and dedicated to” a specific cause or task. To be “separated unto the gospel” meant that Paul would not allow any aspect of his life’s work to be in violation with the teachings of the gospel. Is your life “separated unto the gospel of God”?
The enthusiasm we had for the things of this world can be transformed into enthusiasm for Him and His work.
How sad that there are so many who become enthusiastic about sports, about work, and about various worldly interests, but the moment they are converted to Jesus Christ, they become very quiet about their relationship with Him. The former zeal they had for the world and its pleasures is seemingly lacking in their devotion for God. Paul was not that type of believer. He was just as enthusiastic for Christ, or more so, as he had been in his persecution of those who believed in Him. How wonderful that the enthusiasm we had for the things of this world can be transformed into enthusiasm for Him and His work.
Are you a member of the “devoted order of the pierced ear”? Can you say without reservation, “By the grace of God, I am a love slave of Jesus Christ?” Is your relationship with Jesus the most important thing in your life? How about your daily work—your special calling? Are you doing what you are doing because you know God wants you to do
How about your daily work—your special calling? Are you doing what you are doing because you know God wants you to do it ? Are you “separated unto the gospel of God”? Is there any aspect of your life’s work that is in violation
Is there any aspect of your life’s work that is in violation with the teaching of the Gospel? Your answers to these questions will indicate whether or not you are truly a member of the “devoted order of the pierced ear.” If you are not, or if there are doubts or question marks about anything in your life, repent and lay it at the foot of the cross of Christ.
If you are not, or if there are doubts or question marks about anything in your life, repent and lay it at the foot of the cross of Christ.
Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.