Romans 1:1 and a Slave's Ministry

A lady I know was talking to her daughter before Christmas about what the girl wanted to receive as a present. "What do you want for Christmas?" she asked. The girl very quickly replied, "I want to be in charge." Taken aback a little, the mom responded, "In charge of what?" The girl's response? "Everything!"

I thought about this little girl as I was looking at Romans 1:1 today in preparation for teaching this coming Sunday. In this verse Paul describes his ministry with three key terms that show without a doubt that he did not see himself as being in charge of his ministry at all. He saw God as the authority to whom he was responsible, and he sought to please God, not himself, in all respects.

First, Paul described himself as a "slave." Many translations here use the word "servant," but that is domesticated. The Greek word δοῦλος (doulos) implies bondage and restriction; it implies subservience to the will of another. It implies a great deal of the same things that the English word "slave" does. The difference for Paul, though, was his master. He called himself "a slave of Christ Jesus," showing to whom he belonged and whom he served. To Paul his slavery was joyous because he was enslaved to his gracious Lord, Jesus Christ.

Second, Paul described himself as "called." In other contexts the Greek word κλητός (kletos) can mean invited. Here it describes the origination of his ministry: It began in the calling of God, not himself. Paul did not choose his apostleship; he was called to it by God, and his obedience demanded a positive response.

Third, Paul described himself as "appointed." The word ἀφωρίζω can also be translated as "set apart." Paul viewed his ministry as consecrated for a particular purpose, to a particular end, namely, the good news that God was at work in the world through Christ. He didn't get to choose what he spoke about; that had been chosen for him.

When I think about my ministry both in the academy and in the church, I fear that I am often like that little girl. I want to be in charge of everything that goes on. I want to control the circumstances. I want to take the reigns and make things work in the manner of my choosing. When I read Romans 1:1, though, I realize that like Paul I am not in charge. God has graciously called me and appointed me to my ministry, and through Christ he has made me his slave. Long and short, he is in charge, not me. And I won't find true joy in my service until I embrace the reality that I am, indeed, a slave in the service of a gracious master.