NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part II)
Verse 1: Greetings from Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus. God called me to be an apostle and gave me the work of telling His Good News.
Paul leaves no doubt as to who this letter is from. He had a number of associates, any of which may have been able to write these believers in Rome. But it wasn’t so much that they knew it was the man formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, but that he had been chosen by God for this mission.1 So in that vein, he refers to himself as a “bond-servant.” Back in those days, a servant was someone who had been purchased, not hired, and therefore belonged to the one they served. As such, they worked without receiving a wage. However, when a servant was freed and voluntarily stayed to serve their former master, they were referred to as bond-servants.
One early church father made this comment: “Some people argue quite pointlessly as to whether the participle called is meant to modify servant or apostle. It applies to both, since everyone is called, and called equally, both to faith and grace and to election and the apostolic order.”2 And another early church bishop gave his point of view: “Paul was set apart and dedicated to evangelism, like the offerings which the law says were set apart for God and for the priests.3”4 Some years later, another early church scholar makes this point: “He [Paul] was more highly favored than the other apostles, for the Lord called Peter and James and John and made them his disciples; he did not immediately make or call them apostles. But he made Paul an apostle as soon as he called him. Thus the gospel is preached according to the plan of God.”5 Then the Bishop of Mopsuestia gives us his commentary: “All things are servants of Christ, and He is Lord of all. Therefore Paul calls himself a servant first of all, thereby encouraging the rest to do likewise. He also recalls the unique lordship of the Son but not in such a way as to deny the lordship of the Father, which is confessed by everybody. In saying that he was set apart, he showed that he was not only called but also chosen from among many as useful for the preaching of the gospel.”6
With Paul being Jewish, and many of those to whom he was writing being converted Jews to Christ, He knew they would understand this term from a Jewish perspective. The Hebrew word for bond-servant was, ‘ebed,’ and it was understood the same way. However, the Law of Moses allowed an slave to become a bond-servant voluntarily: “But if the slave decides that he wants to stay with the master, he must say, ‘I love my master. I love my wife and my children. I will not become free—I will stay.’ If this happens, the master will bring the slave before God. The master will take the slave to a door or the wooden frame around the door and pierce the slave’s ear using a sharp tool to show that the slave will serve that master for all his life.”7
But Paul was not unique. He was following in the footsteps of many outstanding men of the Old Testament were referred to as servants. God spoke of Abraham as His servant.8 Joshua is called the servant of the Lord,9 as are David,10 and Isaiah.11 Even the Messiah is called God’s Servant.12 In each of these instances the term servant carries means voluntary service. Therefore we could say, being one of God’s servants is a noble position. So we should not be surprised at what Jesus said to those who wanted to follow Him: “Whoever serves me must follow me. My servants must be with me everywhere I am. My Father will give honor to anyone who serves me.”13
But Jesus also wanted to know that the same conditions existed between Him and His servants as it did between a student and his teacher: “Servants are not greater than their master. Those who are sent to do something are not greater than the one who sent them.”14 This was something the apostle Paul would repeat over and over again. Otherwise, he would not keep referring to himself as a bond-servant. But when Jesus chose those who would serve Him willingly, they received a higher status than the average household servant: “I no longer call you servants, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. But now I call you friends, because I have told you everything that my Father told me.”15 This no doubt was in Paul’s mind the night of the shipwreck when he was on his way to Rome. He told the crew of the ship: “Last night an angel came to me from God—the God I worship and belong to. The angel said, ‘Paul, don’t be afraid!‘”16
So, the Roman believers were not the only ones Paul introduced himself to as a bond-servant of Christ. He said to the Corinthians: “We don’t tell people about ourselves. But we tell people that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we tell them that we are your servants for Jesus.”17 Paul knew who the real One was he needed to impress as a faithful servant. He told the Galatian believers: “Now do you think I am trying to make people accept me? No, God is the one I am trying to please. Am I trying to please people? If I wanted to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”18
Paul was not the only one who used this title. James greeted his readers as a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.19 And Peter sent his greetings as a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,20 as did Jude in his epistle, when he called himself: “A servant of Jesus Christ.”21 And when writing the book on his revelation, John began: “This is a revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must happen soon. And Christ sent His angel to show it to His servant John.”22 So by calling himself a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, Paul was including himself in good company.
Yet, being part of such an elite group was not based on Paul’s decision alone. He wanted the readers to know that he was invited to join this assembly of bond-servants. He got the word from Ananias in Damascus when he came to see Paul. The only reason why Ananias had gone looking for Paul was because he was told this: “The Lord Jesus said to Ananias, “Go! I have chosen Saul for an important work. I want him to tell other nations, their rulers, and the people of Israel about me. I will show him all that he must suffer for me.”23
That message was never forgotten by Paul. He bravely told the Corinthians: “I was chosen to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. God chose me because that is what He wanted.”24 And Paul took this calling very seriously. Later he told them: “If I did it because it was my own choice, I would deserve to be paid. But I have no choice. I must tell the Good News. So I am only doing the duty that was given to me.”25 This was not bragging, but humbly admitting that he was somehow favored by God: “All the other apostles are greater than I am. I say this because I persecuted the church of God. That is why I am not even good enough to be called an apostle. But, because of God’s grace, that is what I am.”26
Yet, when his authority was questioned in Galatia, Paul was quick to say: “I was chosen to be an apostle, but not by any group or person here on earth. My authority came from none other than Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Jesus from death… I did not get my message from any other human. The Good News is not something I learned from other people. Jesus Christ himself gave it to me. He showed me the Good News that I should tell people.”27 Paul shared the same message with the Colossians: “I became a servant of the church because God gave me a special work to do.”28 And when writing to his young protégé, Paul told him: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord because he trusted me and gave me this work of serving Him. He gives me strength.”29 And that strength was need because later he tells Timothy: “I suffer now because of that work. But I am not ashamed, because I know the One I have put my trust in. And I am sure that He is able to protect what I have put into His care until that Day.”30
Not only was Paul adamant about the fact that all bond-servants must be chosen, but that accepting such a calling required that they be set aside for His service, and His service alone. Being a Jew, Paul knew how God felt about the Levites He had appointed through Aaron to be priests. Moses kept reminding them about this: “You should be happy that the God of Israel chose you to be different from the rest of the Israelites. He lets you come near to him to do the special work in the Lord’s Holy Tent to help the Israelites worship him.”31 This was also given as a reminder to the Kohath family: “Aaron was chosen for a special work. He and his descendants were chosen to always be the ones to do this special work—to prepare the holy things for the Temple service.”32 In other words, it was not a part-time or volunteer position. They were to dedicate their lives to the mission.
And for Paul, his main mission was to spread the Good News about Jesus the Messiah and His plan of salvation through grace. In fact, this was the mission for all of Jesus’ followers to whom He said: “Go everywhere in the world. Tell the Good News to everyone.”33 And although Paul was called later than they were, he felt his mission was just as important. That’s why he said: “I don’t care about my own life. The most important thing is that I finish my work. I want to finish the work that the Lord Jesus gave me to do—to tell people the Good News about God’s grace.”34
1 See Acts 13:9; 21:40
2 Eusebius of Emesa: Pauline Commentary from the Greek Church.
3 See Exodus 29:24, 26, 28
4 Apollinaris of Laodicea: Pauline Commentary from the Greek Church.
5 Severian: Ibid.
6 Theodore of Mopsuestia: Ibid.
7 Exodus 21:5-6
8 Genesis 26:24; Numbers 12:7
9 Joshua 24:29
10 2 Samuel 7:5
11 Isaiah 20:3
12 Isaiah 53:11
13 John 12:26
14 Ibid. 13:16
15 Ibid. 15:15
16 Acts of the Apostles 27:23-24
17 2 Corinthians 4:5
18 Galatians 1:10
19 James 1:1
20 2 Peter 1:1
21 Jude 1:1
22 Revelation 1:1
23 Acts of the Apostles 9:15-16; See 22:14-15; 26:16-18
24 1 Corinthians 1:1
25 Ibid. 9:17
26 Ibid. 15:9-10
27 Galatians 1:1, 12
28 Colossians 1:25
29 1 Timothy 1:12; 2:7
30 2 Timothy 1:12
31 Numbers 16:9
32 1 Chronicles 23:13
33 Mark 16:15
34 Acts of the Apostles 20:24