With the opening words of his letter to Christians in Rome, the great missionary apostle identified himself to his readers. First, his Roman name: Paul.
Earlier in the book of Acts Paul is called Saul, his Hebrew name. When sharing his personal testimony, Paul always referred to himself as Saul. Otherwise, he used the name Paul. This gives the impression that his name changed when he was converted to Christianity, a dramatic transformation that took place while he was on the road to Damascus.
Paul was transformed from being a deadly enemy of the church to being a follower of Christ and a passionate preacher of the gospel. The change was so complete, that a different personal name would seem appropriate.
The next word in his letter to the Roman church is doulos. Some English Bibles translate this word as “slave,” others as “servant,” still others as “bondservant.” The word “slave” carries harsh negative connotations in English. On the other hand, “servant” is probably not strong enough to describe the relationship Paul had in mind.
Paul was not shy about using the word doulos, “slave,” because of the next name in his introduction. He was a “slave” of a very special Master: Christ Jesus, his Savior. In other places, Paul insisted that Jesus set him free, but he gladly considered himself to be obligated to wait on his Lord like a slave waits on his master.
Next Paul described himself as “called.” To live with a sense of calling and purpose is truly a great blessing. To be called is to have a clear awareness of direction and meaning in life that brings great confidence in facing life’s various circumstances.
As a slave of Christ Jesus, Paul’s calling came from Jesus. After his resurrection Jesus told his disciples that all authority in heaven and earth is given to him. To be called by Jesus is to have a purpose in life that comes from the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Next, Paul listed the word “apostle.” The word was used for ambassadors, delegates, and messengers. Paul’s calling in life was to be sent by Jesus as his representative.
Paul further described the word “apostle” by adding that he was set apart to the gospel of God. So he was called to go and represent the gospel, or good news, of God. He represented God and his good news by proclaiming the gospel to the nations. This was his life’s mission.
After noting his master, calling, and mission, the apostle proceeded to define the gospel of God. The gospel he was called to represent was the grace of God offered to all the nations through faith in God’s resurrected Son Jesus Christ.
What a great blessing it was for the Apostle Paul to have such a clear sense of his identity and purpose in this world! Paul knew where he stood in the context of both time and eternity, in the eyes of God and the eyes of people.
The beginning of a new year tends to be a marker in our lives. It seems like a fresh start. What better time to clarify our identity and purpose? Who are we in God’s eyes and in the eyes of others? What has our Lord called us to accomplish in this world?
Let’s reaffirm our identity in Christ and our calling from the Lord as we prepare to make the most of every opportunity in 2020. Let’s honor our Lord by fulfilling our calling and completing our mission!
May God’s Spirit inspire us to know and to fulfill our call from our Lord Christ Jesus,
Brother Richard Foster