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Slave, Servant, or Son?

man walking on the beach in the water toward a rock
August 19, 2019
Jeff Atherholt

When I was a boy, my father would occasionally ask me to shine his shoes. I was always happy to do this for my dad, and he would always reward me by telling me what a good job I had done (my secret ingredient was to mix a little water with the shoe polish).

If a stranger from the past, say the 1st century AD, were to come into my house – unfamiliar with the situation – and see me in the washroom shining my dad’s shoes they might wonder, “Is this boy the man’s slave, servant, or son?”

In the Book of Romans, Paul greets his readers in the first verse of his letter by describing his position as a worker for God: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the Gospel of God…” In this verse, he refers to himself as a servant. When we look a little closer at the word “servant,” we discover that it’s an interesting and revealing term that applies to the work Paul and every believer has set before them.

The Greek word translated here as servant means

1) a slave who belongs completely to his master, and
2) a servant who willingly chooses to serve his master 

In other words, Paul sees himself as a slave who belongs totally to God and willingly chooses to serve Him. In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, there is an example of what Paul may be referring to.

In Deuteronomy 15:12 – 15, we read that those who sell themselves into service (a practice that was used at that time to repay a debt or to escape crushing poverty) must be released from their commitment and set free after six years of service. However, in verses 16 and 17 we read, “… if your servant says to you, ‘I do not want to leave you’ because he loves you and your family and is well off with you then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life. Do the same for your maidservants.” In other words, Paul may be referring to his service as being motivated by his love for God and His “family,” willingly choosing to be marked forever as God’s loving servant.

So, we can conclude that Paul’s ministry was one where he is both God’s slave and servant.

But later in Paul’s opening words to the Roman Christians, he adds another reference to his and our servitude.

Romans 1:7 reads, “To all who are in Rome who are loved by God and called to be His saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (emphasis is mine). Here Paul reminds Christians in Rome, and every believer that almighty God, the one we lovingly and willingly serve, is our Father.

So, along with Paul, are we slaves, servants or sons?

The answer is… yes.

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