Letters in the ancient world didn’t have return addresses or postmarks to indicate who the letter was from or from where the letter had been sent. Instead, ancient letters begin with the sender indentifying himself before getting to the actual reason for writing. This style is also found in all of the New Testament letters.
Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness
Admittedly, we usually skim over these sections of the New Testament letters. However, it is within these first few verses that we get close up look at Paul, how he views himself, and how he views his God-given mission.
The two descriptions he uses to identify himself – a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ – are the basis for his work in strengthening the faith of God’s people and to impart the knowledge of the truth about God that affects the way we live. So what did Paul mean by being both a servant and an apostle?
An apostle was a representative, a messenger, or an envoy. This term was often used for the divinely appointed founders of the church. While “Apostle” was an easy title to apply to Peter, James, John, and the rest of Jesus’ disciples, Paul’s claim harkens back to his Damascus Road experience. After meeting the glorified Christ, Paul’s life and mission were radically altered. He became the envoy for Jesus to the known world.
The word servant is often rendered as “slave” in other translations; however, given America’s history with race-based slavery, our understanding of slavery in the ancient world can be a little skewed. A servant, or a doulos, was a person who was owned, often to repay a debt, and the servitude was for a limited time. While some slaves did have a life of hard labor, slaves also performed many domestic services, and often highly skilled ones. Some examples include teachers, accountants, and personal physicians.
Perhaps a better translation would be bondservant, as that term more accurately indicates one who would sell himself into slavery for another. An additional interesting aspect of slavery in the Old Testament was that after a slave earned his or her freedom, the former slave could choose to voluntarily bond himself to his master for the rest of his life (Deuteronomy 15). This decision was based upon the slave realizing the benefits to being permanently associated with his master, that he loved his master so much that he viewed his freedom a worthwhile price to maintain their relationship.
While an apostle was chosen by Christ, to be a servant was a choice made by the individual.
Have we chosen to be servants of God? Don’t answer too fast. The Old Testament slave would have his ear pierced to signify to everyone that he had made his choice to become a servant for life.
What marks our lives that we are choosing to serve God?