Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: (Philippians 1:1 ESV)
Paul and Timothy use a weird word to introduce themselves. They use the word servant. The Greek word is “dulos” (just in case we got any Greek Scholars out there). It could be translated as “slave.” The first thing they say about themselves is, “Hey everybody we’re slaves of Jesus.” When I first read this and thought about it, it was weird. Think about it. How would you introduce yourself? I might say hey I’m Jonathan and I’m a pastor. To get more personal I might say that I’m an Auburn fan. I might even reveal too much and say that I like Pizza way more than I should. Those are all statements about my identity.
We all go through this part of life where we try and figure out who we are. We know the basics like, who raised us and what our parents want for us. But then we start trying to figure out who WE are going to be. It’s like going back to school shopping with your mom for new cloths and trying on new outfits. (I know the guys are thinking, let’s just throw 3 pairs of the same jeans in the cart, try them on at home and be done with it. Some of the girls, however, will try on one of everything in the store… I know I had sisters). So you try on the preppy outfit, the sporty outfit, the I don’t care outfit… Then you have to do this delicate balance between finding an outfit that you think is socially acceptable but also not the exact same as someone else. You want to fit in, but you also want to be a little bit different.
We do that with our identity too. We try and figure out who we are going to be. Are you going to be a jock? In the band? A gamer? A cheerleader maybe? You look for crowds to be a part of (or not to be a part of). You try different things. You test the water with different crowds.
I went through a country music phase. The rational side of my brain has tried to repress all of those memories, but I do remember that Randy Travis would love someone even if her hair fell out. I also went through a Tom Petty phase, the Grateful Dead (which was all probably related to the activities I found myself taking part in) and then I was off to bands like the Smashing Pumpkins, Everclear, Nirvana, Counting Crows and Korn (before they were mainstream) and now I love talk radio, Classical music, hymns and praise and worship music (mostly because my life has been radically changed by the gospel).
When I was trying to figure out who I was going to be I also went through different things. I collected basketball and football cards. I played guitar for like a minute. I was on the quiz bowl team. I was in the FFA (Future Farmers of America). I was in drama. I played football and basketball. I even ran track. I went through a lot of phases.
But I also made a big mistake during that time of my life. While I was trying to figure out who I was, independent of my parents, I thought that Jesus was just something else to try on. It’s like life was a giant buffet table and you could just pick what you wanted. I’ll take a little Auburn football please. I’ll take a little bit of country music. I’ll take deer hunting. I’ll take playing right defensive tackle on the HS football team. I’ll take playing the 6th man in basketball… Oh and I’ll take Jesus too.
The problem was that Jesus isn’t something you could just add to a plate or an outfit you can buy. When we think of Jesus like this, we are in control and we determine just how far we’ll go with the whole Jesus deal. We want enough Jesus to deal with the pressures of life, but not so much Jesus that we actually love our enemies. I wanted him to heal my great-grandma of cancer, but I don’t want him to ask me to love people who are different than me. I want Jesus to pay my debt, but I don’t want to be generous with my money… So really I didn’t want Jesus, I just wanted the good things he could provide for ME. Man, if it ever got too tough or too real I was out.
Truth be told, I was really looking to Jesus to serve me, not to save me.
So naturally nothing really changed in my life because I was still in charge. I only wanted His gifts and I wasn’t ready for His grace. Then something changed… I had a dream. I felt the weight of my sin. I knew that I needed to be forgiven, but had no right, no claim, no demand that God should forgive me. I needed Jesus to save me from my sins and it was at that point that I realized that this whole Christianity thing can’t be something YOU own, it’s more like someone (Jesus) owns you. Anyone who has read the Bible for like a minute can tell you that. It’s one of the reasons I taught my kids how to pray what’s often referred to as the “Lords Prayer” because at the very onset it sets out that we are seeking God’s Kingdom and God’s will, not ours.
So Paul and Timothy at the very beginning of this letter want to make it clear that they don’t have Jesus in their pocket, they are in His pocket. He’s not a designer label. He’s not just an occupational thing. He’s not someone to be dealt with and handled. He’s the boss! They are owned!
In our culture that’s a put down. It’s a slap in the face. When someone is better than you at something, like maybe someone dunks the ball on you, other people will say you “got owned.” Nobody wants to be “owned.” It wasn’t a point to brag about in ancient culture either, yet here we find Paul and Timothy stating from the very beginning that they are owned. I think the reason they seemingly boast here is because they know the real freedom that come from being a slave of Jesus. They have no power in their own name, but their is great power in the name of their master Jesus.
Your thoughts and comments are welcome below. Keep them friendly. I reserve the right to censor crude comments.