I will speak for myself. Perhaps some might say an “Amen” to it because they are or have found themselves in the same space. Though I would NEVER dream of renouncing my faith in Jesus, I can functionally reduce Jesus to something instead of someone. It is possible for me — in the day in, day out happenings of life to reduce Jesus to an idea rather than engaging Him and experiencing Him in a meaningful, personal way as my living Lord and Savior. In a very real way I can essentially relegate Jesus to a spot on the bookshelf with my theological reference materials. I can find myself nodding in agreement with the doctrine of Christ, His redeeming love, His victory over the grave and His eternal Kingdom, while at the same time be loading all of my hopes and dreams into things other than Jesus — as if they are the source, the sum and the substance of real joy and real life.
This can be very subtle for believers because we can load our hopes and dreams into Jesus things rather than Jesus. When that happens, I am actually loading all of my hopes and dreams into a delivery system that will fail! A theological concept did not die in my place for my sin — JESUS did! A theological concept did not come out of the grave three days later — JESUS did!
I believe that the opening words of the book of Philippians is the divine antidote for that spiritual condition.
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:1)
There’s something really important in the way Paul introduces himself in this letter. Paul began nine of his 13 letters by referring to himself as an apostle. That’s how he began 2 Corinthians.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth” (2 Corinthians 2:1).
He began his letter to the Galatians with:
“Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:1-2).
When Paul opens those nine letters by referencing his apostleship, it was for a reason.
Either his apostleship had been brought into question or challenged (as was the case with the church in Corinth), or he needed to rebuke a church for spiritual immaturity, moral failure or flawed church practice (as was the case with the church in Corinth); or he needed to address a doctrinal issue (as was the case with the churches in Galatia because the gentiles were being told that, besides believing the Gospel, they had to be circumcised in order to be saved). He even opened his two letters to his dear friend Timothy — with, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus…. Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” because his true son in the faith was facing false teachers, and people were saying he was too young to pastor them. As an apostle, he urged Timothy to command certain people to not teach false doctrine. Paul also commanded his true son in the faith to teach very specific things — to not give up on the calling and gifting of God on his life — to hold fast to sound doctrine.
But Paul doesn’t introduce himself in this letter as an apostle because he wasn’t writing to address them about gross moral failure or false doctrine swirling around in and threatening the church in Philippi. Paul didn’t need to introduce himself in this letter as an apostle because the church in Philippi never questioned or challenged Paul’s gifting and calling. They had never attacked him. In contrast to the Christians in Corinth who were saying, “I’m of Paul, or I’m of Apollos, or I’m of Peter;” the believers in Philippi were never divided over the place Paul occupied in their hearts in minds.
It’s not as if the church in Philippi was free of troubles.
There’s never been a local collection of believers that has been, because every local church is made up of us — humans that have been redeemed and washed from their sins by the blood of Jesus. But Paul wrote this letter to let his dear friends in Philippi know how much he thought about them, what he treasured about them, how he prayed for them, and what he prayed for them. There’s no regret, no resentment. As Paul sat in jail all of those things — by inspiration of the Holy Spirit — moved from mind and heart to pen and ink on parchment.
Over the years, I’ve come to see an overarching theme in this letter. I believe the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write this letter so the 1st century believers in Philippi (all the way out to 21st century believers in this room and around the world) could see the heartbeat of Paul. Pick any part of the letter. It doesn’t matter if your reading what Paul remembered about his fellowship with the Philippians, or what Paul is praying for them, or what Paul said about his own life and circumstances — you discover from every angle that Jesus was the Source, the Sum and the Substance of his life. I believe that from every angle (personal and autobiographical, practical or theological) Paul wanted his dear friends in Philippi to know that Jesus is the Source, the Sum and the Substance of life for every believer, whether they’re in prison for faith in Jesus — or living in a Roman colony called Philippi.
It’s understandable that we find it so easy to say that the big theme of this letter is JOY!
Running through this letter penned in a dungeon is a powerful current of joy — which spoke powerfully to the Philippians — and speaks powerfully to us tonight of the reality of that Jesus was the Source, the Sum and the Substance of Paul’s life — even sitting while imprisoned.
“… Joy at the beginning, joy at the end, joy everywhere in between. Joy is God’s creation and gift. No authentic biblical faith is conceivable that is not permeated with it.”– Eugene Peterson
The life of Jesus was as real as the chains that bound him — and transcended his circumstances —that is why Paul would use the words “joy” and “rejoice” in this little letter more times than the rest of his letters combined.
THAT is what Paul had to offer those he loved so deeply! Paul had NOTHING ELSE to offer them than Jesus. Paul offered them NOTHING LESS than Jesus!
There is no shortage of men and women around us in the church and outside the walls of church who are hurting.
The Gospel is such great news because in it we discover that the life of Jesus is as real as the “chains” of pain that can bind us — the life of Jesus can’t be restricted by our circumstances and our pain.
But here’s something else to consider. It can be argued that 21st century America is the most affluent and comfortable place to live in history. We live in a culture of comfort — a culture of “more.” We need to understand — and our lives need to show — that the life of Jesus is more real than the best of our comforts — and transcends any and all of them. I pray that every follower of Jesus will walk into his or her slice of the lost world, knowing that the last thing we want to offer 21st century American culture is a subculture of religion that is merely an add on to every other comfort they enjoy. I pray we will realize, as did Paul, that we have NOTHING else to offer our very comfortable, but very lost world, than Jesus — and that we will offer it NOTHING LESS than Jesus!
Look at how Paul does identify himself:
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:1).
FIRST — Paul wanted them (and you and me) to know that in the deepest sense of who they were he and Timothy were servants of Jesus.
The word servant sounds bad. But in a way, every employee is a servant — they serve the person or company for an agreed upon wage. You might have a job description and even a title — but you’re being paid to serve an individual or a corporate entity. You pick the person or place you’re going to serve on the basis of the benefits package. But an employee working for minimum wages under harsh conditions is nothing close to what Paul said about himself and Timothy.
The word servant is from the Greek word doulos (δουλος) – “A slave.”
The word slave is a painful word for us because of the shameful reality of the slave trade in America’s history. Here’s some more depth on the definition of the word Paul used here to describe his relationship with Jesus:
“…One who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another, his will (the will of the doulos) being altogether consumed in the will of the other.”1
“…Pertaining to a state of being completely controlled by someone or something—‘subservient to, controlled by.”2
Despite the lingering reality of racism, and not ignoring the reality of human trafficking — 21st century Americans know nothing of what it is like to be slaves. But Philippi was a Roman Colony. The citizens of Rome on foreign soil understood life in Italy. In 1st century Italy, 30-40% of the population were slaves! When Paul said, “Timothy and I are slaves,” his readers got the picture.
HERE’S THE DEAL — Most Christians live their relationship with Jesus as though they’re employed by Him.
That work relationship came with an amazing benefits package: Eternal Life in the presence of their heavenly employer! But like paid servants of an employer, they see themselves as on the clock or off the clock. Like paid employees — they don’t feel it’s within the scope of their relationship with their employer to include Him on their decisions and desires unless they’re on the clock, and those choices are connected to their job. THAT is not how Paul and Timothy understood themselves in relationship to Jesus! A servant is free to come and go, but a slave is not.
If any one were to ask Paul or Timothy, “Who are you?”, they would answer: We are slaves! Slaves of Christ Jesus. In the deepest sense of who they were, they understood that they belonged to Jesus, body, mind and spirit — they were subject to Him in everything. Their will was altogether consumed in the will of Jesus.
Put another way — they processed who they were in light of who Jesus is. Their identity was wrapped up in the identity of Jesus. One commentary on this passage put it like this:
Doulos (δουλος) is the correlative of “Lord.” (That term has a mutual relationship with the term “Lord.”) When Paul identifies himself and Timothy as “servants,” he means that they are the absolute possession of Jesus Christ, their Lord and owe absolute obedience to Him.3
Doulos is the correlative of Lord! File that one away! For a LONG time I could never understand why anyone would want to be totally sold out for Jesus. But here’s the deal: The Bible tells us that everything broken in the world has its origin in man refusing to find his identity in relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. At this moment individual lives are broken and are contributing to the brokenness of the world at large because men and women refuse to find their deepest sense of meaning in that correlative relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. We find that refusal expressed with perfect clarity in the words of Luke 19:14 — “We do not want this man to reign over us.”
The Bible tells us the truth about those who refuse to be slaves of Christ Jesus.
Everybody has a master. Everyone is serving a master passion. Money and Lust are the big ones in our culture. They are subtle masters! The Police wrote a tune called “Wrapped Around Your Finger.” There’s a line that says: “You will find your servant is your master.” They give the illusion that they serve you.
“Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death.” (Romans 6:16, NLT).
And they are cruel masters. There is only ONE Master that sets you free. Jesus! In the second chapter of this letter, Paul reminds the Philippians of WHO Jesus is and HOW He set us free. Jesus — who is the Lord over all time, all places, all people — became a servant. There’s our word doulos. The will of Jesus was consumed in the will of the Father. And as a doulos, Jesus was obedient to the point of death — even death on the cross — to redeem (buy out of slavery with a price) those who refused to live for His will.
And THAT is why Paul and Timothy wanted their will to be consumed in the will of Jesus.
When you discover that Jesus is the Lord of lords, and He shed His blood to purchase you out from under the power and bondage of idols and sin — rescue you from the penalty of sin — you don’t want Jesus to be your 9-5 boss — you want Him to be your master! You want HIS will to become your will. You want HIS passions to become your passions. You want HIS kingdom to come instead of yours.
SLAVE is a really big word in understanding the nature of relationship with Jesus.
1 Zodhiates, S. (2000). The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
2 Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 471). New York: United Bible Societies.
3 Loh, I.-J., & Nida, E. A. (1995). A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (p. 5). New York: United Bible Societies.