Paul begins his letter to the Philippian Church with his typical introduction and greeting. At first glance, Paul’s greetings may seem insignificant to understanding his letters, but they actually form the foundation for understanding his writings. Verses one and two of the first chapter read, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus: To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul identifies himself and the Timothy as servants of Christ Jesus. The word servant carries within itself two different connotations that have one meaning that was important for the Philippian believers to understand, and is still important for us today.
Honor & Responsibility
The first connotation that the word servant carries that is important for us to understand its meaning in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the word servant was a term of honor given to those chosen to lead God’s people. Men such as Abraham (Gen 26:24), Moses (Ex 14:31; Deut 34:5), David (2 Sam 7:5, 8), and Isaiah (Is 20:3) were called servants of the Lord as they walked with God to carry out the responsibility of leading his people to freedom, in battle, and in building.
Humility & Identity
The second connotation is the meaning it carried at the time of Paul’s writing. The Greek word that Paul uses for “servant” is the word doulos, which is literally translated ‘slave’. A slave, during Paul’s time, belonged to the lowest class of people in society. Slaves had no rights or privileges except what was granted to them by their masters. All ambition and self-interest had to be extinguished. EVERYTHING about slaves was related to their master, even their identity. So instead of being a term of honor and responsibility, like it was in the Old Testament, it was a term of humility as it identified a person as a slave owned and bought, by their master.
We are servants of Christ Jesus Set apart for the Gospel of God
All believers today are servants of the Lord. It is necessary for us to see our role as servants as both an honor and with a sense of humility. It is an honor to serve God because he’s God. He created everything from nothing. He has the power to bring kings and nations to nothing. He is sovereignly in control over all things. God speaks a word and things are created. God speaks a word and things are destroyed. God has power over nature, life, and death. Even Satan cannot do anything unless he has permission from God. God stands above all creation and he knows creation. God calls the stars by name and he counts every grain of sand. God is bigger than anything we can imagine. Knowledge of God is eternal; therefore we will never stop learning about God. God is good, righteous, just, eternal, all knowing, all powerful, and there is nowhere in all of creation that we could ever possibly go where he is not. It is an honor to follow God because he is God, the greatest, most gracious, most powerful being in all the universe.
We should be humbled in our service to God both because he’s God, and because of what he has done in order for us to serve him. Please note in verse 1 that Paul doesn’t say, “Paul and Timothy, saved by Christ Jesus,” he says, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.” The good news of the gospel is not just that we have been saved from the eternal wrath of God and brought into an eternal relationship with God, but also that we have been given an eternal purpose. Jesus stood in our place and took on the wrath of God so that we wouldn’t have to. The good news of the Gospel is that we don’t have to work for our salvation and that we are re-created to be workers for God. As Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.” We should be humbled in our service to God because he has given us grace, which is unearned favor, by sending Jesus to the cross instead of us. We could do nothing to earn it, and we can do nothing to lose it. Our faith in what Jesus has done is what saves us, but it is not what sustains our salvation. Our salvation is sustained by the precious blood spilled by Jesus on the cross. And though we are not saved by works, we are saved for work. Not just any work, but good work. We are recreated in order to do work that God has already prepared (and we might add given us victory in) for us. Our responsibility as we identify as servants of Christ Jesus is to simply walk in what God has prepared for us.