There is a lot we can learn about the Christian life from the way the apostle Paul introduces himself in his letters. Though these sections often feel like simple boiler-plate, they contain far more than inconsequential pieces of information about Paul. They become doors of insight into some of the goals of the Christian life. They challenge us to be able to introduce ourselves in the same way with the same level of authenticity.
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” Paul likes describing himself as a servant, the word means a willing slave, to Jesus Christ. We cannot confuse his sense of servanthood with our notion of slavery, however. When we encounter the concept, we tend to think of people carried across the world against their will, and the best thing we could do for them is set them free. The best thing for Paul, as far as Paul is concerned, is his willing slavery to his Savior. Paul has subjected himself to Jesus Christ as a servant on purpose. Have I?
“Paul…called to be an apostle.” Paul is called. This means God has done something with Paul. For most of us it could be said that we are doing something with ourselves, but that leaves us in the position of being subject to our own shortcomings and failings. A calling by God means there can be a divine purpose for our being and our doing instead of just my purposes for being and doing. As Paul will make clear over and over, being called by God means we are called to salvation for occupation. God does the work of making us His own, and then we are to live for and work for Him.
Paul is an apostle. In its simplest form, the term means he is a messenger. Paul travelled the Mediterranean world taking the Gospel to people who had never heard. And though Paul is one of the original, and probably unique, apostles, we are not exempt from the task. Before his introduction is over he tells his readers that “we have received grace and apostleship” (vs. 5).
Paul also addresses all of his readers, as he does in so many of his letters, as saints. He says the Romans were “called to be saints” (vs. 7). If we conjure up images of “saints,” our heads might be filled with half-remembered paintings of people with halos, and stories of special devotion to God under harsh and trying circumstances. And though those people may legitimately be saints, such images have the unfortunate effect of separating the rest of us from the calling of saint.
Paul says you are called to be saints – every one of you. If we strip away the caricatures, we see that people called to be saints have a new life running through their veins that is not tarnished or overcome by this world. We see that people who are called to be saints are anchored and secure in Christ. Saints are not people whose lives are free from storms, but people whose lives are safe and secure in every storm. And people who are called to be saints are not sedentary – they change things for the Kingdom of God.
You are called to be a saint. Anything less is beneath your dignity. Anything less is beneath who God created you to be.