Set Apart for the Gospel—Romans 1:1
"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle
and set apart for the gospel of God" (Romans 1:1)
There is a strange law in the Old Testament. It’s one of those easy to glance at and then forget as it is the guideline for freeing servants. At the surface level, it seems this has little impact today. Here’s the jest of the law.
If a Hebrew man or woman sold him/herself into slavery (most likely because of poverty or circumstances), the term of this agreement was six years. By law, in the seventh year, they were released. Here’s why...It served as a reminder to both parties that they were all slaves in Egypt but the Lord redeemed them (Deut. 15:15). Bottom line, He wanted them to be free.
This law also made provision for the servants. When released, they were liberally supplied from the master’s flock, threshing floor, and winepress (Deut. 15:13-14). The goal was that it was a win-win for both parties, as indentured servants were to be treated better than a hired hand.
Here’s the strange part, the law also gives instructions for when a person doesn’t want to be released. What? That’s crazy. If you are an indentured servant, why wouldn’t you want to leave when the time has been served?
Here’s the law's provision, in the seventh year, if the man or woman chooses to stay with the master because of their love for each other, the master takes an awl and pierces the servant’s earlobe. This signifies a lifelong arrangement (Deut. 15:16-17). It was an expression of deep love and devotion by the freed person in response to the kindness of the master.
Paul opens the Book of Romans with this powerful statement, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus..." (Rom. 1:1a). The Greek word for servant is doulos, literally meaning bondservant as described in Deuteronomy. Paul declares himself a lifelong slave of Jesus Christ. His opening statement acknowledges he has submitted himself into the master’s service in response to God’s goodness, kindness, and grace.
This is a powerful illustration of the true heart of the gospel. Our response to Christ when gaining insight into His grace should be that of Paul. We willingly enter into relationship with Him as a bondservant. No obligation, no pressure, and not because it’s what we should do, but it wholeheartedly comes in response to an understanding and appreciation of Jesus.
Only in this context could Paul exclaim that he, the former persecutor of the Church, was set apart from birth to preach the gospel of Jesus (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:15). He saw the depths of God's grace and knew that he was ordained to bring this good news to the world.
This beautiful illustration from the Old Testament can be true for us today. If we find our sole purpose in Christ. Then the entire Christian life can be lived in response to God’s goodness. The more we know Him and the depth of His love for us, then the more we can willingly exclaim that we are bondservants of Christ, set apart for the good news that sets the world free.
Original article published April 30, 2009.