Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead; Jesus Christ our Lord. (verses 1-4)
I love how Paul’s introduction of himself flows immediately into a focus on Jesus. But even before he gets there, his self-identity is saturated in Christ alone.
Three things stand out. First, he identifies himself as a servant. On its own, this is not a high calling. It’s servile. The word is literally “slave,” which means he is not his own but rather belongs to someone else. The “someone else,” of course, makes all the difference. He belongs to Jesus. He understands for himself what he wrote to the Corinthians: "You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). His identity is wrapped up in Jesus. This is his starting point.
Second, he’s “called.” Having just read through Acts and heard his conversion story recounted three times, I can’t help but hear ringing in my ears the first words Paul ever heard from the Lord: “Saul, Saul.” This literal calling, personal and direct from the Lord, springs out of the fact that he is the Lord’s “chosen instrument” (Acts 9:15), “called” as an “apostle” or “sent one.” His calling is custom-made and unique. But he immediately applies this same term to all of us who are in Christ Jesus, saying we are “called to belong to Jesus Christ … called to be saints” (1:6-7) and “called according to his purpose” (8:28).
Third, he says he is “set apart” for the Gospel of God. This is the very word that was spoken by the Holy Spirit over Barnabas and Saul, sending them out on Gospel mission in the first place: “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” Acts 13:2). Elsewhere Paul tells us that the Lord “set me apart from my mother’s womb and called be by his grace” (Galatians 1:15).
From this introduction, Paul launches into an out and out focus on Christ, describing the whole Gospel as being an account of this one who is the Son – he is Son of David in the royal line, and he is the fully-divine Son, proven so by his power-filled resurrection from the dead. This is the One. This is the only one. This is Jesus Christ our Lord.
May my identity, also, be so captured in Christ that my life likewise flows into a full-on focus on Jesus. Such is the calling of all who are set apart as servants of Jesus Christ our Lord.
May it be, Lord. May my life glorify you, in its public moments, in its private moments, in my thoughts and words and actions. In my life, Lord, be glorified. Today.
Reflect: Which of Paul’s three statements most captures your attention – servant, called, set apart? Think through what it will mean for you this day. Take it with you. Call it to mind often.