Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Slaves of Christ

     The epistle to the Philippians opens with Paul and Timothy both described as “slaves [douloi] of Christ Jesus.”1 While all Christians are to be Christ’s slaves (1 Cor. 7:22; Eph. 6:6; 2 Tim. 2:24), other than the apostle himself and Timothy (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1; Tit. 1:1), Epaphras is the only individual specifically identified as such in the Pauline writings (Col. 4:12). In the opening of the letter to Philemon, Paul is designated “a prisoner of Christ” with Timothy “the brother.” Due to the sensitive nature of the correspondence, it is understandable why the word “slave” is not used as a descriptive term.
     J. Murphy-O’Connor considers the title “slave of Christ Jesus” to be honorific, calling to mind the great servants of God in the OT (Letter-Writer 48). L. A. Jervis considers that the unique positioning of Timothy’s name along with this designation draws attention to his equality with Paul and to their shared commitment to the service of Christ (Purpose of Romans 71). Yet Timothy’s subordinate status in relation to Paul is evident in the letter body (Phil. 2:22) and elsewhere (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2). Moreover, in the first-century Greco-Roman world, in the context of a Roman colony like Philippi (cf. Acts 16:12, 21), the word “slave” would be more humbling than honorific.   
     Adopting such a title challenged societal norms where prestige and advancement were highly valued (cf. Phil. 3:7-8). Paul “introduces the countercultural mind-set that he will establish in the letter. Over against the Philippians’ quest for honor, Paul and Timothy are models of an alternative set of values.”2 The apostle makes sure his readers know that the Lord Jesus Christ took on the “form of a slave [doulos]” (Phil. 2:7). When he says concerning Timothy, “he has served with me in the gospel” (Phil. 2:22), the verb is douleúō, connoting service as slaves. The difference is that a slave of Christ is one who gives himself up willingly and fully to the will of another (cf. Rom. 6:17-20).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 J. W. Thompson and B. W. Longenecker, Philippians 26.

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