We live in a generation dazzled by “star power” and impressed by title, status and position. Being the ambitious, self-aggrandizing creatures we are, we are also often driven to grasp at title and position for ourselves, perhaps feeling that these enhance our status in the world. And if we cannot garner these for ourselves, then we try to maneuver ourselves alongside somebody who we perceive to be in a position of power, in order to boost our own sense of importance and bask in their reflected glory.
How does this human tendency correspond with Scripture? The apostle Paul, in his many letters to churches and individuals, frequently referred to himself as a “servant of Jesus Christ”. The sanitized English word “servant” does not quite do the original language justice. Paul originally wrote in Koine Greek, and in this language called himself a doulos, meaning a common “bond-slave” belonging to his master, Jesus Christ. This was the most abject term the Greeks used for a slave who was bound to his master until death, and served his master’s interests at the cost of his own.
Yet Paul went even further than that in describing his role in God’s kingdom. He also called himself a “minister of Jesus Christ”. Aha! we may exclaim, is “minister” not a title? Not in the language Paul spoke and wrote! Rather it is the Greek word huperetes, meaning a third-level under-rower, a galley-slave on a ship. These were the lowest class of slaves, chained to extremely grueling work, rowing to the beat of the slave-driver’s drum.
Having established that this man who wrote the bulk of our New Testament and who had such powerful influence and spiritual authority, called himself nothing more than a “slave”, we then pounce on the word “apostle” and claim, “But Paul did have a title! He was the Apostle Paul!”
However, yet again we misconstrue the meaning of the term “apostle”. This is the Greek word apostolos, which has been transliterated into the English “apostle”. However, the original word means one who was sent on a commission to represent another person. It is not a title at all, but a function whereby one lays down the right to self in order to serve the interests of another. Similarly, the word “pastor” is the Greek word poimen, meaning one who takes care of sheep belonging to another master. The job of shepherd was regarded as the lowliest of all. Again “pastor” is not a title, but a function involving servitude. It was a job that was lonely, harsh, and often involved danger from predators.
What Biblical basis then, do we have for taking to ourselves self-aggrandizing titles? The answer is, none at all! In fact after his conversion, Saul most commonly used his Gentile name Paulos or “Paul” – a name that means “little” or “the least”!
Where then, does the modern grasping for title, status and position come from? Much of it is borrowed from corporate culture, where people jostle for position and mercilessly step on others to gain their own advantage. However, the Bible, and the way it teaches us to conduct ourselves in life and ministry, is counter-culture. It reveals to us God’s way of doing things! Even more seriously, we see in its pages that the tendency towards self-aggrandizement originates with Lucifer, who then proceeded to tempt humanity to follow his example. The stories of the fall of Adam and Eve, and the Tower of Babel demonstrate this.
There are few who walked in greater spiritual authority than the apostle Paul. That authority stemmed not from a self-assumed pedestal, but flowed out of deep humility and recognition of his position in Christ Jesus. This is the only position we should aspire to! The Bible shows us a “new and living way” – that the way to spiritual authority is through humility.
Jesus has the final words on this. Speaking to His disciples, who later became the apostles, He said: “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi’, for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’, for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher’, for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” Matthew 23:8-12.
|Common bond-slave, under-rower, galley-slave, |
emissary, under-shepherd, of my Master,