I met an interesting fellow at the coffee shop the other day. I had been intently studying while he was focused on his computer at the next table. He started to get his things together, ready to go. He stood up to leave, but then started talking to me.
“Has anyone close to you ever died?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “How about you?”
“Yes,” he said.”It changes things, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does. Who was it for you?” I wanted to know.
I wanted to push this conversation further. “How did it change you?”
“It caused me to realize that life is too short to be a slave to anyone or anything.” His face was intent. It seemed that tears might come at any moment. Earnestness exuded from his very stance and look.
He talked for a few more minutes about time clocks, reviews, money, and rat races. He explained that the important things were integrity, honesty, and courage. Before I could push on this sensitive topic anymore, he thanked me for listening, turned without awaiting my response, and walked out the door. I never even got his name.
But I thought a lot about what he said, especially since what I had been so intently studying when he started the conversation was Romans, which begins:
“Paul, a servant [bondslave] of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…” (Romans 1:1, ESV)
Keep in mind what Paul is striving to accomplish in these opening sentences and paragraphs. He is writing to a congregation he didn’t establish, to Christians he didn’t know and didn’t convert. He had to begin with the ethos of ancient rhetoric; that is, he needed to begin by establishing his credibility. Why should these Roman Christians listen to what he wrote about anything?
When the ancients would take up this part of their rhetoric, they would talk about their exploits, their expertise, their experiences. They would mention battles they had won, victories they had achieved, commissions they had fulfilled. How did Paul begin?
“Listen to me, I’m a slave of Christ Jesus.”
We can understand the declaration of apostleship that comes next, but slavery? They should listen because he is a slave?
Because a slave of the Imperial Ruler of All the Universe has more authority than a freed man in this world.
On the one hand I agree with my new acquaintance whom I hope to meet again. Life is too short to be a slave to time clocks, annual reviews, paychecks, houses, cars, gizmos, gadgets, rat races, politics, passions, pleasures. Life is definitely too short to be enslaved to alcohol, drugs, sex, food, gambling, pornography, money, etc.
On the other hand, I disagree. Life is too short to not be a slave of Jesus Christ.
The fact is we are all slaves of something or someone (cf. Romans 6:19-23). Whose slave will you be today?
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