“Introducing Kyle’s Bible thoughts of the daaaaay!” Insert theme song here.
“This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the elders and deacons. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.”
Philippians 1:1-2 NLT
Super intense right? Okay so maybe it’s not the most interesting passage from the Bible, but when I recently started Philippians something about this introduction to the book stood out to me.
Right away, Paul describes himself and Timothy as "slaves in Christ Jesus". I thought this was an interesting way to phrase their relationship with Jesus. Especially in the context that this letter was being sent to the Philippians with the intent to describe and show to them the true joy that comes from Christ. So why describe themselves as slaves? Today we like to call ourselves "followers", or "believers”, but slaves? I can't say that's one I hear being thrown around too often. It doesn't exactly fit the relationship most of us like to think we have with Jesus. Honestly, I cannot think of an instance where being a slave has a positive meaning behind it in our culture. Unless I missed some deleted scenes in "Twelve Years a Slave" where they were going around talking about how much fun they were having. In fact I wonder if there's a blooper reel for that movie...that'd be pretty interesting. I digress.
So why would Paul and Timothy use this word to describe their relationship with Christ? Isn't the gospel about how we are free in Christ and able to receive God's mercy and grace because of the cross? Right in the next verse, Paul writes, "May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace." I don’t know about you, but grace and peace aren’t the first words that pop into my mind when I think of being a slave. To put it into perspective, Paul was literally in chains, in prison, when he wrote this, so I feel like he has a pretty good idea of what being a slave could entail. Sometimes, it feels like the church (I'm looking at us America...) has become so watered down, so afraid to take on what it really means to live a life of truly following Christ that we really can't begin to understand what it means to actually be a "slave in Christ Jesus".
In his book "Jesus > Religion", Jefferson Bethke says "We've lost the real Jesus-or at least exchanged him for a newer, safer, sanitized, ineffectual one."
So why do we try to make Christianity this safe place where we wind up being fans instead of being slaves? Where we put in our hour on Sundays and we're good with Jesus for the week? Where we like to talk about how we all sin and struggle but when we're faced with our own sin, give out "unspoken" prayer requests? I’m not saying we should all run around in the streets calling ourselves slaves. I’m not trying to start a hipster Christian movement where people that say they’re slaves are way more spiritual than everyone else. I can see it now. “Oh you’re a Christian?” “Actually…I prefer the term slave.” That would all be equal parts weird and annoying. What I do hope is that we could all take some time to really let that soak in. That being a slave to Christ doesn’t have the same negative context that we all know in our culture. What it is is when we can give up everything we are for everything he is.