Each month, we’re going to reflect on what we’ve been reading in the Know His Word reading plan. We’ll call this Reading His Word. You’ll hear excerpts from Bible studies and reflections from our team and others reading alongside us. This month we’re sharing some reflections adapted from What Matters Most, Karen Ehman’s Bible study on the Book of Philippians. Enjoy!
In the first verse of Philippians chapter one, Paul and Timothy are described as servants. The original Greek word that is translated in our English Bibles as “servant,” “bond servant,” or “slave” is the word doulos. In Paul’s day, there were three ways a person could become a doulos or slave/servant. They could be born slaves. Any child whose birth parents were slaves was automatically deemed a slave as well. Secondly, a person could become a slave by conquest when—in a war between two countries or tribes—the victorious army captured the people of the defeated side and forced them into involuntary servanthood. And finally, a person could become a slave due to debt. People in poverty sometimes sold themselves or their offspring into slavery in order to pay off a debt they had incurred.
Paul describes himself and his companion Timothy as “servants of Christ.” We must not skip over this verse without thinking about the importance we might unearth from it. An old song from my teenage years by musician Bob Dylan argues that in life you are going to have to serve somebody. “Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” And you know what? This notion isn’t just a catchy, classic rock tune. It is a rock-solid, scriptural truth.
We are born sinners. Sin rules over us. Sin conquers us. We can easily see parallels between our being slaves to sin and slavery in biblical times. There were a few ways that slaves could be released from bondage. They could purchase their freedom for a price, if they possessed enough money. Or if they didn’t have the money, their freedom could be granted if someone else was able to pay the cost required for their redemption. Or they could earn their freedom by working off their debt over a set period of time, usually several years. And of course, death brought an end to their slavery when they passed from this life into the next.
In contrast, our slavery to sin can only be remedied one way: through Jesus. He is the One who purchased our freedom through His sacrificial death, guaranteeing that we could be freed from the bondage of sin once and for all. We cannot earn our salvation. Jesus already earned it for us and offers it to us freely.
Paul showcases this powerful truth, which affects how you read verse 1. We are no longer slaves to sin. We are servants of Christ.
Want to read more from Karen on Philippians? Click here to check out her Bible study, What Matters Most.