Some songs you can’t unhear no matter how hard you try. Unfortunately musical atrocities come in surprising numbers these days. Of course auditory offenses are not a new problem. One such harmonic tragedy I heard the other day is an oldie by John Conlee entitled “Rose Colored Glasses.” If this happens to be a favorite of yours then I am truly sorry on so many levels. The central nugget of the song seems to be conveyed in these couple of lines.“But these rose colored glasses, that I’m looking through, show only the beauty, and hide all the truth.”
That got me thinking about how easy it is for us to view life through a lens that is misleading whether a positive “rose colored” lens or something darker. But this begs a question: is there a lens that will allow us to see others and ourselves as we truly are? Would we even want that lens?
As Paul writes in Philippians 1:1-2 he points us to see ourselves and others (if we are followers of Christ) through the gospel lens.
He identifies himself and Timothy as mere “servants of Christ Jesus.” Of course Paul could have used his title of apostle here (and he does in other letters to other churches as the need arises) and that would have been totally fine. But instead he chooses to identify himself as a servant. In fact the word servant would be better translated “slave.” He is a slave of Christ. This must have struck home for the church in a society where people are defined by their class and where slaves are the bottom dwellers in the class system. Especially when slaves were seen as the property of their owners. So why this kind low of self-identification? Is Paul struggling with some sort of self-esteem issues that we should be concerned about? I think identifies himself in this way for two reasons.
The first is because this is how he really sees himself. He really does know that he is merely a slave to Christ. He really views himself as the property of Jesus. Paul is not exaggerating or struggling with self-esteem issues. He is viewing himself (and Timothy) through the gospel lens. He has been bought with a price – that of Christ’s blood (1 Cor. 6:20). This self-understanding informs everything Paul does. He understands the depth of his sin (read Romans 1-3) and yet he knows that the grace of God is deeper still. Though he was in bondage to sin and satan was his slave-master he was freed to be Christ’s slave and this is what drives him to write this letter of love and friendship to this struggling group of believers in Philippi.
The second reason I think Paul decides to refer to himself as a slave of Christ and not as an Apostle of Christ is because he wants to deal carefully with this group of believers in Philippi. They are facing both external opposition from a culture and city that is extremely loyal to Rome and Caesar as well as what appears to be the beginning of some internal posturing and division. In that context Paul wants these believers each to see that their Apostle whom they love does not view himself merely as one with position and authority but one who is ultimately the slave of Christ. Paul wants his self-identification to become the self-identification of the Philippian believers. It is nearly impossible for believers who are viewing themselves through the gospel lens of slavery to Christ to fight and posture for position, respect, or influence in the church so that they can have their own way. Indeed if we, as Paul, would humbly learn to view ourselves as those whose lives have been purchased at the cost of the life of God our Savior then we would more easily rejoice in serving others.
Of course Paul doesn’t stop there but goes on to identify those to whom he is writing. And of course he keeps on seeing through the gospel lens.
Soli Deo Gloria