In this verse Paul describes Timothy and himself as ‘bondservants of Jesus Christ’, the word translated ‘bondservant’ being doulos, which means ‘slave’. We live in a culture where the concept of servanthood has disappeared, so we may not give any thought to this description.
There are two possible backgrounds to Paul’s description of Timothy and himself as slaves. One was the practice of slavery in the Roman Empire where it was possible for individuals in different roles in a household to be slaves; for example, the manager in charge of the overall running of the house could be a slave as could the person working in the kitchen or in the garden. When Paul calls himself a slave, he is not saying that he has no authority over other slaves in his Master’s household. What he is saying is that any authority he has comes from his Master.
The other possible background comes from the Old Testament where those who served God in a prominent way, such as priests or prophets, were called servants of the Lord. Used in this sense, the word conveyed a sense of dignity. It is possible that Paul wanted to include Timothy as a fellow-worker for the Lord and therefore used a title that would include them both.
Yet I think it is more likely that he wanted to stress that they were at the service of Jesus as to where they would go or what they would do. Paul and Timothy have discovered the secret of how to serve as leaders of Christ’s church. Instead of seeing themselves as the equivalent of managing directors, they see themselves as under the authority of Jesus Christ. There is not a spirit of competition between them; instead there is harmony.
We will think some more about servanthood tomorrow.