I find it both daring and courageous for a fellow human being to say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1 NIV). Yet this is what the apostle Paul says. I believe Paul was able to make such statement because he knew who he was. He was clear about his identity.
Often at the beginning of his letters to churches and individuals, Paul would let us in on this clarity of identity.
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1)
In this opening verse, in his letter to the Christians at Rome, we find Paul describing himself as a servant of Christ Jesus, an apostle, and as someone set apart. A servant of Christ. Behind the word “servant” is the Greek doulos, someone bound to serve his master–a slave. Paul identifies himself as a slave of Christ Jesus. Paul knew that he was not his own master but someone bought bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20)–the blood of Jesus (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
Called. In the New Testament, the term called is used to describe to sides of the same coin: a person is called to salvation (Rom. 8:29), on the one hand, and called to service, on the other hand (Rom. 1:1). Remember when the Lord called Paul on the Damascus road, that right there and then, the Lord commissioned him, “For he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name” (Acts 9:15). This is what Paul means by “called to be an apostle.” The term “apostle” means “someone sent.”
Set Apart. Finally, Paul, a slave of Christ, called to be an apostle, is set apart for the gospel ministry. We also find this expression “set apart” in Galatians 1:15, where Paul is describing his former life in Judaism and how he was set apart from his mother’s womb and called. No doubt Paul is echoing Jeremiah 1:5, where the prophet describes both his call and commission, which he received from the Lord.
Next, we find “set apart” and “called” together in Acts 13:1-3, describing a gathering of prophets and teachers and what was about to transpire. As a historian and theologian Luke records for our benefit, the following, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them'” (v. 2). What we find here is an illustration and expansion, if you will, of what we have been exploring in Romans 1:1 and Galatians 1:15ff–people are both called and set apart for the work which the Lord has called them to.
Conclusion. Recently I picked up a book with the subtitle “What on Earth Am I Here For?” For the believer, there is a definite answer to this question. How the Lord worked in the life of the Apostle Paul makes this clear. From being a persecutor of the Jesus community, the church, Paul found himself being persecuted because he was now identified with Jesus as a slave, apostle, and someone set apart.
In Christ is where we find our true identity. And he has called us to salvation and service–setting us apart from the rest of humanity, to send us back, to the rest of humanity.