Paul identified himself as a “servant” of Christ Jesus. He didn’t use his official “Apostle” title, but the Greek word usually translated as “slave.” I have argued that titles are not necessary to be a servant of Jesus. If we are to follow Jesus’ example of washing others’ feet as Jesus did and invite us to follow His example, no titles are necessary. As a matter of fact, titles can often get in the way. The President doesn’t wash the feet of the Vice President. We just assume that is the way it’s to be. Yet, Christ calls for this kind of leadership. He was the Son of God. He had the highest position of anyone in the world. As a matter of fact, at His name, every knee will bow. It’s a name above every other name. Yet he washed his disciple’s feet. Paul and other writers of the New Testament did use titles in their letters to the churches. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul uses three titles; saints, overseers, and deacons.” Philippians 1:1b says, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”  So we consider the question, what does saint mean? “In its most basic sense, a saint is a ‘holy one,’ someone who is set apart for God’s special purposes. As a result, every follower of Jesus Christ is a saint. In most of his letters, the apostle Paul refers to the recipients as saints, including the church at Corinth, where there were significant moral and theological problems!” Saints, like the children of Israel, are not perfect people. The nation was called in Exodus 19, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Then

I Peter 2:9 applies this same language to believers: “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”[1] Paul’s letter is written to all believers. All believers are saints, but not all saints are “overseers.” They are the believers who serve in leadership roles in the church. In the Bible, the terms overseer, bishop, and elder all refer to the same position in the church. I like the way the New Living Translation translates the term “church leader.” The titles Bishop, Elder, and Pastor have baggage attached to them for the modern believer. But simply put, they are simply church leaders. One blogger explains, “Those in the leadership position of overseer should follow the example of Jesus, who ‘did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ Leadership, according to the Bible, is not about puffing oneself up or lording power over others but rather about serving those who have been entrusted to one’s care.”[2]

There are only two official offices mentioned in Scripture: Overseer and Deacon. The church leaders referred to as “overseers” refers to the pastors of the church. As the term suggests, they are responsible for “watching over” the church. Deacons are those who have been selected to serve the church in various ways that give attention to practical matters. In Acts chapter six, when deacons were chosen in Jerusalem to look out for the welfare of the widows in the church, it was done so to free the pastors to focus their attention on God’s word and prayer.[3] Although we see that Paul recognized those in official capacities in the church, he was addressing all believers. It might be helpful to hear what learned pastors might explain about a passage in the Bible, but be assured that it was written to everyone. The language of the New Testament is Greek. But it was unlike the formal classical Greek of Plato and Aristotle. It was the language that ordinary people spoke and understood. It was once referred to as “Holy Ghost” Greek by the church in order to distinguish it from classical Greek. It was something that only learned ecclesiastical leaders could understand and was often kept from normal people. “This all changed at the end of the nineteenth century. In a garbage dump in Egypt, the discovery was made of the letters, contracts, receipts, etc., of ordinary people who lived at the same time as Jesus. It became clear from these writings that the New Testament was written in the same common, everyday language of the people, not some special Bible language. This reinforces the idea that the Bible was written to the masses, not just to an elite few.”[4]



[3] Ellsworth, Roger. 2004. Opening up Philippians. Opening Up Commentary. Leominster: Day One Publications.