Sometimes you can’t be both of something, and Paul makes that reality unmistakably clear with this statement: “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10c).
These words present a real dichotomy: you will either be a slave of men or of Christ, but you will strive to please one or the other.
Evidently Paul’s life as an unbeliever was characterized by striving to please man. The word “still” indicates that Paul’s focus has since changed, but clearly, before conversion, Paul was not serving Christ or honoring God.
Paul’s man-pleasing ways certainly didn’t lack passion. Before his conversion, Paul demonstrated fervent zeal: “…I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Gal 1:13-14).
But Paul’s zeal dishonored God because it opposed Christ. Paul was in bondage to sin, a slave to human advancement and approval, a captive in chains to the badges of pedigree and morality (see Philippians 3:4-6).
Upon his conversion, Paul’s aim changed: he now desired to please the world’s true Lord, Jesus Christ. Significantly, he doesn’t say, “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be able to please Christ” (which would have been true, of course). Instead, he uses an image of slavery: “…I would not be a servant of Christ.”
The word “servant” denotes bondage and is better translated here as “slave” or “bond-servant.” In Paul’s day, slaves lived to please their masters. Slaves did their master’s bidding, prioritized their master’s will, and needed–more than anything else–to carry out their master’s agenda.
By calling himself a “slave,” Paul has aptly communicated his allegiance to Jesus. The apostle still lives to please, but now the object of his affections is the world’s Messiah and Redeemer. Paul is a slave to Jesus, living to please him (Ephesians 5:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:1).
An evidence of new birth is new allegiance. Are you a slave of the unworthy masters of men? Or are you a slave of the worthy Christ? You can’t be both.