May 22, 2019
Titus 2:9-10 (NLT)
Slaves must always obey their masters and do their best to please them. They must not talk back or steal, but must show themselves to be entirely trustworthy and good. Then they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way.
Let’s talk about slavery and Scripture. The United States (where I live) and several other countries have a dark chapter in their histories regarding slavery, and tragically certain Scriptures were used to perpetuate this sin, including today’s. This was wrong.
Second, remember that context is everything. Roman Empire slavery was not the same as Confederate South slavery. In the Roman Empire slaves were often given an education, paid wages and could buy their freedom, or were given freedom at a certain age. Some have compared slavery then to a kind of “indentured servitude” but make no mistake, it was still slavery, which meant the lowest level of status for a human in the Empire.
So like yesterday, it was a different time. And remember Paul is alluding to a bigger teaching Titus was probably familiar with: the “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” teaching we saw yesterday. In Ephesians 5 and 6 Paul talks about husbands and wives, parents and children, and then slaves and masters:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free.
Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites (Ephesians 6:5-9).
We could stop here and tie this off with a good word about how we submit to and treat each other. But it’s interesting that of all the relationship models Paul could have used to call us to be like Christ, he chose the lowest status of slavery. Why? Because that’s what Jesus did. Let’s again check out what Paul also says in Philippians 2:5-8:
You must have the same mind that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Jesus gave up his will, desires, rights, and entitlements and submitted to taking the humble position of a slave [and dying] a criminal’s death on a cross.
Now watch this:
Romans 1:1: This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus.
2 Peter 1:1: This letter is from Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ.
Jude 1:1: This letter is from Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ.
James 1:1: This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Each of these Jesus followers first identify themselves as slaves. In the Roman Empire, a slave’s status up or down was based on their relationship with their master. My friend and New Testament scholar Ruth Anne Reese points out that by using the title of “slave” they are publicly declaring they are owned by Jesus Christ.
The reason for all this slave talk in the New Testament is because we are called to be slaves of the One who became like a slave. That’s the upside down of the first becoming last / love others as Jesus loved us / lay down your life / Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
In Romans 6:16 Paul writes: Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.
It may have been a different time, but it’s still the same story today: we’re all going to be a slave to something… or Someone.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, let me be a slave of Jesus Christ by giving up my will, desires, rights, and entitlements so that my life will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way. Amen.
Where in your life, right now, can you submit like Christ to the form of a slave for the sake of the gospel?
For the awakening,