God and Slavery

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God and Slavery

Titus 2

2 But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. 2 Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.

3 Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.

6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be censured; then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us.

9 Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, 10 not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

15 Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you.

-The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Tt 2:1–15). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Proof-texting may well be the death of us all. Some people have looked at passages like this one, noticed the word “slaves”, observed the way Paul does not denounce it as the most vile thing imaginable, and then proceeded to throw out the entire bible as being irrelevant at best and sometimes calling it the root of all social evils in the world. Jesus, once pointed out that it is important to judge yourself first before judging others, something which applies to cultures of the past as well as those of the present. So, if slavery is a hot button issue for you (and it probably should be), here is some of the present data on how well your own culture is doing at eliminating it.

Now that we have taken a sobering look at the problem and realize that there are more slaves in our world today than there were back in the Roman Empire to which Paul was writing, lets look again at what Paul is asking Christians in general, and Titus in particular, to do.

  1. Teach consistent, sound doctrine. Don’t make it up as you go. Contexts may change, but the values and the mission of God does not.
  2. Older men should be temperate (balanced), serious, prudent, and solid in Faith, Love, and Endurance. (It was probably possible to technically be a slave owner in first century Rome and do all these things, but from our perspective, it would probably look more like someone who worked in exchange for housing. By that standard, there are some church pastors, living in parsonages, who would technically be slaves in America today. You could not be abusive to anyone and even be considerate “temperate”, let alone sound in faith, love, and endurance. If your goal is only to abolish slavery, you are setting the bar too low. It is a good start, but it is nowhere near enough.
  3. Older women are taught to be reverent. This means your actions and words should teach others around you how to act… because, whether you want them to or not, they do just that. We can complain about the younger generations but many were raised by parents, and a growing number have been raised by grandparents that taught them everything they know, either intentionally or unintentionally. Do our words and actions shine so clearly that our enemies are frustrated trying to say anything bad about us?
  4. Slaves. What do you tell someone who is a slave to do? Stop being a slave? Stand up for yourself? What if their slavery is paying for the survival of their families? What do we say to the people who have escaped abusive slavery, only to go back and buy slaves of their own to profit from? Paul here says slaves have the unique role of being an “ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior”. I think this points to the fact that Jesus became our slave, took our abuse, and did not retaliate. If you suffer in such a situation, you have the possibility of truly exemplifying Christ in a way that those of us who are free from such suffering are unable to do. Honestly, I’m not sure I could do that myself. I have too much of the impious, rebellious spirit of worldly passions raging inside of me. I may not be enslaved to any one person or institution, but I’m not immune to worldly temptations, addictions, or any other spiritual slave master out there. Too many times I have thought or said, “I don’t have any other choice.”, thus revealing the true master I serve.

What would it look like to be a slave of God, I wonder?
I imagine, as the story of the Prodigal illumines, God treats His slaves better than we treat our own children sometimes.
I wonder if I could do it? I wonder how my perspective on everything would change if I understood and believed that I belonged to God and no one else?

For those who slavery is an unredeemable word, maybe it is time we quit talking about it, stop waiting for our governments to do the work we are unwilling to do, and be like Jesus, paying the debts of those millions of slaves and freeing them from that bondage and abuse, because one way or another, that is what it is going to take… putting our own money, service, and lives where our mouths are.

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