Slavery & the Bible (Part 7) Another Type of Slavery & Freedom in the New Testament

Slavery & the Bible GFTM series…

Read Part 1: Cherry Picking, Worldview & Consistency

Read Part 2: Not All Types of Slavery are Equal

Read Part 3: American Slavery & Bearing God’s Image

Read Part 4: Slavery Ain’t Always Slavery: The New Testament & Roman Slavery

Read Part 5: Roman Slavery & the Lack of Christian Revolt

Read Part 6: The New Testament Response & Problem Verses

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ANOTHER TYPE OF SLAVERY & FREEDOM IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

So, to quickly review our last two articles: Why didn’t the New Testament writers tell Christian slaves to revolt? Because rebellion against the Roman Empire meant one likely outcome: death. So, what could Christian slaves do? Well, they could conduct themselves as Christians, even when slaves, by living out these biblical principles:

  • The Christian Work Ethic: Honor Christ in All You Do
  • Be a Light to the World… Glorify God… Humble Your Enemies
  • Love Your Enemies
  • Personal Sacrifice for the Good of Others

Benjamin Reaoch in his book Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate points out, “The mere fact that slaves are addressed directly [in the New Testament] is significant. In this way Paul and Peter implicitly recognize the personhood of slaves and grant them the dignity of moral responsibility… The instructions to these individuals would have challenged the cultural norms of the day, and if heeded, would radically transform the master-slave relationship… we find that slavery is an assumed reality, and one that is being transformed by the power of the gospel.”

Or think of it this way: Christian slaves were already saved from eternal separation from God; they would spend eternity with Christ. Their non-Christian slave-masters could not say the same thing. Thus, in the New Testament worldview, that means the Christian slave is free and the non-Christian slave-owner is enslaved. In the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ, their statuses are inverted and there is a clear dichotomy: You’re either a slave to sin or freed by Christ.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34-36)

Only in Jesus Christ — the Son — is true freedom found.

But we also find the slave-to-sin vs. free-through-Christ dichotomy put another way in the New Testament: slave-to-sin vs. slave-to-Christ. No one can have two masters (Matt. 6:24); everyone worships something, and you’re either ruled by sin or ruled by Christ. It’s either one or the other. Paul even calls himself a slave (“doulos“/servant/bondservant) of Christ (Rom. 1:1), and he writes elsewhere:

For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant [“doulos”/slave] is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant [“doulos”/slave] of Christ. (1 Corinthians 7:22)

So, in Christ, the believing slave is made free (from the condemnation of sin) and the believing freeman is made a “slave” (through willing obedience to Christ). Here we see a deep truth in paradox: Christians are ruled by Christ as their master, but in doing so they experience true freedom. Everyone is ruled by something, and to be ruled by anything else other than our Creator leads to destruction. You can be a slave to a cruel master (sin) or you can humble yourself before a kind master (Christ), who rules with love and mercy. But, have no doubt about it, you will be ruled by something. Christians obey our master not because of fear of hell, as many who don’t understand true biblical Christianity accuse Christians of from time to time, but because we love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

So, the literal Christian slaves of the Roman Empire were already free in the most important way possible: They were free to live in the reality of God’s eternal kingdom. And once a slave is free in this way, he’s free to willingly put himself second, to love his enemies, and to witness to the truth and freedom of Christ to those around him — even to his human slave-master.

After all, Christians’ ultimate example to follow is their Lord and Savior, the second person of the Trinitarian Godhead, who made himself a slave to all for the sake of all the world:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant [“doulos,” slave], being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8)

Now, what is more likely to lead the unbelieving slave-masters to salvation — Christian slaves following the Christian principles listed above or Christian slaves openly hating their masters? Christ wins people to him by changing their hearts. Christianity isn’t an outside to inside movement, but an inside to outside movement. Christ didn’t conquer with a sword, but by humbling himself by dying for the world. In the eyes of the Roman world, the slave should be pitied, but to the Christian slave, it’s the unsaved slave-owner that should be pitied — even loved — praying that these sinful people will find God’s mercy and enter into Christ’s eternal kingdom.

Once again, Paul lays out the comparison for us:

“… you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:16-23)

When Jesus chose a metaphor to describe the spreading of his kingdom, he didn’t use the metaphor of a conquering army, but of a mustard seed:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches”(Matthew 13:31-32).

Jesus conquers with love and changes society not by the swiftness of the sword, which is always short-lived, but by changing hearts, the only sure way to change something as deeply ingrained and evil in a culture as slavery was in Rome.

NEXT: The two BIG questions: Why didn’t Jesus tell Christian slave-owners to free their slaves?  and The Christian Response to Slavery: Did it Work?

Read Part 1: Cherry Picking, Worldview & Consistency

Read Part 2: Not All Types of Slavery are Equal

Read Part 3: American Slavery & Bearing God’s Image

Read Part 4: Slavery Ain’t Always Slavery: The New Testament & Roman Slavery

Read Part 5: Roman Slavery & the Lack of Christian Revolt

Read Part 6: The New Testament Response & Problem Verses

Available in paperback for $9.00 (or less) and Kindle version for $3.50 (or less) on Amazon. Or learn more here.

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Fearing For the Lives of My Black Children: Thoughts From a White Foster Parent

As I held my four-month-old foster daughter in my arms during a 3am feeding this morning, I scanned the flow of postings on social media about more police killings of black men and now about police deaths due to retaliation.

I grew up in an area without much diversity, but for sixteen years I taught in a high school in Paterson, NJ where the majority of my students and many of my coworkers were black and hispanic, and though I, a white man, will never fully understand what it is to be a minority, I can also say I’ve come to better understand their culture and struggles after sixteen years. Yet, it was not until I took in my foster son and daughter (with plans to adopt) that I started understanding not just intellectually but emotionally. I say this because I’ve come to feel a real fear for my black children’s safety, especially my son’s.

When my foster son first came to live with us almost a year ago, my massage therapist, a Jamaican woman, was curious about why we took in a black child. I told her how parents can choose their preferences when fostering or adopting, such as the age range of the child and, yes, even the race, but we didn’t care what race the children were. But there was also something else, a sad truth, we learned while going through the process: black males were the children least likely to find homes. During the training process, we were also given “The Talk” about giving any minority children we may take into our home “The Talk” about safety. When I was a kid, my parents gave me safety talks about strangers and about not giving out information over the phone; kids today need to be taught about Internet safety. But minorities, especially male minorities, need to be given a safety talk about how not everyone is going to treat them the same way they treat others, including police officers. I’ve come to fear for my son’s life in another way; I’ve come to fear that he will grow into a bitter man who hates the police.

Many conversations with my good friend who I shared a classroom with for over ten years had given me insight into this long before I started the fostering process, as she is black and raising two sons. I also clearly remember her once sharing with me how whenever someone is rude to her, there’s always something in the back of her head wondering if this happened because of her race. Again, as a foster father to a black three-year-old, I’ve come to not just understand this intellectually, but to feel it. Just the other day my heart ached as I witnessed for the first time some children at a playground treating my foster son meanly, and I found my friend’s troubling question floating around my head: Was it because he’s black?

Historically, when we look at things such as mass murder and slavery, how these evils are justified is by diminishing the value of those murdered or enslaved. In other words, those committing the evil do not feel their actions are wrong because they have created in their minds the idea that the victims are not human. This is the essence of racism. This is what the Nazis did. This is what many armies do to the opposition during times of war. Not to open a can of worms, but this is what pro-abortion advocates do; they deny the humanity of the unborn by making them just “a lump of cells.”

Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer is known for saying, “Ideas have consequences,” and this is certainly true: make someone less than human, and suddenly the most inhumane crimes aren’t inhumane anymore. This is the great dilemma of our secular culture because most people believe that all we are is the outcome of a long process of time and chance. In the secular worldview, our brains are just advanced flesh computers in flesh machines — flesh machines no different than fish or apes. We see the consequences of this idea every time we read a news feed. This secular view of human life cannot hold; the center is collapsing, because in one breath secularists argue vehemently that all we are are advanced animals who have clawed our way to the top of the hill by living longer than our competition, and then in the next breath the secularist is outraged by a racist murder by a police officer abusing his power.

Yet, this outrage testifies against the secular storyline of humanity. What is this outrage grounded in? Why must even evil men diminish the humanness of their victims to justify their actions? If the secular storyline is true, how is “all men are created equal” a self-evident truth? Let me shed some light: You’re outraged by these crimes because you recognize humans have inherent worth, an idea the secular view of humanity cannot carry. You’re outraged by the deaths of these black men because you’re recognizing their inherent worth because they’re made in the image of God (Gen.1:27; 9:6). Not only that, you’re outraged by these murders because you — whether you believe you’re a descendant of Adam or a fish — are made in the image of God. Your outrage testifies to this.

I pray that God will protect my children from those who try to diminish the image of God in them. I pray that God will give them black mentors; though I can be their parent, I have never walked the path of a black person. I pray they will know the police officers that I have known, good men who care for their communities. And I pray that they will know and love the God who has revealed himself to us through Jesus Christ — a God of justice (Psalms 89:14; 103:6), a God who equates anger and hate with murder (Matt.5:21-22; James 3:8-10), a God who commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt.5:43-44), a God of forgiveness (Matt. 6:9-15; Eph.1:7), a God who forbids vengeance (Romans 12:19-21), and a God who weeps with us over death (John 11).