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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3 thoughts on “Slavery & the Bible (Part 7) Another Type of Slavery & Freedom in the New Testament

  1. Pingback: Slavery & the Bible (Part 9) Did Christianity End Slavery? What History Tells Us. | god from the machine

  2. Pingback: Slavery & the Bible (Part 8) Why Didn’t Jesus Free the Slaves? | god from the machine

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