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Tuesday
May082012

Slaves of Righteousness

Slavery was something with which first century Christians were very familiar. It was not necessarily the same kind of slavery that mars American history, but a form that defied race and often resulted from severe economic hardship. Still, from Jews' knowledge of the Law of Moses and the Gentiles' experience in their own economy, compulsory servitude and the forfeiture of personal freedoms were circumstances that were all too common. Christ's doctrine spelled the end of such enslavement, but the devil's goal has always been to bend people's will to his own, making them servants of their own doom.

 

Discussion

I. The Great Equalizer

A. Civil Reformation

1. the New Testament has been used by men both to justify and vilify the peculiar institution of slavery, but a careful reading of the words of Christ and the Holy Spirit reveals a divine attitude that supported the abolition of human slavery through a process that would not invite anarchy and impoverishment

2. men with selfish motives and material idols will usually resist any threat to their own bottom lines, but the New Testament is clearly a document of emancipation and equality, "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (Galatians 3:27-29).

3. while the inspired writers urged contentment in whatever conditions existed, they also acknowledged the superiority of freedom to slavery (First Corinthians 7:17-24)

 

B. Philemon and Onesimus

1. the same writer observed the enslavement of one Christian by another when he converted Onesimus and felt compelled to send him back to his owner and master, Philemon of Colossae (Philemon 8-16)

2. clearly, Paul's preference is that Philemon set Onesimus free and then return him to Rome to assist Paul during his own imprisonment there

3. he respected the fact, however, that the decision belonged entirely to Philemon, and yet freedom was also the preferred outcome, as it remains today in similar circumstances

4. with slavery long ago abolished in this country and throughout much of the world, it becomes easier and more beneficial to recognize the metaphorical power of biblical enslavement

 

II. Be Not Slaves

A. Slaves to Sin

1. the obvious comparison involving slavery points to a compulsion to disobey God and do the wrong thing, either because of apathy or an overwhelming urge to get pleasure from sin

2. when Jesus came along, he compelled people to acknowledge how enslaved to the pleasures of sin they were, but he also offered personally to redeem them if they would learn from him and try to be better (John 8:31-36)

3. years later, the apostle Paul would revive that theme, but with the provocative proposition that all people are slaves of some description, only differing in the character of the master they choose (Romans 6:15-23)

4. the constants are the free offer of redemption and the requirement of reformation

a. for example, Paul warned people about slavery to addictive substances like alcohol (see Titus 2:3) and behaviors that promise instant gratification while concealing eternal regret (Titus 3:3)

b. consider the world around us and even the lives we sometimes settle for -- how much is defined by slavery and addiction to unwholesome attitudes, objectives, and behaviors (Second Peter 2:19-20)

c. Peter even emphasizes the evidence in the unsuccessful efforts that some make to overcome their weaknesses, only to fall prey to them again and again

5. for the one whose conscience remains soft even as his will grows softer, the result is a lifetime of bondage and fear of dying that way (see Hebrews 2:15); God does not envision for us a life of enslavement to the devil (Romans 8:12-17)

 

B. Slaves of Men

1. even more insidious are the occasions when people are less slaves to particular moral faults, but instead fall prey to the influence of misguided teachers

2. it happens in cults and in churches where esteemed teachers are given authority to interpret Scripture or replace it with their own opinions, thus enslaving the members of the organization to arrogant presumption; again, Paul warned, "You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men" (First Corinthians 7:23).

3. false teachers can be very persuasive, especially when their doctrines disguise license as liberty, or when they employ emotionalism to obscure error (Second Corinthians 11:16-21a)

4. in the first century Gentile churches, it frequently happened that Judaizing teachers tried to compel new Christians to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses as a condition of grace

a. Paul offered the allegorical contrast between enslavement under the Law of Moses or idolatry and sonship through Christ (Galatians 4:1-9, 5:1)

b. those twin dangers -- idolatry and defunct laws -- continue to entice Christians today into worthless or outdated systems, making them slaves of men instead of Christ

 

III. Be Slaves

A. Obey Masters 

1. slavery, however, in a literal sense continued throughout the first century and for a long time afterward; the New Testament's language invited that to change, but not through aggressive revolution

2. Christians who found themselves in the unenviable position of human bondage were counseled to make the best of it and to behave honorably even in the most dishonorable circumstances

3. it is an incomplete application that we make of these commandments today when we apply them to the employer/employee relationship, but there are consistencies

a. employees should be respectful and industrious (Ephesians 6:5-9, see also Colossians 3:22-4:1)

b. the danger exists that rebellious behavior will reflect poorly upon the gospel (First Timothy 6:1-2)

c.even when it seems like dishonesty and disrespect are justified by ill treatment, the Christian must do the right thing (Titus 2:9-10)

 

B. Humble Servant

1. our goal as Christians, as slaves, as employees, should be to pursue a role of servitude to Christ and others without regard to pride and humiliation (Mark 10:42-45)

2. "So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty'" (Luke 17:10).

 

Conclusion

Paul was right when he confessed that all people are enslaved to something, either righteousness or sin. Who is your master?

 

Questions for Review

  1. How could the Bible be used to justify modern slavery?
  2. How could the Bible be used to condemn modern slavery?
  3. Why didn't Paul order Philemon to release Onesimus?
  4. Compare addiction to slavery.
  5. What kinds of things are addictive (enslaving)?
  6. How do people become slaves to men?
  7. What should be the goal of every disciple?

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