<<a person who belongs to another>>
Both male and female slaves were common throughout the Bible times, often being taken captive in times of war, such as happened when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 598 BC. Others were taken as restitution for unpaid damages, or default on debts while some people voluntarily sold themselves or family members into slavery during times of poverty (Gen 47:21). Slaves could be bought and sold as a form of trade (Gen 37:28,36).
What the master said the slaves did, no questions asked. Under ruthless taskmasters they had few if any rights of their own, but other owners treated their slaves well, with some even wanting to remain in the place of servitude for the rest of their lives (Deut 15:16,17). The Passover celebrated the Hebrews deliverance from physical slavery in Egypt and parallels spiritual slavery to sin being terminated by salvation, for Christians.
During NT times, slavery was still prevalent throughout the Roman Empire and although many of the believers were physically slaves to men, they were spiritually freed from the power of sin in their lives (1 Cor 7:21-24; Phm 1:16). “Everyone who [habitually] sins is a slave to sin” and this form of slavery has greater consequences than being a slave to an earthly master (Jn 8:34). While Paul neither condoned nor condemned physical slavery he instructed Christian slaves and Christian masters how to live God-honouring lives in whatever role they had in life, ever mindful of the ultimate Master in heaven to which we all must answer (Col 3:22-4:1; Tit 2:9,10). Paul's approach was to live within the system by transforming relationships through the power of the gospel – “doing the will of God from your heart”. He stated that all believers were “one in Christ” regardless of “whether slave or free” (Gal 3:28; Eph 6:5-9; 1 Tim 6:1,2).
These same principles of right living (in relation to both God and people) should apply today with employers and employees respecting, honouring and submitting to one another so each benefits (Mk 12:30,31). In God’s eyes, life is not about status but the inner quality of heart; His way is not to directly reform society by regulations from the outside, but rather from the inside – by changing the attitudes that determine behaviour.
Have I been delivered from slavery to sin?
freedom at the cross by breaking sin’s stranglehold. “By dying to what bound us…[we are] released from the sinful nature into the Spirit’s control (Rom 6:1-6, 7:6, 8:1-14; Gal 2:20).
Good news – slaves of a good master
The word slave has negative connotations and increasingly humanity is obsessed with personal freedom and self-fulfillment, a ‘No one is going to tell me what to do’ attitude. Yet to truly acknowledge Jesus is Lord denotes His unquestioning right to command and is the essential confession of faith, describing His absolute dominion over us (Jn 13:13; Act 5:29; Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 6:19,20, 7:23; Jud 1:4). Jesus challenged those who gave Him lip service but whose lives did not match their profession, with “Why call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do what I say" (Lk 6:46; Jn 14:15; 2 Cor 5:15). If Jesus is Lord, I am His slave. The Christian life is not about us, yet the modern approach has reversed the roles and our life is paramount, defined by our terms, wants and ambitions not His.
In the original Greek, when the NT was written, the word ‘doulos’, meaning slave, was used, however because of its negative stigma the word servant has often been substituted [when translating], thus weakening its significance. Consequently, saving faith and Christian discipleship have been reduced to a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’, a causal connection with no binding obligations and an ‘I’ll give you a ring sometime’ interaction of the ‘cheap gospel’. Judas and Satan had some kind of ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus, yet without a hint of submission to Him as Lord. Being a true follower of Christ involves obedience, as in the instruction “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything…” (Lk 11:28; Phil 2:12; Col 3:22). Jesus, Himself, was completely compliant to the Father, even to death (Jn 5:19; Phil 2:8).
Slavery to Christ is the essence of true discipleship (Jn 12:26). When many of His followers turned away, because of the demands of being dedicated followers He even asked His disciples, “Are you leaving too?” (Jn 6:67). He never adjusted the message to make it more appealing to worldly-minded sinners, while those who tried to negotiate different terms were turned away – His stipulations are still the denial of self, taking up our cross and following Him (Lk 9:23,57-62, 18:18-25). Jesus doesn’t look for casual followers or admirers, He is looking for bond slaves – those who elect to remain with their master because of the blessings they receive.
More good news – slaves can become friends
Jesus said, “If anyone love me, they will obey my teaching…You are my friends if you do what I command. I don’t call you slaves any longer because a slave does not know what his master is doing. Instead I have called you friends for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 14:23, 15:14,15). He was saying that obedience is the proof that someone is His friend; implicit obedience to His commandments is the natural fruit of genuine love for Him, it’s the mark of authentic, saving faith and leads to a new status in the Kingdom of God. A slave is not owed any explanation, yet Jesus says He did not keep any secrets from His disciples. There was still the master/slave relationship governed by authority and submission, yet while still being His slaves they were friends as well, privy to His thoughts and purposes.
To whom or what am I a servant to?
the same time (Mt 6:24). In fact, we “are all slaves to sin, which leads to death or to obedience which leads to righteousness” for “A person is a slave to whatever has mastered them” – we get to choose who or what it will be (Josh 24:15,21-24; Rom 6:16-21; 2 Tim 2:26; 2 Pet 2:19). The gospel is an invitation to change masters, and be free of sin’s bondage and control, becoming a true follower of Christ, released from self-government to became a ‘slave to righteousness’. A Christian who voluntary chooses to become a slave to Christ increasingly experiences freedom from self and sin together with a joy knowing they are helping build the everlasting Kingdom of God. Knowing that we have been obedient to Him will lead to a humble and grateful attitude – “We have only have done our duty” (Lk 17:10).
Satan is a bad slave owner. His goal is to steal, kill and destroy on earth and take his slaves to the Lake of Fire while, conversely, Jesus gives abundant life, ultimately in heaven forever, for those who submit to His rule (Jn 10:10). Why would anyone remain as a slave of Satan’s?
A Christian who voluntary chooses to become a slave to Christ increasingly experiences freedom from self and sin, together with a joy knowing they are helping build the everlasting Kingdom of God.
As believers we are slaves of God (requiring complete obedience) for He is always to have the highest authority over us yet to our fellow humans, we are mere servants (a voluntary serving).
Abolishing slavery of every kind
While historically, slavery was commonplace it typically damaged and debased people because of the imbalance of power in the relationship. As Christians began to realize this, some of them played a major role in the nineteenth century emancipation movement. e.g. William Wilberforce. However, new forms still emerge. Today cheap ‘slave labour’ is sometimes used to produce consumer goods. Also countless, (mostly female) sex slaves are exploited to cater to men’s out of control sex appetites through sex trafficking, a practice totally abhorrent to God.
Am I still enslaved to something that I need to be released from?
bondage to drink or other destructive habits that control and manipulate people to act a certain way. However the good news is “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourself be burdened again with the yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). Christ died to free us from Satan’s power; it is our right and privilege to have victory in every area of our lives (1 Jn 3:8). Do not consider this just a nice sounding theory, give it your utmost to walk in your rightful position in Christ.