What does the Bible say about slavery? Not a lot, and, yet, a lot. You will search the Bible fruitlessly to find passages condemning the socio-economic institution of slavery in Biblical times. Christian slaves are never commanded or urged to flee their masters or revolt against them. Instead they were commanded to stay and obey – to stay put and serve faithfully. Furthermore, we won’t read anywhere that Christian slave owners were commanded, urged or recommended to release their slaves – not even their Christian slaves.
Does that mean the Bible supports and condones the slavery we see today? The human trafficking? The forced child labor, child soldiers, and child sex slave trading? The debt-bondage and involuntary domestic servitude? By no means. While the Bible does not condemn institutional slavery it does condemn the abuses that occurred and occur today in slavery. Was someone kidnapped or blackmailed or otherwise forced against their will into a form of slavery? First Timothy 1:10 is part of a long list of evil people, people whom Paul says are the reason God’s Law was instituted. Kidnappers, which in the Greek referred to slave dealers who kidnapped people to sell them into slavery, are wicked and lawless people who are condemned by God’s law.
When God delivered Israel out of Egypt He delivered them out of their enslavement to the Egyptians. That act in and of itself is a statement God condemns slavery. Strict regulations were given to the Israelites when it came to slaves – who could be slaves and who couldn’t, how long they could be slaves and how they were to be treated. Paul said to slaves in 1 Corinthians 7:21 that if they are able to gain their freedom they should. Slavery is not God’s purpose: freedom is God’s purpose.
We should also recognize the slave/master relationship was always antagonistic we should realize that history reveals masters were very often kind, fair and generous. Many times slaves lived far better than non-slaves: owning property, well fed and clothed, being left an inheritance from the master.
Often this would engender in their slaves a sincere love for them as masters, resulting in the desire to remain their slaves even when the term of their bondage ended or freedom was offered. This is why the practice of piercing the ear with an awl developed. It is a common practice in the East and it is described in the Bible too. In Exodus 21:5-6 it says, “But if the servant declares ‘I love my master and my wife and my children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.” David referred to this same thing when describing his relationship with God in Psalm 40:6, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire but my ear you have pierced…”
Scriptures present a Master/Slave relationship of the highest ethical standard. Both slave and master are bound to treat one another with respect, care, and faithfulness while being conscious of God.
For instance, listen to passages speaking to Masters. Ephesians 6:9 says, “Masters, treat your slaves the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him.” Don’t threaten them, and if you can’t verbally abuse them certainly God forbids physically abusing them. But notice too that masters are to realize they have a Master in heaven who is holding them accountable for how they treat their slaves.
Job was a perfect picture of this God-conscious master when he said in Job 31:13-15, “If I had denied justice to my menservants and maidservants when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me? What will I answer when called to account? Did not He who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same One form us both within our mothers?”
Job could have written the command in Colossians 4:1 when it says, “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” Christian masters especially are to treat their slaves better because they know that in Christ both are equal. Their human, earthly arrangement is not dissolved, but, in Christ, and before Him, there is no privilege for being either slave or master. Galatians 3:28 says, There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.” Colossians 3:11 reiterates the point, “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slaver or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” When masters have this attitude, and treat their slaves with fairness and justice, and care for their needs and provide for them, then the institution of slavery is dissolved of any abuse and evil.
So we arrive at Titus today. Paul is instructing slaves in chapter 2 verses 9 and 10. These instructions must be seen in light of four things Paul has already said:
- In 1:1 Paul said, “….” A slave’s knowledge of the truth – Jesus Christ – leads him to godly living as a slave. Paul describes what godliness looks like as a slave.
- In 1:2, Paul then says, “….” A Christian slave knows he has eternal life, and so his temporary earthly circumstances are seen from a new perspective making it possible to follow Paul’s instructions
- In 2:1 Paul says “….” Slaves who live like Paul teaches are living their lives in a way that is consistent with sound doctrine. Their life and their beliefs match.
- In 2:10 Paul says, “…” When a slave lives a godly life in their circumstances it makes the teachings of God attractive to those around them. Paul elevates the service a slave gives from simply obeying a human masters will to a new plane: glorifying God and making God’s name and teachings attractive.
#1: Slavery is a Christian Mindset.
Slavery is a Christian mindset. It’s not an American mindset. It is a Christian mindset. Jesus saw Himself as a slave to His Father, John 14:31, “I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” James saw himself as a slave, “James, a servant of God and of Jesus Christ”. The word “servant” there is doulas, meaning bond-slave, someone who has willingly submitted to someone else as their slave and resigned any rights to themselves. The same word was used by Paul, by Peter, and others to describe their relationship with Christ. We have a new master brothers and sisters, and we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to God. First Corinthians 6:20 says, “You are not your own, you were bought at a price.”
What that means is that we do not see ourselves as free from any authority over us. Instead, we recognize that Jesus Christ is our Master, our authority, our personal Governor. We acknowledge that He owns us because with His blood He purchased us. When we say that slavery is our mindset we are saying that we know we owe Jesus everything. We are obligated to Him. We see ourselves as His property and we see Him as having power over us to do whatever He pleases. Our rights are in His hands. We are His slave. And, here’s the point: if He, as our Master, commands us to obey another human authority here on earth, it is our obligation to Him to submit to that other one He has commanded. Authority is seen in the relationships between citizens to governments; children to parents; slaves to masters; employees to employers; wives to husbands; churches to pastors. Christianity does not abolish the lines of authority, Christianity reinforces them.
The worst mindset for a Christian is one where he thinks himself as his highest authority. If a man in his heart will submit to no authority, and serve none but himself and his own interests that man could not be farther from the Biblical model of godliness. He is submitted to pride. Slavery is a Christian mindset. It is so because it was the mindset of our Lord Jesus Christ when He came to this earth in the flesh. (Philippians 2:6-7, Matthew 20:27-28; Isa. 42:1; Luke 22:27; Jesus washing disciples feet John 13)
#2: Slaves Submit (v9)
Secondly, notice Slaves are supposed to submit to their master. Verse 9 says, “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything…” In the Greek, the word submit is a military word and means to fall in line beneath an authority. When a CO (Commanding Officer) yells the order every soldier gets in formation, they get in order so they are all in proper place, ready to receive a command. And that’s it, a slave needs to keep himself in place, in order, and ready to receive and carry out whatever command he is given. Underscoring the requirement to submit even further is the meaning of “master” here. It is the Greek word despotes, where we get our English word “despot” from. Despotes refers to someone who had absolute sovereign control. Masters were the authority over their slaves and the point Paul is driving home here is that slaves were to recognize that and submit to them – “in everything”.
Notice the goal here: to please the master. Paul wanted Christian slaves to please their masters. To please them meant to make them satisfied with the work they did. To make them so satisfied that there was nothing else they could see was needed to be done after their Christian slave did the work. They could rest easy and be confident that the thing was done and done right. Paul didn’t want slaves to be disappointing their masters continually with negligence and incompetence and laziness.
Illustration: A manager and a sales rep stood looking at a map on which colored pins indicated the company representative in each area. “I’m not going to fire you, Wilson,” the manager said, “but I’m loosening your pin a bit just to emphasize the insecurity of your situation.” Please your masters.
#3: Slavery’s Integrity (v9b-10)
Don’t smart-off. “…try to please them, do not talk back to them…” Don’t back talk. Don’t mouth off. Don’t disrespect their authority by lipping off. Don’t grumble, don’t undermine them and their plans, don’t badmouth them to others behind their back. Respect is mentioned every time instructions to slaves are given. Ephesians 6:5 says, “Slaves obey your earthly masters with respect…” First Timothy 6:1 says, “Those who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect…” First Peter 2:18 says, “Slaves submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but, also to those who are harsh.”
One of the most challenging contexts for humility is in submission to authority. But God commands it. God always expects authority to be respected. Whether government, church, parents, husbands, employers or masters, authority is to be respected.
Don’t steal. Verse 10 says, “and do not steal from them…” We remember one slave, Onesimus, stole from his master Philemon. Stealing is so reprehensible it’s prohibition made it into the 10 Commandments. Slaves would have been entrusted with the care of their Master’s possessions. Property of all sorts, jewelry, money, furniture, equipment, food and valuables were all in the care of servants. There was the opportunity to take things without the Master’s knowing.
This command brings up the point that integrity is measured by who we are when no one is around to see us. How do we steal from our companies we work for? Taking items, taking company time to do personal things, exaggerating expense accounts, tying in personal expenses with business, etc. How about lying, lying to people is a way of stealing their trust. Let us not steal, but, have integrity.
Don’t slack off. You can see in these verses that working hard is expected. “Be subject in everything, try to please them, show you can be fully trusted in everything…” Laziness is a moral issue. Having a poor work ethic is a moral issue.
Illustration: I read a Forbes article titled, “Who Wastes the Most Time at Work?” from a couople years. It was a follow up article to one written previously where the time employees wasted at work was found to be frightening. The follow up article said, “We’re even worse off than before.” Because of the surge of social media there has been a surge in workplace distractions. And it is the younger generations, the GenXers and Millennials who are the worse. The bottom line is this: the top bracket of time wasters waste an average of 2 hours per day while on the clock. That translates into 520 hours each year wasted – while on the clock. Sincere servants of Christ do not pretend to be hard and honest workers. They are hard and honest workers.
Jesus didn’t slack off. He worked hard every day doing what His Father commissioned Him to do. “I am about my Father’s business…” he said. In John 17:4 He said, “I have completed the work you gave me to do” And the Father said, “With Him I am well pleased.”
Paul says working hard means working hard when the boss isn’t around too. Ephesians 6:5 says, “….” Colossians 3:22 says, “…”
Illustration: A retired friend became interested in the construction of an addition to a shopping mall. Observing the activity regularly, he was especially impressed by the conscientious operator of a large piece of equipment. The day finally came when my friend had a chance to tell this man how much he’d enjoyed watching his scrupulous work. Looking astonished, the operator replied, “You’re not the supervisor?”
All the great men of the faith were great employees. Anybody remember Joseph? Sold into slavery by his own brothers. Ends up in Egypt. Ends up the most powerful man in Egypt. Why? Because of how trustworthy he was. Turn to Genesis 39:1-6; with me…
Joseph reminds me of Proverbs 22:29 which says this, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.”
If we had a camera on us all the time, or someone did some digging into our work habits, what would they find? That’s what they did to Daniel. Daniel also was a great man of the faith, and, a great employee. Turn with me to Daniel 6:3-4 and let’s listen to what it says, “….”
Moses in Hebrews 3:2
Let us make sure that what our boss sees in us is in fact what he’s getting. Let us be faithful, trustworthy, deserving of our bosses complete confidence. Because if we only work hard when he is around, we are essentially lying to him. We are giving him the impression that this is how we work even though it isn’t really. Friends, it is the same thing as telling a lie with our mouths. Let the appearance of our work be how we really do work.
Conclusion: Slaves are Advertisement for God
A slave, Paul teaches, is a missionary. His field is his master’s house, other slaves, and even the master himself. Rather than running away he was to stay and obey. He was to remember that while he is a slave to his master for awhile, his master is the one who is truly enslaved. “All who sin are a slave to sin” Jesus said. And it is through the godly conduct of a Christian slave, demonstrating his own freedom in Christ every day, that the master would possibly be led to that same freedom. The slave is advertisement for freedom in Jesus Christ.
- They will think of God what they think of us
- Whether outsiders think highly of God or not depends on what they think of us
- Their thoughts of God will never rise any higher than their thoughts of us.
Let us therefore live in such a way to make the name and teachings of God our Savior attractive.