My dad was “old school.” A child of the depression, he believed firmly in the value of child labor – especially mine. I had weekly chores for which I was paid, if I did them in a way that passed his rigorous requirements. By the pay was meager, especially when compared to the gratuitous, labor-free allowances received by most of my middle-class peers. During the summer I mowed the grass for $2 per mowing and during the fall I raked 1.3 billion leaves, working pro bono. Now, as an adult with a healthy work ethic and ability to appreciate the value of money in terms of the labor required to earn it, I am thankful that my dad was “old-school.”
But at the time, my thoughts of my dad’s parenting were not so charitable. I remember mowing the grass with our rickety push mower, glancing toward the neighbor’s yard where my friend was playing ball while his mother did the mowing. Now there was liberation I could get on board with, I thought. I recall actually thinking to my self that my dad treated me like a slave, that I had to “slave away” at yard work under a broiling Georgia summer sun, while my friend lived a carefree childhood of leisure and comfort.
Had I paid attention to the numerous passages in the Bible which speak to the work and attitude of slaves — both actual slaves and those who fancy themselves to be slaves like myself — perhaps I would have gained a heart of wisdom as a child. But like many who hear the Bible’s teaching on slavery, slaves and masters, I foolishly relegated it to what I believed were a collection of things in the Bible which have nothing to do with me.
The Bible deals very honestly with the issue of slavery and all the subtle forms it takes. While many today are impatient with the Bible’s apparent lack of forceful denunciation of slavery, they fail to recognize that the Bible is thoroughly opposed to slavery from beginning to end. Yet like many other things that arise from the darkness of men’s hearts, the Bible also prescribes pastoral instruction and care for those caught up in social injustices. Nowhere is this precept seen more clearly than Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:3-9 regarding the issue of divorce. The Bible does not condone or prescribe divorce, but it does regulate it and mercifully offer it to protect those suffering under the hardness of men’s hearts.
Beyond this, the Bible’s pastoral exhortations to slaves and masters or employees and employers instruct us how to do our work, no matter what the conditions, “as unto the Lord.” And it reminds us that there are, in fact, a great many people who are enslaved through human trafficking — 40+ million in 2018 — and that the Church must work tirelessly, evangelically, and socially, to eradicate this great evil.
These are all important applications, but above all, the Bible’s instruction to Christian slaves illustrates how we are to serve our Lord. We delight in calling Jesus our Savior, and rightly so. But if He is our Savior, then He is also our Lord. Christ delivered us from the slavery of sin, but as Christians we are His bond-servants, transferred from one kingdom to another. Paul points this out explicitly in 1 Corinthians 7:23
For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise, he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.
One ancient pastor drives this point home, commenting on Paul’s instructions to slaves from 1 Timothy 6:1-2.
But if he exhorts servants to render such implicit obedience, consider what ought to be our disposition towards our Master, who brought us into existence out of nothing, and who feeds and clothes us. If in no other way then, let us render Him service at least as our servants render it to us. Do not they order their whole lives to afford rest to their masters, and is it not their work and their life to take care of their concerns? Are they not all day long engaged in their masters’ work, and only a small portion of the evening in their own? But we, on the contrary, are ever engaged in our own affairs, [yet] in our Master’s hardly at all. –John Chrysostom
Join us this Lord’s Day, January 13, as we examine what the Bible has to say about slavery, slaves and masters and consider what this means for us today. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock. Click here for directions. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.