Earlier this week, I watched the movie “12 Years a Slave”. It was a confronting movie that brought to life the horrors and injustice of racial slavery. I found myself angry at those who oppressed the slaves, and challenged about what we do to fight against the injustices still present in this world. The movie made me think about a few things:
- How were people like William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln able to change a deeply ingrained mindset and transform the world?
- How could God use us, in our different circumstances and giftings, to change mindsets and free the oppressed today? (Eg. In the areas of prostitution, abortion, forced marriage, jihadism, poverty, war displacement – and the list goes on)
- How did Joseph live in his season of slavery, and what made him stand apart?
- What are we slaves to?
- What is the difference between the mindset of a slave, the mindset of a servant, and the mindset of a son?
This week, I just want to look at the last two questions (bolded above) – What are we slaves to, and what is the difference between the mindset of a slave, that of a servant, and that of a son.
“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” – [Romans 6:16]
The passage describes being either slaves to sin, or slaves to righteousness. If we are slaves to one, we are free from the other. And, if are free from one, we cannot reap its reward or share in its wages. In other words, if we are slaves to death, we reap uncleanliness, lawlessness, and cannot live in righteousness. However, if we are slaves of righteousness, we become free from sin and are able to reap “fruit to holiness, and in the end, everlasting life.” [Romans 6:22]
It is important to understand the context of slavery which Paul described in this passage in order to fully understand the message. Some people think the Bible condones slavery. However, it is clear from the word of God that slavery is something God hates and will bring judgment again. When the Israelites were made slaves of the Egyptians based on their race, God rescued them and bought them out. 1 Timothy 1:9-10 lists slave-traders amongst the lawless and ungodly, those who do not know “sound doctrine” and who do not walk according to the gospel of God. Exodus 21:16 gives a punishment of death to one who kidnaps and attempts to sell a man. The Bible reveals how God sees all men as equal, and desires that we treat each other as such – in love and as servants of one another. Jesus Himself demonstrated this when He dared to associate with prostitutes, beggars and lepers, the social outcasts of his time. Jesus even heals the servant of a centurion (the Greek denotes likely a young boy born into slavery) [Matthew 8:5-13], and the servant of the high priest (again the Greek denotes a young slave) when one of his disciples cut off the servant’s ear.
A few types of slavery are described in the Bible, along with regulations on how slaves were to be treated and provided for. Foreign slaves who sought asylum in Israel were to be accepted and not forcibly returned to their land. In victory of war, Israel was first to extend an offer of peace whereby the defeated city could offer themselves up as slaves, exchanging a pledge of submission to Israel for certainty of provision and protection for their people. Debt slaves gave themselves into slavery in order to ensure they could be provided for, and their debts paid. An Israelite debt slave was to be offered freedom after seven years. Girls were also given to slavery in the form of betrothal, where she would then be cared for and provided for until she reached marriageable age. This is why laws were written regarding care of such a woman whose betrothed no longer wanted to marry her – he was to still provide a sufficient amount to ensure her well-being as compensation. Much instruction is found in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. The way Israel kept “slaves” was very different to the culture of slavery found in many other nations. It was a means of economic welfare, rather than abuse of race, gender or people.
So, what are we slaves to? We are slaves to whomever or whatever we perceive as our provider, protected and/or husband. If we choose Christ, we choose to be free from sin, and to live as a slave to obedience which leads to righteousness. This does not mean we become legalistic, but rather that we recognise who God is. He is our provider, our protector and our lover. We can give ourselves over to obey Him knowing that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” [Romans 8:28]
Taking this a step further, I want to look at what it means to have a mind of a slave compared to that of a servant and that of a son. This is a question of identity, relationship and attitude.
- A SLAVE desires to please their master. Colossians 3 gives instructions to slaves in the context of being a new creation in Christ. Verse 17 says, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” In verse 23, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” In serving our earthly master, and honouring earthly authority, we can worship God and give thanks to Him. We learn obedience, and submission to God’s word as we obey by submitting to earthly authority. “Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God.” [Colossians 3:22]
- A SERVANT does not just serve for provision, but also loves the one he is serving and finds joy in serving him. Jesus sets the example when he washes his disciples feet, saying , “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” Furthermore, as we give to others and serve them, we should do so joyfully and with love. Being a servant to one another requires the Spirit of God. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than himself.” [Philippians 2:3-4]
- A SON knows he is loved by His Father and guaranteed an inheritance. He lives to prepare himself for the responsibility of the household and is confident in who he is. “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out ‘Abba Father.’” [Romans 8:15] We are called as sons of God, co-heirs with Christ and sharers in the eternal inheritance of heaven on earth. As sons, we prepare for this by cultivating intimacy with God, learning who He is, how He thinks, lives, governs and loves.
How do you identity? As a slave, servant, son, or as all three? There are times in our lives when we may be challenged in our mindset, to focus more on one of these identities and to sharpen our character in Christ. I pray for a joyful spirit and willingness to serve, for overflowing love, having experienced how Jesus has served me, and for strength of identity and intimacy to fuel a life of worship to God.