Dylan said it so well, "you gotta serve somebody."
When I was 18 years old I was a free man. I immediately went to my Navy Recruiter signed up for the best possible deal I could get, and little did I know at the time, soon swore myself into slavery.
OK, I am not talking about the kind of slavery that we fought a Civil War to correct that horrendous social injustice, but I am talking about giving up my rights to do what I wanted, when I wanted, the way I wanted. I soon learned that I was owned by Uncle Sam who would use me as He saw fit. I went where I was told, I did what I was told, I had a mission. I was to support and defend the Constitution of the United States by following the orders of those appointed over me. I was a sailor in the United States Navy. I was not my own.
Today we are going to explore the idea of slavery. We will look at the difference between the type of slavery that occurred in these United States and the kind of slavery that occurred during the time of Paul. We’re going to see that the Apostle Paul calls himself a slave; then we are going to land with thoughts considering what it means to be a slave to Christ; ultimately learning that we have to serve somebody.
When I think of slavery I have images of the movies: Roots, Gone with the Wind, 12 Years a Slave, Free State of Jones (there are plenty more) all filled with exploitation, and man’s inhumanity to man. Those are films about slavery in the USA. The movies give you a glimpse at the horrible conditions that slaves endured. If you were of African descent you were a slave, it’s an extreme racist position. You definitely did not want to be a slave in America.
I am so thankful that the Constitution guarantees citizens the right to express grievances to the government and through freedom of speech, press and a right to assembly to discuss issues; we can change oppressive and unjust situations in this country. This right made it possible for white people to denounce the practice. New Years Day, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln made a proclamation to the Nation: “all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward shall be free." People could no longer be owned, seen as property and treated as the owner wished, with no legal recourse. One great evil, slavery, would soon come to an end, another evil would take its place, segregation. It would take over 100 years to deal with this oppression, but that’s another story.
There really wasn’t what we could call a working middle class in Roman society. In the Roman world, there were different slave statuses. The slaves that worked the fields and the mines were worse off than the Slaves in America. The Romans also used slaves in what we would regard as high-status jobs. “If you went to a doctor, had your accounts worked on, watched an actor at the theatre or met the manager of a local business – all those professionals could have been slaves....” Romans viewed slaves as human beings, not objects. Roman slaves were most likely prisoners of war, born into slavery because your parents were slaves, or your own debts had forced you to sell yourself into slavery. The High-Status slave was “encouraged to earn a wage on the side.” They could save their money. On an agreed date, they could approach their master and buy their freedom at a pre-determined price.. https://beardyhistory.com/2018/01/01/roman-slavery-and-american-slavery-how-were-they-different/
From this brief contrast between Slavery in America and in the Roman world I want you to see that in America, it was race slavery, slaves were inferior, less than human, with no legal rights, in my opinion unequivocally toxic. While in Rome that was not the case, some slaves enjoyed the privileges of what Middle-Class Americans enjoy today. Of course realize slaves were owned, with very similar limitations on their liberty like military service impressed upon me. Any way you look at it, you never want to be a slave.
If you complete a survey of the Bible you may be surprised to discover that the practice of slavery is not condemned. One reason for this is the times in which the Bible was written. Throughout biblical times slavery was a common practice. The bible does not condemn slavery but has clear teaching on how slaves should be treated, which was often counter-cultural to the practices of surrounding nations.
Biblical slavery amongst Jews was often an act of mercy to provide for the poor rather than an act of exploitation. The Bible condemns the abuse of slaves and the forced enslavement of people and slaves were to be treated well in both Old and New Testaments.
(Exodus 21:1-6; 16; 20-21; 26-27; Deuteronomy 15:12-18; 23:15-16; Leviticus 19:20; Colossians 4:1)
The Apostle Paul was not opposed to a slave seeking freedom if the opportunity arose (1 Cor 7:21). He did teach that slaves who believed and considered themselves Christians that if they disobey their masters it would bring discredit to all Christians everywhere (1 Tim 6:1) . Paul knew that non-Christians would condemn believers for promoting insurrection and the social order if they rebelled. So Paul instructs slaves to please God by their service (Eph 6 v5-8 Col 3 v22) and their brotherly love (1 Tim 6:2) towards all, especially their Masters.
Paul also had some truth to put in the ears of slave owners. Masters were to treat their slaves well remembering that they too have a Master.
Colossians 4:1 (MSG)
And masters, treat your servants considerately. Be fair with them. Don't forget for a minute that you, too, serve a Master—God in heaven.
Paul’s teachings neither condemn nor condone slavery. He just deals with it as matter of fact. Times have changed, slavery is an evil that must be condemned. It’s important for us to know the cultural situation that existed in the time that Paul wrote.
Paul is a freeman. We know he is a free citizen of Rome. Yet he says this about himself:
Romans 1:1 (MSG)
I, Paul, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment, authorized as an apostle to proclaim God's words and acts. I write this letter to all the Christians in Rome, God's friends.
The great Apostle calls himself a slave of Jesus Christ. Now the scholars like to argue if the word means, a regular slave as described earlier, or a servant, or a bond-slave. We’ll save that exploration for another time. We’re going to run with the word picture that slave creates.
By using the slave imagery Paul says he understands that
1. A slave is owned.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV) & (MSG)
“You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” “Don't you see that you can't live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for?”
The picture is one of the slaves being bought. There is an exchange of ownership. But this transaction is completed in a unique currency. “Christ bought us with His blood...” (Galatians 3:13 New Life Version). We’ll get to who Christ bought us from before we get to the end of this teaching. For now, know that as a slave of Christ, you are owned by Christ.
As a member of the Armed Services, Uncle Sam, housed me, clothed me, fed me, Gave me comrades, and gave me meaningful work to do.OK, some of it wasn’t meaningful. As I progressed in rank it became more satisfying. More like a high-status slave of Rome, than the miserable field worker.
By using the slave imagery Paul says he understands that
2. A slave’s prosperity is directly related to obedience.
As a believer obedience is how a Christ follower demonstrates their love for God. Everything in Christianity is laid on a foundation of love. God has loved us, our response is to love the One who loves us.
1 John 5:3 (NIV)
This is love for God: to obey his commands.
There is a direct correlation between your obedience and your love for God. If you love God with all your heart, mind, soul, strength, you will do your level best to obey with integrity and passion.
In the military when I was given an order and carried it out with integrity and passion it earned the approval of my superiors, which eventually led to more responsibility and greater perks. There was a small degree of material prosperity, but the true riches were a sense of identity, pride, confidence, a can-do attitude and self-respect that was produced in me. It is a treasure to believe that you can do it,
and actually, take care of business.
Paul encourages us
Colossians 3:17 (MSG)
Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.
In every detail of your life, see it as an opportunity to glorify God through your obedience to His commands.
A slave is owned. A slave’s prosperity is directly related to obedience.
By using the slave imagery Paul says he understands that
3. A slave’s reward is eternal life.
Many people are confused about eternal life. There is more to understanding eternal life than believers “get to go to heaven when they die.” Life eternal begins here and now with the empowerment to live our lives to the full. Jesus said:
John 10:10 (MSG)
A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.
As we journey through this world, life means experiencing and thriving in right relationships full of Love and joy; Acceptance and belonging; Meaning and purpose; becoming comfortable with who you are. These immaterial experiences enrich a life, they are the taste of what is still coming.
There is an unimaginable treasure in knowing God, as Savior, Lord, and Friend,
John 17:3 (MSG)
And this is the real and eternal life: That they know you, The one and only true God, And Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
Knowing God produces an inner peace, a confidence and hope in the future, and faith in the promises of the gospel.
The Apostle Paul sees himself as a slave of Christ. He understands a slave is owned, He understands prosperity hinges on obedience. He understands a slave of Christ is rewarded for faithfulness. A slave of Christ is exactly what Paul wants to be. Why would anyone want to give up their personal freedom to become a slave of Christ?
Bob Dylan said it best to contemporary society. You gotta serve somebody in the song by the same name. You’ll hear it in a little bit. You gotta serve somebody and the Bible reveals it is either righteousness or unrighteousness you are serving. Righteousness means being in a right relationship to the other. Unrighteousness is being out of sync, stuck in disharmony, relationships strained and estranged.
Read what the scripture reveals
2 Timothy 2:24-26 (MSG)
God's servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool, working firmly but patiently with those who refuse to obey. You never know how or when God might sober them up with a change of heart and a turning to the truth, enabling them to escape the Devil's trap, where they are caught and held captive, forced to run his errands.
You see you are either a slave to God or a slave to the Devil. The Devil’s trap is egoism. The trap of egoism is subtle. You think you’re in charge of your own life, But actually, you’re at the mercy of influences you do not control. Caught up in egoism you are encouraged to do what you want when you want regardless of how it may impact others. Snared by egoism you are encouraged to be concerned first and foremost on your own well-being. Enslaved to egoism you examine every choice by how it can benefit you, even at the expense of another.
The devil’s trap is egoism, convincing you that you are the captain of your own soul; the maker of your own destiny; the arbitrator of morality, but actually, you’re a puppet of the “spiritual forces of evil” (Eph 6:12) Satan’s slave. Galatians 5:1 calls egoism “the yoke of slavery.” 1 John 5:1 reveals that those following the dictates of egoism are “in the power of the evil one.” Egoism is the tool that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
The scripture makes it clear, you either are a slave of God or a slave of Satan It is by the Cross that Jesus produced the currency to buy you out of slavery. When you become a believer, the scripture reveals that you were bought with a price. Because of that transaction, you get to choose whom you shall serve. Who do you want to serve?
Gotta Serve Somebody
A slave to Satan or a slave to Christ; that’s your choice. Call your own shots, or follow orders. From my own experience, I have learned that I am most free, when I follow orders, by keeping in step with the Spirit, obedient to God’s commands.
You’re going to serve as a slave to somebody. Who do you choose to serve?