1Pe 2:18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 1Pe 2:19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.
1Ti 6:1 Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 1Ti 6:2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things.
Without question these are some of the most difficult passages in the Bible to understand and especially to apply; and I could have quoted several more that say the same thing. The entire theme of 1 Peter is submitting to authority and unfair treatment in order to serve and glorify the Lord. The above passages are difficult because we are taught that this applies even if you find yourself as a slave. In the 1 Timothy passage it says to serve well even if your master is a Christian!
In our day such statements would be dismissed out of hand without any fair consideration at all. But to a saint these words are from God and must be taken seriously regardless of how the lost or we feel initially. Let me try to make a little sense of these statements. This is a subject that cannot possibly be addressed fully in a brief article but I hope to point out a few things that show why this shouldn’t offend us but in fact these are some of the most practical passages in all of the Bible.
First we must remember that the slavery found in NT times was not racial slavery nor what we refer to as the sex trade of our day. That is not to say that some of that didn’t go on then but this type of slavery was primarily slaves of war and it was part and parcel of the Roman Empire. It was a fact of life that one had to be able to deal with to live within the Roman Empire. The “slavery” of the OT Law was really just a welfare system. When people try to discredit the Bible by saying that God commanded slavery they are trying to associate God with the racial slavery of more recent times and that is a clear attempt to deceive and we should make that very clear.
Such “slavery” is offensive today because people think that they should be able to do whatever they want with no consequences; even run up bills they can’t pay and their creditors should just forgive them. The idea that they should be held accountable and become a servant of sorts until their debt is paid off would never cross their mind. But that is more of an indictment of the moral character of our day than a problem with the Law God gave Israel. I think a case could be made that it would be better to be an indentured servant and have clothes, food and lodging than a bag, lady sleeping in a cardboard box on the street.
But as to our main point; we might ask ourselves why does the Bible not make any direct statements against slavery? And not only that but why does it tell slaves to serve their masters well and masters to treat their slaves well? Isn’t slavery wrong and if so why don’t we see a clear denunciation of it? Let me suggest what I believe to be the main answer to these questions.
The answer is because there is a very practical reason why the Bible doesn’t get involved in politics and really doesn’t get involved in social issues. While it might make statements about being generous to those in need and that those who don’t work shouldn’t eat, etc., it also assumes that this fallen world will always have social and political upheaval. We see this when Jesus said, “For the poor you always have with you”.
God’s word to us is not a manual for how to change the world through politics or social programs; you just won’t find instructions for such things. It is his word to us to explain why this world is full of injustice and why we are sinners and how to be saved from sin. It also instructs those who have come to embrace Christ as to how to live godly and bear fruit unto the Lord in every situation you find yourself in. The church was sent into the world to proclaim the gospel, not to take up social and political issues.
I am not saying that we can never get involved in those things. We owe the end of slavery in England and America to heavy Christian influences. But we help no one if we fix temporal problems without freeing souls from the coming Judgment.
Let me point to the days the NT was written in. There couldn’t be a more unjust and cruel government than Rome in many ways. But Jesus and the Apostles never once tell anyone to protest the government, let alone try to overthrow it or any of its institutions like slavery. It doesn’t mean it supported them but there are many more important issues than whether we are treated fairly or not. We are put on this earth to glorify God not be treated as we would necessarily like to be treated. Jesus tells us to be subject to the authorities we find ourselves under, give Caesar his due no matter how evil he was, and in so doing we gain great reward in Heaven.
What the Christian slave in Roman times (and any of us anywhere at any time) needed to hear was not that he shouldn’t be treated that way and it was unfair and he shouldn’t put up with it. No, what he needed to hear was how to please the Lord and gain reward in glory while he was in a situation he had no hope of changing.
And that is the beauty of why the Bible doesn’t concern itself with telling us to change the world. There is no hope for this world until Christ comes back; read Rev. 18. There is hope for sinners who hear and believe the gospel. If we can make a difference while we are here then so much the better. But since Christians are generally the weakest of society our main duty is going to accept the place the Lord has put us and serve him well while we are here. We do ourselves no good if all we do is try to fight against the providence of God.
I will end by pointing out the verses that follow the 1 Timothy passage above where Paul is telling slaves with believing masters to serve them well. These are convicting words but demonstrate what I have been saying. Rather than constantly trying to change their situation and being upset and fighting him, be content with God’s providence and in so doing there is great gain. This will take great grace from the Lord to give us such submissive hearts but after all didn’t Jesus say that to be great in the kingdom you have to serve, not overthrow those who mistreat you? Read these words and see if this is so:
1Ti 6:2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things. 1Ti 6:3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 1Ti 6:4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 1Ti 6:5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 1Ti 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 1Ti 6:7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 1Ti 6:8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 1Ti 6:9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 1Ti 6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.