The Freedom of a Christian Slave (Ephesians Sermon 45 of 54)
August 07, 2016 | Andrew Davis
Redemption, Grace, Life in the Spirit, Brotherly Love
Amen. Well, for me, as a pastor, as a student of the Word of God, I find that some of the most powerful insights, in the Christian life come from facing hard questions, confident that God's Word has the right answer. For us to face hard issues, hard questions knowing that the Word of God will not let us down, that God has not left us as orphans, he is going to sustain us and help us. So for us to face squarely as we look at Ephesians 6:5-9, second sermon that I preached, last week was the easy one. Preaching on employer-employee relationships, and work and all that, but it didn't seem appropriate for me to stop short of asking hard questions, this week and next week. So this week, I want to look at the issue of slavery just simply as it's written, "Masters and slaves."
And for me, as a preacher, also, we're always striving to be relevant, we don't want to preach sermons and have services that are just irrelevant to our lives and chattel slavery is illegal all over the world. So one is in a simple way, you could say Ephesians 6, 5-9 is obsolete. There really is nothing more that we can get out of it. And so there's nothing for us to look at. And I set that aside last week. I don't think it's obsolete. They're abiding principles even though slavery is obsolete, we would have to say now, in that slavery is obsolete the law of the land everywhere is simply this, "Masters emancipate your slaves." That would be what the text would say to us.
So the question that has pressed itself on my mind is, why doesn't the Bible specifically the New Testament clearly teach abolition? Why doesn't the Bible just clearly say,"Set your slaves free." Why does it instead seem to manage the institution of slavery rather than just simply abolish it? So that's been on my mind and my purpose today, I have two purposes, one first and foremost, above all things, I want all of us to understand the theme of slavery in the New Testament. How rich and powerful a theme it is for your relationship with God and of Christ and with other people. And to embrace the term “slave of Christ,” like Paul did as he wrote and began the book of Romans. “Paul a bond slave or a servant, a doulos, a slave of Christ,” right away, identified himself that way, he was proud to present himself that way and wanted to say that I want us to just swim in that and embrace it and see the richness of that theme.
And how powerful it'll be for us to understand those aspects, how slavery has been transformed by the Gospel and how slavery will be eternal, an eternal theme of our relationship with our creator, God, it's not going to go away. And then secondly, to defend this book against modern critics who used the fact that slavery is so clearly immoral and obsolete and all that to somewhat take, they think the higher moral ground over the Bible, and make the Bible obsolete and then extend it to other very hot issues. Like the LGBT questions and other things. And say the Bible is obsolete, it's commanding things that none of us does anymore. And so, we've moved on from it, to defend the Bible against that. Even if our defense, our apologetic isn't convincing to them, we need to be convinced the Bible is not obsolete, that the Bible's a living word, that it's an inerrant Word, and that we can have confidence in it. So that's what's on my mind today.
I. The Heroic Fight Against Slavery’s Wicked Abuse
Two Hundredth Anniversary of Wilberforce’s Triumph
Well, you just heard the text, read for us. I won't read it again. I want to begin by just talking about the amazing history of Christian leadership in abolition. Really the abolition of slavery around the world is an achievement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For the most part, at least in the early stages, it was Christians that led out and seeing the need to abolish slavery and there's some heroes in that story like in 2007, mark the 200th anniversary of William Wilberforce's successful ending of the slave trade in the British empire. Thomas Jefferson wrote a similar law in the United States the next year 1808, but it was Wilberforce and his group that led out. He was an evangelical Christian in England, a member of parliament. He led a successful 18-year fight against the British slave trade, he was struck down again and again, he was vilified, he was opposed, he was shouted down, he was hated and mocked and threatened, but he tirelessly persevered until at last, success was his in 1807. He reminds me of a huge block of cork, and you just kept pushing him down and he just kept popping up again and again. And I just think there's so many good lessons from church history, and I just want to be like that. I don't know what issues and what ministry God's called me too, but just in my life, I want to be so filled with hope like he was that I'm just buoyant and you just don't give up. Eighteen years of losing until he finally won. And it wasn't just him. There were many others that worked together to abolish the slave trade.
History of Abolition
By this, we mean the abolition of the infamous Middle Passage, the Atlantic slave trade in which people were taken from the African continent and brought over to the New World. Maybe 15 million Africans were eventually snatched from their homes and transported across the Atlantic Ocean, to be enslaved in the Western atmosphere. African kings, warlords, private kidnappers sold captives to Europeans, who held several coastal forts as staging grounds for this middle passage. The captives were usually force-marched to these ports along the western coast of Africa, where they were held for purchase to the European or American slave traders. Ships contained up to 300 slaves aboard one slave ship with a crew of about 30 people, the male captives were normally chained together in pairs to save room while the women and children generally had a little more freedom. The captives were fed beans, corn, yams, rice, palm oil. Slaves were fed one meal a day with water, but if food was scarce then slaveholders would get priority, concerning meals.
It is a matter of record that in 1781, the captain of the slave ship Zong, threw overboard 130 living slaves chained together because he had run out of provisions, and he was going to claim them as lost cargo and get insurance money. Now Wilberforce spared nothing in making the horrors, the specific, the detailed horrors of the slave trade widely known, the inhuman conditions on-board, the over-packed slaves slave ships and in 1807, he was successful at that first leg of abolition, just the first leg, and that's the abolition of the slave trade. That was just the first step of the fight, for the next 26 years, Wilberforce also participated in the next phase and that is the fight to abolish slavery itself throughout the British Empire, and that was successful finally in 1833, just days before he died.
Now, that passion for abolition continued not just in Wilberforce's heart and throughout the British Empire, but in the hearts of many here in America, and indeed around the world, as I said, abolition as a product in their hearts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, the excesses of American slavery were extreme after that barbaric Middle Passage. Once they arrived, they were auctioned off like animals, completely dehumanized. They were kept literally in chains, often being branded with the owner’s mark to prevent them from being stolen. They could not form families because at any moment husbands and wives could be sold away from each other, parents and children sold away from each other, never to see each other again. Slaves were consistently beaten as a matter of principle, even for tiny infractions to assert the master's authority over their wills. More willful slaves, more determined slaves were forced to submit by iron bits and other iron implements that brought pain into their lives that reminded me of medieval torture devices. If slaves ran away seeking freedom, they were hunted down by professional slave-catchers and by dogs, and when they were recaptured they're often severely lashed with whips. If they persisted in running away in some cases, they would have their feet amputated.
Questions Linger About the Bible
Now we're aware that slavery was defended by people who claimed to be Christian, maybe even people who were Christians and defended it biblically. That's part of the problem we have in the apologetic to our present age. People made a defense for this, but you must see how, what I've just described, does not line up with what Paul commanded in Ephesians 6:9. I hope you see it. There's no defense for that. Look again at the text, "Masters, treat your slaves in the same way." is one translation. The idea is go back and look at what Paul just said to the slaves and they're supposed to do their service in a certain way with a heart full of faith, seeing an invisible master, an invisible savior who sees everything they do and they're doing their service as unto, as unto him. The invisible master and king. Okay, “Now masters, you do your mastering in the same way. Seeing an invisible master who watches everything you do.” And then, the command "Do not threaten them." A prohibition against threatening. Friends, can we just have a how much more argument? If it's not okay to threaten them, how could it possibly be okay to beat them or whip them? So we must say that with the excess is that all those things are just completely biblically indefensible. The masters were not obeying the New Testament. They were not obeying what Paul commanded.
Now, I've talked about the first two phases of the fight against legal slavery, the abolition of the slave trade and then phase two, the abolition of slavery itself. Now that went on for a long time after the American Civil War worldwide. Abolitionists in this country continued their fight right up until obviously, 1861 when the war basically took over on the issue of abolition. And the United States passed the 13th Amendment, ratified by the states at the end of 1865. It was passed by Congress January 31st, 1865, abolishing slavery in the United States, and then ratified by the states on December 6, that same year, 1865, but then illegal slavery began in earnest in the United States. I didn't know this, but following the Civil War hundreds of thousands of African-Americans were re-enslaved in an abusive manipulation of the legal system called peonage. Across the deep South, African-American men and women, were falsely arrested on trumped-up charges, convicted of those crimes and then leased to coal and iron mines, brick factories and plantations and other dangerous workplaces. The system slowed down after World War One, but didn't fully end until the 1940s. So that's the third phase of the battle against slavery, and that is the fight against illegal slavery.
Now worldwide as I said, long after the American Civil War and the 13th and 14th Amendment, ended that in our country. Other nations stubbornly resisted abolition, stubbornly resisted it, especially Islamic nations. And finally in 1980, the last nation Mauritania abolished legal slavery, and that meant that every political nation on earth in every nation on earth, slavery is illegal. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights including an article stating, "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude. Slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms." Now we're in that third phase which is the battle against human trafficking, and it's a problem that we only are beginning to understand the magnitude of. There's a lot of information here I'm going to spare you from. You can come and ask me later. But one organization connected with the United Nations estimates as many as close to 21 million people are in forced servitude right now. 21 million worldwide.
There is a plan one ministry has a plan for ending slavery, worldwide. How to free today's slaves. And the cost, the estimated cost of worldwide abolition is close to $11 billion over 25 years. The United Nation International Labor Organization estimates that the annual profits from human trafficking could be as high as $150 billion. $150 billion every year. So clearly, the worldwide fight against slavery is not over, but in this case it's just that final phase against illegal slavery. But questions linger about the Bible. How can we read the Bible’s passages on slavery? Look especially at the Old Testament in which slavery is just clearly even not just permitted, but encouraged with the Jewish nation concerning the nations that they conquered etcetera. It's just managed. How do we do that? And then the New Testament, "How do we understand that?" And how do we defend this book against those who would seek to go out into other moral issues like the LGBT issue and all that? And say, "You have no standing, you're being selective, you're being hypocritical, you're only applying some aspects and not the others." How do we respond to that? Especially beginning in our own hearts.
Well, let's begin with a definition of slavery. What do we mean by slavery? It's the social sanction that permits one person or group to compel the involuntary labor of another person or group in conditions that usually make them socially inferior and are restrictive of their freedom. So, that's what slavery is. Now, the key issues then are compulsion of labor or involuntary labor. Conditions that make the individual inferior subhuman, and then the lack of personal freedom, the Gospel transforms each of those three elements. Just completely transformed it. So the eternal aspect of slavery that I'm going to advocate from the Book of Revelation, is radically different than the things that we've seen on Earth because sin nature will be gone forever. So, let's begin by looking at slavery in the Old Testament.
II. Slavery in the Old Testament
Overview of Old Testament History
The first mention of slavery was in the curse on Noah's son, Ham, for his treatment of Noah when Noah fell drunk and the curse went on Ham's son Canaan, cursed to be Canaan the lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers. Abraham had male and female slaves like Hagar, when Hagar was abused by Sara, she ran away and God told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." Joseph was sold as a slave into Egypt, and then he threatened his brothers when they didn't know who he was threatened his brothers with slavery for stealing his cup. Then eventually, once Joseph died and the next Pharaoh came along who knew nothing about Joseph, the entire nation fell into bondage in slavery. It's a big part of the Jewish heritage because in the Exodus, they were brought out with a mighty hand and out-stretched arm and through the Red Sea into freedom.
The Puzzling Laws of Moses
Then the laws of Moses come along and they seem, at least to our perspective, a little puzzling a little challenging. Moses consistently reminded the Jews, that they had been slaves in Egypt. He commanded them to be mindful of treating aliens and strangers with that kind of kindness saying, "Do not oppress an alien. You yourself know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt", but yet slavery was as I said, permitted in the Laws of Moses, especially in times of war, where captives were brought in and they were made to be slaves and that's how it was managed.
Key Text: A Voluntary Slave Who Delights in their Master
You could even have a fellow Hebrew as a slave, but it was managed very carefully. And Deuteronomy 15 is one of the key texts that kind of brings us into the New Testament themes, and even into the eternal theme of slavery as a beneficial relationship. Deuteronomy 15 it says, "If a fellow Hebrew man or woman sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free, and when you release him, don't send him away empty-handed, supply him liberally from your flock, and your threshing floor and your wine press, give to him as the Lord, your God has blessed you. Remember that you also were slaves in Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you. And that's why I give you this command today. But if your servant says to you, ‘I do not want to leave you’ because he loves you and your family, and is well-off with you then take an awl and push it through his earlobe into the door and he will become your servant for life, do the same for your maid servant."
So the idea of piercing the earlobe for somebody that just was so delighted to stay with the family and submit to that master because it was such a good life and so richly blessed, then is brought over first and foremost, with Jesus Christ. In the prophecy in Psalm 40, it says, "Sacrifice and offering. You did not desire. But my ear, you have pierced. Here I am, it is written about me in the scroll, I have come to do your will, O God." That's taken over in the Book of Hebrews, and ascribed directly to Jesus and in fact, Jesus said, "Alright Father pierce my earlobe. I am yours to command. I will do everything you command me to do. Whatever you command me to do, I will do. That's Jesus leading out on this and Jesus himself said, “I've come down from Heaven, not to do my own will, but to do the will of him who sent me.”
III. Christ a Perfect Slave, Christ a Perfect Master
Christ the “Very Nature of a Slave”
So, Philippians 2 as we come to Christ, the perfect slave and perfect master, Philippians 2, it says of Jesus Christ, “who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a slave, being found in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow in Heaven and Earth and under the Earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” What's interesting to me about Philippians 2:5-8, is that it uses this “very nature language.” Jesus was as much slave, as he was God. And the clause it follows, being found in human appearance, is kind of like, you need to realize we were made to be douloi, we were made to be servants. That's what we were made for. We are so deceived about this. And so, the nature of being human is to be a servant, that's what we're made for. Jesus led the way in that. He was the most servant of us all. He was the perfect slave, he went as low as a slave could possibly go. And he carried himself like a servant to everyone around him, that was just his nature. Anyone and everyone who came to him for a need, he got up and met it. And think of the healings. He has got to be the most incredibly interruptible and yet efficient leader in history. I can't match his interruptibility. People just came, and he got up and went and served them. Didn't matter what the need was.
Christ’s Slave-like Demeanor to Others
The Roman Centurion came and his servant was suffering and Jesus said, "I'll go and heal him." And then the woman with the issue of blood, and then Jairus's daughter, and all this, whoever had a need, huge crowds came and he healed them all. But the ultimate servanthood is displayed in his death on the cross, and he foretold it and showed it in John 13 with the foot washing. You remember how he took off his, symbolically his robes, royal robes, picture the incarnation. Put, covers himself with a towel, and then washes his disciples feet, drying them with the towel around his waist. Just such a picture of servanthood. And you remember how Peter said, I love that moment. He's like, "Lord are you going to wash my feet?" I figure his like the seventh or eighth of the 12. He's like, "Yes." I don't want you to wash my feet. I remember how he says, "Lord, you will never wash my feet." That's one of Peter's never statements, four never statements. Another topic, another sermon, but four times he says, “Never," he said, "you'll never wash my feet." Jesus says, "Unless I wash you, have no part with me. I have to serve you, or you can't go to Heaven." And so, the ultimate servitude was Jesus's death on the cross. That downward path of slave-like obedience led him to the cross, that led him to his death on the cross.
Christ’s Ultimate “Bondage”: The Cross
Jesus in another place used I think slavery language to talk about this feeling he had about his crucifixion. In Luke 12:50, he said, "I have a baptism down to go." In context, he's talking about his crucifixion. I have a baptism down to go and I am as if in a straight jacket until it is accomplished. I'm bound in, I'm roped in until I go die on the cross. So as a slave, Jesus drank the cup of Hell and condemnation for me and for you, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” So he's a perfect slave. He is also the perfect Master. We see in our text in Ephesians, we see it in Colossians 4:1, "Masters provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know you also have a master in Heaven." So he's a perfect master.
IV. Slavery in the New Testament: Some Observations
Spiritual Slavery: Every Human Being a Slave
So let me talk about slavery in the New Testament. Just make some observations. I just handed it out at a moment ago. Every single human being is a servant or a slave. All of us. Not some of us, all of us. We're going to serve some master. It's inevitable. Now, Satan is a liar about this, right? He's going to come and he's going to lie to us and he's going to offer us freedom, as he defines it. Freedom, freedom from all submission, freedom from all authority. You can do whatever you want with your time, with your money, with your energy, you can be whoever you want to be, do whatever you want to do. You can choose, and no one has the right to tell you what to do, you can eat whatever food you want, you can spend your money however you want, you can go where you want, etcetera. But Satan omits in all of that, the message of freedom that you owe complete obedience to your creator and lawgiver, to your God. He leaves that out. And at the core, Satan's deceiving us into a different kind of bondage, into slavery to him and to sin. He knows very well what he's doing. He wants you to serve him, remember how he tempted Jesus, saying, "If you'll fall down and worship me," why the physical falling down? “I want to dominate you.” That's what Satan's like, that's what sin is like. So every non-Christian, is already a slave. A slave of sin. Jesus said this in John 8:34, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin," Romans 6:17, "you used to be slaves to sin."
The Gospel, Jesus comes along, and there we are in chains to sin, and to Satan and death and he sets us free, sets us free. But it's not freedom in the way Satan defines it. That doesn't exist, that freedom doesn't exist. He says, "I want you to serve me." And so he comes with this beautiful offer, one of the most beautiful in the New Testament, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." What's the next thing he says? "Take my yoke upon you". “Take that stiff neck of yours and put it under my kingly yoke. Stop rebelling against me, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For I'm gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." So trade the one heavy, crushing yoke of sin and death, and Satan, for a light one in which you find out that all of my commands are morally beautiful. And they're delightful, and they result in a beautiful world, in a peaceful life and all that. “Take my yoke upon you. Let me be your king, your master,” that's what he's saying. Paul uses this kind of slave language quite boldly, in 1 Corinthians 6, talking about sexual morality, sexual purity, he says, "You are not your own. You were bought at a price." Wow, that's strong. I was bought, a price was paid for me and I don't own myself. Somebody else paid for me. “Therefore glorify God with your body.” So that's clear servitude language, you are a servant, a slave, of crisis like I am, Paul is saying. You were bought at a price, and that price was infinite. So the bottom line, every human being on the face of the Earth will either serve God through Christ, or serve Satan, sin, death and Hell. Those are the choices. There's no third option. You're going to serve someone.
Freedom and Slavery Both Redefined by Christ
So if you ever talking to somebody and they say, effectively, "I'm free! No one tells me what to do, I can do whatever I want with my life, my money, my time, my relationships, my interest and my hobbies, I am master of my own fate, I am captain of my own soul." Be assured they are slaves of Satan, and it's somehow your job by the ministry of the Law and the Word to show them that and to show them a better freedom that comes from serving Christ. That's the reality. So therefore, freedom and slavery are both redefined by the Gospel and by Christ. Freedom is redefined. It's a whole different view of freedom now. I think the Psalmist in Psalm 119:32, had it, "I run in the path of Your commands, for you have set my heart free." So my pathway is bounded by the laws of God, and when I run in there I feel free. That's the freedom for me. Outside of the laws of God is corruption and wickedness, and bondage to sin. And I will not run there, but this path is a free path. My heart is free. Or Jesus said in John 8:31-32 to the Jews who had believed him. "If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
Paul teaches this kind of freedom as well, "you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness," that's the same thing as the pathway of God's laws, slaves to God, slaves to righteousness. Now that's what you have, it's a different kind of freedom. Therefore slavery has been redefined by Christ. We are all slaves now to Christ and also we are told to other people. We're actually slaves to everybody, anybody and everybody. That's pretty powerful. We are free now, to serve other Christians, we are free to wash their feet. Jesus said, "I give you an example, now, as I've washed your feet, so you must wash each other's feet. Be servants to each other.” Galatians 5:13, "You my brothers were called to be free but do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh, rather serve one another in love." There's freedom for service, that's what it is, serve one another in love. So we're free to wash the feet of other Christians, we're actually free to serve non-Christians too, to become slaves to non-Christians.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19 and following, he says, "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. I become all things to all people, so that by all possible means, I may save some." Now I have a powerful illustration of this by a friend of mine who's the Vice President with the International Mission Board. He went to serve at a refugee camp in Greece, was made up of people that had fled from ISIS. The Muslim families for the most part, fled from ISIS, the camp was managed by the United Nations. Bunch of tents. The United Nations doesn't get into actually managing what the tents are like for the families that come. There's a high turnover rate, and the people that are there don't want to be there and have very little respect for the camp or miserable and sad and leave the tents in horrific conditions. I can't even describe what it's like. He showed his photos, but he and his team would go in and clean excrement, and urine, and rotting garbage from out of those tents, getting them ready for Muslim families to move in while the missionaries were sharing the Gospel with those Muslim families, with a clear display of servanthood right in front of them, that's I think what Paul means when he says, "I can be a slave to a non-Christian in the hope that I might, somehow lead them to Christ." So that's all spiritual.
Physical Slavery: Not Overthrown but Subverted
What about physical slavery? What about that? Now, masters and slaves, it's right there. It's not talking about some spiritual thing. It's talking about actual chattel slavery. Why aren't there abolitionist verses? Well, there aren't abolitionist verses, but there are subversive forces unleashed by the New Covenant, that destroyed slavery. It was not the purpose of the Gospel during that era of Roman history to overturn the entire socioeconomic system of the Roman world, the estimates up to half of all the people in territories dominated by Rome were slaves. It was woven in the economic system. It was not God's purpose to just overturn all of that. Instead, there's this management of it, but then there are these subversive themes. In a very good way. I'm using the word subversive in a good way. They were subversive to destroying chattel slavery, and they worked. For example, the Golden Rule, very effective, "Do to others what you would have them do to you." Right?
It's a simple logic. “Would you like to be a slave?” “No.” “Then don't enslave someone else.” It really just works, it's very, very powerful. As a matter of fact, Abraham Booth, an English Calvinist Baptist, preached basically, that sermon. I'm thinking if that's the sermon I think it's a real short sermon, but very effective. A minute and a half long. But his title was longer than that. “Commerce in the human species and the enslaving of Innocent Persons Inimical,” I guess, “Hostile to the Laws of Moses and the Gospel of Christ.” That's the sermon title. They had more words back then. But he said this, one of his application point is, "How would you like it if some foreign slave traders came to Liverpool, here in Liverpool, and took your wives and children right from you, and enslave them, how would you like that?" That's subversive and attacks and destroys slavery, it's a very effective argument.
Jesus himself gave this hierarchical sense, in John 15, he says, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you, I no longer call you slaves because the slave doesn't know what his master is doing." That's very interesting. Now later, Paul would call himself a slave of Christ, what he's saying is, I have a higher role. And later in that same Gospel, he says, "I'm going to call you brothers and sisters. I'm going to make you co-heirs with me, you're going to rule with me on the throne of the universe." So, we are slaves and sons and daughters and co-rulers with Christ, all of the above, all of those themes are valid and powerful, not just some of them. The common brotherhood of master-slave in the Gospel is a subversive force. Galatians 3 "you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. For all of you who are baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ." "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
Then in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul gives a command to slaves, that if they can get their freedom, they ought to do it, 1 Corinthians 7:21. "Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you." Interesting statement. You know what he's saying by that, he's saying, “You can actually live a flourishing, fruitful Christian life as a slave. And God will reward you richly on Judgment Day for your faith-filled obedience. So don't let it trouble if you can't get your freedom, but if you can get your freedom, do it.” The whole ethos of 1 Corinthian 7 is the less things that tie you down there, the more free you'll be to serve Christ, in this world. That's what he's saying. 1 Corinthians 7:22, "For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord, is the Lord's freed man." You're actually free in the Lord's eyes. But similarly, who is a free man is called Christ's slave. So you think you're free, but you're actually Christ's slave. So that's what he's saying.
There's a clear condemnation both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament of slave traders. There's no doubt about that. They were condemned to death in the Law of Moses, so the laying weight in the jungle with the net and a club for somebody that goes to get river water, and then you jump up on him and knock him over the head and drag him away in a net, you're guilty and deserve death in the Law of Moses for that. And in 1 Timothy 1:9-11, “We also know that the law was not made for the righteous, but for law breakers and rebels for the ungodly and the sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, adulterers, perverts, for slave traders, and liars, and perjurers.” So they're listed as wicked people.
And then finally, there's the Book of Philemon, which I think is marvelous. You remember the story in Philemon? It's just a little book. But Paul writes and apparently the story is the slave Onesimus, had run away from his master Philemon and had stolen from him apparently. Runs away in the Roman Empire, ends up meeting the Apostle Paul. Now it turns out, Paul had led Philemon to Christ. So they were good friends. What are the odds? Oh, what a lucky day. You know, that kind of thing, not the whole thing was orchestrated. Paul leads Onesimus to Christ, to faith in Christ, then writes the letter that's now in our New Testament, gives it to the slave and sends them back to his master. Think about the faith it would take to obey Paul, and go back. But in the content of the letter, he says this, "Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good." Key verse, "No longer as a slave," that's key, “no longer as a slave.” What's he telling him to do? "No longer as a slave, but better than a slave: Now, a dear brother. He is very dear to me and even dear to you. Both as a man and a brother in the Lord. So, I know you're going to obey me because I want to just, I'm not going to remind you, this is pure rhetoric. I'm not going to remind you, you owe me your very soul.” But I know you'll do the right thing. Oh, come on, that's very subversive. What is he telling him to do? Set him free? Set him free. So all of those forces over 18 centuries, were subversive and destroyed chattel slavery. Now you might say, "Well why didn't God do it faster? God has his own ways. God's ways are not our ways. But in the end, it was the Gospel and Christians that destroyed it, and it is gone. Now, what's the future of all for slavery?
V. Service in Heaven: Redeemed from the Curse
Eternal Rewards Based on Becoming Slaves
Well, in Heaven, in Heaven slavery will be 100% redeemed from the curse. We will get rewards on Judgment Day based on how much we acted and felt and truly acted out as slaves in this world. Jesus defined true greatness this way. "Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." In other words, our rewards on Judgment Day will be based on how well you live like a slave.
The Angel's Perfect Obedience
And then, when we get into Heaven, we're going to see a throne, surrounded by 100 million angels that live every moment to do the perfect will of God. They're delighted to do anything he says to do and actually one of those angels called himself to John, "A fellow slave with you of the Lord." A fellow slave. Angels and humans both of us, fellow slaves. Now, those angels are delighted to do anything God says. John Newton, made this observation he said, "If two angels were sent to the Earth, on a mission from God. And one of them was sent to run an empire and the other was sent to sweep the streets of the city, neither one of them would seek a different job, but would do it gladly, for the glory of the one that sent them." I love that. No matter what the Lord assigns you to do, just do it as unto him. It's a beautiful picture, isn't it? But, in that same chapter, Revelation 22:3 it says, "No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his slaves will serve him." So there it is, in the New Heaven, New Earth we will be sons and daughters, we will be co-heirs, but we also be his servants. And so what's the essence of that?
What It Means to be a Slave
We'll think it, think it through. What's the difference between being an employee and being a slave? Well, an employee can say, "I'm not working here anymore." Right? "I'm quitting today. Famously, I've seen some pretty dramatic quittings in my professional life. Oh, there's one story I'll tell another time but it was dramatic. What was cool is the guy came back a week later and asked for his job back. Didn't get it, they were still repairing the wall, and some other things that had been broken on that day, so. But that was humorous to say the least. But you can quit and you can demand wages. Okay? When we're in the New Heaven, New Earth will we be able to quit? No, that's already been tried. That's what redemptive history was all about. And will we be able to go to God and demand wages for our labor for him? No, we can't do that. We will be forever his slaves, but we're going to be delighted, and we're going to reign with him forever and ever. And you know what's going to happen? It says in Luke 12:37, "It will be good for those servants whose Master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, the Master," listen to this, "will dress himself to serve, and have them recline a table, and he will come and wait on them in Heaven." So you're going to be at the wedding banquet of the lamb and the bridegroom is going to come up and ask if you like, a refill. He's going to serve you up in Heaven while being the King of glory. So servanthood, itself, has been totally redeemed, and made perfect, and it is eternal, so that's why the Bible doesn't totally abolish or destroy slavery because there are aspects of it we need to embrace for the rest of our lives. Jesus himself embraces it.
Alright, so what applications can we take from that, well, let's just begin with this, submit willingly to Christ the King. Perhaps for the first time. You may be an unbeliever, maybe God brought you here, I'm calling on you to submit to Christ, come to him. All you who are weary and burdened, and let him give you rest. Take your neck and submit it to Christ's kingly yoke and let him forgive you, let him wash your, wash our soul with his redeeming blood. Start there. But then secondly, for you Christians, realize that you are the slave to the one whom you obey. Whether to sin, which leads to death, or to Christ, which leads to eternal life and righteousness. So who are you obeying? Are you fighting the good fight of holiness? Are you submitting to God's laws? Are you living like a slave of sin, or a slave of righteousness? What is actually happening in your life? You have been set free. Roman 6:18, "you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness." Are you living that out?
Thirdly, seek to obey Christ, every moment, just present yourself to him as your Master, and you the slave. Be proud to say I'm a doulos. I'm a slave of Christ. What do you want me to do? Command me, and I'll obey. Fourthly, serve other people, be a servant to all, find ways to wash feet, and not expect to be thanked or noticed. I think much about that IMB Vice President. I want to do that ministry. I actually sought an opportunity to go in September, but the IMB has been separated from that ministry right now by political forces unfortunately, but I would love to take a team to go wash tents. "Well now that you described it like that. Pastor, I'm not so excited, if that was a different kind of mission trip," but I'm thinking this is a great opportunity for us who don't know the language and don't know the culture, to serve those who are trained and can. So stay tuned. I'm still looking for a chance to go do that, to be a servant, but find ways to serve non-Christians and lead them to Christ. Fifthly, defend the Bible. Defend it against people who think that they know better about the Bible. And it's like, "Well the Bible teaches slavery," it's like, does it? Let's talk about that. Defend the Bible, be honest about the past. The excesses of chattel slavery, but to say, "Look, those folks were disobeying God's Word." Clearly. And look forward to the future when we will spend eternity serving God. I'm yearning to look forward to that.
In the meantime it may be that some of you may be called on to give your lives, a focus of your lives to the third phase of this abolitionist battle and that is battling illegal slavery. I know at least a few of us have been involved in sex trafficking and some other things. There's child slavery, going on. There's other issues and some of you may be called on to be influential, like William Wilberforce in greatly reducing illegal slavery in our world. Close with me in prayer if you would.
Father, we thank you for the time that we've had to study today. I pray that you would press these lessons to our hearts. Help us to delight in serving you Lord help us to embrace it, help us, O Lord, to look for opportunities to serve others, and not ask to be thanked or paid or in some way receive anything back, help us, O Lord, to be effective in becoming servants to all people so that by all possible means, we might save some. And thank you, Lord Jesus especially for serving us when we were so filthy and covered with sin, you became our slave and you washed our whole souls in your cleansing blood. We thank you for these things in Jesus' name. Amen.