When we hear the word “slavery,” we usually think of a very ugly part of history. It was. Scripture tells us of the Hebrew slavery in Egypt and the brutality of it. There had been a drought; and in order to survive, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to ask for food. Unbeknownst to them, the person they asked was their brother Joseph whom they had sold into slavery many years before. What man means for evil, God uses for good.
Through the years, Joseph had risen from a slave to the second highest official in Egypt. This position made it possible for him to provide food for his father and brothers, and also made the way for the family to move to Egypt. All was well for many years; but after a while, the descendants of Jacob became slaves to the Egyptians. This was the ugly type of slavery, and the Hebrews suffered greatly.
In due time, God called Moses to approach Pharaoh and ask him to set the Hebrews free. Eventually Pharaoh granted them their freedom. They began the journey to the land that God had promised them; and when they came to Mt. Sinai, God gave the Law to Moses. This Law included guidelines for slavery. You may think it odd that they had just left a nation in which they were slaves, and now God talks of slavery again. The difference between secular slavery and what the Law required is the grace and mercy of God.
Unlike other forms of slavery, God put a time limit upon the servitude. “If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing“ (Exodus 21:2).
This meant that slavery wasn’t for a lifetime and it wasn’t generational. The reasons for becoming a servant, or a slave, were varied; but the slave was protected under the Law. If a man ran into hard times and had no money, he was to be a hired servant until the year of jubilee when he would be set free and be able to return to his own home (Leviticus 25:39-41). If a man was caught stealing and couldn’t make restitution, he was to be sold to work off his debt (Exodus 22:3-4).
These laws were established for protection of individuals and in order that debts could be paid. This cannot be confused with or compared to the slavery found outside of the Jewish nation. The “slavery” under the Law was governed by rules set by God. The duration of the servitude had a specific duration and would not be a lifetime requirement.
Servitude wasn’t only for men. “And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do“ (Exodus 21:7).
This wasn’t an unsavory act by her father, but one of protection. Men were to provide for their wife and family, and women were to care for their husband and children. The hope of the father was that while in service she would marry either the master or his son. This was actually a type of betrothal; but if the master chose not to take her as his wife, she was still protected. She might also marry a man who was a slave, but that didn’t negate her servitude. Unlike a man’s servitude, she was not free after a certain period of time unless the master failed in his protection of her. We can’t understand what a blessing this law was, because today most women have jobs and leave marriage and family as a low priority.
Women aren’t inferior to men, but God has a special purpose for both men and women. When that purpose is blurred, society becomes a disaster. Following God’s ways are always best, and we can see that secular ways have a way of bringing down a nation.
When a man had served his time and paid his debt, he would be free to leave but could only take away what he had brought with him. If during his time of service he had married a woman who was also in service to the master, the wife would not be able to leave. This would have been a difficult problem for the man. God made provision for this. The man could choose to remain a servant.
“And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: then his master shall bring him unto the judges; and he shall also bring him to the door or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever“ (Exodus 21:5-60.
This was a voluntary choice by the servant and changed his status from a hired servant to a bond servant. We can be sure that slavery under God’s Law is nothing like what the Hebrews endured in Egypt or any modern form of slavery. The most perfect example of voluntary servitude is seen in Jesus Christ. Paul says that even though Jesus Christ was God He chose to become a servant to purchase our redemption.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross“ (Philippians 2:5-8).
When we accept Christ’s sacrifice for salvation, it’s a voluntary choice, and we need to become a bond servant to Him. Just as the voluntary slavery in Old Testament days lasted a lifetime, so our voluntary slavery to Christ is eternal. Our mindset regarding our service to our Master should be the same as His mindset about humbling Himself and being obedient.
The men who penned the letters in the New Testament understood what it meant to be a bond servant, and they often referred to themselves as such. “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God“ (Romans 1:1).
The word translated “servant” is from the Greek word “duolos” which means a slave or bondman, but is also used as a metaphor for a person who gives himself to be used by Christ. James also used this description. “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting“ (James 1:1).
This is also the word Peter used to describe his service to Jesus. “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ“ (2 Peter 1:1).
Even Jude, who most scholars agree was the half-brother of Jesus and wasn’t proud of that fact before the cross, eventually saw himself as a servant of Christ. “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called“ (Jude 1:1).
These men were Jewish and understood what it meant to voluntarily become a bond servant, a duolos, to Jesus. It meant giving Him their loyalty. It meant becoming living sacrifices to His service. They all suffered severe persecution, but their faith and dedication was too strong to be anything other than voluntary slaves to Jesus. Is that our attitude today? Or do we just say “I believe” then go on being a slave to the world?
It’s important to understand that we all choose to follow a master. If we don’t choose to be a servant to Jesus, then we choose Satan as a master. Servitude to Satan carries with it the harshness of the slavery that the Egyptians forced upon the Hebrews or the slave trade that was an ugly blotch in history. By your servitude to the evil one, you’ll suffer under his yoke and face the wages of sin, which is death. On the other hand, by becoming a slave to Jesus, you choose a brighter path. That path will still be filled with challenges, temptations, and failures but the ultimate gain is eternal life.
Jesus said “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light“ (Matthew 11:28-30).
Becoming a bond servant to Christ has eternal benefits.
Today, much of our servitude is to a job. We voluntarily take a job in order to pay the mortgage, buy food, drive a car, etc. A slave to bills must be a slave to the means to pay those bills. When we work for someone, he’s our master, and Christians are expected to serve him as if we were serving Christ. In fact, your servitude to Christ is a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week service.
“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men“ (Ephesians 6:5-7).
Our job may not be easy, but easiness of servitude isn’t what determines if we give our service properly. If you’re a slave to Christ, He will help you to serve at your job in a manner that honors your true Master.
Now a word to the masters who employ the slave, servant, or employee: “And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him“ (Ephesians 6:9).
God loves you whether you’re a master or a servant, employer or employee, and He has no prejudice as to skin color or nationality. Whatever your station in life, you’re loved by God. Our attitude towards other people needs to be the same as that of our Master. It isn’t a coincidence that the following verses in Ephesians 6 deal with putting on the full armor of God in order to fight against the powers of darkness. Indeed, Satan uses bad attitudes as a way to cause strife.
Whether in the workplace or outside of it, if you feel superior to someone or belittled by someone, you need to check your attitude. If you feel superior, then you need to humble yourself before the Lord. If you feel belittled, you need to be sure that your own attitude and actions aren’t causing others to react to you in a bad way. Turn to the Lord and let Him mold your attitude.
Brothers and sisters, we must always be ready to fight against the powers of darkness; and the way we treat each other is important in that fight. As an employer, you must be a leader and expect those you hire to give an honest day’s work, but you have no right to mistreat your employees.
Jesus fulfilled the Law, and the Law regarding slavery is just one example. He voluntarily became a servant so that we can have eternal life. We owe Him everything. When we accept the sacrifice He made for our salvation, we become His bond servant for life….for eternity. We voluntarily choose to follow Him, and our service needs to be as bond servants…voluntary because we love our Master.
Your choice is whether to be a slave to sin or a bond servant of Christ.
God bless you all,
Ron and Nathele Graham’s previous commentaries archived at http://www.raptureready.com/featured/graham/graham.html
All original scripture is “theopneustos,” God breathed.
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