When we read the Bible today, there’s a tendency to look at it through the lens of our modern culture. Terms and practices that meant something different centuries ago don’t always make sense if we think about them happening today.
For instance, consider the term, “slavery” (or perhaps the idea of “being a servant”). A lot of talk about slavery and servitude in the Bible must be considered in the context of what those situations looked like in the eras in which the Bible was written. For instance, there were some specific differences in Bible times when it comes to slavery, as compared to the enslavement of African people by those in Europe and America over several recent centuries (as well as other examples in the modern era). I shouldn’t have to say this, but it bears repeating that the latter practice of dehumanizing slavery (which still exists in the world today) is an ugly affront to how God created us, and those who seek good in this world can – and should – still work to drive out its presence and its effects.
Not all instances of one person serving another in history, though, were caused by someone forcibly treating another human being as less than a person who was created in God’s image. Now, even in first-century Rome, I’m sure that there were evil masters. However, there were also arrangements where someone would choose to serve another person in exchange for support, while the servant retained dignity and respect. In fact, this agreement even included the ability for a slave to purchase freedom, after serving for long enough to “get back on his feet”, we might say. This is closer to – but still not the same as – what we might know as employment today, albeit with less flexibility than modern labor laws require.
The Romans would have had detailed knowledge about the human institution of slavery. They lived in the capital of an empire that practiced it, after all. Residents of Rome would probably know what it meant to voluntarily give one’s life over to a benefactor, and accept slavery or servitude in exchange for support. And, they probably saw both kind masters and those who were terrible to their slaves.
However, even though relatively respectful forms of servitude have existed in some times and places throughout history, I think that we can go back to the worst possible image of a slave’s master when we think of being enslaved to sin: Sin is a terrible, merciless taskmaster. Sin abuses us, even when we follow and obey it. Sin doesn’t treat us as being worthy of the respect of being created and loved by God. And, sin doesn’t care about us at all.
In that light, let’s read a couple of verses from Romans 6:
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
Romans 6:17-18 NIV
Here, we find that – even though sin traps us in its clutches when we choose to follow it – we are not permanently stuck in slavery to sin. Instead, we are offered an option to be freed from that bondage. However, as the previous article mentioned, we still serve someone or something, even if we are freed from slavery to sin.
In return, though, being a slave to righteousness isn’t anything like a life under sin: Our Lord Jesus loved us so much that He died for us. He still loves us, and offers us an abundant life (see John 10:10). He tells us to love God and love others (rather than serving the evil goals of sin), and He blesses us beyond measure. As a result, every memory of a bad boss or the struggle of working for another fallen human being must be set aside, in order to appreciate the joy of serving righteousness.
Let’s continue to look at this topic in the next article…
From Sunday School lesson prepared for March 6, 2022
- The Lookout, March 6, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 1, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.