Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: slave

A double warning for those who work

We see the same stereotypes in most of our TV shows.  Take a group of five adults in a workplace setting, and you’ll almost always have an overbearing boss, the perky one, someone who can’t keep their personal life together, the nerd, and the old guy/gal.  We’ve seen them so much that we tend to anticipate that people in life will act out these roles.  In a real sense, our entertainment has become our expectation.  And while TV shows are society’s current choice of distraction and amusement, the need to be mindful of a stereotype’s influence is actually an old issue.

There was a running gag in ancient comedies of the arrogant, back-talking slave who mocked the master behind his back and sassed his master to his face.  Either of which would lead to the slave taking a beating for comedic effect.  This motif was regularly present in Greek and Latin plays.  These shows also type-casted the role of the slave to be wicked and selfish.

When Paul wrote to Timothy, as much as one-third of the Roman world was made up of slaves.  Roman slavery was not like what we think of in terms of slavery – it wasn’t race-based (there were slaves of all races) and while some did the harsh, menial work other slaves had significant skills and responsibilities (such as medical work, teaching, and business).  The average age of a slave was 17, and most could reasonably expect to be freed by the time they reached 30 (with typical life expectancy of 36 for women and 43 for men). 

So if 1/3 of society was slave population, you can imagine that there would be a fair number of slaves in the church.  And if the general expectation of “slave behavior” was rudeness, disrespect, and conduct that deserved an occasional beating – would God expect something different because of their society status?

1 Timothy 6:1-2
All who are under the yoke as slaves must regard their own masters to be worthy of all respect, so that God’s name and His teaching will not be blasphemed. 

And those who have believing masters should not be disrespectful to them because they are brothers, but should serve them better, since those who benefit from their service are believers and dearly loved.

Whatever circumstance a slave found themselves in, they were to demonstrate their relationship with Jesus in the way they treated their master.  Paul doesn’t say that the master must deserve respect or should earn respect…instead, the slave must [choose to] regard their own masters to be worthy of all respect.  They were to ignore the low-bar expectations of society and realize that their actions mattered to God’s reputation.  A slave that acted counter-culturally would stand out as a positive witness for God.

Paul is such a realist.  He recognizes peoples’ general, selfish tendency to use a situation to their own benefit – and warns slaves not to take advantage of their believing masters.  Choosing to act like society’s stereo-typical slave because you assume that grace and mercy will be available is not only hypocritical, but shows a lack of understanding of the love Christ showed all of us.

Paul’s directions are applicable for us, even though we don’t live in an indentured-servant society.  We come across all sorts of stereotyped behaviors in our own jobs, and we need to make the choice to live out of our relationship with Jesus, rather than meet society’s low-bar expectations.

Every time we go to work, God’s reputation is on the line.  Others will definitely notice how you go about your business – even if the boss is an overbearing jerk.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A level playing field

In the ancient world, you knew your place in society.  If you were born into the elite class, you associated with and married in the elite class.  If you were on the outside looking in, you knew that too.  You also knew that you would never be able to join the upper crust.

Slaves in the ancient world were considered property of their masters – either by temporary arrangement (like to pay back some debt) or as a permanent situation.  There were avenues in society for a slave to purchase their freedom or to be released by their masters, but those situations were the exception, not the norm.

The name “Onesimus” was a common slave name since it means “useful”, for that is what the master expected of his slaves – that they would make themselves useful to their owner and the family they served.  When Paul wrote on behalf of Onesimus, he used the slave’s name in a play on words in his petition to Philemon:

Philemon 9-11
I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, who I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me. 

In his prior life, Onesimus was useless.  Whatever had happened between him and his master Philemon was substantial and, as we’ll read later, monetarily expensive.  The situation had to have been significant based upon Onesimus’ choice to leave – either as a runaway slave, or even if he sought Paul out to intercede with Philemon.  After causing significant damage to Philemon and then departing, Onesimus truly had no usefulness to Philemon.  However, after encountering Jesus and trusting Him for eternal life, Onesimus has become eternally useful – both to God and among the family of believers.

Philemon 12-16
I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will. 

For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother.  This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Oh, the level playing field created by Jesus!

Take a moment to appreciate what took place when Onesimus joined God’s family.  Despite his background, past sins, or current social and economic circumstance, Onesimus is now on equal footing with Philemon AND Paul.

In Christ, the slave is on equal ground with the master and the apostle.  Since Jesus paid the price for all sins that means there is room at cross for everyone.  Paul even said as much in his letter to the church in Colossae:

Colossians 3:11
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

None of the world’s barriers, distinctions, or divisions can prevent someone from joining God’s family.  There is not one of life’s circumstances that can prevent you from trusting Jesus for eternal life.  His offer is available to all.  We only need to trust Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Practical application: work (part 1)

After giving specific examples of how to live out a Jesus-focused life among our immediate families, Paul turned his readers’ attention to the next most common area of their lives – where they do their daily work.

Paul specifically addresses these next directions to slaves; however, the Greek word he used could also be translated as servant, attendant, or bondsman.  Roman slavery had many more similarities to an indentured servant system than to the version of slavery in America’s past or in other parts of the world.

Regardless of his readers’ circumstances, Paul’s application of God’s truth for their lives is clear.  Additionally, his reasoning is something that we can also apply in any area we are working:

Colossians 3:22
Slaves, obey your human masters in everything: don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 

The first observation here is that Paul’s direction is proof that laziness at work isn’t a new concept.  It wasn’t introduced into our economic system by Gen-X, Gen-Y, or everyone’s current favorite target, the Millennials.  Working only when being watched is an expression of selfishness and self-centeredness…conditions that have plagued all of humanity since The Fall.

Looking back at the creation account, we find that God gave Adam work to do – long before sin entered the world.  He and Eve were to partner together with God and work in the Garden of Eden.  Paul wants his readers to see their daily work as Adam and Eve saw their work, as an occupation entrusted to them by God and they were to work for Him. 

Colossians 3:23-24
Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord – you serve the Lord Christ. 

Remember, Paul is writing to believers here…so the reward of an inheritance isn’t eternal salvation from the penalty of sin, because that is a free gift.  Based on the context, the reward in these verses is something that can be earned through working wholeheartedly and enthusiastically.

Given these observations, several application questions come to mind:

How do we approach the workday? 
When do we work hard? 
If our attitudes are the measuring stick, whom are we working for? 
Paul says there is a reward for good work, so what is it?

When we view our work properly – as someone who working for God – our perspective immediately changes.  We see the successes, failures, and difficulties in completely different light and are able to trust God in all areas of our work.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Healthy teachings for slaves

Titus 2:1 You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.

Paul has one last group within the Cretan believers to address.  Slavery was quite common within ancient Rome; so much so that historians believe that the slave population would vary between 30% to over 50% of a given city.  While some slaves toiled under harsh conditions, others appeared to be normal businessmen; however, the function and authority of both were under the supervision of their individual masters.  Invariably, with such a sizeable population, there were slaves who became Christians.  So they also would wonder “What’s next?” after choosing to trust Christ for their salvation from the penalty of their sins.

Titus 2:9-10 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

One source I found made this point: “Paul’s instructions on the respectful attitude of slaves toward their masters comes against the backdrop of a standard theme in ancient comedies: the arrogant, back-talking slave.  Over and over the Greek and Latin comic playwrights present slaves as mocking their masters behind their backs, talking back to them with barely disguised contempt when they could (often getting a cuffing for comic effect), and generally being villainous characters.  Admittedly a large measure of this picture was simply the comedic portrait, but it no doubt contains an element of truth…”

What’s helpful here is that Paul gives instructions for “What’s next”, but he also provides the why for doing these things.  Did you see it at the end of verse 10? 

so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive

Paul wanted the Cretan slaves to recognize that their work for their earthly master was their way to demonstrate who God is and what God has done in their lives.  Against the cultural joke backdrop of the back-talking slave, a servant who is trustworthy in front of his master as well as when his master is not around would stand out. 

The slaves were to recognize the authority of those above them, work to please them, be respectful, and not to misappropriate the resources they were in charge of or came in contact with.  Their trustworthiness would gain them an audience with their master and those around them…their audience would find their motivations to be attractive.  Titus was to make sure that the slaves knew that their everyday choices would build the platform from which they could share the good news of gospel.  Every slave, from the one with huge responsibilities to the one who did the most menial of tasks, could make the gospel attractive by how they worked.

Although we do not find ourselves in the same employment situation as the Cretan slaves, there are some clear parallels and applications for all of us.  In a culture that seems to take work less and less serious…how a Christian works is important, no matter what job we have in front of us.  We represent our Savior in the everyday choices we make in our work.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Servants

Letters in the ancient world didn’t have return addresses or postmarks to indicate who the letter was from or from where the letter had been sent.  Instead, ancient letters begin with the sender indentifying himself before getting to the actual reason for writing.  This style is also found in all of the New Testament letters.

Titus 1:1  Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness

Admittedly, we usually skim over these sections of the New Testament letters.  However, it is within these first few verses that we get close up look at Paul, how he views himself, and how he views his God-given mission.

The two descriptions he uses to identify himself – a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ are the basis for his work in strengthening the faith of God’s people and to impart the knowledge of the truth about God that affects the way we live.  So what did Paul mean by being both a servant and an apostle?

An apostle was a representative, a messenger, or an envoy.  This term was often used for the divinely appointed founders of the church.  While “Apostle” was an easy title to apply to Peter, James, John, and the rest of Jesus’ disciples, Paul’s claim harkens back to his Damascus Road experience.  After meeting the glorified Christ, Paul’s life and mission were radically altered.  He became the envoy for Jesus to the known world.

The word servant is often rendered as “slave” in other translations; however, given America’s history with race-based slavery, our understanding of slavery in the ancient world can be a little skewed.  A servant, or a doulos, was a person who was owned, often to repay a debt, and the servitude was for a limited time.  While some slaves did have a life of hard labor, slaves also performed many domestic services, and often highly skilled ones.  Some examples include teachers, accountants, and personal physicians. 

Perhaps a better translation would be bondservant, as that term more accurately indicates one who would sell himself into slavery for another.  An additional interesting aspect of slavery in the Old Testament was that after a slave earned his or her freedom, the former slave could choose to voluntarily bond himself to his master for the rest of his life (Deuteronomy 15).  This decision was based upon the slave realizing the benefits to being permanently associated with his master, that he loved his master so much that he viewed his freedom a worthwhile price to maintain their relationship.

While an apostle was chosen by Christ, to be a servant was a choice made by the individual.

Have we chosen to be servants of God?  Don’t answer too fast.  The Old Testament slave would have his ear pierced to signify to everyone that he had made his choice to become a servant for life.

What marks our lives that we are choosing to serve God?

Keep Pressing,
Ken