(I thought I’d include something of a different nature on my blog—a sermon I preached on Christian slavery.)
Galatians 5:13: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
A lot of you may be familiar with the Andy Griffith Show. In one episode (“Andy Learns about America”), Mayberry’s Sheriff Andy Taylor is at the breakfast table talking to his son Opie about his history lessons. Barney Fife, the inept, bumbling deputy, drops by. Once he hears the topic of conversation, with great bravado, he announces that history was his best subject.
Andy is surprised. Barney challenges him to ask him anything. So Andy, with a twinkle in his eye, asks Barney to tell Opie what the Emancipation Proclamation is.
Of course, Barney is a history bluff, not a history buff.
After hemming and hawing, Barney (rather awkwardly) says, “Are you kiddin’? Everyone one knows that.”
Andy: Then why don’t you tell us?
Barney: You’re kiddin’. It’s one of the most famous proclamations in history.”
Andy: “I know.”
After asking Opie and Aunt Bea for help, Barney finally says, “The Emancipation Proclamation was a proclamation’ is what it was”
Andy then asks: “What was it about?”
Barney rather impatiently responds: “It was about Emancipation! What do you think it was about? ‘What was it about’! Use your head, man! It’s common knowledge. There was these folks. And how else was they gonna’ get themselves emancipated, unless there was a proclamation. So they got themselves a proclamation, and they called it ‘The Emancipation Proclamation.’
Barney: “Yeah, I’m surprised at you for not knowing that, Andy! And I’ll tell you something else. I’m even more surprised that you think I don’t know about the Emancipation Proclamation.”
Andy: “We’re still waiting for you to tell us about it.”
Barney: Well, if you’re gonna’ get so smart-alecky about it, maybe I’m not even gonna’ tell ya’.”
Of course, the Emancipation Proclamation was the declaration by Abraham Lincoln that, effective 1 January 1863, “all persons held as slaves” within the rebel states “shall be then, thenceforth and forever free.” Those who were abolitionists during that era wanted slavery to disappear. So when I talk about “repealing abolition,” you might think this is a mistake. Maybe you think I really mean “Repealing Prohibition,” which took place in 1933 after the thirteen-year government ban on alcohol. Or perhaps you think I must really mean, “Promoting Abolition”—attempting as Christians to abolish oppression and even slavery in certain Muslim countries (like the Sudan, where Christians are literally enslaved). And much could be said about this important topic, but that’s for another time. (Incidentally, I’m presently finishing a book that deals with a number of ethical challenges in the Old Testament—including slavery.)
“Repealing Abolition,” I’m not talking about literally repealing of Lincoln’s strategic Emancipation Proclamation. Rather, I want to encourage us to think in categories alien to our culture (which emphasizes rights and freedom—not responsibilities), but so familiar to biblical authors—that we are slaves of Christ and of one another. If Jesus is Lord (kyrios) over each of our lives, this entails that I am his slave (doulos). And if I am part of the body of Christ, I belong to you; I am to serve you in love. Christian communities like ours should be slave communities. We are to be living out Scripture’s “reciprocal commands”—the one another commands in the New Testament (love one another, serve one another, accept one another, honor one another, etc.).
Sometimes we’ll talk of Christians as real “servants of the Lord”; we don’t use the term “slaves.” Some biblical scholars have noted that many Bible translations have been too timid in their translation of doulos (“slave”) or syndoulos (“fellow slave”). They tend to obscure the ancient significance of this term by translating it “servant” (or “bond-servant”) or “fellow servant” rather than the more appropriate term of subordination and ownership, “slave” or “fellow slave,” so well known in the first century.
Slaves belong to someone else, but servants can quit if they want to. If a slave master didn’t let you go, you had no hope. That puts things in perspective. What would it do for our churches, for our homes, our schools if we thought of ourselves as slaves of Christ and one another? Let’s repeal abolition and get back to slavery! The Communist Manifesto says, “Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.” But for the Christian recognizes that we will be enslaved to one master or another. We are slaves by nature; we must serve one master or the other. As Christians, we express our slavery by saying, “Not my will but yours be done.” When we say, “Jesus is Lord,” we are saying, “I am his slave.” So instead of throwing off our chains, we must think about putting them on—talk about political incorrectness!
Let me first review important categories of slavery for Christians. Second, I’ll look at the context of Galatians 5:13. Third, I’ll address how we can apply this passage within the own Christian community.
I. CHRISTIAN SLAVERY (AND FREEDOM) IN SCRIPTURE: Let’s look at the following passages (using the doul– word group). We’ll look at four particular categories or dimensions of slavery and freedom.
A. We’re FREE (from spiritual death, bondage to sin, Satan, etc.) in Christ.
- John 8:32, 36: and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
- Rom. 8:21: For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
- Gal. 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
- Gal. 4:7: Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
- Gal. 5:31: So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman (cp. “slavery: v. 25), but of the free woman. Continue Reading →