“Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus….” (Titus 1:1a)
As Americans, we have come to understand slavery based on our experience with the African slave trade in centuries past. As great as our nation is, this practice was a tragedy in our nation’s history. We thank God for his work in enabling us to stop this horrific practice and move to the basic idea of freedom for all people that made this country great. And, yet, we are still feeling the effects of slavery today.
This is important to understanding biblical stewardship and ownership. In order to do this we need to understand slavery in Roman society back around the 1st century. Paul, the apostle and follower of Christ who wrote much of the New Testament, lived in a culture where slavery was common and normal.
A few of the characteristics of the social institution of slavery in the Roman Empire at that time:
First, there were many, many slaves in the Roman Empire. It has been estimated that 1 out of 5 people in the outlying areas of the empire were slaves. The people we know and read about in the New Testament were around slavery all the time.
Second, many of the urban slaves actually sought slavery rather than tried to avoid it. A person of lesser status could enter into a Master/Slave relationship and potentially improve his social status both as a slave and eventually be freed into a better situation within ten or twenty years.
Third, slaves did all kinds of jobs. One expert estimates there were over 120 different types of work a slave could do. There were rural and urban slaves – the urban slaves were the more desirable because they could be city employees, shop managers, doctors or manage an estate or large household. The most desirable jobs were the ones that were part of Caesar’s government.
Both Jesus and Paul used this metaphor of a slave to help describe how God relates to us and how we relate to him. The difference in human slave-owners and God is that God is a completely loving and compassionate master who wants what is best for those who are in a relationship with him.
When we align ourselves with Christ, we also realize our status is improved and the work he has for us in the world is significant and fulfilling. The key is to be able to recognize that, like a slave, our need is to completely submit to his will and follow him with our whole hearts. Are you ready to submit like a slave to Christ as your Master?