This morning in South Carolina, the Confederate flag was removed—never again to be publicly displayed. For many millions of Americans, this remaining emblem of the Civil War, continues as a symbol of slavery and hatred.
The battle over slavery was a stunning low point in the early history of America. An issue so divisive, that more than 500,000 men were willing to die to determine the final outcome.
There are some today, who believe that the Bible was responsible for the enslavement of human beings in the early history of the United States.
When we examine the text of the Old and New Testaments we find that it was men who instituted the practice of slavery, not God. There is no place in the Bible where the Bible instructs, nor condones the enslavement of another human being.
The nation of Israel had many citizens who were in severe poverty due to economic hardship. Many of these individuals were forced into servitude in order to survive or repay their debts. In these cases, the Bible instructs those who had oversight in the lives of these individuals, in the manner these persons should be treated. A slave could be kept for six years in order to repay a debt, but on the seventh year, they must be released.
If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. —Exodus 21:2
“If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the LORD has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today. —Deuteronomy 15:12-15
In most cases, those who were sold into slavery due to poverty, were treated with such kindness that they felt more like a son or daughter of their master, rather than a slave. When the seventh year arrived and it was time for these person to be set free, they often chose to remain in their master’s home, forever.
And if it happens that he says to you, “I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise. —Deuteronomy 15:16-17
Those who willingly remained a servant, were called: “Bondservants.” In the New Testament, they are referred to as “Doulos.”
In the New Testament, those who came to faith in Jesus Christ were instructed in the proper treatment of their servants. Those who were indentured as servants, were instructed in the correct attitude towards their masters.
In Matthew chapter 8, and Luke chapter 7, the Roman Centurion who has a servant, sends word to Jesus that this young man is more like a son to him that a slave. He requests that Jesus speak His words and heal this young man. We see that this boy was not treated as a slave, but as a son, who was loved and cared for by this Roman citizen.
Other places in the New Testament, Jesus refer to all people in the world as slaves to sin, whom He came to set free. The scriptures instruct those who place their faith in Jesus to now be slaves of righteousness.
Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. —John 8:34
And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. —Romans 6:18
Slavery was a reality that existed in antiquity. God neither instructs any person to take a slave, nor does He condone the practice. The scriptures simply deal with the reality of slavery and how these individuals should be treated.
Jesus came to set all people free; from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people. It is men who enslave other men and and place them into bondage. God’s purpose for all people is that they should be free.
Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. —John 8:36
It is because of our slavery to sin and death that Jesus came to earth, in order to set us free. Those who commit sin are slaves to its demands. It is Jesus desire that every person be able to live a life that is free from the guilt and condemnation that sin leaves in the mind and heart of those who are enslaved by it. Those who chose sin as the course of their life, in the end, find that it has destroyed them and has mad it impossible to achieve the perfect and eternal life that God intended.
The New Testament reveals that God treats all persons equally. No one is superior to any other person. God loves each of us intensely and Jesus came to die for every individual.
Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. —Acts 10:34-35
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. —John 3:16
The issue of slavery amongst the followers of Jesus is detailed in the book of Ephesians. Bondservants, the same individuals who are referred to above in Deuteronomy 15:16-17, who choose to remain with their masters; are instructed to serve with sincerity, not only when their masters are present, but also when they are absent. The parallel here is clear; the followers of Jesus are His willing servants.
Bondservants (Doulos—willing servants), be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. —Ephesians 6:5-9
Paul is addressing these willing servants in the world. They should understand that their true Master is the Lord Jesus, not men. Though these individuals may choose to remain an earthly servant, their true master is the Lord of Heaven.
As the followers of Jesus, our words and actions should imitate those of Jesus as we are humble, kind, gentle, sincere, loving, and compassionate.
For Christians who have willing servants in their household, Paul instructs that they should be treated with kindness, not severity or threatening. Remembering that they also have a Master, the Lord Jesus, who will someday judge every word and action of our lives.
In this text we begin to see the true intent of the Bible’s discussion of slavery: First, to demonstrate the reality of man’s slavery to sin and God’s desire to set us free. Second, to display the desired attitude of those who will follow Jesus: to be humble, diligent, willing servants—knowing that He has rescued us from our certain course of destruction—into a new life of perfect peace and eternal joy.
God earnestly desires that all people, for all time, be able to live in complete freedom. To ensure this, He sent His Son into the world to die for our sins and make a way possible for every one of us to be set free from the ravages and enslavement of sin and death.