BEHAVIOR OF EMPLOYERS & EMPLOYEES (Titus 11)
READ: Titus 2:9-10
It’s no surprise Paul would give instructions about how Christian men and women of various ages should live out their faith in their daily life. But his next subject might surprise us, for he tells Christian slaves to obey their masters (Titus 2:9-10). In the first century, the practice of slavery was still quite common, and often a bondservant, or slave, was seen to be less of a human being. God views someone who is a bondservant as equal to those who aren’t. His word often addresses their situation directly. Ephesians 6 has several verses talking to bondservants, the entire book of Philemon is about a bondservant, Onesimus. So we should not be surprised to find a couple of verses ending this section on the duties and responsibilities of leaders to discuss the duties of bondservants. Why? Because both older, mature believers as well as younger, maturing believers would certainly be included in this category.
Paul reminds slaves to obey their masters and try to please them, to not talk back or steal but to be trustworthy so as to be a good example of Jesus (Titus 2:9-10). In the early church, a very large percentage of the Christians were slaves. Around the world today that is still true: those who are the poorest are often the first to respond to the good news of the Gospel. Salvation sets them free from sin, but not from their responsibility to their masters. Perhaps some false teachers were saying they didn’t have to obey their masters if they were Christians, because they were equal in Christ. Can you imagine the disruption of society if every slave who became a Christian didn’t have to obey their master? Every slave would claim to be a Christian just so they didn’t have to submit to a master. Certainly slavery is wrong and must be abolished, but that wasn’t the way to do it. That would bring chaos and an uproar against Christians.
The Old Testament Mosaic Law limited and regulated slavery and sought to correct its inhumane abuses (Exodus 20:10; 21:20-27). Slaves in Israel were recognized as full persons who possessed human dignity and basic rights (Deuteronomy 5:14; Job 31:13-15). Abusing one’s slaves and servants was viewed as being both imprudent and immoral (Deuteronomy 23:15-16).
Still, we often wonder why Paul didn’t clearly condemn slavery (Ephesians 6:5). He did, but not as directly as we would have liked. Understanding what was happening in Paul’s day helps us better understand. Slavery was practiced by every ancient people of which we have any historical record: Egyptians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Phoenicians, Syrians, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Greeks, Romans, and all the rest. Furthermore, during the first century A.D., approximately 85 to 90 percent of Rome’s population consisted of slaves.
When we in America think of slavery, we think of three million black Africans brought across the Atlantic in chains and extreme cruelty. Roman slavery was very different. Most slaves were prisoners of war and had they not been enslaved on the battlefield they would almost certainly have been slaughtered instead. Black slaves in the USA tended to be slaves for life, but most Roman slaves could win their freedom within a decade. That doesn’t mean it was right, but it does mean it is wrong for us to read these verses without being aware of our own cultural influence.
Paul’s purpose was to bring spiritual freedom from sin. As important as physical freedom from slavery was, it wasn’t as important as spreading the Gospel. He couldn’t do both well, so he focused on salvation. When he wrote Ephesians 6:5 telling slaves to obey their masters there were about 250,000 free citizens and 400,000 slaves in Ephesus. Most of these slaves were very poor and would have starved if not fed by their masters. Freedom could bring them more problems and suffering than they already had.
The best way to do away with slavery is from the inside out, not just by-passing new laws. Masters who become Christians should treat their slaves well, and Christian slaves should set a good example in obeying their masters. When people saw the godly character of Christian slaves, they began to take Paul seriously when he argued that the slave trade was evil (1 Timothy 1:10), that slaves should gain their freedom if they could (1 Corinthians 7:21), that masters ought to view their slaves as equals (Ephesians 6:9; Galatians 3:28), and that they ought to set them free at the proper time (Philemon 16). Although governments resisted his teaching for many years, Paul’s teaching eventually prevailed.
Of all the world’s religions, including the three great monotheisms (Christianity, Judaism and Islam), only in Christianity did the idea develop that slavery was sinful and must be abolished. Antislavery teachings began to appear in Christian theology soon after the decline of Rome and were accompanied by the eventual disappearance of slavery in all but the fringes of Christian Europe. When Europeans subsequently instituted slavery in the New World, they did so over objection from Christians and the church. The abolition of New World slavery was initiated and achieved by Christian activists.
For us today, we may draw an application of the role and responsibilities of bondservants and masters to that of employee and employer (or boss). And notice how, just as with the first century bondservant, these last two verses will address both the older, mature believer who is an employee as well as the younger, maturing believer who is an employee. How are we, as representatives of God, to act during the work day, the work week? How do we make sure that we are being the same people during the week that we are on Sunday? Be submissive to your master (your employer, your boss). (October 23, 2023 Doylestown, PA)
PAUL’S ADVICE: Be obedient to those you serve so you set a good testimony for Jesus.
John 15:12-13 “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
How would Jesus act if He was working for your employer? Is that how you act?
How would Jesus treat your workers if they were working for Him? Is that how you treat them?
cto Rev. Dr. JERRY SCHMOYER
Christian Training Organization
(India Outreach, Spiritual Warfare, Family Ministries, Counseling, World View)
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