When Slavery is a Good Thing

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Slavery. The mere mention of the word evokes emotions of the deepest sort, none of them positive. The thought of one group forcibly taking the innocent from their homes and families, chaining them up like dogs, and subjecting them to merciless physical and mental abuse is repugnant to sensible people, and rightly so.

Why, then, would the apostle Paul use the language of slavery in describing his relationship with Jesus? Here are his words, “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons” (Philippians 1:1).

The term Paul used – bondservant – means exactly that. It refers to one who has relinquished all rights of self-governance and is wholly in subjection to another. While we might naturally try to shy away from the term, there is no need in this case. The relationship of Jesus to Christians is nothing like the master/slave relationship that we normally think of.

Consider: (1) the subjection of an individual to Jesus is purely voluntary. He does not force people to follow him against their wills. Everyone has the ability to choose whether or not he follows Jesus (Rom. 6:16-18; Rev. 22:17). (2) Jesus is neither harsh nor mean to his subjects. He affirmed, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). The commands of God “are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). To submit to Jesus is to submit to one “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29). It is to submit to a master who allowed himself to be beaten and crucified in the place of his servants (1 Pet. 2:21-24). Indeed, the Christian is the beneficiary of being the slave of Jesus.

Eddie Parrish
Bedford, TX

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