May 24, 2022
“Each person should remain in the life situation in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? It should not be a concern to you. But if you can become free...”
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1 Corinthians 7
“Each person should remain in the life situation in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? It should not be a concern to you. But if you can become free, by all means take the opportunity. For he who is called by the Lord as a slave is a freedman. Likewise, he who is called as a free man is Messiah’s slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each person should remain with God in whatever situation he was called.” 1 Corinthians 7:20-24
The legalized practice of forced slavery in the United States ended with the close of the American Civil War. For many years, leading up to and following the Civil War, many Southern pastors interpreted Paul’s statements to mean the Bible supported forced slavery. Of course, their assumptions were wrong. Sadly, a whole generation of naïve and undereducated congregants followed such teaching as if it were the gospel. Consequently, America would not be fully integrated until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 70s. Even today, racial tension persists and especially in the South.
In the days of Jesus, slavery was very different. A slave, in biblical terms, was not necessarily a spoil of war or human cargo. People would sell themselves for a season, working for money for a specified amount of time. Perhaps, these people were down on their luck, had made bad business decisions, found themselves in debt, or just didn’t want the pressure of running their household. Whatever the circumstance of their voluntary enslavement, God gave strict rules for the governance and treatment of slaves. There was even a scheduled time when all slaves had to be set free by law. Slavery was only to be for a season. Jesus proclaimed this freedom in His message to his hometown synagogue.
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18b-19
An indentured Christian who heard of Jesus’ proclamation of jubilee might be tempted to cut out on his agreement, thus spoiling the testimony of honesty and integrity that Christians are called to. Paul urged slaves to work themselves out of slavery by fulfilling their obligations. In the meantime, they were to rest in the knowledge that, even though they were indebted to a slave owner, Jesus had set them free from their debt to God.
As for free men, Paul cautioned them against becoming prideful and feeling they did not need God. He challenged them to remember they, too, had been bought with a price and are under an obligation to serve Jesus, as an indentured servant would serve a master.
Bob Dylan once sang, “It may be the Devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Jesus paid a debt I could never afford; therefore, I willingly serve Him. I am spiritually debt-free in Messiah yet personally and eternally indebted for His grace and mercy!