Central to Christianity, and what differentiates it from every other (false) religion, is the fact that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), not by works. Righteous works are the natural result of a transformed life, and come after salvation. Works are a observable witness of the power of the gospel. These righteous works encompass many things, including conduct toward others.
During the time of Jesus’ ministry, the early church, and beyond, slavery was part of the social structure. It was very common. Congregations in the early church were made up of slave owners and slaves alike. I imagine this was somewhat awkward for church members and most definitely unconventional for the time, and it was causing some problems. You see, everyone who is born-again and part of the family of God is on equal ground. Galatians 3:28 tells us “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This revolutionary concept was causing some confusion in the church, especially regarding the new-found freedom of slaves in Christ, who were tempted to rebel against their masters. That is why it is addressed many times in scripture:
“Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” (Colossians 3:22)
“Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ;” (Ephesians 6:5)
“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.” (1 Peter 2:18)
Last night for family worship, we read Philemon. Philemon is a letter from the apostle Paul to a well-to-do member of the church named Philemon. Philemon was a true believer, and he owned at least one slave named Onesimus. Onesimus had run away, and somehow came into contact with Paul. Paul converted him and discipled him. Through this discipleship relationship, Onesimus understood that he needed to return to his master in obedience to God, and make things right. Paul wrote a letter appealing to Philemon to forgive Onesimus and receive him as a brother in the faith.
During family worship we talked about the fact that this new, radical dynamic between slave owners and slaves would have been very noticeable to the culture around them. It was a tangible, observable witness to the lost masses of the transforming power of the gospel!
As is often the case, this morning in my personal devotions, there was a similar theme for this day’s reading in The Valley of Vision:
“…May I scandalize none by my temper and conduct, but recommend and endear Christ to all around, bestow good on every one as circumstances permit, and decline no opportunity of usefulness…..Help me to guide my affections with discretion, to owe no man anything, to be able to give to him that needeth, to feel it my duty and pleasure to be merciful and forgiving, to show the world the likeness of Jesus.” (Jesus My Glory, The Valley of Vision, p. 23)
If we have been born-again, regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, and given the new nature, it should be evident to those around us. It should be our hearts desire to reflect the transforming power of Christ to those in our sphere of influence. We are not slaves or slave owners today, but there are other areas in our life that our faith will affect, and draw notice as it will be counter to the culture. May we strive to ‘endear Christ to all around; to show the world the likeness of Jesus’!
Soli Deo Gloria!