New Testament Slavery - One Year Devotions for Men
God is pleased with you when, for the sake of your conscience, you patiently endure unfair treatment. - 1 Peter 2:19
Thomas Jefferson, in writing the Declaration of Independence, identified a number of “truths,” namely, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Yet Jefferson owned, traded, and even bred slaves all his life! He stated that slavery corrupted the owner even more than it oppressed the slave, but he did nothing to emancipate his own slaves. It is generally believed that he quieted his conscience for purely economic reasons—he could not afford to release the slaves! People today find it difficult to balance such inconsistencies.
The New Testament’s attitude toward slavery raises similar problems in modern minds. It needs to be understood, however, that slavery in Roman times was drastically different from that experienced by slaves in Colonial America. Many Roman slaves rose to positions of authority and power; others owned slaves themselves. Many, when they were released, achieved Roman citizenship—yet they were still slaves.
In this context, the New Testament writers did not advocate the abolition of slavery. They did, however, elevate the status of slaves as men and women created in the divine image, loved by God, and redeemable by Christ. Many Roman slaves became ardent believers, and some even rose to positions of leadership in the early church.
It was against this background that Peter wrote, “You who are slaves must accept the authority of your masters. Do whatever they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are harsh” (1 Pet. 2:18). Peter was not advocating a groveling subservience, both demeaning and soul-destroying. He explained, “God is pleased with you when, for the sake of your conscience, you patiently endure unfair treatment” (2:19). A slave would have little option but to “endure” unfair treatment. He had little or no recourse, as there was no one looking out for his civil liberties! But to endure patiently as a matter of conscience was unique. A willing, submitting spirit was to spring from a moral conviction that to retaliate, to curse, to “get even” (2:23) was fundamentally wrong. However appealing it might have been to harbor resentment, as a matter of principle the Christian slave would refrain, for no other reason than it was wrong in God’s eyes.
Should the slave believe this was an unattainable ideal, he was referred to the example of Jesus, who “did not retaliate when he was insulted. When he suffered, he did not threaten to get even. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly” (2:23). If the Master suffered mistreatment patiently, how much more should the slave!
There are no slaves in modern business, but there are plenty of opportunities to be mistreated and to respond in a way that is either pleasing or not pleasing to God. “The blows” (2:20) employees experience are not physical, but they do hurt. They bring us pain—but our reaction can bring God pleasure.
For Further Study: 1 Peter 2:18-25
Excerpted from The One Year Devotions for Men, Copyright ©2000 by Stuart Briscoe. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.
For more from Stuart Briscoe, please visit TellingtheTruth.org.