The subject of slavery is one that I doubt anyone is ever excited to talk about. Here in America, slavery stands as the darkest period of our history. Reading the Bible as a modern American, it’s difficult for me any time the word “slave” is used, as it connects me immediately to our history. My knowledge of slavery isn’t what you’d call deep, but it runs deep enough to have an understanding of the awfulness that was American slavery.
I say all of this to lead us to today’s verse that I want to discuss.
Luke 7:1-2 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people, he returned to Capernaum. 2 At that time the highly valued slave of a Roman officer was sick and near death.
I was confused by this verse. Why was the slave highly valued? Based on my knowledge of slavery, slaves were treated awfully, treated more like animals than humans. Why would the Roman officer care this much for a slave? As I really dug into this, it became clear to me once again why it can be so important to have an understanding of the culture of Bible times and not just the text of the Bible itself. There were varying levels and types of slavery during the Roman times of the New Testament. Some were treated like employees while others fall into the more traditional idea of what we know as slavery. We see this on display even all the way back in the book of Genesis when Joseph is technically a slave but is treated very well and given many freedoms and privileges.
Why is it important to make a distinction? Slavery’s awful no matter what, right? Well, let us consider this.
Romans 6:16 Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. 17 Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. 18 Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.
I love how the truth of the Bible just rings in your spirit like a bell. Have you ever been addicted to something or known an addict? They truly become a slave to the thing they are addicted to. It’s a sad thing to see, to watch something hold so much power over a person, yet that’s how it goes. “You become the slave of whatever you choose to obey.” I’d say that most people today are a slave to their passions, because we live in a society that puts a high value on doing what feels good or doing whatever makes you happy. We’re a slave to our own selfishness, because most people tend to glorify self over all other things.
But there’s another kind of slavery Paul talks about here. Slaves to righteous living. It seems like such an odd way to write this, to connect our righteous lifestyle to the concept of slavery. But Paul is making such a great point here. We all obey something. While there are a lot of people who don’t handle hearing this very well, this is universal truth. We all have a master. It’s just up to us to choose who or what that master is. Paul was pointing out that we should serve righteous living the same way we served our sinful nature. You ever see the lengths an addict will go through to get a fix? Have you ever seen a believer that hungry and desperate for a touch of God? It’s rare, right? We get set free from sin and we’re happy about that but we don’t actually want to serve the one who set us free. We wanted His benefits but not His burden (even though He promises it’s a light burden and that He will bring rest to our souls). Few people serve God with the fervent nature that we operated under when we were slaves of sin, and that leads to a world filled with lukewarm believers, neither hot nor cold. God has a special distaste for lukewarm people.
Revelation 3:15-16 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!
Some people proudly claim the title of slave. Look at the way that Paul introduces himself in this letter.
Romans 1:1 This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News.
There are other words Paul could’ve chosen and other ways he could’ve represented himself. But he wanted to cut right to the chase and leave no doubt of his commitment level. Slave of Christ Jesus, which means that Jesus is the thing that he obeys over all other things. Jesus is the thing that he hungers for, that he serves, that he is accountable to.
But it also means that Jesus is the one that he belongs to, and I think that’s a very important distinction. There is no better person to belong to than Jesus. His compassionate heart is well known, his willingness to go above and beyond for all people is fully documented. Being a slave to Jesus is like being a cageless prisoner in a perfect world, there’s no downside to it. He brings purpose and peace, he provides all that we need, is there when we are in trouble, and he loves us unconditionally. My rudimentary understanding of slavery isn’t the same as this thing we find in Jesus.
Jesus compares us to sheep at one point in the Bible, famously talking about how a truly good shepherd will leave the 99 to go after the 1 lost sheep. If you think that’s a story demeaning you and calling you a sheep, you’re wrong. It’s a story about the lengths that God’s love will go for us. Paul could’ve said “servant of Jesus”, he could’ve said “follower of Jesus”, but he intentionally chose the strongest possible word. Slave. Self-sold into slavery, joyfully shackling himself to the greatest, most powerful, and most loving being that will ever exist.
Luke 7:2 At that time the highly valued slave of a Roman officer was sick and near death.
It may just be a minute detail in a larger moment from Jesus’ ministry, but to me it’s also a reminder. A reminder that a slave can be highly valued. A reminder that even though there are many ugly, awful iterations of slavery, that voluntary slavery to the right master can be a beautiful thing. Submission to a higher power is a belief held by not just those who are religious, but a huge amount of humans. Even successful recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous require reliance on a higher power as one of their steps. In a world with a trillion potential masters, we need to see the amazing benefit to choosing the right one. The one who created us in the first place, the one who never stopped loving us, the one who willfully died so that we may live.
Before I end for the day, I want to address something. I know that there’s a thing in the hearts of some people that completely rejects the idea of being a slave to anything. “I am my own master, nobody controls me.” I want you to know a few things. First of all, I understand that reaction. For a long time, I felt the same way. I feared what submission to Jesus would mean for my uniqueness and my freedom. But what I found in him was true freedom. Just like so many other things, Jesus works in opposite ways. The path to true freedom is found through being a servant and embracing the right master. I have experienced more freedom in my three years of being devoted to Jesus than I did in my 33 years of trying to rule my own life. The clarity brought to me by God allowed me to see that I was never actually free, anyway, that I was enslaved by so many other forces and desires. All I’ve done is exchange a hundred bad, harmful masters for the one master that truly loves those who serve him. If you don’t believe that, I challenge you to read the bible and see his character on display. Examine it for yourself, question him about it in prayer for yourself. And if you’d like to talk about it or pray about it with someone, I’m always open to being that person, so just email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we can discuss it further.
Alright well, I love each and every one of you. Freedom through submission, whoever would’ve figured that’s how it worked? I wish I’d known sooner, but I sure am enjoying it now! I hope everyone has a safe and beautiful holiday weekend. Stay safe if you’re traveling or getting up to any activities, and I look forward to seeing you all again on Monday!
If you’ve got any prayer requests or just want to talk, my email is always open to you at email@example.com