December 17 I Monday
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.” —Ephesians 6:5
Slavery has left a long and ugly scar on the history of the human race, and tragically, it still does. In the Roman Empire, it is estimated that as many as one in every three people were slaves. Slavery is defined as the ownership of a human being by another and has connotations of forced servitude, cruelty, abuse, degradation and exploitation.
We are in no doubt as to the evil of slavery in every form. In 1 Timothy 1:10, Paul includes slave traders in a list of the ungodly and sinful. He is unambiguous about slave traders being under the judgment of God, yet in 1 Timothy 6:1, he says, “All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.” Peter writes something similar regarding slaves, and the New Testament writers, particularly Paul, have been criticized for an apparent acceptance and even endorsement of slavery.
Why did Paul not start an anti-slavery campaign? What we need to recognize is that there is such a thing as “the spirit of the age,” where entrenched in the collective psyche and outlook of people, there exists a certain perspective and status quo about life. Every age has its blind spots, and because we are blind to them, we are not as acutely aware of them as the next generation.
Every age has its institutionalized sins. Racism, up until recently, was legally enshrined in certain countries and is still fresh in our memories today. We can fight against this collective psyche and may accomplish very little, but the Gospel, which is Paul’s primary concern and must be ours, is subversive. It does not merely attack the symptoms but goes to the root cause, the corruptness of the human heart. It works first in changing our hearts, which will change our outlook. In the course of time, what is changed on the inside will be expressed on the outside and eventually change the spirit of the age. That is why the church of Jesus Christ is not called to social campaigns as its primary function.
The task of the church of Jesus Christ is to address the cause that lies beneath and to deal with it in a way that will affect and change the spirit of the age. This is why Jesus always worked back from external behaviours to the internal disposition of the heart. We can help to adjust the symptoms, but that will only be skimming the surface until the cause that lies behind the corruption is addressed. That is why the priority of the Christian church must always be the proclamation of the Gospel.
Prayer: Sovereign Lord, Your Gospel is more effective than any social campaign. Thank You for how it is transforming the spirit of the age by changing hearts, minds and lives around the world.