“Slaves must always obey their masters and do their best to please them. They must not talk back or steal, but must show themselves to be entirely trustworthy and good. Then they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way.” Titus 2:9-10
A verse used in the past by some to justify the slave trade, to underline the hope of Christmas?
Because this passage was never about promoting or justifying slavery. It was a radical call to radical living that would end up altering a world power, from the inside out.
Let me explain.
The Roman Empire was based on a slave economy – huge road building and infrastructure projects, ambitious expansion goals, mobilization of vast armies that needed to be fed and housed and outfitted, all cost exorbitant money.
Hence the slave labour force.
How better to fund your global takeover than using workers who didn’t need to be paid? The entire culture of the Apostle Paul’s day was permeated with the buying and selling of human flesh, a commodity akin to silk or spices or lumber.
Slaves, understandably, balked. Served under compulsion. Did what they could to undermine their owners. Revolted when they could. And who could blame them?
So these words from Paul were absolutely astounding. Radical. Counter-cultural.
He is writing to fellow believers – Christians whose reality was often harsh. Christianity was outlawed at the time. Christians were plundered, lost their jobs and homes, and were tossed to the lions in a gory prelude to the prime time gladiator battles in colosseums.
Many of Paul’s readers were slaves.
He is in no way promoting slavery here. Rather, he is introducing a revolution of thought to those living in the current Roman reality – he instructs those who are slaves to serve their masters to the best of their ability. To be model citizens.
Just think about how that would have sounded in the first century AD.
Why? Why work within the system? Why not overthrow it?
Because this radical ideology that Jesus first introduced, of working for God, living an exemplary life of love and service, of the deep dignity of every human life, would eventually break the bonds of slavery in the Roman Empire for good. The early Christians who lived this way became a powerhouse that changed society’s views of human value and paved the way for freedom for all.
These precious believers who took to heart Paul’s instructions on how to live in a culture so soaked in indignity and injustice were making the teachings of Jesus attractive.
As in, enhancing them. Making them beautiful. A decorating project that would put the Rockefeller centre to shame because they were behaving as their Lord Jesus would have.
Fast forward to today.
You and I aren’t owned by slave traders. We work for pay and benefits. We are free to switch jobs or take new opportunities as we wish. So – how do we follow the heart of Paul’s message here in our modern cultural realities, and make the teaching of Jesus attractive?
Well – what’s your attitude toward your boss? Your administration? Those in authority? Public health orders?
Paul didn’t say wait until your boss deserves your respect, or until the powers that be were striving for the common good. He knew very well the corruption and injustice of the Roman government of his day. He said be honest and trustworthy and dignified despite the conditions you are working under.
Double hmmmm, with a sharp intake of breath tacked on.
Friend, you and I can do a lot of decorating for Christmas every day of the year by checking our bad attitudes at the door and working wholeheartedly for our overseers, because we are ultimately working for the One who did so much work for us.
Take a little lesson on decorating with me?
Father, You value all life – rich and poor, influential and silent, free and oppressed. Your radical way of living a life of humble service to others revolutionized the world in the past, and still has an impact today. Teach us to serve in ways which will beautify Your message of hope this Christmas. Amen.