Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. (Titus 2:9-10)
The study of the subject of slavery in the Bible requires a difficult cultural shift in our thinking. Since I believe we have a collective conviction that the idea of owning another human being is morally wrong, it is odd to find someone like the apostle Paul enabling such a system by encouraging slaves to be compliant.
Shouldn’t Paul be setting up safe houses throughout Crete for runaway slaves? Wouldn’t it be right to organize slaves and help them fight for their rights?
This might be a good thing to do if progress was being made toward the abolition of slavery, or if there were some fundamental assumptions on Crete that all men were created equal. But this was not the case, and it also does not appear Titus was in a position to change the structure of Cretan society. Remember, he had only been left there by Paul to put things in order in the church.
This in no way suggests there is not a time to take a stand against an immoral practice, whether or not one believes he has an opportunity to actually make an impact. However, I believe, in this case, Titus was so far removed from being able to address the bigger issue of slavery on the island of Crete the best he could hope for was to teach people, regardless of their circumstances, to practice the character of Christ.
I won’t spend much time on the things slaves were not to do as they are pretty self-explanatory. Challenging a master’s authority and stealing from the same would certainly bring shame to the name of Christ, and possibly create greater trouble for the slave.
However, Paul’s logic for asking Titus to instruct slaves was not along the lines of avoiding trouble. It had more to do with making God attractive.
This is an extremely important principle that touches on almost every area of our Christian walk. We want to make God attractive. While we may not have slave masters, we do have a lot of people in authority over us. The way we treat them speaks volumes!
How do we treat our employers? Do we constantly criticize them? Do we steal time and resources from them? Are we courteous to law officers? Are we gracious toward government authorities, even when we don’t get our way? Can we have a lively debate with a referee without questioning his character? When we join a team do we exploit the faults of those in charge, or do our best to make a contribution?
Being respectful of authority does not require that we become “pushovers.” It does call us to think of how our service to those who have charge over us affects what others think of the Savior we worship. This can be a difficult dynamic to keep in balance, but sometimes we must weigh our personal desires against how God might be portrayed. God can take care of Himself, but we don’t want someone to reject Him because of our bad behavior.
Dear God, show me the balance. In Jesus’ name, Amen.