Meditations in Titus: 16: Teach Slaves
Titus 2:9,10 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.
People often, not giving much thought to it, criticise the New Testament for its position on slavery. Paul instructs very clearly that slaves must accept their position – “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything.” (v.9a) Living in the enlightened day that we live in (even though slavery is still rife in the world) we think people such as Jesus or Paul should have spoken out against slavery. Instead Paul instructs slaves in respect of their masters, “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.” (v.9b,10a) which sounds even more compliant. So let’s consider this more broadly.
First, the matter of abolishing slavery. The history of the abolishing of slavery shows that key politicians in both England and the USA took a long time, and lots and lots of campaigning to bring about the changes in the law. In Jesus’ day the law was that of Rome. To have campaigned against slavery would have meant campaigning against Rome which was probably an impossibility at that time. There is a sense, perhaps, where God knew that the right time to act against slavery (which was common in every society) would not be for many hundreds of years. Also the calling of both Jesus and Paul was to reveal the Gospel to the world and any specific campaigning ‘project’ would have detracted from that.
Second, the reality of slavery in Jewish society bears comment. Observe the Law and you will find that a) Israelites were not to be sold as slaves (Lev 25:39-43), b) when they were, they were the equivalent of servants and they were to be cared for and indeed protected (e.g. Ex 23:12, Ex 21:20 Lev 19:20), c) although they could own slaves who were foreigners (Lev 25:44,45) they were still to treat them well (Ex 22:21 Also 23:9)
Third, a different sort of freedom. While the law did require the releasing of slaves after a certain period, much of the time a slave could be chaffing to be free and therefore have bad or negative attitudes towards their owners. Paul’s teaching brought a completely different outlook to the life of the slave: use your position to become one of influence. Yes, that it what he is saying. When he speaks of trying “to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted,” he is saying change the attitude of the owner towards you so that you can become a person of influence in the master’s business.
Joseph in the Old Testament was a classic example of this when he was sold into slavery by his brothers. We read “The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So he left in Joseph’s care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.” (Gen 39:2-6) That is amazing. Joseph became his manager. Later, after Potiphar’s wife had tried to seduce him and then accuse him and he was thrown into prison we further find, “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” (Gen 39:20-23) Again how amazing is that!
But there is a final reason for becoming this sort of person: “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” If the slave owner knows that this slave is a Christian and sees that they are the best workers it should act as a means of softening their heart towards the Gospel.
Although we may not think this teaching applies in the West today, it may be that we find ourselves locked into circumstances with work that we wish we could be freed from. While we may pray for the Lord’s help in change the circumstances or changing the job, while we are waiting Paul’s teaching must surely apply equally to us. Maybe we need to ponder on that.