Monday, April 19, 2010

Why Does the Bible NOT Condemn Slavery?

Joseph Herrin (04-19-2010)

The following was written in response to a man in jail who has been writing to me to express sincere objections he has to the Bible and Christianity. He asked why Christ and the Bible did not condemn slavery, for he views it as a great evil. The answer leads one back to the purpose of this age, and reveals the misconception that many men, including Christians, are harboring in their minds.

The answer leads one back to the disciple's cross and the afflicted way. I thought it was therefore appropriate to share it at this time when I have been writing concerning the wilderness and the afflicted way that leads to life.

Dear (Name Withheld),

You asked me why the Bible, and Jesus, did not condemn slavery. That is an excellent question, and the answer is one that provides much insight into the purpose of this present life that we are living.

So many people (Christians included) have the perspective that this present life is of paramount importance. It is the only life that many people know about. With this attitude, you can well understand why so many people are seeking to attain to the fullest, most satisfying life now. One of the most popular Christian books in recent years is Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now.

Such books and teachings reveal the apostasy (falling away from the truth) of the church. The church is doing the very thing that Christ and His apostles condemned. They are seeking to accumulate material possessions, and are pursuing a life of ease and comfort. They do so because they have adopted the false mindset that this present life and age was designed by God to be enjoyed by man.

It may seem bizarre to hear someone say that this present life and age was not designed to be enjoyed by man, but this is actually the case. This present age serves the purpose of developing sons of God who will share His character and image. This character can only be attained through suffering.

Hebrews 5:7-8
In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.

This is the method by which ALL sons of God must be perfected (brought to spiritual maturity) and learn obedience.

Philippians 1:29
For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake...

The prophet Isaiah describes Christ as “a man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief.” This is the experience that is required of all men in order to lead them to spiritual maturity. As we are faced with difficulties, distresses, suffering, and sorrow we are provided opportunities for the Spirit of Christ to form within mankind the image of God.

Consider those things that are described as fruits of God’s Spirit.

Galatians 5:22
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...

When do people have the opportunity to exercise the peace of God? It is not proven, or developed, when their outer environment is one of peace. The kingdom of God must be established IN man. Divine peace is developed when our outer world is one of great distress, and unrest. This is what Christ demonstrated when He was sleeping in the boat while the storm raged all around Him. His disciples which were also in the boat became full of fear and awoke Christ saying, “Do you not care that we perish?”

Christ had found the place of rest. He knew that He was not going to perish for His Father was not done with Him yet. Despite the outer circumstances He was able to maintain calm in His soul and abide in perfect peace.

When do we have opportunity to develop gentleness? Is it not when we are provoked? It is when people mistreat us, or speak unkindly to us. The natural reaction of the Adamic man is to respond in like manner, to fight fire with fire. Yet Christ instructed those who would be perfect (spiritually mature) to speak a blessing when cursed; when slapped on the right cheek, to present to the person the left cheek as well.

Christ demonstrated this as He went to the cross. Peter tells us that Christ “while being reviled, did not revile in return. While suffering, He uttered no threats.” Christ was as a lamb led to the slaughter. There was no other way for Him to demonstrate spiritual maturity than to be put into very unpleasant situations.

The same is true of patience. We only can develop God’s patience when we are put in situations that our natural mind screams out to be released from. It is therefore necessary for God to subject His sons to experiences that they do not find comfortable or easy. As they come to a place of rest in the midst of what may be very difficult circumstances, the nature of God, revealed in the character of peace, is formed in them.

The same is true of self-control, perseverance, and meekness. We only can develop these things when we are tested, sometimes severely.

Seeing that God has determined that this present time is for the perfecting of His sons, He must choose to subject them to many difficult things. Comfort and ease and pleasure do not promote the fruit of the Spirit.

The Bible has testified that the church would fall away from the truth. They would equate material prosperity and worldly blessing with spirituality. This is what a host of prosperity ministers have done. Seeking a comfortable and pleasant life is the predominant mindset of the church today. What they do not understand is that as they set their focus upon a life that is pleasant to them they are avoiding the experiences that are needed to develop spiritually mature sons and daughters.

In God’s sight, this present life is but a moment. There are long ages to come in which His sons are destined to share in His glory and to exercise His power and authority. Yet, many will receive very little of any of these things because they have not labored to qualify themselves. They have avoided the difficult path that alone could mold them into God’s nature and character.

When you read the Bible you find that the very ones that God loved the most, He subjected to very difficult experiences. He did this for their good, including His own Son.

David knew years of difficulty, living in wilderness places, being persecuted by Saul, knowing reproach and sorrow. Yet it was as he responded in a godly manner to these experiences that the nature of God was formed in David. Yahweh was therefore able to make David ruler of His people.

The same is seen in the life of Joseph. Joseph was given dreams of promotion, of ruling and reigning. Yet the path to this advancement and honor was exceedingly difficult. While his brothers were living as free men, doing whatever they chose to do, Joseph was sold as a slave into Egypt. Later Joseph was falsely accused by his master’s wife of sexual transgression and he was put in prison. His life was one of slavery and servitude. It was very difficult.

We read that every place Joseph was put, whether as a slave or a prisoner, he was faithful. He did not wallow in self-pity, or grow angry with God. He did not abandon his faith. He continued to pursue behavior that Yahweh found pleasing and the day came when he was spiritually mature enough for God to promote him. God made Joseph ruler of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. He was given honor and power and authority.

The process of Joseph’s preparation serves as a parable for all mankind. God is seeking sons that He can promote. He is looking for those that He can bestow His honor and authority upon. These sons must be matured spiritually first. They must all walk a very difficult path so that patience, gentleness humility, self-control, perseverance, peace, and such things as these might be formed in them.

This is the reason God has not condemned slavery. God takes a much larger view of things than man does. He knows that the experiences of Joseph as a slave and a prisoner were used to bring about godly character. So too will godly character be formed in all who can experience such things while yielding to the leading of the Spirit of God. Those who can bear up under difficulty with patience and grace, rather than responding according to the natural man’s fallen nature, will prove themselves to be fit for God to bestow honor upon.

Of course, it does not benefit a man at all to experience hardships, distresses, difficulties and injustice if he will not choose to respond with peace, forgiveness, and those other traits which are the nature of God. Such a man will merely be hardened in his fallen nature, and will become bitter, angry, vengeful, depressed, or self-pitying.

This is why Christians are called to fight the good fight of faith. Responding in a godly manner to adversity is not the natural man’s normal response. It is a position that must be fought to attain unto.

God takes a much larger view of things than most men do. He knows that a man can develop spiritually while a slave as well as a free man. It is all about attitude. Indeed, being free can be a great hindrance to a man unless he becomes a willing slave to God.

I Corinthians 7:20-22
Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave.

Do you see what is proclaimed here? To be acceptable in God’s sight a man who is free must surrender his freedom to Christ. Man must choose to not live for his own will and desires, but rather for the will and desires of God. He must make himself God’s bondservant, a willing slave.

Philippians 2:5-7
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant...

Christ was the perfect example of this principle. He freely subjected Himself to the will of His Father. He never sought to please Himself. He always sought to please God. Even when His Father revealed that it was His will for Him to die a death on the cross, He said, “Not My will, but Your will be done.” This is true submission to the will of another.

The apostles and church leaders manifested this same attitude.

Romans 1:1
Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God...

James 1:1
James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ...

II Peter 1:1
Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ...

Jude 1
Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ...

These men had freedom, but they gave up their freedom to become slaves of Christ. It is no more difficult for a slave to enter into a free and willing subjection to God than for a freeman. All can be conformed to the nature of Christ if they will surrender their own will to do the will of another.

Slavery in the eyes of God is therefore not harmful to a man’s spiritual development. In truth, it may be quite helpful. This is why God chose to subject Joseph to a life of slavery while his brothers lived as freemen. This experience, as hard as it was, served to develop in Joseph the godly character necessary to not be corrupted by the honor he was to receive.

If our mind is upon pleasing ourselves, then slavery will certainly appear as a great evil. If we think this life is all there is, then it will seem unjust for any man to be deprived of liberty and a pursuit of happiness. However, if we have the mind of Christ we will understand that we are not called to please ourselves and this life is far from all there is.

I Timothy 5:6
But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.

Proverbs 14:12
There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.

God has testified that His thoughts are not man’s thoughts, nor are His ways man’s ways. He considers the one who is living for pleasure to be dead already. They will forfeit long ages of ruling with Christ, sharing in His glory, power and authority.

You are on my heart and in my prayers.

Heart4God Website: http://www.heart4god.ws
Parables Blog: http://www.parablesblog.blogspot.com

Mailing Address:
Joseph Herrin
P.O. Box 5546
Macon, GA 31208

8 comments:

Steve Hollander said...

Great message Joseph thank you for clarifying the issue of slavery. I am a confessed bondservant of the LORD JESUS CHRIST and have been a long long time. GOD bless ... Steve Hollander

D Randall said...

Joseph,

Thank you again for a very thoughtful insight.

I pray to be led by His will and not my own but I have yet to hear a clear direction. I have many thoughts, but they do not feel like a direction; something outside of myself and not tainted by my own guilt or faulty reasoning.

I led a good life, albeit sinful, in God's eyes. I guess I am a sinner for not foresaking my wife, my children, my job, my friends, my church, my childrens school, and countless other relationships I have in my life. Nothing has occured to me that I might do for His will that might outweigh the current "good" I am doing with my life. I would like to think that if a voice, clearly not my own, told me to do something for Him that I would obey and leave all to accomplish the task. But I have not heard or been asked for such a mission. Until then, I guess I will continue sinning by remaining where I am and be a husband, father and friend.

My guestion is this: Am I truely a sinner for not leaving for His way of suffering and remaining with my current circumstance? Or, should I dive headlong into this without real authentic direction from Him?

Or, should I take comfort in that I have not been directed as a sign that my work is where I am?

Yours in Christ,

D Randall

Joseph Herrin said...

Dear D Randall,

You wrote:

"I guess I am a sinner for not foresaking my wife, my children, my job, my friends, my church, my childrens school, and countless other relationships I have in my life... Until then, I guess I will continue sinning by remaining where I am and be a husband, father and friend."

Your questions sound more like a rebuttal of the things Christ has spoken regarding the cost of discipleship than they do a sincere questing for answers.

To the natural man it sounds very righteous to live a good life, devoted to wife, children, church, and various "good" programs. This is indeed how the majority of Christians live their lives.

"There is a way that seems RIGHT unto a man, but the end thereof is death."

Christ has not said that the disciple must forsake all personal relationships in the sense you are suggesting, which would be abandonment. What He has stated is that to be a disciple one must ever live to do the will of the Father.

When a man submits to the rule of the Spirit of God he will find that the Spirit will begin leading him in ways that those around him find difficult. Those who do not share the same commitment to following God will object, sometimes strenuously.

Christ declared to those considering being His disciples that if they committed to doing the will of the Father with the same obedience seen in Him, that a man's enemies would be found among his own family.

It is not necessary for a man to abandon his wife and children. If a man commits to following the Father in all things he will often find that it is his family members who will abandon him. Not all desire to give up a pursuit of the world, and the comfortable life of pleasure they have been living.

At such a point the man must decide whether he will obey God, or please his family. Christ has told us what a disciple must choose.

God will not lead a man to a path that is detrimental to his family. He will choose for all of them a course that promotes spiritual growth. A spiritual being cannot arise unless the fleshly creature is reduced. In following Christ there is an exchange of selfish living for selfless living. Without question, many resist such a change radically.

The most favorable path for spiritual development is not the same path chosen by those seeking a comfortable natural existence. There is an "afflicted path" that leads to spiritual life.

And please remember "Few there are who find it."

Anonymous said...

Joseph,

Another solid teaching, brother. I concur with what what you teach so perhaps I am putting too fine a point on things. My objection is based not on your interpretation of the text but rather your application. You seem to be teaching that the only acceptable path of a true disciple will look identical to your own -- i.e. living alone with few personal attachments, no possessions and few responsibilities other than to supply your own most basic necessities. I would not venture to argue that this path is what God has chosen for you but I would challenge the notion that somehow this can be extrapolated to every other person that desires to follow Messiah fully.

Thus, in your application of the text, I believe you err by equating asceticism with righteousness (as the monastic movement did in the past). In order to redeem all of creation, God needs His bondservants in every sphere of society so that we might be a witness to a lost world. What kind of witness do we have when we are completely separate from the world God is seeking to save?

Joseph Herrin said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your comments. If you consider the balance of the many writings I have on the walk of a true disciple you will find that I have repeatedly commented that I am not suggesting that anyone should do the "specific" things I have done, such as quit a job, or cancel health insurance, etc.. What I do teach is that ALL are to be led of the Spirit in their life decisions.

Without question, when men choose their own path in this world they will choose one that is comfortable to the flesh. When they surrender to the leading of the Spirit God will lead them into many trials, difficulties and afflictions.

What a majority of Christians have failed to do in this hour is to surrender their lives to Christ to go wherever He leads and do whatever He directs. That such a surrender will ALWAYS lead to afflictions is evident by Christ describing such as life as "taking up your cross daily and following Him." There is a high cost to full surrender, which is why He exhorted all who would be disciples to count the cost first.

Taking the entire counsel of the New Testament into view, one must conclude that a turning away from the world, a dispossessing oneself of many material things, was very common among the saints.

The early church in Jerusalem were selling property and sharing all things freely. The apostles left houses, lands, boats, and businesses behind. Christ told those who were following Him that "no man can be My disciple unless he gives up all he possesses."

We read of Christ's words to the rich young ruler to give away ALL he had to the poor and then to take up his cross and follow Christ. We read of Christ's words to the Scribe that he would not be promised a home as the birds who had nests and the foxes who had holes.

The examples go on and on. We read that Christ "emptied Himself." John the Baptist said, "I must decrease." The pattern of all who would walk after the Spirit of God is that they must not love the world, for "the love of the world and the things in it is enmity with the Father."

Although there is such a predominant pattern in the life of those who would be Christ's disciples, each individual is still to be led of the Spirit in these actions. He will instruct His people in all their ways if they will truly surrender to His leading.

Most, out of fear of what He might require of them, never ask. This was my own condition for decades until 1999 when I counted the cost of discipleship and accepted it. There will be a cost for ALL who follow Christ, and Christ specifically puts the focus on possessions and relationships.

May you be blessed with peace and understanding in these days.

D Randall said...

Joseph,

Thank you for your answer. I have asked for guidance and accept all things that are brought my way as His direction. I have not yet been asked to nor have cercumstances forced a change in my activities.

I fully understand what you are saying about accepting His way. I also know that He leads you to where He needs you. So, I guess I will continue to pray and make myself open and available to His cause. Until then, I feel that I should stay where I am until I get orders from HQ.

Yours In Christ,

D Randall

Tim Hudson said...

Thank you, Joseph for this teaching.

I've been helped by Gordon Fee's teaching on Philemon:
"While it is true that the New Testament does not in fact advocate social reform, it does something even better.
1. By making a Christian out of the master, it effectually emancipates the slave. Paul does not in fact suggest that Philemon make Onesimus a freedman, but by treating him as a brother, he insured the end of the system. V. 16 - "No longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother."
2. By making a Christian of the slave, it made him a freedman indeed (cf. 1 Cor 7:21-24).

The gospel makes a hateful, bigoted, murderous Jew (Paul), a rich Gentile (Philemon)and a robbing runaway slave (Onesimus)brothers in God's family. A secular social reform program can't compare to that."

Joseph Herrin said...

Dear Tim,

These are excellent insights. Thanks for sharing them.

Joseph