The word slave makes one feel sick on the inside. Just the thought that one human being would force another human being into slavery for his own personal gain is sickening. Yet, that is what was happening in the Roman Empire during the early days of Christianity, affecting the lives of many believers in Jesus. As a result, Paul addressed the issue in some of his letters, such as in Ephesians 6:5-9.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
Paul, The Apostle of Grace
During the Roman Empire, slaves were not determined by race, but according to skill. Any race could be bought and sold into slavery. The more skilled a slave, the more value he or she had; therefore, the more money they sold for.
A slave served the Roman Government and their master in many different ways, from keeping buildings and streets clean, to cutting hair, to teaching and accounting. However, a slave was no more than a piece of property to most slave owners, possessing no value as a human being. The slaves only value was in his or her skills, abilities, and performance. The worth of a slave was attached to the work of a slave.
In addition, the slave had no personal freedom. The life of a slave was under the total control of his or her master.
As the message of God's grace begin to spread all over the Roman Empire (Colossians 1:3-8), both slaves and masters were coming to faith in Jesus. So much so, that Paul taught the slave and slave owner how they should interact with one another.
Paul encouraged the slave to demonstrate an attitude of respect toward the owner and to work hard, even when the master was not around. Paul encouraged the slave to serve his or her earthly master as if he were Jesus himself.
Paul's over-all reasoning in encouraging slaves to have a respectful attitude toward the slave owner and a good work ethic was for the purpose of attracting the slave owner to the good news of God's grace freely given to us in Jesus. We see this in Paul's letter to Titus:
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. For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
It was Paul's hope that through the respectful attitude of the slave and the recognizable work ethic of the slave, that the slave owner would notice there was something different about that specific slave, that difference being the grace of God flowing to the slave owner from the slave himself. Talk about the ultimate expression of grace, a slave to a slave owner! That truly is amazing grace flowing abundantly to the undeserved.
Then, once grace flowing through the slave got the attention of the slave owner, the slave would have created the opportunity to share with his or her slave owner the greatest news ever...the good news of God's grace freely given to us in Jesus. Again, an amazing example of grace! This reminds me of the movie Unbroken.
Paul also instructs slave owners who had become believers in Jesus to treat their slaves as if they were Jesus himself. Paul taught the slave owners to be respectful of his slaves, and to treat them kindly, not harshly, serving his slaves as if he were serving Jesus himself.
During the Roman Empire, one of the most powerful empires the world has ever known, a power greater than the Roman Empire was at work. It was a power that could change the hearts of the most vile of people. It was a power that could impact the slavery of institution deeply embedded in the culture of the Roman Empire. And what was this power? It was the power of God's grace flowing through the lowest of all people in Rome, the slave, to the most powerful of all people in Rome, the slave-owner.
It is the same power of grace flowing through each one of us that has been deeply impacted by the abundant provision of grace freely given to us in Jesus. It is the same power that tells us that we have worth in the eyes of our Father, not because of our performance, but simply because we are his dearly loved children, purchased by the blood of Jesus. It is the same power that tells us we are no longer slaves, but loved, forgiven, and accepted sons and daughters of the King himself. It is the power that has set us free!
It is the same power each of us take to work each day, grace living in us through our Lord and Savior, Jesus. As we show respect to our supervisors and demonstrate a good work ethic, even when no one is watching, suddenly we begin to stand out from the rest. Our supervisors notice us. They notice the different attitude we have. They notice the different way we approach our work each day. They notice there is something about us that attracts them to us. We have won their respect!
However, the purpose of winning their respect is so that we can win them to Jesus...so that we can tell them about the good news of God's grace that God has freely and abundantly poured out upon the human race. And now, just like in the Roman Empire, this great power of grace, flowing from Jesus himself into our hearts, is flowing into the hearts of those whom we work for and with, possibly leading them to the great freedom of grace found in Jesus!
No matter what time period one has lived in or lives in...grace was and is still the most powerful force in the world. Grace is more powerful than any country. Grace is more powerful than any government. Grace is more powerful than any military. Grace is more powerful than any person. Grace is the very heart of God coming to us in the person of Jesus in whom he has freely given us unconditional love, unearned blessings, unmerited kindness, and unlimited forgiveness. And it is this grace that has powerfully changed our lives!
It is the grace that flows into us, lives in us, and then flows out of us into whatever part of the world we may find ourselves. As God's grace flows out of us into the hearts and lives of people living in our part of the world, grace will begin to live in that part of the world through us, and that part of the world will change, because grace is still and will always be the most powerful force on this planet that changes the hearts of people...even the hearts of slave owners as grace flows from the slave to the owner!