ABC Extra – Let Slavery Ring!

November 14, 2011 at 5:15 am 1 comment


“Men desire above all things to be free and say that freedom is the greatest of blessings, while slavery is the most shameful and wretched of states.”[1]  So said the first century Roman philosopher, Dio Chrysostom.  Although philosophers are known for writing convoluted and delicate treatises, there is no convolution or delicacy here.  Freedom is great.  Slavery is wretched.  The end.  Dio could not be clearer.

The reason Dio does not need to speak of slavery delicately is because, in ancient Rome, slavery truly was a wretched state.  Consider this description of slaves from Apuleius, a Roman author from the second century:

What scrawny little slaves there were!  Their skin was everywhere embroidered with purple welts from their many beatings.  Their backs, scarred from floggings, were shaded, as it were, rather than actually covered by their torn patchwork garments.  Some wore only flimsy loincloths.  All of them, decked out in these rags, carried brands on their foreheads, had their heads half-shaved, and wore chains around their ankles.  Their complexions were an ugly yellow; their eyes were so inflamed by thick dark smoke and the steamy vapor they could barely see.[2]

According to Apuleius, slavery was so intolerable that he could not bear even to look at slaves without gasping.  Seutonius, in his history of the Roman emperors, describes Augustine’s policy of, with few exceptions, allowing only free men to serve in his army:

Except as a fire-brigade at Rome, and when there was fear of riots in times of scarcity, [Augustus] employed freedmen as soldiers only twice: once as a guard for the colonies in the vicinity of Illyricum, and again to the defend the bank of the river Rhine; even these he levied, when they were slaves, from men and women of means, and at once gave them freedom; and he kept them under their original standard, not mingling them with the soldiers of free birth or arming them in the same fashion.[3]

No one wanted to be a slave.  Everyone wanted to be free.  And this is what makes Paul’s words in Philippians 2 so striking.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:5-7).  The Greek word for “servant” here is doulos, meaning not only a servant, but a slave.  Jesus, being in very nature God, became a slave!  And He did so willingly.  No one coerced, cajoled, or compelled Jesus into slavery.

Jesus’ willingness to become a slave is especially gripping when one considers that Philippi was a town filled with veterans and soldiers.  Thus, those who lived there prided themselves on being free men, for, as Seutonius explains, only free men could serve in the Roman army.  So Paul writes to a town full of people who prided themselves on being free about a man who willingly let go of His freedom to become, of all things, a slave.

Jesus’ willingness to let go of His freedom for the state of slavery can serve us a model for us.  After all, Paul regularly identifies himself as a doulos of Christ (e.g., Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1).  Like his Lord, Paul is happy to be a doulos to his Lord.

How about you?  Do you pride yourself so much in your freedom that you forget that you are called to be a slave to Christ?  Slavery, when it is to the things of this world, is indeed wretched.  But slavery to Christ is glorious.  For serving Christ is hopeful and heartening.  In a world that is obsessed with freedom, we rejoice that we are slaves to our Savior!

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[1] Dio Chrysostom, Orations 14.1.

[2] Apuleius, Metamorphoses 9.12.

[3] Seutonius, Augustus 25.

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ABC – Pain, Suffering, and the Gospel ABC Extra – Christ Alone

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Pastor Kevin Jennings  |  November 14, 2011 at 7:03 am

    Hi, Zach! Another facet of slavery in antiquity is that many slaves were the result of warfare. To be a slave in this manner meant one’s homeland and family had been defeated and were now dominated. Perhaps one of the most unfortunate byproducts of slavery, as we see in the Israelites who were enslaved in Egypt, is that succeeding generations of slaves who were born in slavery knew nothing else.

    Freedom in America has a way of making us ignore the past and its lessons. But, freedom is not a birthright. Let’s not forget that many of us with heritage from the British isles have ancestors who were indentured servants, those who sold themselves into periods of service to come to the New World. For many of us, our freedom wasn’t free.

    An alternate translation of the Greek word for slave is “bond slave.” In other words, we were bought with a price – a tremendous price. Freedom in Christ doesn’t mean free license to do anything, but being removed from slavery to sin and freed to be slaves of Christ. Being a slave to sin means agonizing bondage, but slavery in Christ means being freed from bondage, being refreshed, and carrying His lighter burden and yoke (Matthew 11).

    Reply

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