The Sanctity of Freedom
Text: Romans 6:16-23; Job 31:13-15; 1 Timothy 1:9,10;
Proposition: The Bible defines the boundaries of a slavery that is sinful and calls the church to move towards freedom for the oppressed.
Introduction: This morninglet’s talk about the hot potato of Slavery. This has been used not only against the credibility of the Bible but also against the very character and existence of God. Some have argued that the Old and New Testaments both support slavery and that this position is inconsistent with the revelation of God as being a loving and just being. So for the integrity of the Word slavery is a hot potato. Then there is the very real statistic that human trafficking or slavery is about to exceed the drug trade and the illegal sale of weapons as the most lucrative illegal business in the world. Lastly there are types of slavery that exist today that are very socially acceptable, some of which you and I are involved in. I’ll explain what I mean by that in just a moment but with all types of slavery the Lord calls us to move towards the release of servitude, to recognize the sanctity of freedom. The purpose of freedom was always meant to be the place where we are most able to serve God, unconstrained by economics, politics or oppressors. Paul speaks to this topic of slavery in literal and spiritual terms in Romans 6:16-23.
I. Slavery and the Integrity of Scripture. In the Old and New Testaments Scripture refers to slavery in terms that make it seem normative but does this mean that Scripture and by extension the Lord, condones slavery? The passages in the Old Testament speak about slavery as a concession much like divorce was a concession. It was permitted because of the hardness of heart not because it was a better social system. In most cases the way God’s people from Abraham to the nation of Israel were to treat their slaves was at least a higher level of justice and compassion than the world around them. Abraham wanted to make his slave Eliezer his main beneficiary because he had no children of his own (Gen.15) . The entire nation of Israel was raised as slaves in Egypt that they would know its crushing weight, that they would have a picture of redemption in their release at Passover. In Leviticus there were laws for the release of slaves in the year of jubilee, laws for the rights and protection of slaves. Slavery was even permitted as a way to pay criminal debt. Exodus 22 states, “He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft”. In essence the man used his time and service to pay back his debt as an indentured slave. You could say that this is similar to what we do today with our prison system. When someone is put in prison they essentially become a slave of the state, they do work that is not of their choosing, they are paid little for their effort until their debt is considered to be paid but all this is only done because of the hardness of heart that brought it to be. Slavery can also be something that people enter into willingly, to gain a better future. I’m thinking of the concept of a bondservant here, where a slave finished the time of repayment but wanted to continue in service because of the kindness of their master. Deut.15:16-17 says, “And if it happens that he [a slave] says to you, “I will not go away from you,” because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your maidservant you shall do likewise.” This voluntary servant hood is the very way that Paul describes himself as a bondservant of Christ, one who willingly chooses to ‘doulos’, to serve the Lord. When you read Paul’s letter to Philemon as he sends Onesimus the runaway slave home to his master, you hear the voice of reconciliation where Paul says that he will repay anything owing for the slave and that Onesimus should be received as a fellow brother in Christ. So to answer the question does Scripture condone slavery, the answer is no but because of the hardness of man’s heart it does exist. Is God unjust to prescribe Laws concerning how His people should respond to it, no, not at all! The call of God to all people is to freedom in Christ. The character of God is that He is just in all His ways and moves with a mercy towards us that has freedom as its design, a freedom to willingly love and serve Him forever, freedom to an eternity with Him.
II. Slavery and the Real World of Today.
The name ‘Hot Potato’ infers a subject that is painful to touch, difficult to handle. I think that most Christians we know would not call slavery a major ‘hot potato’ for the church today because in our world we rarely see it. What we forget is that our western world is a tiny fraction of the reality that exists and even this tiny fraction is being rapidly invaded by the commerce of human trafficking. Both the Nether lands and Germany legalized prostitution in 2000 and 2001. What they didn’t expect was what happened just after they did that. A 2003 survey found that foreign born women make up 65% of the sex market in the Netherlands and 50% in Germany in an exploding black market underneath the established legalized one. What abolitionists have discovered is that in countries where there is little legal protection for women and children there is next to no resistance for this exploitation to occur. This is an endemic issue, where there is poverty there is exploitation. Where there is profitability there is aggressive exploitation.
In Canada our Parliament is putting together some legislation called Bill C36 which the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is affirming as a step in the right direction. When you read the details of this proposed piece of legislation which is aimed to be passed by December of this year what becomes evident is that the connection between prostitution and human trafficking is not being seen as the key issue. What is being weighed is the right to make a profit, the right use your body how you wish, the right to be safe when and where you do that. So Bill C 36 seeks to prosecute the buyers of sexual services, it restricts the advertising of sexual services but doesn’t outlaw it, it restricts the right to profit from prostitution but it doesn’t outlaw it. My point is simply that as a country we have given in to the belief that this needs to be managed but is essentially unsolvable. What is not seen is the horrific cost this will bring in further human trafficking. Author Jim Wallis stated in 2004 that human trafficking generates $31 billion annually and enslaves 27 million people around the globe, half of them children under the age of eighteen and that statistic is ten years old.
III. Slavery and You, the Call to Freedom.
In Galatians 5 it says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” The yoke of slavery Paul refers to is that of sin, meaning that there are a wide variety of things that enslave us. The caution here is not to think of this in just spiritual terms as though slavery to sin has no direct connection to outward actions. It is a slavery that has its origin in our spiritual nature and in the spiritual attack of Satan but it moves quickly beyond thoughts and intentions to actions. Paul wrestled with it in Romans 7, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” That’s the slavery of a sin nature that Paul sees as the root issue for all mankind. It’s this very root cause that Christ came to set us free from. In a very real sense it was as if we were born as children into slavery, we came into a world of crushing ruin that was inescapable. Unless someone were to come from the outside and buy us out there would be no hope of freedom. Jesus came into humanity from the outside, from a place of absolute purity and righteousness. His sinless life was the currency used to purchase our redemption, a sinless life both human and divine. Jesus came to correct the enslavement of sin, He Himself was already above it, unaffected by it and now He came to extend to us the very freedom that He had and is. Let me take you back to that passage in Rom. 6: 17,18, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”
The sanctity of freedom recognizes the sacredness of sexuality, the sacredness of life and the sacred God who has created it all and to whom all belongs. For people who are looking for a better life there needs to be a helping hand given by the church, spiritually, relationally and even financially where possible. For those entrapped in prostitution there needs to forgiveness, dignity, hope and ways to restoration. For now it will be as Jesus said it would, “The poor you will have with you always…”. Slavery is here but we have the message of freedom in Christ that can cut the chains off, to become all things to all men that by all means we might be used of God to save some. The sanctity of freedom is what the Lord’s Supper is all about, the sanctity of freedom is what the cross proclaims, a freedom in Christ.