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. (Titus 2:9-10, NIV)
I’m hard pressed to begin my thoughts on these verses. Anywhere the bible mentions slaves it seems like there is a likely possibility of major misunderstandings. Some people will try and dismiss the bible because they think that it tacitly condones slavery by not outright condemning its practice. Others will go to the other extreme and find a means of justify slavery because of its appearance in both the Old and New Testaments. And still others may seem almost dismissive of slavery by too easily equating slavery, in New Testament terms, with employee, in contemporary jargon. I imagine there is a way of talking about slavery the way God intended and that there are many people who talk about it in a genuine and thoughtful manner. If you don’t listen carefully and speak carefully, then you can miss what people are trying to say when they discern what the bible is saying. I’m not an expert on the historical implications of slavery during the years of Paul’s missions, but I will try and speak sensitively about the subject that is so easy to ignite a fire.
Let’s not forget that Paul is writing to Titus, a disciple of Christ, and he is telling Titus to instruct the believers in his care in a way that honors and glorifies Christ. It is important to remember that when Paul talks about slavery here, he is not establishing some sort of “Christian Policy” on slaves and slavery. He is addressing the one thing that no one can take from us (not even, dare I say, God): free will.
The freedom in question here is our freedom to choose our attitude and, consequently, our actions. God created us each with the capacity to determine our will. If He hadn’t, we wouldn’t be made in the image of God. If He hadn’t, our worship would be compulsory and devoid of devotion. As much as God wants us to love Him, forcing us to love Him would be against the very nature and character of God.
As it relates to where we find ourselves walking in this world, we can’t always choose where we end up in life, but what we can do, no matter what the circumstance, is choose how we respond to the circumstance. Paul doesn’t address this in this passage of Titus, but he does address the way masters should behave toward their slaves (Ephesians 6:9) and there too he addresses the attitude and actions of the believer, not the institution of slavery. What is most important is how we live out our faith in Christ, not where we are when we live out the faith.
Be subject. Paul commands Titus to teach slaves to be subject in everything. Similar to other prominent themes about submission, Paul addresses submission in the hearts of slaves, people whose lives are (sadly) not their own. Our hearts are to yield to Christ as He yielded His to the Father. In practice that means that we subject ourselves to our earthly masters as well as our heavenly master. This is problematic because our earthly masters are not perfect like our heavenly master and submission to someone who is not perfect can be downright impossible to do at times. But the act of submission to our earthly masters is not for their sake and not even for our own sake. It is for God’s sake. Our job is to glorify Him in everything that we do and our submission to our earthly masters is one manifestation of that praise. (Paul could have probably stopped here in his discourse to Titus. When someone says everything, don’t they mean, “Everything”? However, he has to spell it out in details to make sure that we understand completely what it means to “be subject in everything”. I guess that comes with the territory when dealing with depraved souls.)
Please them. Well, that makes sense. Please your master, please God. Part of that “everything” Paul mentioned at the beginning, but expanded moderately to include going an extra step. God expects us to “live right”. It certainly pleases Him when we do, but what must please Him even more is when we take time, with gladness and cheerfulness in our hearts, to praise, honor, and glorify Him either through prayer, worship, or any means that seems noble and true.
Don’t talk back. Again, here is a simple yet practical way to live out being subject in everything and thereby glorifying God. Restraining our tongues is one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate our faith. It isn’t easy to hold your tongue when you have something to say, but watching our speech carefully is important to living a life that glorifies our Father in heaven. Evil thoughts may be generated from the heart, but we have an opportunity to stop them at the tips of our tongues and if we practice the self-control Paul talked about earlier, then we can stop evil thoughts from promulgating and festering in other people’s hearts. And we give ourselves time to examine our hearts and purge those thoughts (to the best our ability and with the help of the Holy Spirit, see Psalm 51, verse 10).
Don’t steal. It’s amazing to me that this would need to be mentioned, but it is and it ought not to be dismissed. One way to look at this is to remind the believer that everything we have belongs to God. If we act as though something belongs to us apart from the ownership of God, then it is as though we are stealing from God. And it isn’t that He couldn’t take it back from us, but rather that it speaks to the condition of our relationship with Him. If we are willing to call something ours without recognizing the ownership of God, then we are spiting God’s blessing in our lives.
Be trustworthy. This seems to flow out of the admonition not to steal. But a master is truly blessed to have someone he can trust, and the same is true in our relationship with God. How much can God trust me? The more I show God that I can be trusted, the more God will entrust to me. I was not born deserving of God’s trust, despite the plans He may have had for me. As stated earlier, He can’t contradict His nature (because it’s perfect) and can’t make me be trustworthy. I have to earn that trust and I will need the help of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Showing trustworthiness to your earthly master is, again, a means of glorifying you Father in heaven.
Make the teaching of God our Savior attractive. I should have started with this exhortation because I believe that it gives purpose for why we believers, either as free men or slaves, are to be subject to our masters in everything. It glorifies God. Sure, there may be earthly benefits as well, but the bottom line is that our God is worthy of all glory and by training ourselves to be subject in everything we are bringing glory to the God that saved us from unrighteousness and sin and prepares a place for us in heaven for all eternity. Critics of Christianity often point to the behavior of men and women who have talked the talk but at some point failed to walk to walk as an example of why following Christ is foolish. Paul addresses this many times and many ways, but it may be as clear as anywhere when he sums up this segment of his letter to Titus with the phrase, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”