“…as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk… Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it…” (I Corinthians 7:17,21).
Some Christians find it troubling that the Bible counsels slaves to be content in their difficult circumstances, and walk in obedience to their masters rather than run away from them in rebellion (Eph. 6:5; Col. 3:22). But there were legitimate reasons why men were slaves in those days, and God has never been in favor of freeing “a lawful captive” from his owner (Isa. 49:24).
The Apostle Paul did tell slaves, “if thou mayest be made free, use it rather” (I Cor. 7:21). For example, if a man was a slave because he was working off his financial debts, if someone offered to pay his debts, this was benevolence that no servant should ignore. But if there was no legitimate means by which a servant could be made free, it was God’s will that he walk in the calling wherewith he had been called (I Cor. 7:17).
Of course, unbelievers think that this is terrible advice, and they aren’t shy about criticizing the Bible for not encouraging slaves to run away from their masters. But that’s because they’re thinking of the kind of slavery that existed in the early days of our country, when innocent people were kidnapped from Africa and brought here as slaves to serve in an illegitimate form of bondage. This type of slavery is condemned in Scripture, and those who dared perpetrate it in Israel were given the death penalty (Ex. 21:16). Yet even when men were kidnapped and wrongfully enslaved, Paul’s advice to be content in servitude was good counsel, for often it was just not possible for slaves to escape bondage, and God does not wish His children to live lives of abject frustration and misery.
But if you are thinking that it is equally impossible to “care not” for being a slave, consider the counsel that Paul went on to give servants in the very next verse,
“For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman…” (I Cor. 7:22).
The key to finding contentment as a slave was to remember that believing slaves were free men in the eyes of the Lord. In other words, the secret to being content in the harsh circumstances of bondage was for servants to look past their circumstances and focus on how God saw them in Christ. That is, when slaves couldn’t change their circumstances, the key to contentment was to change how they thought about their circumstances.
Now, is there anything you can learn from that about your difficult circumstances? Sometimes our situation in life can’t be changed any more than a slave could change his. Of course, if there is a legitimate means by which you might be made free from your difficulties, by all means do what Paul told slaves to do with such an opportunity and “use it.” But if you can’t change your circumstances, why not follow Paul’s advice and change the way you think about them?
If life has you feeling like a captive for whom there is no escape, never lose sight of the spiritual reality that you are “the Lord’s freeman.” Focusing on the problems that have you feeling imprisoned will only make you as miserable as the slave who focused on his. Focusing on “the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” (Gal. 5:1) is the only path to rejoicing.
It’s the secret of life.
To the Reader:
Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:
"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."
To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.