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
On the surface, this scripture seems logical enough. Perhaps that’s because we’re not slaves and not in touch with the issues that might plague them ~ inequity and injustice.
But there’s a way to bring it home in 2021 so that we might enter into the text. We may not be slaves, but we are subject to various kinds of authorities. When those at the top are righteous, the struggles are minimal. When the authority figures are abusive, the spiritual gymnastics required through Titus’ teaching come quickly into focus.
The inequity of the ‘haves and have nots’ is difficult if not grounded in the love of God. The wealthy rule over those who have much less. Many (though not all) of the rich inherited their money and don’t have to work as hard as the people who work for them.) Think about a slave who caters to the whim of his master, making his life easy, while he does all the work. He makes the owner prosperous while he continues to profit nothing except room and board. In this environment, a carnal nature is set on fire. Resentment grows, and in cases of abuse, vows of revenge are made in secret.
The ideas presented by Paul to Titus turn the hearts and minds of a slave upside down. While he may try to please his master out of fear, Jesus would have him please his master out of his love for God. While he might not dare talk back to his master for fear of a violent reprisal, Jesus would have him defer out of respect for God’s ultimate authority. While he may try to prove his trustworthiness to his master for self-gain, Jesus would have him earn his master’s trust because God is honored through his submission. Ultimately, the message is that it’s no longer about the slave and the good/evil heart of the master. It’s about whether the slave makes Jesus attractive.
Today, there are crooked people in authority as well as some righteous ones. (Parents, community leaders, church leaders, local police forces, and government officials.) This is where it hits home for us. What do we do when faced with injustice, when asked to serve those who don’t deserve our respect? Taking to Facebook, or to the pulpit, to express vitriol amongst our friends, is not the response that makes the Gospel attractive. We are called to obey, treat them with respect, pray for them, and defer for the sake of our love for God. What if we, under their authority, are asked to do something unbiblical? We don’t take up arms in the form of civil unrest or purge our rage through digital editorials. We obey God and follow His lead out of humble conviction – without rancor and a spirit of rebellion.
This is not easy for us, nor was it for slaves. Bring this home, Holy Spirit, to our places of struggle today. Amen