Titus 2:9-10 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.
This is one of those passages in the New Testament which, on the surface, appears to condone both the injustice and inhumanity of slavery. I personally find it troubling and I’m certain that Southern preachers in the past used this verse to support plantation owners, especially when those same slave masters financially strengthened the local congregation.
Superficially, it’s about slaves humbling themselves before their masters, no matter what they are asked to do. They are urged by the apostle Paul not to talk back or to protest about their circumstances. Instead Christians, who happen to be slaves, were supposed to be absolutely loyal and trustworthy in order to attract their owners to Christ. In other words, they were to endure all sorts of oppression in the hope that their acquiescence might make their masters come closer to Jesus.
This is a very high standard of faith and is very difficult to maintain. However, strangely enough, it also underpins much of the great work of civil disobedience that the likes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr displayed in order to change American society. Their policy of non-retaliation, in the midst some of the most horrifying and inhumane acts of brutality that our nation has ever seen in modern times, is a continuing credit to their dignity, integrity, and faith. On the surface, the verses from Titus may appear to be unjust and unfair, but at a deeper level they convey the non-aggressionist teaching of Christ Himself.
Perhaps instead of being so insular and insecure because of the in-fighting within our churches and denominations, we should all get back to the proper ministry of Christ of standing with the weak, vulnerable, and oppressed, who are enslaved by loan sharks and unjust economies, in order to show the money masters and powerful people both the needs of the poor and the teachings of Christ at the same time.
Questions for personal reflection
Where does injustice occur in my community? What is my church doing to help overcome it?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You constantly challenge us to spread the Gospel and live according to Your teaching. Sometimes we get in the way of Your words and cast aside Your commands. Forgive us for our obsessive ecclesiastical navel-gazing in a time of increasing poverty and economic slavery. Challenge our cozy ways and change our outdated ideas. In Your radical and holy name, we pray. Amen.
John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment on today’s message, please send him an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s image is one of my latest Lenten drawings. It’s a Lenten Prayer wheel and features many symbols associated with the sacred season of Lent. If you would like to view a larger version, please click the following link: Lenten Prayer Wheel.