The Roman culture was one of slavery, and not all slavery was alike. There were those owners who were cruel and who mistreated, abused and even killed their slaves. There were also those who were kind, gentle, and allowed a measure of liberty for their slaves. Many slaves had the option to work to purchase their own freedom, and most were allowed to marry and have a family. In some instances certain slave-holders even saw an advantage in allowing a slave to own his or her own property and land.
In the early church, and even on the island of Crete, slavery was common place, and often some Christians in the church would be converted slaves. This became a vital point for Paul as he wrote his letters to the churches that existed in a culture rife with slavery. Paul was not on a mission of social equality; rather, he was on a mission of eternal significance. A body might be enslaved for 80 years, but the soul lasts forever. Paul did not spend his life trying to free slaves (he himself was a free man), rather, he spent much of his life telling people how to live a Christian life (whether slave or free) so that those around them might come into the saving knowledge of Christ.
Paul told Titus to admonish those church members who were servants to “be obedient to their masters, and please them well in all things.” God is the author and delegator of all authority. Romans 13 tells us that “there is no power, except from God.” In Genesis, Joseph was taken in violence by his own brothers and sold as a slave into the house of Potiphar. As the slave of Potiphar, he would be maligned, misused and eventually thrown in prison. However, at the end of Joseph’s life, he would recount the events of his life, especially those of his being sold into slavery, and describe them as the “evil” works of men that were merely being “meant” for good by God. The Hebrew word translated as “meant” in Genesis 50 is the word that means “woven together” like a cloth. God had been working the details of Joseph’s slavery together, giving authority to the sinful Potiphar and his wife over Joseph. Joseph was right to not rebel against his authority, but to rather trust that God was doing what was necessary in His wisdom.
Paul presents a similar argument for those who are Christians in a workplace. They were to model gracious submission to their boss. There should never be a moment where a Christian in the workplace directly disobeys their employer unless that employer tells the Christian to do something that is directly against Scripture. The actions of a Christian in servitude or service must match the belief that all authority is ordained by God.
Paul continues by directing servants to not “answer again.” The idea behind this phrase is “talking back, retorting,” or even to tell somebody off. Christians should never be known in a workplace as the one who is mouthy with the boss. Rather, in humble submission a Christian should work and seek to honor those who are in authority. If there is disagreement, dialogue can happen in a structure that has been set forth by the employer and in a respectful way even during that time.
Finally, Paul explained that the ethic of a Christian slave should be that although the master or the boss has so much, only what is given you is yours. To see opportunities to cheat, or steal, or to be conniving in your dealing is to be unchristian. “Not purloining” means to not steal or pilfer. It doesn’t matter how spiritual you might act, the name of Christ will always be disgraced by your lack of Biblical obedience.
In all these things, Paul is not introducing new doctrine. He is calling Christians to obey the commands of Scripture. “Thou shalt not steal.” “Submit to those that have the rule over you.” This is no new doctrine, it is simply the application of doctrine that too often is only applied when convenient. Paul needed Titus to remind servants that no matter the circumstance, the truth of Scripture must be obeyed. No matter our circumstances, the truth of Scripture must always be obeyed. We must live lives that are consistent with sound doctrine.
Reflect: What were some biblical principles that Paul sought to direct Romans servants to consider given their present condition?