“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” —Romans 6:16
When the Apostle Paul talks about our obedience to God, he uses a strong word—slavery. In our present day, slavery is something far removed from our experience; everything we know about slavery repulses us. But to Paul’s readers in first century Rome, it was a familiar term. In context, there was an estimate of 85% to 90% of all inhabitants of Rome that were either slaves or of slave origin. Some of these were not slaves by choice; they were either purchased, captured in war or born to parents in slavery and remained the possession of their master. However, there was also voluntary slavery. Under Roman law, slaves did have benefits, where they received an income of sorts, and eventually, they could save enough money to purchase their own freedom. If a person was living in dire poverty, they could present themselves as a slave to a master, and the master would look after them. For someone who was on the brink of bankruptcy, their bankruptcy would bring them into slavery. In other words, they became the slave of the person to whom they owed their biggest debt.
In this context, Paul writes to the church in Rome what it means to have God as their Master, since many of them were actually slaves. In fact, in the final chapter of the book of Romans, Paul gives a list of names that he wants to send his greetings to, some of whose names belonged to the slave class.
Paul tells the Romans, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of
the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16). Paul makes the point that every one of us is a slave and our slavery is limited to two options: either we are slaves to sin or we are slaves to obedience.
As Christians, while we would choose to be slaves to obedience, we must be careful not to fall into a form of slavery to sin. 1 Corinthians 7:23 tell us, “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.” By being slaves of human beings, we are living under the opinions of other people. In other words, we live making sure we are pleasing whoever it is we want to please. Even as Christians, we can be very good at that kind of slavery, always checking that we are pleasing everybody else around us.
May we search our hearts and realize that the only Master we should seek to please and to gain their approval is God.
Dear God, to You alone do I submit myself as an obedient slave. May I seek to please You alone, and not everyone else around me. Thank You, God.