Freed for Slavery

Michael Card played and spoke in chapel today at Trinity. He began by saying, “We have not yet begun to realize the extent to which Jesus has turned the world upside down.” One way he does that is by allowing his creatures to only be free in service to him.

Card referred to his book, from which his sermon is taken, A Better Freedom: Finding Life as Slaves of Christ. The title comes from a church father Ignatius, Card said, who along with others sold themselves into slavery, took the money, and bought others’ freedom.

“Why do you do this?” asked Polycarp, another church father, at the time.

Ignatius answered, “For a better freedom.”

The gospel often turns our world upside down, Card said. If you want to be wise, embrace the foolishness of the gospel. If you want to be free, submit to lordship of Jesus and become his servant.

Christianity was a slave religion, Card said. Christ was referred to as a slave in one of the first references to him in secular literature. Paul’s language is full of slave imagery, Card said. The idea behind redemption is to be purchased in the marketplace. Some translations of the phrase “Jesus is Lord” render the meaning as Jesus is our owner or master.

“We’re confessing that he owns us,” Card said. “Why? Because he bought us. That is a comforting idea to me.”

The Bible does not give you a choice between freedom and slavery, Card said. The only choice we have is between masters. ” ‘Take up my cross.’ That’s slave language.”

To be a slave was a badge of honor in the Old Testament. Card said David called himself a slave of Yaweh. “Remember you were slaves in Egypt,” God said. The identity of Israel is rooted in slavery, even though there was not much practice of slavery in the nation of Israel.

“Roman slavery was a different kettle of fish,” Card said, “based on cruelty.” In Roman religion, there was no kneeling, because that was a slave posture. So, when Jesus kneeled to wash the disciples feet, it makes sense that Peter objected. At the time, slavery was horrible and wretched. Archeologists have dug up collars that said, “Capture me for I am fleeing.”

The slavery experienced by African-Americans in the United States was just as brutal as that in Roman times. The vast majority of slaves in the Roman world died in their bondage. “When Paul identifies himself as a slave,” Card said, “it was not a badge of honor within the Roman empire.”

Yet the Christians embraced this image of slavery. The first song the church sang was a song about a slave. “It would have never made it on Christian radio,” Card joked. The song is quoted in Philippians 2:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

It is a miracle, Card said, that African slaves who came to this country, who were abused by their Christian owners, still embraced Christianity en mass. Card suggested they did so because the heart of the faith, that of a slave, struck a chord in their own hearts. They understood gospel at a depth that their abusers did not remotely understand, Card said.

“If you don’t know Jesus as your servant, you don’t know him,” Card concluded. “If you aren’t following Jesus as his servant, you’re not following him. If you’re not washing feet with what you do, you ought not to be doing it.”

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About Rob

As director of publications, I edit the award-winning Trinity magazine, I blog, and I'm all around Trinity storyteller. I also write for places like The Wall Street Journal, Christianity Today, and InterVarsity Press which published my book The Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come. My writings, here and elsewhere, can be found at www.robmoll.com.

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