In the history of the world, slavery has predominantly been viewed as a bad thing, and rightly so. Owning another human being doesn’t even sound right, much less is it justifiable in regards to logic, reason or morality. The only people in the history of humanity who have ever viewed slavery as a good thing are slaveowners and those who benefited from slavery in some way. Unfortunately and unconscionably, slavery still exists in many parts of the world today, particularly in nations with corrupt governments and unregulated regimes. And it also exists in the most modern of cultures, like the United States and other western countries, affecting those who are trafficked, either for sex or labor or some other purpose.
Throughout the course of human history, there have been heroes who fought to eradicate slavery, most notably William Wilberforce, who, in 1807, successfully led the charge to end the Atlantic Slave Trade as the leader of the British Parliament. Sixty-one years prior, a young man named John Newton, at the tender age of 21, became involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade, working on the trading ships before eventually becoming a captain. On one of these voyages, a violent storm on the high seas led him to turn to God, and he eventually left the slave trade at the age of 30, studied theology and became an ordained minister in the Church of England. As a part of his ministry, Newton wrote hymns for the church, penning the most popular hymn in modern culture, Amazing Grace.
Thirty years after leaving the slave trade, Newton and Wilberforce became allies in their effort to abolish the African Slave Trade, which was accomplished in 1807, just before Newton died at the age of 72. The legality of trading slaves ended, but the effects of the slave trade endured, particularly across the Atlantic in the newly formed United States of America. Slave owners in the southern states, particularly in Virginia, South Carolina, & Georgia, believed slaves to be property and, therefore, a resource to economic gain through growing and selling crops to make money. Plantations became the hallmarks of these states built on the backs of African slaves. It wasn’t until 58 years after the closure of the Atlantic Slave Trade that Abraham Lincoln, through the tireless efforts of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, the union army and a whole host of unnamed heroes, abolished the legality of slavery in America. Since that time, each generation of Americans has worked through the process of transforming our society into a more just, more fair land of opportunity for all, sometimes with great success and at other times coming up well short of that ideal.
But not all slavery is bad. That’s right. Not all slavery is negative or harmful. In fact, slavery, in some instances, is a really good thing. Dare I say, slavery is exactly what we all need. No, I’m not speaking of enslaving another human being in order to harvest something of gain for yourself. That is and will forever be wrong. I’m talking about a different kind of slavery, one that comes from within. Check this out.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul describes the lengths to which he chose to push himself in order to preach the gospel and win (or save) souls through his words and actions. He writes in verses 19-27 of the 9th chapter, “
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Did you see it? Take a moment and read those verses again.
Some people are really good at bringing their body into submission to get into shape. Others do it to become great at a skill or a job, and the rest of us sit back with our popcorn and marvel at what they are able to do or what they are able to accomplish. As Tim Tebow often says, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” Some people just have the ability to push themselves beyond their limits to accomplish a goal. The Apostle Paul was this type of person, and his focus was not on physical health or perfecting a talent, or building a business. His only aim was to save souls through the proclamation of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul did this by enslaving himself, dare I say his life, to doing whatever was necessary to reach this end. Specifically, Paul did this in two distinct ways that might inspire us to follow his lead.
- Paul enslaved his body. Whenever and wherever Paul was, he was constantly aware of how his words and actions would be perceived by those around him. He knew he was free to do whatever he wanted and didn’t owe anything to anyone (v19), yet he chose to give up what he wanted in order that those around him would not be offended, would accept him, would trust him and ultimately would listen to him as he proclaimed the gospel. He didn’t care about being consistent or “keeping it 100”. He only cared about creating the opportunity through his actions by which he could share the gospel with those around him. Do I love God and His gospel message enough to bring my body into submission in order to win the opportunity to tell others about Jesus?
- Paul enslaved his mind. The body only does what the mind thinks. Think about it. (And pun definitely intended.) The mind thinks you’re hungry. The body goes to the refrigerator for some ice cream and chocolate syrup. The mind thinks you’re cold. The body gets up to grab a blanket or start a fire. The mind wonders whatever happened to the cast from the Wonder Years. The body pulls up the computer to Google Kevin & Winnie. See, all behaviors start as thoughts or beliefs, so the natural progression to achieving Paul’s goal, and ours, is to make it a priority to enslave the thoughts in our minds so that our actions follow suite. Paul’s goal of spreading the message of Jesus’ love & redemption through His death & resurrection could have been compromised had he done something foolish, like break the speed limit on his camel or not pay for the pigeons in the marketplace. He knew that if his body did something wrong, it could jeopardize the opportunities he would have to tell others about Jesus, or “disqualify” himself in the race he was running. He made his mind his slave in order that his body would follow. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul introduces a phrase in chapter five that I cannot get out of my head regarding this: “take every thought captive to obey Christ”. In context, he’s speaking about the spiritual warfare Christians face and the need to take every thought captive as a soldier would do with an enemy combatant, however, the idea is applicable to us today in regards to enslaving our minds in order for our bodies to obey Jesus and not disqualify us from the opportunities to tell others about Jesus. Am I living with this kind of focus as I go through my days?
So see: slavery is a good thing…when we are choosing to enslave our bodies & minds, not others. Let us be intentional about taking our thoughts captive and making them obedient to Christ in order that through our words and actions, we earn the opportunity to tell others about Jesus. For that is truly the noblest of efforts earning us the greatest prize in Heaven one day, a race definitely worth running.