Israel had slaves. Slavery sounds like a bad thing, people being bought and sold like chattel? God designed the laws to put limits on slavery so that the treatment of slaves was restricted to what was humane and even considerate. It was not an oppressive slavery if the masters obeyed Israelite law.
Critics challenge the Bible because it did not forbid the institution of slavery. But the institution was rooted deeply in the culture of the times, and God’s purpose was not to uproot it. His laws were designed to teach the individual how to live with the reality of the times. If everyone obeyed God’s laws, and considered the rights of others, they could be good slaves and good masters and live and work harmoniously together.
Of course this was not how it worked in reality. Human nature was always present to assert itself, and people were selfish and greedy then as now. But Israelite law put limits on what could be done, even by bad masters.
The 21st chapter of Exodus records the ancient Jewish ordinance regarding the servitude of a Hebrew servant.
Let’s read it from Exodus 21.
Exodus 21:1–6 1“Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them: 2If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing.
The slave was obligated to serve his master for six years. On the seventh year he was set free. The law continued:
3If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. 5But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,…’
This servant did not want to go out into the world alone and be responsible for his family. What could he do? The law had a provision for this.
5… if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.
From that point forward he belonged to the master in a devoted relationship, a bond of love.
He would still be serving, but it would be a loving service, a friendship, where he should be treated fairly and with consideration.
When the servant said “I love my master,” what does the word “love” mean? Let us check the lexicon:
friend, i.e., a person who is in an association of affection and personal regard;… one who loves, i.e., one who actively seeks association, relationship, and friendship, in covenant relationship, which may include feelings of affection (DBL)
How different was a love slave—free but slave by choice—from a slave treated harshly. The freed slave was a slave because he wanted to serve his chosen master. He was a love slave. He was still being told what to do. He was not free to choose any option in the world. But he was free within the commitment and loyalty he had promised his master.
In the same way our “love slave” relationship limits our activities to a prescribed pattern of behavior. But the word “love” puts a different angle on the slavery. It turns it into something good, something we choose because of the benefit.
Isn’t every servant of God a love slave? We are committed slaves, but slaves by choice, because of future advantage.
But as His servants we are soon confronted with the demands of a deeper covenant with the Master for an unlimited service for an undefined amount of time. How far will we take our commitment to serve?
Moses made this love slave commitment when he came of age. It was his choice. He was not compelled, but was choosing because of the advantages of a life of service to God. We read,
Hebrews 11:24–25 24By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,
It was said of Jesus prophetically,
Psalm 40:8 8I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.”
These are powerful words: Delight… delight in doing the will of God, delight in obeying God’s law.
In other words, I will enjoy, I will find my highest DELIGHT in being your love slave.
Paul said this of himself and his brethren.
Romans 6:16–18 16Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey…
This shows the love slave relationship—they voluntarily presented themselves slaves to obey, so they belong to that one…,
you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
17But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
What was there to gain in this new relationship? Everything! Even eternal benefits. Read further:
Romans 6:22 22… now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.
David was the committed “love slave” of God. What shows his level of commitment to God? We can read it in several of the Psalms:
Psalm 119:97 97Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. 113I hate the double-minded, But I love Your law. 163I hate and abhor lying, But I love Your law. 165Great peace have those who love Your law, And nothing causes them to stumble.
Hear David saying, “I love your law.” It was a truly loving relationship. And why? Because obedience to that law was the one and only way to get the favor of God and life eternal in the future.
In the same way Jesus loved His brethren, and called them friends. Not servants, He said, but friends. He gave the reason:
John 15:11–15 11“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 12This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.
Not servants, not slaves but friends. The bond was the same. Totally committed, totally binding.
Paul called himself the “bondslave of Jesus Christ.” As he wrote to the Romans:
Romans 1:1 1Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God
Voluntarily bonded. Again Paul said to Titus:
Titus 1:1 1Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness,
This relationship is a symbol of our service to Christ. We are volunteers totally committed. It is a relationship not to be set aside for any other interest. Our obedience MUST be first. Always.
Jude also put himself on record as the bond-slave of his brother Jesus, totally committed in covenant with him.
Jude 1 1Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ:
Jesus Himself has offered us freedom. What does He say to us?
John 12:26 26If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.
Honor. And what an honor—the honor reserved for love slaves.
Will we qualify, a totally committed servant of God?
Do we aspire to the heights and depths of holiness?
Now is the time to make—and KEEP—this commitment. Every day. All day.
If we choose, we are free to leave the service of Christ, go on our own to get whatever the world can give us—and lose the benefits. Or we can choose the Master we love, and stay with Him all the way until He blesses us with immortality.
We have our choice. Freedom, and death. Or full service, and LIFE!
The choice we make has many consequences. To go on our own means to go alone. Our identity with Christ is broken, our joy ceases, our testimony is silenced, our prayer life is stopped, our convictions fade, our vision is dimmed, and our lives are barren. But if we declare: “I love my Master; I will not go out free,” a covenant is established.
Here is the consecration of our all according to our covenant of love service. Going forward we become identified with the Master’s interests. We are those of the “pierced ear” commitment, who follow the will of the Master without question, without regard to cost, with a desire only to belong to His family, to please Him and stay with Him. Our love turns from the gratitude of the new believer to a love of excellence in the maturing life.
To those who become Christ’s love slaves, the letter to the Hebrews declares:
Hebrews 11:16 16… now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
That is where WE want to be, so that God is not ashamed to be called OUR God.
And think of the “heavenly country” and the “city” He has prepared to share with all to whom He can say,
Matthew 25:21 21… ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
1. God allowed slavery, but He put limits on it and laws to prevent unfair treatment of the slave.
2. If the slave loved his master and wanted to continue as a love-slave, the law allowed that option. However he was not free from the commitment and loyalty he had promised his master.
3. Every servant of God is a love slave by choice. The standard of conduct and service is high, and there is no limit to our commitment. Whose slave had you rather be, a slave of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
4. If we are God’s slave, we love His law, meditate on it all the day, and hate everything that opposes it. To these Christ will call friends, and not slaves.
5. The choice we make has many consequences. To go on our own means to go alone. Our identity with Christ is broken, our joy ceases, our testimony is silenced, our prayer life is stopped, our convictions fade, our vision is dimmed, and our lives are barren. But if we declare: “I love my Master; I will not go out free,” a covenant is established––a covenant we must keep.