Sometimes slavery is good. The other evening in our devotion we read about the story of Joseph and his brothers who sold him into slavery. God used that slavery ultimately to save the 11 brothers and one sister and the parents of Joseph bringing them into Egypt and sparing them from starvation. These 12 brothers and their families would multiply and grow into the 12 tribes of Israel. Sometimes slavery is good.
After Joseph died, a Pharaoh who did not know anything about Joseph turned the 12 tribes into slaves for Egypt for 450 years. This slavery would isolate them so that they would remain pure in race and religion for from them would come the Promised Savior and at the same time the LORD was using this slavery to train His people for their journey into the Promised Land. The Exodus and Moses are a picture of Christ through His sacrifice, leading us out of slavery into the Promised Land of Paradise. Sometimes slavery is good.
The Apostle Paul speaks of slavery this morning, and even calls on us to dedicate, consecrate and devote our bodies to the vocation of slavery. This morning we consider:
SOMETIMES SLAVERY IS GOOD
1. Our condition before God made us His slaves.
2. Our condition after God made us His slaves.
One of the most well-known of all Bible passages is verse 23 of our text. We can almost say it in our sleep: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Here we have one of the most succinct summaries of the entire content of Christian Doctrine, Law and Gospel. I draw your attention to this verse for a good reason. Like Paul Harvey used to say after he introduced just a snippet of the stroy, “Now for the rest of the story.” Verse 23 is the conclusion to a long explanation by Paul which begin with Holy Baptism in the opening verses of chapter 6. And now we get to hear the rest of the story.
Sometimes slavery is good. The people to whom Paul addressed this letter speaks of their spiritual weakness when he writes, “I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations.” Paul is speaking here of moral weakness, a weakness unable to discern the ugly fact that they were at one time slaves to sin and that which it brings. So, for their own good, Paul informs them of this moral weakness: “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness.” Paul gently deals with them as Christian brothers, not as heathens. But they were using their Christian freedom to indulge the sins of the flesh.
When Paul uses the term “members” he is not merely talking about arms, legs, hands and feet. We need to “adult up” here and understand that Paul is referring to the sexual sin and debauchery so prevalent in the Roman world. And as little as we might like it, Paul is speaking to us as well. Paul was getting right down to the nitty-gritty of their sin. He says that they were slaves to lawlessness, not to man’s law, but to God’s Law.
But wait, is our culture any different? What is it that permeates and drives and characterizes Hollywood? What is the vocabulary that seem to occupy the conversations in our time: homosexuality, which is old stuff now; now we talk about transgender; marriage is now defined in ways that should make us blush; sexual acts that would have caused one to turn beet red are now openly promoted in common publications; acts so vile that they cannot be repeated from the pulpit. It was these sins which brought the shame of which Paul speaks in verse 21. And more to the point, it is this shame which also leads to eternal death.
But dear Christian, are we totally immune from the impurities of which Paul speaks this morning? How many Hollywood movies do we watch without blushing that as little as 50 years ago would have brought shame to our face? So do we still blush at the mention of these sins or have we become so immune to them that we accepted them as normal? As Paul reminds us in Ephesians, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
Paul challenges the Roman Christians, “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?” When Paul speaks of fruit, he is not speaking of oranges or apples or peaches or cherries. The fruit of which Paul speaks is a reminder of the fruit in the Garden of Eden and the sin of Adam and Eve. But what is even more interesting is the word fruit comes from the Greek idea of the “fruit of the womb,” or that which is born out of our sinful flesh. This is also then a reminder of what Jesus says in John 3, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.”
By ourselves, we can do nothing to remake ourselves into something else. We cannot magically climb back into our mother’s womb and be born again; we cannot turn back the clock of time and undo all the sins we have committed in our life time. As Jesus also says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” But here Paul is even more direct, “For the end of all those things is death.” As we examine these words of Paul, we need to be reminded that this would continue to be slaves to sin and hell if Christ had not seen us in our state of slavery to sin and had compassion on us. Sometimes, slavery is not good.
But, sometimes slavery is good. As I said earlier, this text is immersed in the water of Baptism. Paul has just spoken of their Baptism only a few verses prior. So now Paul writes, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” Sometimes slavery is good, very good. How did this happen? Where did this happen? Should we be happy about this? After all, nobody likes the thought or even mention of slavery. But spiritually either one is a slave to sin or a slave to God. There is no middle ground. We are not free agents able to choose our lot in life any more than Joseph was able to choose whether he would be sold by his brothers into slavery or not.
But, we are not in the middle. It may seem like that at times. It may seem to you like you are being tugged by the devil on the one hand and pulled by Jesus on the other. Sometimes you may feel like you are being ripped apart as your flesh wins the upper hand one day and on other days you feel like a pretty good Christian. What you feel and what you are, remain two different matters. As Luther would say, “We are at the same time both saint and sinner.”
Paul reminds you that in Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit washed you of your sin and made you His saint. In spite of your feelings, you stand righteous before God now because you have been immersed in the holy life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of Christ. You are lawless; Christ was lawful for you. You have sinned; in Christ your sins have been nailed to the cross through Baptism. You deserved hell; in Baptism you died with Christ and in doing so suffered the punishment already for your sin. Hell has been locked against you. In baptism, your Lord made you His slave; a slave who gets to live in His kingdom of grace and mercy, longsuffering and forgiveness. This is the fruit you get because you are His slave. Sometimes slavery is good.
Given this truth, Paul now tells us, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” Do you understand what this means. This is real freedom. We now get to breathe the fresh air of the Gospel. That is the essence of this slavery. One of my favorite hymns is a simple children’s hymn. One of the verses reads, “I am baptized, O blessed day, on which my sins were washed away, when heaven’s grace upon me smiled, and I became God’s holy child.”
We now get to live under the Kingdom of God in which God richly and daily smiles upon you with the peace of Christ. We are not shackled to sin and to the ball and chain that fetters us to the eternal misery of hell. We are free slaves. Because of Christ the end for us is already attained and are free, indeed, free to do what Paul says, “Now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”
The Greek word for “sanctification” comes from the word “holy.” The verb means to “separate” and consecrate ourselves to Christ. As God’s slaves, we are not our own. Paul reminds us in Corinthians, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” This may sound at first like Law. But if you are not your own but the property of someone else, you live under the protection of that other individual, and you must do what he says. In this case you live under the house of your Lord and under His protection and grace. Your privilege is to take your members, your entire body and use it in service to your Savior. It is as glorious thing to be a salve of Christ for the end of this slavery is eternal life.
After the Children of Israel were brought to the Promised Land and were baptized in the crossing of the Red Sea, the Lord did not leave them on their own. These were God’s people, His slaves, freed from the bondage of Egypt. Even though they sinned by worshiping the Golden Calf, God provided for their earthly needs. He fed them Manna in the wilderness for 40 years to sustain their earthly life. Every day the same diet. It never changed.
We are Israel today. Our Lord does not leave us to fend for ourselves searching out the spiritual food and diet for eternal life. Even though you have sinned, your Savior places before you the Manna of His Holy Supper. The diet is always the same. It never changes. It is the holy body and blood of Jesus which was given and shed for your forgiveness and the end of that is eternal life. Sometimes slavery is a good thing, a very good thing.
And that is the rest of the story for while the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ OUR LORD.