Slavery is difficult to talk about, particularly for Americans who continue to live with shameful memories of our nation’s cruelty to black slaves. So I approach this weeks passage with a degree of reticence, not wanting to offend anyone.
At the same time, I don’t want to get sidetracked from our study with a lengthy discussion on the differences between 1st Century slavery in the Roman Empire and the early American institution of slavery. Nor do I want to spend time and blog space exploring possible reasons that Paul neither condemned nor condoned slavery in his culture. This study has been going slowly enough without that rabbit trail.
So, dear ladies, let’s read the first ten verses of Titus 2 before we zero in on verses 9 and 10, just to keep the context fresh in our minds.
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. 9 Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. ~~Titus 2:1-10 (ESV)
The best way to apply Titus 2:9-10 is to substitute the word “employees” for “bondservants,” even though its not an exact parallel. Employees are the modern-day equivalents to bondservants. At least, they should have that sort of attitude. Strictly speaking, the Greek word describes someone subservient to another. For that reason Paul describes himself as a bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, although modern-day employees serve their employers voluntarily, they ought to have the humility of a bondservant.
Bondservants, says Paul in verse 9, should submit to their own masters. He has made similar pleas in Ephesians 6:5-6, Colossians 3:22 and 1 Timothy 6:1. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown assert that, because Christian slaves enjoyed spiritual equality with their Christian masters (Galatians 3:28), they might forget their rank on the social level.
Submission means to recognize someone’s authority over us. In that sense it is voluntary; it involves our attitude toward that person.
Notice that Paul specifies submission to their own masters rather than to masters of other bondservants. A minor point, perhaps, but it would protect slaves from being taken advantage of by the public at large.
Paul continues by explaining what submission should look like. First, they must please their masters. Instead of performing tasks grudgingly, doing the bare minimum, they should try to work in ways that delight their masters. Barnes cautions that this pleasing does not includes submitting to anything that contradicts God’s Law.
Part of working this way necessitates that they avoid arguing and backtalk. This clause may even extend, as one commentator suggests, to the servant advancing his own opinions. I’m not sure I completely agree with that point (and I’m an employer over my PCAs), but the idea here is that bondservants act in attitudes of submission.
Additionally, verse 10 tells us, bondservants must not pilfer from their masters. The idea here is that bondservants should not use the property of their masters for personal benefit. Such pilfering could take the form of secretly taking money or material goods, but it might also mean taking time for themselves when they should be attending to business.
In contrast to pilfering, bondservants must show themselves trustworthy. They should take care of the property and responsibilities entrusted to them. MacArthur states that the phrase, “showing all good faith,” indicates loyalty.
In summary, Paul commands this submission for one purpose. Like the other four groups he’s addressed throughout this chapter, he calls bondservants to behave in ways that are in line with the Gospel. As he puts it, their attitudes and actions must adorn the Gospel. The Cretans would scrutinize Christians, looking for signs of hypocrisy, which made it crucial that even bondservants show lives of integrity. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown conclude by writing, “Even slaves, low as is their status, should not think the influence of their example a matter of no consequence to religion.”