As an African-American, I cringe when I hear the word “slave” as it immediately evokes images of four hundred years of oppression of Black people. I wince when I think of the beatings, lynchings, and inhumane treatment that people of African descent endured. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation, Jim Crow laws made life a living hell for many of my ancestors. Slavery equals oppression and denial of rights. Slavey means injustice and poverty. But, could slavery also be a blessing? When considered in the context of scripture, it is this question that challenges me to consider developing the voice of a slave.
The apostle Paul, once a persecutor of the early Christian church, became one of its staunchest and most fearless advocates after his conversion to Christianity. After his personal encounter with God on the road to Damascus, Paul (formerly named Saul) was enlightened as to God’s displeasure with persecution of Christians. When confronted under the light of God, Paul transformed his life to become one of Christianity’s greatest missionaries. Paul’s two missionary journeys are nothing short of amazing. But, what was the secret to his success? Some might argue that it is his courage and conviction to preach the gospel. I certainly think that that plays a part. But, many courageous and convicted people are not as successful in their endeavors. I believe the answer is found in the book of 1 Corinthians. He learned the voice of a slave. That is the true voice of influence.
Here is Paul’s account of his slave voice:
“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.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
Here are a few of the questions that immediately come to my mind as I read Paul’s slave.
Why would Paul make himself a slave to everyone? What’s wrong with him? Won’t he lose his own sense of identity in trying to accommodate everyone else? Does it really take all of that to live for the sake of the gospel?