Christ Is About Eternal Salvation Not Temporary Prosperity
There were many slaves in Corinth; in fact, more slaves than free people. Could they become Christians too? If they did, how could they relate in the same church as their masters? These were serious practical problems about which the church leaders had asked for Paul's advice. His answer was straightforward: if slaves became believers, they were still slaves but that did not make them any less a child of God or freely welcomed into the church.
Paul did not want to be misinterpreted; if slaves had the opportunity to become a free person then they should take it. But that was not to be seen as a benefit of faith; nor should they use their welcome into the church as a way of manipulating their social or employment status. However every slave who came to Jesus in repentance and faith had the assurance of being set free from the guilt of their sin. They should no longer allow their past sins, or bitterness about their slavery, to oppress them - because they had been set free to enjoy the love of God.
On the other hand, the slave owners who believed in Jesus were not spiritually superior to their slaves. In God's sight they were also the bond-slaves of Christ: they were not their own but had been bought with the price of the blood of Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:19). Yet they were at risk of becoming slaves again to the corruption in the world as everybody jostled for position in the business and social systems of the city.
In pursuing his gospel ministry, Paul did not fight the authorities in areas of social justice (Romans 13:1). In advising slaves to be content, he was not condoning slavery but saying that God is still powerful in an unfair and wicked world (1 Peter 2:18). In the church we are all equal servants of God and should be honoured as such (Galatians 3:28). There is a place for challenging systemic injustice and corruption in the world; and gospel people will want to remind leaders of their God-given responsibility to be compassionate towards the oppressed. However, the grace of God enables His children to endure unfair workplaces and unjust social environments, witnessing to the all-consuming love of their Saviour.
© Dr Paul Adams