From servants to sons
The critics of the Bible like to assert that one of the reasons the Bible is not a good book is because it promotes slavery. The opposite is true. Slavery was not instituted by God or the Bible. The law of Moses did not create or endorse slavery. It greatly limited the control one man could have over another in what the King James Version calls servanthood, especially among fellow Israelites and as compared to what non-believers were doing to each other. Slavery was invented by pagans, not the people of God. While slavery was not forbidden, the Bible did offer some protections for servants of Israelites. They were to be treated more like hired help than what we would think of as slaves. The phrase “hired servant” appears 17 times in 8 verses in the law of Moses (Ex 12:45, Lev 22:10, Lev 25:6 and 40 and 50 and 53, Deut 15:18, Deut 24:14). “Hired servants” appears 3 times in the New Testament (Mk 1:20, Lk 15:17-19). Gentile servants were allowed to become Jews (Ex 12:44). The law forbade Israelites from having each other as slaves, and such were free in the year of jubilee (Lev 25:25-55). If an Israelite had another as a servant, he was to be freed the seventh year (Ex 21:2, Deut 15:18). If a man punished his servant and he died, he was to be punished (Ex 21:20). If a servant lost an eye or a tooth at the hand of his master, he was freed (Ex 21:20-21). Escaped servants were not to be returned to their masters, and they were allowed to live in Israel wherever they chose (Deut 23:15-16). They were not to oppress a servant whether or not he was an Israelite (Deut 24:14). Israelites were to remember what is was like being servants in Egypt (Deut 16:12, Deut 24:14-22), and based on that were to allow their servants to enjoy the Sabbath (Deut 5:15 – part of the ten commandments), send fellow Hebrew with provisions in 7th year (Deut 15:12-15), and not oppress servants (Deut 24:14-18). Masters were to treat their servants right (Eph 6:9, Col 4:1). The book of Philemon was written about an escaped servant that became a Christian and was now a brother in Christ. The Bible clearly teaches the supreme value of man over all of God’s creation (Mt 6:26, Mt 10:29-31, Lk 13:15-16, Lk 14:5, 1Cor 9:9-10). Yet God commanded the proper treatment of animals (Gen 7:2 & 14, Ex 22:19, Ex 23:19, Ex 34:26, Lev 17:11-14, Lev 18:23, Lev 20:15-16, Lev 24:18-21, Lev 25:6-7, Deut 14:21, Deut 22:6-7, Deut 25:4, Deut 27:21, Prov 12:10, Prov 12:27). The very fact that animals were used in sacrifices shows their value to God. The sacrifices were a symbol of the awful cost of sin. If the animals were valueless, the sacrifices would have been meaningless (2Sam 24:24). They were used as an illustration of how God cares for the animals (Job 38:39, Ps 36:6, Ps 50:10, Ps 104:21, Ps 147:9, Mt 6:26, Mt 10:29). If God cares for the animals, how can He be accused of authorizing oppression of his highest creation through slavery? The influence of the Bible is more responsible for the end of slavery in the western world than anything else. The biggest slave owners in the past were non-Christians, and places where slavery still occurs are where Christianity is suppressed.
What are differences between a servant and a son? A servant has a lower status in a household than son. A servant has much fewer rights than a son. A servant is only a hired employee of the household. When the prodigal son decided to return to his father, he planned what he was going to say to him. He thought he would say he was “no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants (Lk 15:19)”. He figured that what he had done and that he had already wasted his inheritance disqualified him from having the status of son. He was willing to have the status of servant in his father’s house which would be better than his current status (Lk 15:17). When he arrived home, he got his confession out, but did not manage his request to be a hired servant (vs 21). The father restored him to his sonship before that happened (vs 22-24).
Servants live in separate, lesser quarters from the family. A son has access to information about and influence on the family affairs. “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you (Jn 15:15).” A son has an inheritance to look forward to. A son will become the head of the house someday. Servanthood is often temporary and at the longest until the end of this life. Sonship is forever. “And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever (Jn 8:25).” A son of the king is free from taxation (Mt 17:24-25).
There are two verses in the book of Proverbs that talk about servants becoming sons. “A wise servant shall have rule over a son that causeth shame, and shall have part of the inheritance among the brethren (Prov 17:2).” “He that delicately bringeth up his servant from a child shall have him become his son at the length (Prov 29:21).” Both of these verses show a lengthy journey involved. The servant must show himself consistently wise over a period of time. The servant that maintains a special relationship with the head of the house from childhood can eventually become as a son. However, there is a lengthy process involved. It is not a process of attaining sonship. That is given at birth. It is a process of preparing to enter a position of responsibility in the family. “Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (Gal 4:1-7).” Joseph and David both learned that though God had chosen them for greatness when they were young, there was a long and difficult journey to the throne (Gen 37-45, 1Sam 16-31).
We usually relate to God more as servants than as sons. We do not fully embrace what it means to be a child of God or believe that this is our status in God. Yet this is for everyone that is born again as described in John 3:3-5 and Acts 2:38 (Jn 1:12, Rom 8:14 & 19, 2Cor 6:18, Gal 4:5-6, Phil 2:15, Heb 2:10, Heb 12:7-8, 1Jn 1:2-3). The church is the family of God, and every born-again Christian is part of it (Mk 3:31-15, Mt 23:8, Eph 3:15). Everyone who has been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ has taken on the family name. We may acknowledge this information, but does it truly form the basis on which we relate to God? Some people are much more comfortable with the status of servant than that of son or daughter. There are several reasons for that. They may have had a bad or non-existent relationship with their earthly father which hinders them from relating to their heavenly Father. The man Christ Jesus called God His heavenly Father, especially in the book of John. He showed us what a relationship with God is supposed to be like, and what He did for us gives us access to that kind of relationship. Some people have been hurt by others besides their father and have difficulty opening up to or trusting anyone. Our heavenly Father has never hurt or failed anyone. We can open up to Him and trust Him completely. He already knows all about us anyway. If we struggle with this, He understands and is very patient. He does not have to, but He will prove Himself faithful to us. Some people battle a guilty conscience and don’t feel worthy to be a son or daughter of God, so they only accept the status of servant. We are all indeed servants of God (Rom 6:22, Eph 6:6, 1Pet 2:16, Rev 1:1, Rev 2:20, Rev 11:18, Rev 22:6). Even the apostles were still called servants (Lk 17:10, Jn 18:36, Acts 4:29, 2Cor 4:5, Phil 1:1). James was the half-brother of Jesus (Mt 13:55, Gal 1:19). James the brother of John was killed in Acts 12:2. It is generally understood that the James referred to after that and the author of the book of James is the Lord’s brother. Yet James starts his epistle with, “James the servant of God”. After the second coming of Christ and the millennial kingdom, the residents of New Jerusalem will still be called servants (Rev 22:3). So, we can be both servants and children of God at the same time. However, we need to learn to embrace sonship and what it means or our relationship with God will be incomplete. Some people shy away from childhood to God because they know the privileges also come with added responsibility. There is more given to sons, but there is also more expected. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more (Lk 12:48).” The fear of God is the only healthy fear there is, yet it is not meant to drive us away from God but toward Him. It is good to realize we are not capable of fulfilling spiritual responsibility on our own (Jn 15:1-16). Without Him we can do nothing. Yet the Lord did not say, “I am the vine. Do nothing”. We just need to remember that He is the source and we need to abide in Him to be productive and successful.
We need to exercise enough faith to enter into the fulness of what God has promised us. Part of the blessings promised to Christians is an inheritance (Acts 20:32, Acts 26:18, Eph 1:11-18, Col 1:12, Col 3:24, Heb 9:15, 1Pet 1:4). Thanks to Jesus, we have access to God and His resources as His children. We need to accept more than just servanthood. We need to embrace sonship. We do not have to wait for eternity to do this. Now are we the sons of God (1Jn 3:1-2). Yet we need to go through the “tutelage” before we inherit all the aspects of being the children of God when the Lord returns for us (1Cor 15:51-58, 1Thes 4:13-18). For the children of God, the best is yet to come. The prodigal wanted his inheritance now (Lk 15:12). He did not want to finish the process and wait for the proper time. Demas was a companion of Paul, but he departed from him “having loved this present world (2Tim 4:10)”. We need to remember that God has promises for this life, but the best ones are for the next one (1Tim 4:8). Being a child of God is great now, but that is only the down payment or deposit of the inheritance yet to come (Eph 1:14).