While we celebrate the abolition of slavery and the work of such men as William Wilberforce we may fail to recognise the level of personal slavery that millions of people live in.
Michael Apted’s recent movie, Amazing Grace, starring Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce and Albert Finney as John Newton, celebrates one significant step in removing the scourge of slavery from the western world. Sadly, as the movie reveals, it was not any high moral impetus that won the day but a trick of legal restriction on certain types of shipping. Economic complications were the agency used to stop the English engagement in slavery.
But slaves were still traded by other nations and unscrupulous operators masked their slave trade by implied agreement from those they took captive. Thus Pacific Islanders were taken to Australia’s Queensland cane farms long after slavery was ‘removed’.
The point of this posting, however, is not the evils of enslavement of others against their will, but the personal choice to be slaves, by the personal will of those who would be slaves.
It’s an absurd proposition, isn’t it? Why would free people seek out the chance to be slaves? Surely no-one does such things.
Personal Slavery is Endemic
Personal slavery is not only something that happens, it is endemic. It is almost an addiction: a madness which captures the imagination of generations, drawing them into voluntary slavery.
For all I know YOU may be one of those who is drawn into slavery.
What is worse than the initial slavery itself is that people who have been slaves and then been set free are in danger of willingly submitting to slavery all over again.
The Apostle Paul actually wrote about the issue in his famous letter to the church in Galatia. He tells the people to stand firm in their newfound freedom and not to be enslaved again.
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1
Drawn to Slavery
Believe it or not free people are drawn back to slavery. Whether you put that down to foolishness or some kind of addiction to slavery, it is a factor that we all need to recognise. It is a reality that impacts society. People are drawn into slavery.
Paul spoke of this slavery to things in another letter, this time to the believers in Colosse. He challenged their willingness to come under rules and regulations which free people do not need to be under.
“So, if you are dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?” Colossians 2:20-22
Paul knew that Christians are not slaves to rules and regulations like others in the world and he wanted the church in Colosse to be free from the imposition of such rules upon them.
That church in Colosse, which was full of free people, was in danger of throwing away some of its freedom and coming into slavery to rules and regulations.
Bullied into Slavery
Imagine the scenario where some people wish to bring others under their rules and regulations. A free person resists, but then finds that others are rebuking them and pressuring them to be like everyone else.
It’s just that easy to make slavery into a popular idea.
That is what was happening to the church in Colosse.
God Sets People Free
Jeremiah the prophet struggled to show God’s people that God had set them free from slavery and that they had gone straight back into sin which enslaved them.
“For of old time I have broken your yoke (of slavery), and burst your chains; and you said, I will not transgress; when upon every high hill and under every green tree you wander, playing the harlot (being unfaithful to God).” Jeremiah 2:20
The Israelites worshipped idols on every elevated place and under the groves of trees, committing spiritual unfaithfulness, even though God had broken the yoke of Egyptian slavery off their lives and broken the chains of other things which bound them.
These people were drawn to slavery and were determined to be slaves, despite the fact that they had once been slaves and then been set free.
Iniquity is the Issue
The problem for the Children of Israel is the same problem for us all. It is iniquity which draws us into slavery. See what Jeremiah added to his warning just a few verses later.
“For though you wash yourself with nitre, and use much soap, yet your iniquity is marked before me, says the Lord GOD.” Jeremiah 2:22
Cleaning up your image doesn’t change the condition of your heart. Iniquity in your heart will enslave you and bring you back into bondage. You will have a heart to be a slave unless you deal with the sin that is within you.
So, are you a free man, or a slave? Worse still, are you one of those who heads back into slavery once you have been set free?