Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

February 22, 2021 – Ordinary Metaphors

Today’s Bible reading

Read Romans 6

Now that you have been set free from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness. (I’m speaking with ordinary metaphors because of your limitations.) Once, you offered the parts of your body to be used as slaves to impurity and to lawless behavior that leads to still more lawless behavior. Now, you should present the parts of your body as slaves to righteousness, which makes your lives holy. — Romans 6:18-19

More thoughts for meditation

The Common English Bible really nails the meaning of verse 18 with its parentheses. We need ordinary metaphors so we can understand this new reality, but the metaphors are certainly going to fall short. Paul is trying to describe the experience of submitting to the will of God. Or you might say, “Getting caught up in the will of God.” Or you might say, “Getting taken over by the will of God.” Or you might say “Becoming one with the will of God.” Or, in Paul’s case, you would say “Getting enslaved by the will of God.”

It is not brutal subjugation as we understand the word “slavery” today. It has the same quality of being completely given over to another as slavery. Rather than dehumanize, this sort of slavery makes us the humans we are meant to be in Christ. This is messy linguistic territory, and it is certainly not a comfortable metaphor for the 21st century. 

Some scholars have tried to make sense of Paul’s metaphor by showing the difference between the First Century Roman system of slavery and the racialized chattel slavery that made United States rich and “free” at the cost of millions of black lives, and which gave our country a generational wound that is still purulent one hundred and fifty eight years after the Emancipation Proclamation. (pu·ru·lent/ˈpyo͝or(y)ələnt/ — adjective — consisting of, containing, or discharging pus). How’s that for an ordinary metaphor!?

Most of us have a much stronger sense of being enslaved to impurity than to righteousness. Paul is trying to flip that inevitability on its head. Because of what Christ did on the cross — because of the death he died — our allegiances are transformed, our fidelity is replanted, our sense of agency has new roots — we are from God. Our life is new in Christ no matter what we say or feel. Lent is for turning toward the life we have been gifted and learning to feel a stronger sense of being enslaved to righteousness — a stronger sense of who we are and what we do because of who Christ is and what he did.

Suggestions for action

How might you describe the kind of inevitability of goodness growing in you and sprouting from you? When you are in Christ, the old you has died with him on the cross. What does the new you look like that is rising from the dead with him out of the tomb? Maybe it will help you to come up with your own ordinary metaphor — one that might feel a lot more comfortable than slavery. We don’t need to dismiss the absoluteness of the slavery metaphor, but their might be new ways to say it for now. Put one in the comments if it comes to you.

1 Comment

  1. Jonny Rashid

    There is no distinction between servant and slave in New Testament Greek. When translators encounter the term, they have to make a choice. Servant and slave mean very different things in our context, but the severity of slave offers a meaning that servant doesn’t. I like thinking of it in terms of allegiance.

    Also, the scholars who compare Roman slavery as less violent than American slavery are technically right, but Romans were brutal to slaves, nevertheless (hence, Paul’s teaching in how to treat slaves). But I think it’s clear that Paul and other NT writers didn’t have a uniform opposition to slavery that we do today.

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