The Word of God is powerful and capable of bringing monumental change to the lives of those who heed it and the world at large. The Bible, which is the Word, compares it to a sword.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. - Hebrews 4:12In the above verse, the comparison is meant to illustrate how profound the impact can be when someone encounters the Word. It is interesting that the verse mentions a “double-edged” sword in particular. We commonly use double-edged swords as metaphors to describe something else. Typically, we are saying that something is capable of both helping or hurting depending on how its used.
That more commonly used sword-based metaphor is also true for God’s Word. We as Christians believe the Word can save. That is God’s purpose for his Word. It was written to give us knowledge of his Son and understanding of salvation among other things. Unfortunately, when God put his Word in the hands of Man, it also gained the ability to hurt and destroy. That certainly was not God’s purpose for his Word, but the sinfulness of Man made it so nonetheless.
This happens to be Black History Month. Sadly, slavery happens to be a prominent part of the history of blacks in America. It is impossible to discuss the African American experience without mentioning it. The legacy of slavery in America may be one of the best examples of the double-edged nature of the application of God’s word. Have you ever wondered why Christianity is so strongly embedded in the African American community? After all, it was not widely practiced among the West Africans from which most African Americans possibly descended. On top of that, Christianity was the predominant religion of the people that put those Africans in bondage. Why would they have adopted it as their religion, and why would it have remained so strong in the community after all these years? An article in Christian Today offers some insight:
The question that remains is why. Why did enslaved Africans embrace the religion of their captors, who used the Bible to justify the brutal trans-Atlantic slave trade?The slaves found hope in the Bible and Jesus in particular. The Word offered hope of salvation both for the spirit and from the trials of the world at that time. That hope is the Bible’s intended purpose. If that were the only way the Bible were used during America’s slave era, one could argue that God’s will was done. However, there was another side to the Bible’s use during that period in our history. Slave owners routinely used the Bible to justify slavery. A favorite passage of theirs was Ephesians 6:5-7.
Powery and Sadler’s simple answer is that “they fell in love with the God of Scripture.…In Christ they found salvation from their sins and reconciliation.” They conclude that though this was certainly enough, there was more to the answer. They write: In these texts they found not just an otherworldly God offering spiritual blessings, but a here-and-now God who cared principally for the oppressed, acting historically and eschatologically to deliver the downtrodden from their abusers. They also found Jesus, a suffering Savior whose life and struggles paralleled their own struggles.*
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.Paul was not promoting slavery here. He was acknowledging that it existed and instructing slaves to act in a manner befitting a child of God regardless of their situation. Some might disagree even with that sentiment. That is fine. Christians must learn to accept that everyone who hears God’s Word will not accept it. Christians must never accept others twisting God’s word to serve other purposes. The slave owners even went so far as to create a revised version of the Bible known now as the “Slave’s Bible” that contained everything that seemed friendly to the institution of slavery and removed everything against it including the whole saga of Moses taking the Children of Israel out of Egypt. The Christianity of the slave owners was so corrupt, it led Frederick Douglas to say:
Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason but the most deceitful one for calling the religion of this land Christianity…**One could argue that same dichotomy exists today. We still see the Bible being used to justify hatred, cruelty, and even murder. There is only one Christ, so there should be only one Christianity. Let us make sure that we only promote and support the real Faith. And when we wield the Bible, let us make sure that it cuts only to save as God intended and never to destroy.
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