Slavery is a wicked evil that has been present on earth since the earliest of times. In this text, Paul simply is acknowledging that slavery was a fact of life in his time (and ours). There were believers who were slave-owners; Philemon is an example of this. And, there were believers who were slaves; Onesimus is an example.
Because Christians believe that scripture is not only true, but enough, Paul has something to say to people in these situations. And, while his text offends our modern sensibilities (again, slavery is evil), we must consider what his instructions mean. According to the text:
Believers who are enslaved should respect and fully serve their masters.
- Christ called his followers to be servants; in Matthew 20, Jesus told his disciples that whoever wants to be great must be a servant. What would it look like for those who were actually servants, actually slaves, to not model this? This misbehavior on the part of believers would defame both the name of God and the very teaching of Christ, which is why Paul tells us in this text that, God’s name is always on trial and the believer’s teaching is always under scrutiny.
- To tie this back in to the heart of this letter and the warning about false teachers…true ministers of the gospel don’t just proclaim a message, they must demonstrate it with their personal lives. We can preach wholeness and reconciliation all that you want, and then live it out. People all around us sit as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner of God, and our witness as false teacher and false Christian condemn Him.
Believers who are enslaved and serve masters who are believers should not expect partiality.
- The service from the slave should be even better, as those they serve are brothers and sisters in Christ. Family.
- Again, true teachers treat other believers as family. While they are to love everyone as their neighbor, those who are believers should be shown a higher regard because of Whose they are.
- Believers are to serve, without regard of who we are serving.
- The way that we serve is a reflection of what we truly believe about the gospel, not just what we say we believe, or what we say about it.
- People are looking for a reason to accuse God and to speak ill about His teaching. Our actions should not give reason for people to do this.
- We are to serve in ways that honor God because people benefit from our service. This means that our service is not to be empty or merely menial, but has purpose.
Up next: false teachers and their love of money, fame and glory (implied).