Pray: Humbly ask God for wisdom. Ask Him to teach you as you read the following section of the Bible.
Read: Ephesians 6:5-9
Slavery. To steal a phrase from Dean, I want to LMNOP the snot out of this passage. It’s easy to gloss over passages like this and move on. Lets just go back to talking about my kids obeying. That’s a lot more fun, right? No?
There were similarities and differences with the American slavery we are more familiar with. It carried a vastly different social stigma and rules than we think of in American slavery. In Italy it is estimated that somewhere between 35-45% of the population were slaves. I’ve seen estimates well over 50% in the city of Rome itself. People would become slaves for a variety of reasons; they might be foreigners conquered in war, some would be put into slavery to pay off a great debt, they might even sell themselves into slavery, they might be born as slaves, or they might be put into slavery as a punishment for a crime. Slaves were not all unskilled laborers, it was common to have household managers, accountants, teachers, philosophers, physicians, soldiers and other educated or skilled labor as slaves. Slaves could own property, they could even own other slaves, earn wages, and buy their freedom. There was also a very dark side to slavery, where slaves would be beaten and mistreated, used as prostitutes and worse. Basically slavery in the ancient world could range from the equivalent of a cushy job to horribly brutal and oppressive slavery.
The apostle Paul speaks into this culture and practice with difficult words for both the slave and the master. He addresses the slave first, telling them to obey their masters as to Christ, do their work as to Christ, please their masters as to Christ, and do it all with a good attitude as they would to Christ. To masters, Paul says they are to treat their slaves with the same attitude, not to threaten them, and to realize that ultimately they are not their master, but Jesus Christ is, and both are slave and subject to His rule and authority. God will show no favoritism or preference based on our social standing and position. The slave is just as valuable and loved as the free man.
Paul’s words are both affirming and subversive. First, he directly addresses the slave in his letter, not a message to the masters to bring back home to their slaves. The New Testament letters were read aloud to the congregation for all to hear and slaves would have been an equal part of that. Paul basically tells the masters that they are no longer the owner, Christ is. The slave does not serve the master, he serves Christ. The slave does not seek to please the master, he seeks to please Christ. The slave does not merely obey the master, he obeys Christ. The master is not even to threaten his slave, but treat him as a fellow slave and brother in Christ. Brutal, harsh treatment, selling into prostitution, or use for any immoral or illegal act are obviously prohibited.
Don’t miss the enormity of what Paul is saying here! We live in a culture where everyone and every thing tells us who we are, what our place is in society, and what our value and worth is. Paul puts that entire paradigm on its head by saying the very least of these is of equal value and standing before God. Those whom you work for, serve, and exercise authority over – whether you manage million dollar hedge funds, serve tables, beg for bread, or write mildly coherent commentaries – all of them are of great and equal value to God.
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”
– C.S. Lewis
1. Who do you have authority over and who has authority over you? Who is your boss? What are some practical ways this passage should change your heart, attitudes, and actions?
2. Read 1 Peter 2:18-25. What do you do when the authorities over your life are brutal and unfair? Why?
3. Read back over Chapter 5:15-6:9. What is the pattern Paul has laid out in all our relationships? (Hint: Ephesians 5:21; 22; 24; 6:1; 5 – what is the reoccurring theme?)
Memorize: Ephesians 6:9
“And masters, treat your slaves the same way, without threatening them, because you know that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him.”