June 8, 2021 – Ephesians 6:5-9 – Slavery

Click here to watch my video reflection on our text for today, or keep reading for my written reflections: 

Today’s reading is from Ephesians 6: 5-9

5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; 6 not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, 8 knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.

9 And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.

In this part of Ephesians, Paul takes time, one by one, to look at the relationships within our lives.  I often joke at this point that when he talks about slaves/masters, that is a great point to talk about our jobs and the relationships within our work lives.  Tomorrow we’ll actually look at these relationships connected to this section. 

But, before we do, I want to take a moment to talk about slavery and the bible.  I think about something my mama used to always tell me, you can take the Bible and make it defend anything that you would like to.  So, you look at a passage like this, you can say that the Bible is pro-slavery and defends this practice.  

This is why it is SO important the read the bible in context and see it as it is, a book that is meant to be understood as an unbroken whole. So, with slavery, there are passages such as this, such as the book of Philemon that paint slavery as just a norm within the Roman world, which it was.  Slavery was part of the reality of their day. Now, slavery in that context was nothing like what we know as chattel slavery within American history.  The slavery practiced within the Roman empire, especially with what the early Christians would have known would have been closer to what we may think of indentured servitude. 

We see across scripture that slaves have rights. In fact, many slaves had the freedom to gather with others, including free persons, in Christian worship.  Thus Paul says that there is neither slave nor free in Jesus, we are all one.  As interesting and as informative as that may be, here is what you need to know about slavery within scripture. 

What is the overarching movement of the Bible?  Towards freedom.  We see in the New Testament those passages reference above by Paul that there is an equality within the early church.  Slaves were part and were equal.  

That was RADICAL within the Roman world. 

By the way, what was the dominant story within the Old Testament?  The Exodus. What happens there?  God frees the slaves.  We see the law, how slaves are to be treated as people. We see in Acts that in Pentecost, the spirit will fall on slaves and free.  

You can pull a passage out, yes, and make it defend slavery. But when you look at the bible as an overarching narrative, you see the call and the push of scripture is towards freedom and equality.  We see God is at work bringing freedom. All are made in the image of God and God desires for all to know Him. 

That is the trust of scripture. And it is in that light that passages that deal with scripture should be interpreted.  

Tomorrow, we’ll look again at Ephesians 6: 5-9.

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