Summary: Slaves obey your masters...
July 25, 2010
“Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters…”
A couple weeks ago I pretended to tear pages out of the Bible to drive home the point that everything in it needs to be accepted even when we don’t understand it.
Our text this morning tells slaves to obey their masters.
I suppose we’re off the hook on this one because we did away with that a long time ago, and if this has any application it’s limited to paralleling our life at work.
But let me pose this thought: what did it mean to those in the church at the time it was written? An even harder question is what does it mean to those who are slaves today?
I have to admit, if I ever wanted to really tear a page out of the Bible it was this week. This seems to be one of those unanswerable criticisms. I saw one poster showing two men in chains on one half and two gay men holding hands on the other. The caption reads, “Guess which one the Bible’s ok with?”
[SHOW THE POSTER]
Most of the sermons and commentaries I read either glossed over the subject entirely or gave what seemed like regurgitated answers.
I think it’s important that we at least try to understand and explain this because some people are going to get hung up right here. It’s one thing to ask a wife to submit to her husband, but to tell a slave to submit to his master is something else.
How could Paul and the Bible argue for something as evil as slavery? The answer, I think, deserves some attention before we get into the message.
First, is Paul’s idea of slavery the same as ours? I don’t claim to have a solid grip on this yet, but it seems like his idea is different. The Bible condemns kidnapping anyone, and the punishment for doing so is death (Ex. 21:16).
The Israelites were allowed to buy slaves from the pagan nations around them (Lev. 25:44-45), but it seems to be because the people could no longer support themselves.
These slaves were to be treated fairly (Ex. 21:20, 26-27); in fact, they were to be loved: the Israelites themselves were slaves in Egypt for 400 years, and they were to remember this as they dealt with the aliens among them (Lev. 19:34; Deut. 10:19).
As a result, the slaves had many rights including freedom from torture and starvation and death. In some cases, the slaves even became rich enough to purchase their freedom and buy slaves of their own (Deut. 25:47).
Probably the most important fact is that Israel was required by God to be a sanctuary for escaped slaves:
You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16"He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him. (Deuteronomy 23:15-16)
This doesn’t sound like the slave-trading we’re familiar with. God didn’t command Israel to capture, transport, beat, and starve free men and women against their will. It deserves some thought.
Slavery in the New Testament is different from the Old, but it’s also very different from our own definition. If you’re interested in learning more, I’ve included a resource for you in your notes:
[SHOW THE POSTER AGAIN]
The answer to this question is “neither!” It doesn’t represent the slavery in the Bible.
The second question we need to ask is what is the purpose of Paul’s requirement for slaves to obey?
One of the main themes leading up to this point in the book describes the church as a single, unified body. Because of our unity, we’re all to submit to each other (5:21) and to the Lord.
Marriage symbolizes the church’s unity with Christ, so wives submit to their husbands like the church submits to Christ, and husbands submit to their wives in love as Christ loves the church (5:22-33).
Children are to submit to their parents and fathers are to train their children in righteousness (6:1-4). Again we see a paradigm for the Father/son relationship. We’re His children, and we obey His commands to the same extent a child obeys his father.
Finally we come to the paradigm of slaves and masters. Marriage symbolizes our unity, children show the extent of our obedience, and slaves demonstrate the attitude behind our obedience. Slaves aren’t just to obey—they’re to obey in (1) fear and trembling, (2) in sincerity of heart, and (3) with good will.
Paul’s purpose in writing this command is to demonstrate what ought to be the attitude behind every act of service for the believer.