Summary: This sermon addresses slaves and their masters - something we don’t have in 21st century western society. How do we apply this sermon to today’s situation?
Slaves and masters in 2010
Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at a number of relationships. We looked at the husband and wife relationship. We looked at the parent child relationship. These relationships are interesting and are marked by two features. Firstly – they are authority relationships, where one party has authority over the other and the other party is to submit. So wives submit to husbands. Children obey their parents. But they are authority relationships with a difference. Because they run counter to what we normally think of when we think of authority. When we think of authority, we think of the one having authority of using his or her authority to get his own way for his own advantage. We’ve seen that in the last few weeks with the political shananigans that have gone on and will no doubt continue.
But Jesus redefined authority. A few weeks ago we heard from Dave D’Amour who spoke to us about service. The one in authority is a servant to the one he serves. That is a radical turning around of the authority relationship. That is, the one who has authority is not more imporant that the one they have authority over. If anything it is the opposite. The one having authority has to put the needs of others before themselves! The husband is told to love His wife as Christ loves the church.
So we have this mix of authority with love. Godly authority is loving authority. And the two relationships we have looked as so far: husband and wife and parent and child, are relationships that have been ordered by God, set up by God, and in other parts of the Scripture we see that these are relationships instituted by God.
Today we look at a third authority relationship, but it is one that is quite different to the others. For while the husband wife relationship – marriage - was instituted by God,as was the parent – child relationship, the relationship we are looking at today was NOT instituted by God. The relationship we look at today is an institution of people, not God. The relationship we are looking at today is the slave-master relationship, which is definitely not a godly relationship, as we shall see.
Please open your Bibles. Look at Ephesians 6:5 and look at the first word. What is it?
“Slaves.” Who is this passage addressed to? Slaves. This is very important. Because today when we read the word “slaves” in this passage, instead of reading the “word” slaves, we often read the word, “employees.” And we re-read this passage something like this:
Ephesians 65 Employees, obey your earthly employers with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as employees of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is an employer or employee. 9 Employers, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Employer and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
So because we don’t have slaves and masters today, we read this verse as though it is directed to employers and employees.
So the first thing I want to say today is this: This passage is not directed to employees and employers. It is directed to slaves and masters. And there is a big difference between the two, a massive difference. If Paul had wanted to address employees, he would have addressed employees. But he didn’t, he addressed slaves. And perhaps we don’t understand why this such a fundamental difference between slaves and employees because we don’t have slaves today – at least in Australia we don’t. So we need to spend a few moments at looking at what slavery was like in the ancient world.
Slavery was very common in the ancient world. Paul was writing to Ephesus, a large city in what is now Turkey. Today there are just ruins but back then Ephesus was a highly developed city and one of the major cities of the Roman Empire, the vast, powerful Roman Empire. The Roman Empire covered all of the Meditterean Sea and a good part of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The population of the Roman Empire was somewhere around 50 million people. Even today that would be regarded as a high population for a country. But back then it was incredible. It was a highly efficient society with advanced government, travel and so on. Houses of middle to upper class people had plumbing, underfloor heating and other luxuries. After the fall of the Roman Empire these luxuries, this advanced stage of civilisation was not seen again until about 100-150 years ago. What brought about our current advanced civilisation of the last 100-150 years? The industrial revolution. Machines. The internal combustion engine. Things that can do menial tasks and that increased our efficiency many times over.