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Wednesday: Slaves of Christ — 17 Comments

  1. Don’t work hard only when your master is watching and then shirk when he isn’t looking; work hard and with gladness all the time, as though working for Christ, doing the will of God with all your hearts. Remember, the Lord will pay you for each good thing you do, whether you are slave or free. Eph 6:6-8

    Today we carry a lot of baggage when reading these texts and we hear comments that "Paul should have said ..." and so on. But this is a first-century pastoral letter, not a twenty-first-century protest rally. Given that quite a few of his intended audience were slaves or bonded workers what was he going to say to them; "Rise up and fight?" No, he tells them to work as though they are working for Christ.

    In my teaching days, we had "Integrated Faith and Learning" workshops. We were supposed to look at the subjects we taught and work out how we could share our faith. Some teachers went to great lengths to connect their field of study with faith, but I was teaching COBOL programming at the time. How do you integrate COBOL programming with the Christian faith? Then I hit on the big idea. It had nothing to do with the subject matter. It was about how I taught, not the subject that I was teaching. Integrating faith and learning was about expressing my relationship with Jesus by the way that I taught and interacted with my students,

    And in this passage, Paul is not preaching emancipation for bonded workers. He was teaching how to integrate faith and living. That message is still relevant today.

  2. Yesterday, I was questioned about my thoughts on the Lesson. I had the opportunity to (try) explain what I felt. Suddenly, today, the author finishes repeating the exact same words: "Context!" What is the context of these messages to you? Today, it is all about a new perspective on LOVE. Paul is so eloquent that he transforms this slave-master relationship into something beautiful! Because for that time, dealing with this reality was definitely not easy! (Enslaved people are property). Paul, compelled by his love for Christ, displays such a noble way out of this terrible materiality. "Be slaves of Christ," he says, a Lord that loves! And "offer your bonds to Him in love, too!" The "trip" is through the inside perspective. LOVE starts from within!

  3. Whatever situation we find ourselves in let’s work to the best of our ability to honor Christ first and foremost.

    A loving and loveable Christian who cheerfully does their work (whether slave or free) is one of the best arguments in favor of Christianity. (My paraphrase of Ministry of Healing pg. 470)

  4. The picture for the lesson today depicts breaking the chain of sin. We will have to put on our imagination caps and draw a picture of slaves of Christ without a chain, clinging to Christ for righteousness, bound by a free will love that passeth no understanding. A love obtained by experiencing a relationship that was sparked by recognizing that our Heavenly Father is the source of life, of wisdom, and of joy. Our Father loves us so much that He sent His Son to die in our stead, a propitiation, or if you prefer an atonement for our sins.
    Genesis 15:6
    1John 4:9
    Galatians 1:4

  5. In the lesson for yesterday and today, Paul clearly does not condemn slavery. However, in last week's lesson he stated that wives should only submit to their husband, ‘As it is fit in the Lord’ [Colossians 3:18]. Is there a contradiction here? How should we answer a question such as this one?

    • Paul does not condone slavery either. In Roman society it was the way it worked and Paul wrote with idea of providing pastoral care. After having read quite a bit about 1st century slavery I am not entirely convinced that in the twenty-first century we have learned all that much. One does not need to dig very far to find exploitation, people smuggling, foreign workers, illegal immigrants, sex slaves, and so on. Current affairs programs frequenly expose exploitation schemes, only to have them start up again elsewhere. Paul pastored these people as is evidenced by his correspondence with Philemon.

      And in the case of the husband and wife submission we need to read the whole passage, not just the bit that jars our twenty-first century sensitivities. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;" was a radical statement in a society where you bought your wife and tried to get a bargain.

      We need to let Paul speak in the 1st century so that the principles translate meaningfully through 20 centuries of change.

  6. God condemns everything horrible. Slavery does not have to be a violent, abusive, murderous, act/institution. Paul makes that clear as he describes the proper institution as unto the Lord. The Exodus is still proof that God condemns hate disguised as slavery.

  7. Comparing myself to a slave is a stretch, but over the years I've had some challenging bosses. I'm a sensitive soul and my nature is to worry about them - what they think, whether I'll upset them and so on. Yesterday and today's lesson emphasized to me that I don't need to worry about that because I'm really serving God. And if I have that mentality, I think I may do work that wins their favor, in most cases. As for the rest, I guess we leave them to God.

  8. I am saddened and appalled by this week's lesson and how it was addressed. It was tone deaf in its approach especially during this time. It is difficult to preach to a culture that has been enslaved, especially when the slave masters used the bible to justify their actions. How do we justify the treatment and abuse that they endured? I understand the context of the lesson and that it addressed the situation at the time however it didn't make it right. It still doesn't. It is easier to read or write about the dark moments of slavery in history when it doesn't apply to your ancestors. For those whose ancestors were slaves and still endure blantant racism today, this lesson missed the mark terribly.

    • I appreciate your concern and understand your pain. Nothing excuses evil. Slavery, the holocaust, the convict settlement of Australia, the treatment of Australian Aborigines, the persecution of the Middle Ages, the Apartheid of South Africa, the killing fields of Cambodia were all dispicably evil, and much of it was done on the basis of twisted interpretations of scripture. The fact that people and organisations can convince themselves that such acts are blessed by God is incomprehensible. And yet it happens and it keeps on happening. Satan has ingrained his mind into the minds of men and women to the extent the evil appears to them as good.

      I visited Norfolk Island, one of the worst penal colonies in the whole sordid story of the Australian convict period. Early one morning, I stood in the cemetery where so many convicts chose death rather than face the wretched cruelty of their jailers. I read their gut-wrenching stories against a background of hollow justification from those who has ordered their transport to this place on the opposite side of the earth. While I was there, the sun rose in the east slanting its light across the mound where so many convicts were buried. The gate at the eastern end of the cemetery was open wide and the sun shone through the gap. And in that moment I knew that Jesus understood and he had opened the gate wide for those who had suffered so much.

      I don't understand depravity, but I know that Jesus understands suffering and he opens the gate wide!

    • I think your perspective is very real and a lot of Christians will have a lot to answer for. The slavery that many endured throughout history is much like the brutality that the Israelites lived through in Egypt and which God freed them from.

      I am a descendant of the "enslavers" (well, not really, but I am of European heritage so I know there's a lot of bad history in my heritage), so I probably wouldn't relate the way some might to the lesson, but I actually thought it pretty strongly condemned slavery. Here are some expressions I noticed, "evils of slavery" (Sabbath), "inexcusable evil" "God will judge and condemn slaveholders" "stains on Christian history" (Tuesday), "trapped in this horrific institution" (Wednesday) and "they will be judged - by God" (Thursday). I suspect this strong language might not have been there 50 or 100 years ago, so I feel that is a positive.

      Whether we like this counsel or not, it is in the Bible and I don't feel we could skip over it and do justice to Ephesians. I also believe Paul knew that only true heart change can fix evil institutions. If a slave owner of Paul's time really reflected on this counsel, I suspect he would soon no longer have slaves. When Ephesians 6:9 says "in the same way", it's clear that the slaves are to be treated with respect and fear too. That's revolutionary. And when you start treating people that way, soon you will realize that you have no business owning anyone. The Sabbath has that same power as everyone is equal on the Sabbath. And if you're equal on the Sabbath, soon you will be equal on all the other days.

      Social movements have come and gone. They make some changes but not lasting, true change, it seems. As you say, slavery may be gone but racism is not. The problem, I think, is that the movements don't start at the grassroots, at the heart. As Christians, we can do this through Christ's transformation and make a huge difference in our society and I feel this week's lesson can help us do this.

  9. When researching the distinctions of servant, bondservant, and slave for Tuesday’s comment, I learned the distinction between them.
    Bond servant and slave are not the same. It is clear to me that I am not a ‘slave’ for or of Christ. I am a bondservant, purchased for a price; having freely accepting the purchase price – 1Cor.6:20.
    I am still free to either be on my own again or remain bonded to my Lord and Savior unto all eternity. We have our life in Jesus Christ - having given up our life to be a servant to His cause to open the eyes of the blind and so show us the Glory of His Father.
    To be in bonds to Jesus makes one free indeed – John 8:12-36.

  10. So I'm from the younger generation and this tends to be a major point of conflict when witnessing...why does God condone slavery? Even though it was written by man and thru their personality, it essentially is God's word which is why we call it the living word. I understand that one of the main arguments is that God was trying to instill a better way of treatment in regards to slaves thru believers; but, when you read some of the requirements...how is that better? For instance, where a man slave can be free but if he married and had kids, they cannot go free with him? They are property of the slaveowner.

    It many instances, it sounds like condoning because there is no outright "turn away from this or this is an abomination to me". God has outright condemned many things, but why tap dance around this? Him condemning does not guarantee that people will comply, but what it does do is set a standard and provide no possibility for misinterpretation, which we all know has happened to the extreme. No slavemaster could have created an abridged version of the bible to try and control his slaves with word of God which is beyond sick. Clearly, they could have created other reasons of doing so, but the bible couldn't have been an option.

    In other instances, like with the children of Israel, God frees them because He states He's heard their cries, but then proceeds to give rules for slavery in Deuteronomy that seem questionable. So then the bible seems somewhat contradictory and I know they say it's a matter of study, but sometimes I just don't come up with a reasonable explanation.

    At the end of the day, I know that God is just and right and true, but sometimes it's really hard to convince people of that based on the bible. People today don't have any tolerance for disingenuity or what may appear to be so and I won't lie, there's instances where the bible seems to come across that way. When people have questions like this, I don't have answers for them. Zip, zilch, nada. I don't know what the answer is, but felt the need to make this comment (since I never comment). I guess you just have to pray for the Holy Spirit to change hearts and leave it in God's hands.

  11. This issue is a tough one to explain. There are definitely laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy that don't seem right and are hard to explain. I guess for me, I see God meeting people where they are. I see that in terms of how women are treated and the slavery issue in the OT. God could have said no slavery, but given how ingrained it was in the society of the time, that counsel would likely not have been followed. Let's face it, Israel didn't do a good job following many of God's counsels, so I think He knew it was wisest to regulate slavery, women's rights etc. and gradually lead people into a better way, a way that is ultimately demonstrated in the life of Jesus. Ultimately, slavery is somewhat like polygamy - when we look at the whole Bible, it's clear it's not God's plan.

    For me, when I look at the Sabbath command I see the ideal. Everyone was to rest, servants, foreigners, even animals. On that day, everyone was equal and no one could demand service so they could rest while others worked. I believe if the Sabbath had truly been kept, Israel would have gradually begun to see the dignity in others and align themselves with God's Word. Sadly they did not. But we have the same opportunity today.

    I'm not sure that helps you, but it's the best answer I can give.


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