I don’t think there has been a year quite like this year in my lifetime. The pandemic and then issues like identity and race have become a very important discussion point in our society and Churches.
If this is the Apostles household code then it is at first reading uncomfortable reading. Words like submission cause a reaction, obedience in the home between children to their parents have also responses of the many horrible stories of abuse and now slavery? Surely Paul will call for the emancipation of slaves? It doesn’t even appear the thought had crossed his mind.
I think perhaps Paul is not trying to devise a new way of life but how the Spirit would help us in the one we are in.
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.” Ephesians 6 v 5-9.
Slavery seems to have been universal at this time. There are estimates of up to 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire. Many were well-treated and many were abused. They included not only domestic slaves and manual labourers but educated people as well. Nobody challenged this constitution.
Paul is not looking to a new world but with the filling of the Spirit our lives are then changed and charged with purpose so that whatever we are doing we are really serving Christ. Behind their master is Christ, maybe hard to imagine, but the Spirit can help you find the face of Christ even in the worst of places.
But again, slaves have rights according to Paul. Masters are given 3 principles to live by:
- Do the same as slaves. That is if you hope to receive respect then show it; if you hope to receive service then give it.
- Don’t threaten. They are not to misuse their position of authority.
- Realise that Jesus is the Master. He is over them as much as they are over the slaves.
The Spirit impacts our church relationships, our marriages, our homes and our work places. That’s why we need to go on being filled.