How Can This Message of Respect Apply to Modern Life? (1 Timothy 6:1-2a)Nov 12, 2023
All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2 Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.
How should we, in our western culture, be thinking about a passage on the relationship between slaves and their masters?
One way is to take it at face value for Timothy and others who would have read these words in the first century. In fact, that's always the best way to understand and interpret Scripture: What did it mean to those to whom it was written?
So Paul tells Timothy to tell those who are slaves and who are in the church, as followers of Christ, to "consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God's name and our teaching may not be slandered." It doesn't say "your masters are worthy of full respect." It says consider them as if they are. Act in such a way that it shows your respect for them. Be respectful. Much like the attitude that all believers are expected to show toward anyone in authority - church leaders, government leaders, kings, presidents, spouses, and masters.
Not long ago, Elsie and I were watching an American news commentary show, and the host referred to Canada's Prime Minister as a "buffoon." Another called Joe Biden "President Sippy-cup." Whether you agree with their opinions or not, there is no respect. Again, Paul says to show respect - consider them worthy of not only some respect, but FULL respect. No holding back. Toward slave-owners.
As an aside, in recent days, I've been hearing about the friendship between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, which may have been more responsible for Lincoln's drive to end slavery in the US than any other single factor. One comment said that the greatest tragedy in American history was when John Wilkes Booth killed the President. Otherwise, the respect and determination which these two friends would have brought to the post-Civil War US would have been dramatic in the advancement of respect between the black and white races.
Slaves, treat your owners as if they deserve your full respect. And if your owner is a fellow believer, show them even more respect! As fellow believers love one another, treat your master as someone you love. Their obligation as Christians who are slave-owners is to be "devoted to the welfare of their slaves."
This is a strange concept to us - Christians owning slaves? How is that okay?
When we look into the teaching of the Old Testament, we see that there are very specific ways in which someone could become a slave, but to put it simply, it was always temporary. If a man got into debt, one way out of it was to become an indentured servant for a period of time until the debt was paid off. If you study Exodus 21, Deuteronomy 15, and Leviticus 25, you will get some of the detail of how the system worked. But of course, we know that the system doesn't always work. I don't believe it ever says, "The way the economy of my chosen people is to work involves enslaved people." Rather, it says that within this part of the economy, treat slaves properly. Nowhere do we see the practice of slave-trading as being encouraged or promoted. Today, International Justice Ministry (IJM) under the leadership of Gary Haugan is actively involved around the world in rescuing young women from the sex-slave industry, and in getting both laws and minds changed. The movie "Sound of Freedom" that was released this summer told the story of Tim Ballard, and his efforts to save 55 children and 68 adults from sex slavery. It's makes us sick when we learn of smuggling young girls and children for the purpose of selling them as sex slaves. Just one more sign that our world is inherently sinful, almost beyond our imaginations.
Sooner or later, we have to look at a passage of Scripture like this and ask the question, "What does that have to do with me? I'm not a slave, and I don't own slaves."
I guess the functional equivalent has to do with employment, whether you are the employee or the employer. Treat one another with respect.
Here's how Paul puts it in his letter to Ephesus:
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 favor 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, 8 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 favoritism with him. (Eph. 6:5-9).
And in these days, Americans are being faced with the challenge of historical oppressors (who tend to be white) and the historically oppressed (who tend to be black). In Canada, our history would point toward the indigenous community as the oppressed, especially in light of news about the number of children who died in residential schools over the decades. It doesn't matter which side of our border you are on - these are all uncomfortable conversations.
So let's keep coming back to the essence of what Paul is saying here:
Are or were your people being oppressed? Respect the oppressor.
Are or were your people oppressing others? Respect the oppressed.
That really sounds like "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."