Good morning everyone, thank you so much for listening today, my name’s Bryony and as always it’s a privilege to get to unpack today’s bit of the Bible with you.
Today’s passage is 1 Timothy 6: 1-5, I’ll read the passage at the end but to give you the spoiler, this is a slightly tricky passage at first glance. Paul is writing to Timothy and telling him that slaves who are part of the church need to respect their masters. He pushes the point with Timothy, saying these are things he should ‘insist on’.
Many inside and outside the church have used these passages to claim that Paul was pro-slavery and more than that, he was actively encouraging it in the church. Indeed, many were kept in slavery because these very passages were used to justify and even endorse it. I’m thankful that the church over the last 200 years has let the Spirit of God reveal truth about these passages. I was brought up in Hull so spent quite a lot of time studying the life of William Wilberforce, who was a Hull lad. There’s great pride in the city for this man who stood up and opposed the evils of the slave trade in the name of justice and the name of Jesus.
We read this passage with that recent history in our mind. That slavery is not something endorsed or condoned by God. Modern-day slavery is of course horribly alive and well but we now see it for the evil that it is and there are countless organisations committed to stamping it out. For the churches Paul planted, this was not the case. Slavery was an accepted, embedded part of culture. There was nothing strange, elitist, uncommon even, about owning a slave. In fact up to one-third of the population were slaves. As with much of Paul’s teaching around slaves and also women’s positions in society, he is trying to reframe the conversation, to even begin the baby-step of asking the bigger question.
Here he is addressing Christian slaves and urges them to respect their owners. His main reason behind this? ‘so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered’. Paul is saying that even slaves are part of the Kingdom work; even slaves, with their low status, have a part in furthering the Gospel. Paul’s primary reason for writing about slavery isn’t to demolish it, that would come in a later time, through other faithful men and women. Paul’s primary reason for writing is to urge the church to live as best you can in the situation they find themselves in.
Just as Daniel and Joseph in the Old Testament were both called to live as best as they could in a foreign land, to honour their leaders and oppressors, Paul wants to church to be a witness, even in the difficult places, the unfair places.
So what does that mean for us today?
Well the call is the same for us as those 1st Century Christian slaves. We are to live the best we can in the situation we are in, for God’s ultimate glory. Of course this isn’t to say we are not to challenge injustice or remove ourselves from destructive situations and people, we can and should do that. What this is pointing to is living in this moment well. To not crying ‘it’s not fair’ or ‘I want out’. But to ask the question ‘what would living well in this moment look like?’.
Maybe it looks like honouring a difficult boss, maybe it’s saying ‘I was wrong’ to a spouse, maybe choosing to speak well of those in authority over you. Maybe the simple act of choosing to view the day as an opportunity rather than starting the day with a grumble could really change things. Life will throw us difficult moments, challenging situations and downright unfairness but you and I have a choice in how we respond. Like our brothers and sisters in the early church we can choose to honour God in the battle, to see opportunity over disappointment and write a new story about what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus in this moment.
Thank you Jesus that you call us to serve you even in unexpected and challenging times. Help us to see those places where we could honour you and others today.
READING: 1 Timothy 6:1-5
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. 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.
These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.