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The Other Part of the Sermon…

This Sunday we were able to preach on Ephesians 6:1-4, but weren’t able to talk about Ephesians 6:5-9 at all.  And those verses are controversial.  In them, Paul addresses bondservants and their masters.  Over the years, this passage has been interpreted in many different ways.  Does it endorse slavery or destroy slavery?  Is there anything we can learn from it today?  Here are a few thoughts to consider as you study the Bible this week:

  1. Paul is certainly not endorsing slavery.  He understood the city and the people he was writing to, and he knew that slavery was not abolished yet, so he wanted to make sure both bondservants and their masters received specific instructions concerning Jesus.  That doesn’t mean he is saying there should be bondservants and masters; only that they currently existed.

  2. What Paul writes is radical.  In many ways, these verses are the seeds of truth that both then and later destroyed slavery.  Ephesians 6 isn’t Paul’s letter to his congressman; it is his letter to a church.  But the truths in it were powerful enough to blow up that form of slavery and every form of slavery since then.  Just think about this:

    1. Paul motivates the obedience of bondservants by connecting them to Christ.  Not local law.  Not any authority in their masters’ earthly position.  But Christ.  Paul refused to endorse the supposed authority of a master while still encouraging a bondservant to trust Jesus and work hard.
    2. Paul totally levels the playing field of humanity when he tells masters that they are actually slaves as well.  Slaves to Jesus!  Paul is saying that their deeper and more immanent identity wasn’t master or slave to each other, but slave and slave to Jesus!  This would be radical.  It would be empowering for a bondservant to hear and humbling for a master to hear.
    3. Paul drops corrective words on masters, telling them to clean up their behavior.  In essence, he is telling masters to treat any bondservants with the same dignity, worth, and value that they would treat themselves.
    4. Paul points to Jesus as the judge.  No master on earth escapes the judgment of Jesus in eternity.

3. One might still wonder why didn’t Paul just tell masters to release their bondservants and let them go free?  Does the Bible condone slavery?  That is a great question.  My short answer is: No, the Bible never condones or promotes slavery.  But my longer answer is to point you to 2 very helpful resources to learn more.  Sam Storms, a pastor in Oklahoma, and Matt Chandler, a pastor in Texas, have worked hard to answer this question more fully.

4. There are current day applications for us.  We can learn…

  1. That our identity is first in Christ, not in any earthly institution, no matter how sinful or pure that earthly institution is.
  2. That the way we work, even for the worst of bosses, can bring glory to Jesus.
  3. That the way we employ or manage or supervise matters to God and he will hold us accountable for the way we lead people, whether that be employees, children, or volunteers.

My prayer for Citylight Council Bluffs Church is that as we study difficult passages like this, we will be inspired to fight against the injustices of our day and empowered to honor Jesus in our jobs, our workplaces, and our leadership of others!

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