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29th July 2012
The first two verses of 1 Timothy 6 can be difficult for us to understand, because when we see the word 'slaves', we are likely to think immediately of the African slave trade and/or people trafficked against their will and forced into unpaid labour or prostitution. But this text – and the Bible as a whole – does not advocate this type of slavery at all!
Andrew Wilson, who is based at King's Church Eastbourne and spoke here in Hastings recently, has written about how we can easily see from the Bible that forced slavery is wrong. (Click here to read his post.) Jesus said that he came to preach the good news and release the captives (see Luke 4 and Isaiah 61), so we know that he was against forced entrapment. But in contrast to our understanding of slavery, in Jesus' day and culture, it was a choice (like working as a servant or butler is today), it was temporary and it came with significant legal protections. (For an interesting debate on the word 'slavery' in the Bible, click here.)
But in the opening verses of 1 Timothy 6, Paul is not addressing which form of slavery is right or wrong – rather he is addressing how we, as followers of Jesus, are to respond to those in authority over us ('masters', in the passage, but today we can apply this to our bosses and group/team leaders).
In one sense we are all slaves: the Bible tells us that we were once slaves to sin, but now we are slaves to righteousness and to God (see Romans 6). Instead of being 'yoked' to sin – pulled along with it, following its direction – we are now 'yoked' to Christ. We have a new identity, a new security, and an inheritance to come. We belong to a loving master, our Father in heaven, who says, "…you are no longer a slave, but a son" (John 15:15).
The purpose of the apostle Paul's instructions in 1 Timothy 6 is to speak into the attitudes that we can so easily develop. We can often decide how to respect and respond to our bosses and those in authority over us by how they treat us, but we are called to a higher standard: we are called to respect them and work for them as if we are working for Jesus (Ephesians 6:5-8). Of course, we are also called to stand up against injustice (Micah 6:8), so this isn't saying we turn a blind eye to mistreatment. But we also don't fight fire with fire. We value all people. Regardless of who they are and what they have done, our responsibility is to reflect Jesus and be 'salt and light'.
Jesus has set us an example so that we can follow in his footsteps: "'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.' When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly…" (1 Peter 2:22-25). Whatever we face – whether it's being honoured or mistreated, whether it's joyful or difficult – let's always ask ourselves, 'What would Jesus do?'
Verses: 1 Timothy 6:1-2
Food for thought:
Posted by Santino Hamberis