INTRODUCTION – The author of www.evilbible.com says this re: the Bible and the scourge of slavery: “Except for murder, slavery has got to be one of the most immoral things a person can do. Yet slavery is rampant throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. The Bible clearly approves of slavery in many passages, and it goes so far as to tell how to obtain slaves, how hard you can beat them, and when you can have sex with the female slaves.”
Psalm 145:8,9 says this about the God of the Old and New testaments – the same God who wrote the Old and New testaments through the minds and pens of men: “The Lord is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works.” Later in vs. 17 it says, “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds.”
So who should we believe? Well one of the passages evilbible.com uses to make its argument just so happens to be the one we are going to look at today in our ongoing series through I Timothy. So please turn in your Bibles if you will to I Timothy 6:1,2
According to www.evilbible.com both the old and new testament endorse slavery. Other critics of Christianity avow the same. So what gives? Why doesn’t Paul speak to the evils of slavery in this passage? Why doesn’t he command Timothy to help overturn it?
For the sake of time, let me offer a few observations on this controversy, and then on the intended import of this passage.
First, If you want to know how God feels about the dignity and worth of every man, woman, young person and child that has ever lived, and therefore how He feels about slavery, you do the same thing that you would do if you want to know how He feels about marriage. You turn to the creation account wherein God revealed His intentions and purposes and values for mankind – – before sin and evil began to corrupt and pervert God’s will and way.
What does He say about his creation of man and woman? Gen. 1:27 “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” This truth, this stunning high status of mankind – set humanity far apart from all the rest of God’s creation and applies to every person who would ever be conceived and/or born on the planet. This statement of man’s dignity and value was to govern all of man’s dealings with one another from then on.
Because man chose to ignore God and this guiding principle (among others), laws had to be made to lessen the carnage and oppression that came with the introduction of sin and evil in the world.
The same is true of marriage btw. When you have a moment check out Matthew 19 wherein the Pharisees try to get Jesus to OK divorce based on a provision in the law of Moses. Jesus, initially instead of addressing this law that was necessary because of the sin and evil of man, directed them straight back to the creation account in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 where God made it crystal clear that He made two distinct genders – – male and female and thus “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24). Jesus then added what everyone should have concluded after reading that verse, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
So why did Moses in Deuteronomy 24, which is the passage the Pharisees were referring to – – why did he seem to condone divorce? Well the Holy Spirit, knowing how society would degenerate and had already degenerated, and knowing that divorce was common in that day and would be in ours, directed Moses to provide some guidelines or guardrails for those who divorced. In no way did he encourage it or say it was ok. It certainly was never part of God’s original plans and intentions for mankind.
Paul is doing the same in this passage. Slavery was there to stay in greater Rome in the first century after Christ’s death and resurrection. Some of these slaves had become Christians. Some of these slave masters had become Christians. They needed to know how to please God in their present state. They needed to know what it meant to be a slave of man, and yet at the same time a member of Christ’s church, which is a people, not a building – – a people called to be much needed light and salt in the world.
Second, slavery in those days was often not like the cruel and inhumane slavery of African American people that we have sadly known in the history of our nation and the history of Britain. Often in Biblical days it was more of an economic necessity – – that is some people were desperately poor, and thus saw no other alternative for their survival other than becoming someone’s slave or servant.
Abraham evidently had a slave (probably more than one), and in a conversation with God as recorded in Gen. 15, he being childless, and yet having God’s promise of many descendants – fully expected his slave to be the heir of his estate until God corrected him. Elsewhere (in Exodus I believe) provision is made for a slave to become permanent or a slave for life – if he – the slave so desires.
A third reason why you can know the Bible obviously does not condone or encourage slavery, and instead gives many reasons why it should not be condoned is because of the impact the Bible had on two of history’s greatest reformers of the slave trade. William Wilberforce in Great Britain and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in America. Both of these men were powerfully impacted by the truth of scripture in their gallant fight to bring to an end the evils of slavery in their respective countries.
I want you to listen to some of their own words – first from William Wilberforce:
“Is it not the great end of religion, and, in particular, the glory of Christianity, to extinguish the malignant passions; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities of man; to make us compassionate and kind, and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends; and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative social and civil duties?” (asperity = harshness – rough edges, severity, abrasiveness)
“Our motto must continue to be perseverance. And ultimately I trust the Almighty will crown our efforts with success.”
Wilberforce initially was up against almost impossible odds. His was a long intense struggle with many setbacks and many critics and enemies. Why would he have put his hope in God giving him success if there was any hint in the scriptures that God was ok with slavery?
“Let everyone regulate his conduct by the golden rule of doing to others as in similar circumstances we would have them do to us, and the path of duty will be clear before him.”
“God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” (Reformation of manners = reformation of character in Old English)
“There are four things that we ought to do with the Word of God – admit it as the Word of God, commit it to our hearts and minds, submit to it, and transmit it to the world.”
“A trade founded in iniquity, and carried on as this was, must be abolished, let the policy be what it might, let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition.” It was Wilberforce’s concept of sin and evil derived from the Bible that helped him see how evil slavery was.
“And, sir, when we think of eternity, and of the future consequences of all human conduct, what is there in this life that should make any man contradict the dictates of his conscience, the principles of justice, the laws of religion, and of God?” when some of these writers of old speak of religion, they are referring to the truths and principles of Christianity
Dr Martin Luther King Quotes re: Slavery and the Bible On August 28, 1963 Dr. King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech to several hundred thousand people gathered on the Mall around the Washington Monument. Like many of Dr. King’s speeches and sermons, “I Have a Dream,” contains numerous references to Bible passages.
“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satis¬fied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mig·hty stream. Amos 5:24
“I have a dre·am today … I have a dream that one day e v e r y v a ll e y s h a l l b e e x a l t e d , every h i l l a n d m o u n t a i n ;.shall be made low-. ‘l’he rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight. ,.And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with.” Isaiah 40:4,5
“‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Quoting from the Declaration of Independence, which was based of course on the dignity and value God the Creator gave to all men, women, young people, children, and babies in the womb as seen throughout the scriptures.
A fourth reason why you can know for sure the Bible would never endorse human slavery is – Jesus’s teachings about the value of a human life compared to many sparrows – all of whom God carefully and faithfully feeds; (Matthew 10) His famous golden rule in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 7) that Wilberfoce referred to earlier; his linking “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” in the Greatest Commandment; and then defining one’s neighbor as the person you might be most likely to avoid,(Luke 10); and many other of His teachings leave no room for mistreating anyone much less supporting slavery.
So all of that to say, Paul nor any other Biblical writer would ever seek to support the practice of slavery, especially the more evil practices of it. Well if that is the case, why didn’t Paul encourage Timothy to speak out against it and to make sure those he was ministering to knew how evil it was? Or at least to prophesy to these oppressed believers that God will soon deliver them from this evil?
Well one reason is a very practical one. And that is the nature of slavery in biblical days. William Barclay, the late great Scottish New Testament scholar of the 1900’s says this of slavery in Paul’s day: “In those early days the church did not emerge as the would-be destroyer of slavery by violent and sudden means. And it was wise they didn’t. There were something like 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire. Simply because of their numbers they were always regarded as potential enemies. If ever there was a slave revolt it was put down with merciless force, because the Roman empire could not afford to allow the slaves to rise.” And he goes on to describe how merciless their methods of punishment were.
That’s the practical reason. Here is the strategic one. Revolts and rebellions and strikes do not change hearts. Laws even do not change hearts. Laws help us see how desperately our hearts need changed. But they have no power to transform us.
God’s kingdom method is to bring transformation to the hearts and minds of first His people, and then to the rest of society through the saving and cleansing blood of Jesus. Laws are important. But without the transformation of hearts and minds, they only resist evil a bit; ….. they can never remove or heal evil or transform those who are evil.
So back to our passage for today – vs. 1 & 2.
Because Paul’s primary purpose in this first letter to Timothy was to help him and everyone he had influence over in the church to and I quote “…know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”I Tim. 3:15 – – Because that was his purpose – – Paul’s primary concern was not the evils of slavery, but rather the godliness of slaves, who knew the Savior. While these slaves may have been mistreated and oppressed under the heavy “yoke” of their masters, their attitudes and behavior in the midst of that mistreatment were crucial for the advancement of the gospel of Christ. Specifically how they regarded their masters would determine whether “the name of God and our doctrine would be spoken against” or not.
Now Jesus Christ loved every one of these Christian slaves dearly. But there was something more important than their personal comfort and that was how non Christian masters and owners of Christian slaves viewed the God these slaves claimed to know and follow – – not to mention all of the other people who observed their character and conduct.
Have you ever noticed how non Christians – even though they reject Christ and seemingly want nothing to do with the church – innately know that a Christian should act like a Christian? Somehow they hold us to a higher standard of conduct and morality; and when we fail to live up to that standard, our fleshly carnal character is a stumbling block to their salvation.
In vs. 2, Paul’s concern is still the behavior of Christian slaves, but this time – slaves who have Christian masters. Paul knowing well the deceptiveness of sin and the weakness of our flesh wanted to make sure slaves who were believers knew that having a Christian master was not an excuse to take longer breaks during your work day so you can meditate on whatever scriptures you might have access to, or pray longer, or counsel a fellow Christian slave, or perhaps even catch up on some much needed sleep. No quite the opposite! Because the fruit of a Christian slave’s work in this case goes to a Christian master, they were to all the more work heartily and diligently. They were to take great delight in being able to bless their believing master. Seeing their master prosper was to be something they strived for without envy or jealousy.
So what is the overriding principle here: While God loves each of His children dearly, and while He wants only the best for us, of even greater concern during our short time on this earth is that our conduct and attitude causes those around us to think well of the God we serve, and to think well of His will and ways – or of Christian doctrine. Especially when we are in difficult and perhaps unjust or oppressive circumstances – – and especially when we are being watched and observed by people who do not yet know Jesus – – God’s concern is that our attitude and conduct is such that it does not in any way cause people to stumble over what God is like and what the teachings of the scriptures are like.
Our problem is we know God is a deliverer. We know He is our deliverer. We know He has delivered His people throughout human history from suffering and trials. And if you have known and walked with Him for a decent period of time, you yourself have experienced some of His deliverances. So when we find ourselves in difficult, even oppressive circumstances, we naturally cry out to Him to deliver us. But sometimes there are greater issues and purposes at work.
Joshua mentioned this when he preached the first chapter and noted that Paul had to command Timothy to remain in Ephesus (1:3) Ephesus evidently was full of divisive men, who were a royal pain in the butt for this young pastor and apostle. It is very likely after having to deal with them for perhaps months or years that Timothy concluded that it would be more strategic for him to minister elsewhere. Paul saw through that natural tendency and urged him to dig his heels in and not flee to seemingly greener pastures.
Now to make sure we get this principle, I want you to turn with me to I Cor. 7:17-24. Vs. 17 “Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches.” What manner is he speaking of? Well let’s read on –
Vs. 18, 19 “Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.” Evidently there were new Christians in Corinth who thought perhaps changing their circumcision status would aid or enhance God’s blessing or presence. Paul assured them that was not the case.
Vs. 20 “Each man must remain in that condition (literally “calling’) in which he was called.”
Again the tendency for new believers in Corinth was to think what would really make a difference in their life was some change of their life circumstances. Could that even apply to the evils and hardships of slavery?
Vs. 21 “Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.” Obviously Paul in his heart wanted everyone to be free of slavery. If there was some clear route to that freedom made possible by God’s power and intervention, then great! Otherwise trust God and learn to see what He is doing in your suffering and hardships.
Vs. 22, “For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.” Slaves in the worst of circumstances, who saw no hope for their freedom from their masters, by God’s grace and power were able to experience a level of freedom from sin, from fear, from their past, that was priceless and beyond any human price tag. There is no human condition, no matter how awful that can keep us from experiencing the freedom of heart and soul and spirit that is ours in Christ. Then for those of us who are free from any kind of human slavery, we should still see ourselves as slaves of Christ. Vs. 23 tells us why.
Vs. 23 “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.” Only Jesus Christ, the Son of God, fully God and fully man, who never knew sin, could pay a price that our Holy, Righteous and just God would accept. He did that on a criminal’s cross. He alone deserves our allegiance and devotion. Now if you were a slave back then, and reading or more likely hearing this letter read, you could do nothing about the fact that you were a slave to a human master. But you could by the power of the Spirit, keep this human master from determining the course of your life. While your body had to day after day fulfill the wishes and demands of your human master, you could experience freedom in your spirit by walking with your God, listening to and heeding His voice, and believing only what He said about your life, your future, and your value.
Vs. 24 “Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.” Paul is not saying slavery is good. God through this passage is not saying an ongoing oppressive extremely difficult circumstance in your life is good. But He is saying, until He chooses to remove and deliver you from that circumstance, yours is to remain in it and to strive to experience His sufficient grace and His freeing satisfying presence despite it.
Two pastoral conclusions:
1. Some of us need to dig our heels in and learn a little more about steadfastness and endurance in our suffering for the sake of the kingdom and glory of God. And at the same time, not listening to the devil’s lies that our suffering means God does not really love us or care about us. He deeply loves you and cares about you. The Psalmist in my psalm yesterday (Psalm 40) said that God’s thoughts toward us in any given day are too numerous to count.
2. Some of us need to come along side and support, encourage and comfort those who need to dig their heels in. When you are in the midst of a long term intense time of suffering and unending difficult that God in His goodness and wisdom is choosing not to deliver you from, it really seems at times like He hates you, or could care less about your own needs and desires. We know better theologically and intellectually. But sometimes exhaustion takes its toll on our felt theology. And we need help from a trusted brother or sister to recover it.
Prayer for each