Paul and slavery…


Ephesians 6:Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free. And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality. 

Interesting that the apostle Paul does not call for the abolition of slavery and other unjust social structures, but offers counsel on how Christians should live within those structures. Has me wondering why that is.

Was talking with a colleague about this recently and, while we can’t know for sure, we agreed it may have to do with Paul’s expectation of Jesus’ imminent return. I also believe Paul took his cues from Jesus himself who said the following before his death and resurrection:

28 “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28)

It’s hard not to understand this verse as meaning Jesus would return within the hearer’s lifetime. That has not proven to be the case, but given the expectation, I get why Paul and others would pick up on that theme and teach accordingly. Had Paul known it would be many centuries before Jesus returned, he may have taken a different posture in regards to slavery or patriarchy or any number of things. But he didn’t, which is one reason why it took so long for slavery to be abolished in the US and other parts of the world.

Lord Jesus you teach that we should always be ready for your return, which could be any day. In the meantime, give us grace to reflect your love for the poor and marginalized. We pray this in your most holy name. Amen.

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