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. 1 Timothy 6:1 (NIV).
Slavery was officially outlawed in the United States on Dec 6, 1865 when Georgia ratified the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution. That amendment was ratified in less than a year; 309 days, and only 240 days after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. Yet 154 years later, slavery is still a sore subject in America for many reasons.
Did you know that, even under slavery, black culture was the most devout, Christian culture in the nation? As a matter of fact, all through out the history of America, it is the African American community that has held closest to the core values of Christianity. That’s an amazing fact, and an amazing testament to both the power of Jesus Christ and the strength of character of good people who were subjugated but followed Jesus anyway. Today, much time in our society, especially in our popular culture, is devoted to doing what we can to make amends for the national sin of slavery, even though it ended so many generations ago. Why is that?
Perhaps the answer to that is found in re-reading verse 1. How could any people not feel the guilt of history on them when they see that those subjugated as slaves often kept Paul’s hard advice better than the advantaged population that subjugated them? Indeed, it’s a tough thing to do, considering your ‘masters’, often regarded as adversaries, worthy of respect. Yet that’s what Paul asks us to do.
Indeed, slavery was commonplace in Paul’s time. The Romans and Greeks conquered vast reaches of territory and enslaved those they conquered (if they even let them live). Every nation in history, up to that point, had practiced and known slavery. To break the cycle of hatred, Jesus commanded us to respect our masters, giving them honor as God’s representatives. A slave master God’s representative? Yes.
That is nether an acceptance nor toleration of slavery. It’s simply a way of honoring God by honoring the people put over us. Not many people in America are enslaved today; that 13th Amendment outlawed it. Yet a dishonorable truth is that slavery – human trafficking, prostitution, drug runners, even people in common workplaces – still does indeed exist in the United States. In fact, it exists in many areas of the world. We who aren’t enslaved should use our righteous position to work against slavery. And when we do encounter it, it’s up to us to remind those afflicted to give God honor in all aspects of their lives so that they may draw nearer to Him in true freedom.
For further reading: Ephesians 6:5, Titus 2:5 & 8, Colossians 3:22-24, 1 Timothy 6:2.
Lord, Your example is for us to not enslave others. Help us to honor you by honoring those above us, even our ‘masters.’