Some of you may have heard your children or grandchildren react to something said or something on TV with the word “cringe.” It’s to cause feelings of embarrassment or awkwardness, to shrink, shirk, or wince, reacting bodily. If you are a fan of the sitcom, “The Office,” the character of Michael Scott plays on that to comedic effect. Yet, not everyone finds cringe so funny. And sometimes, for various reasons, folks look at passages of Scripture and find them cringy as well.This is one of those passages.
Given our history, any talk about bondservants/slaves and masters leaves us with an odd taste in our mouth. In fact, a superficial reading of this passage without understanding Paul’s aim here will look bad and then move on. But let’s make sure we get some things right.As we’ve seen over the last two weeks, Paul has dealt with what some commentators call “household codes,” learning about the roles of wives, husbands, children, and fathers. This paragraph of Ephesians 6:5-9 will feel a bit uncomfortable, given our troubled history of past and present. We’ve learned much about slavery, but also in our day with sex trafficking of young girls that happens in the shadows of our major cities all over the world, Christians have long stood against the enslavement of human beings.Yet, we also see how Christians in the past used the Bible for their own self-righteousness to justify the enslavement of other imagebearers.
So, for us, Paul’s seeming omission of telling the masters to free their slaves and telling those in slavery to obey these masters as they would the Lord needs some discussion.I’m hoping that this sermon will accomplish several things. One is to show that what Paul actually says does not contribute to the perpetuation of slavery but its ultimate abolition. Another is to show that the slavery we read about here in Ephesians is not the same as the slavery, say, of the American South. But lastly, lest this devolve into a mere history lesson: though this addresses matters of household slaves, this can also help us with understanding the relationship of employee and employer.
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