Suffer Like It.

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:18-25 ESV

There are two ways to approach the content of this particular passage. First of all, as modern Americans, we can become incensed over the fact that Peter addresses slaves, but fails to make any statements regarding the unacceptable nature of the institution of slavery. And among the authors of the New Testament, he is not alone in his silence. He and Paul spoke frequently to slaves, but said very little about the moral nature of the institution of slavery. So, when we read a passage like this, it can come across as a subtle approval of slavery. And when we read the following passages, it would be easy to reach that conclusion.

21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. – 1 Corinthians 7:21-22 NIV

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free. – Ephesians 6:5-8 NLT

22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. – Colossians 3:22 NLT

1 All slaves should show full respect for their masters so they will not bring shame on the name of God and his teaching. If the masters are believers, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. – 1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT

Where is the moral indignation? Why do Paul and Peter seem to act as if slavery is just a normal part of everyday life? Because it was. Slavery was entrenched in the culture of their day. Even Jews had slaves. The failure of these men to speak out against slavery should not be construed to be some king of tacit approval of it. From our own sordid history as a nation, we know that our ancestors attempted to use the Scriptures to justify their unwavering determination to maintain the slave trade and to rationalize their inhumane treatment of millions of fellow human beings. But the presence of slavery is the result of the fall. It is a symptom of man’s sinful state and has been around since the beginning. It was alive and well when Jesus came to the earth. It was a normal part of the social fabric of the day. But this does not mean it was right or acceptable in the eyes of God.

When we focus on this passage with a sense of social outrage, we miss the point of what Peter is trying to say. He was not speaking into the culture at large, but into the context of the local body of believers. He was addressing Christians living within a non-Christian society where moral, social, and civic codes would be diametrically opposed to their new way of life as followers of Christ. Remember, Peter has addressed them as chosen by God. They are a holy nation. God has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. That does not mean God has changed any and all circumstances surrounding them. They are still living in a pagan culture. They are still living under the auspices of a pagan government. Immoral institutions like slavery still exist. In fact, some of them are actually living as slaves in that system. Peter’s interest was not in overthrowing the government of his day, anymore than Jesus was out to overturn the rule of the Romans while He was alive. Peter is addressing Christians who find themselves living in a culture that hates and despises them, and he is calling them to be beacons of light in a dark world. Any change that was going to take place in the culture was going to come from Christians living as citizens of the Kingdom of God and emulating the character of Christ among those who were living in darkness.

So, Peter addresses those in the church who had come to faith in Christ while living as slaves. This is an important point that often gets overlooked. The New Testament church was a literal melting pot made up of people from all walks of life. There were the rich and poor, the influential and the seemingly unimportant, women and men, as well as slaves and freemen. Not only that, there were congregations where masters and their slaves attended the same worship services together. This was unheard of. It was antithetical to the culture of the day. But it reveals that the gospel was for anyone and everyone, regardless of their social or economic status. Peter talks to the slaves just as he would anyone else. He did not see them as second-class citizens. He fully understood their situation and spoke into it. He didn’t minimize it, but he also did not offer them the hope of freedom from the current condition as slaves. His concern was that they live our their new identity in Christ, right where they were. Paul addresses this in his letter to the believers in Corinth, including those who happened to be slaves.

21 Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. 22 And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. 23 God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world. 24 Each of you, dear brothers and sisters, should remain as you were when God first called you. – 1 Corinthians 7:21-24 NLT

Paul uses that phrase, “remain as you were” repeatedly in his letter. If they were uncircumcised when they came to faith, they were to remain so. If you were married to an unbeliever when you came to know Christ, remain married to that person. Paul makes it clear: “Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17 NLT). Their goal should not be to change the circumstances surrounding their life, but to live out their new life in Christ differently in the midst of those very same circumstances. We tend to look for changes in our circumstances, while Peter and Paul are demanding a change in heart, which will lead to a change in behavior – regardless of our circumstances.

And Peter makes his counsel to the believing slaves in his audience very specific and applicable to their situation.

19 God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. 20 Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. – 1 Peter 2:20-21 NLT

He knew their status as sons and daughters of God was not going to change the way their masters treated them. In fact, it might make things worse for them. They were going to face unjust treatment. After all, they were slaves. It came with their position as slaves. But now that they were believers, their reaction to that unjust treatment was to be different. They were to patiently endure. They were to suffer for doing good. And in doing so, they would have the pleasure of God. That needed to be their focus. They were not out to please their human masters, but God Himself. They had a new motivation and a new incentive for living. And Peter gives them Jesus as their example to follow. He reminds them, “He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NLT). Then, he provides them with a succinct, yet beautiful summary of Jesus’ life.

22 He never sinned,
    nor ever deceived anyone.
23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
    nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
    who always judges fairly.
24 He personally carried our sins
    in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
    and live for what is right.
By his wounds
    you are healed.
25 Once you were like sheep
    who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
    the Guardian of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:22-25 NLT

That is the model we are to follow, whether slave or free. His example is the one we are to emulate, regardless of our circumstances. Jesus was not born into wealth and comfort, but obscurity and relative poverty. He wasn’t born in a palace, but a cattle stall. He wasn’t highly esteemed, but regarded as a lowly carpenter from an obscure backwater town called Nazareth. When Phillip told Nathanael that he had met Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael sarcastically responded, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46 NLT). God didn’t send His Son into the best of circumstances. He sent Him into the midst of darkness and sin. He sent Him into a culture mired in moral decadence and spiritual darkness. But Jesus was the light and He lived as a shining example of godly obedience and submission to the will of His Father in the midst of all the moral mess of His day. He didn’t attempt to change the government or fix all the social ills of His day. Jesus described His ministry as bringing Good News to the poor, proclaiming that captives will be released, that the blind will see, and that the oppressed will be set free (Luke 4:18). For Jesus, like Peter and Paul, the problem wasn’t a social one, it was spiritual. Human slavery wasn’t the real issue, slavery to sin was. And nothing is going to truly change in our world until the hearts of men and women are transformed by the message of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Like Christ, we are going to suffer in this life. But other question is whether we will face our suffering like Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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Slaves to Sin.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them, that everyone should set free his Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should enslave a Jew, his brother. And they obeyed, all the officials and all the people who had entered into the covenant that everyone would set free his slave, male or female, so that they would not be enslaved again. They obeyed and set them free. But afterward they turned around and took back the male and female slaves they had set free, and brought them into subjection as slaves. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I myself made a covenant with your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, saying, ‘At the end of seven years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you must set him free from your service.’ But your fathers did not listen to me or incline their ears to me. You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name, but then you turned around and profaned my name when each of you took back his male and female slaves, whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your slaves.

“Therefore, thus says the Lord: You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the Lord. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. And the men who transgressed my covenant and did not keep the terms of the covenant that they made before me, I will make them like the calf that they cut in two and passed between its parts—the officials of Judah, the officials of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf. And I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives. Their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. And Zedekiah king of Judah and his officials I will give into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their lives, into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon which has withdrawn from you. Behold, I will command, declares the Lord, and will bring them back to this city. And they will fight against it and take it and burn it with fire. I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without inhabitant.” – Jeremiah 34:8-22 ESV

It is approximately 588 B.C. and the city of Jerusalem is surrounded. Things are not looking good. Outside the walls of the city, the Babylonian troops can be seen busily at work building siege walls and preparing to assault the city. In the midst of all the chaos and with the words of Jeremiah the prophet ringing in his ears, Zedekiah, the king of Judah, convinces the people to make a covenant with him to release any and all their fellow Hebrews that they owned as slaves. Now, it makes sense to ask why any Hebrew would have a fellow Hebrew as a slave. This was actually quite common in those days. In most cases, the enslavement or servitude was linked to indebtedness. If a Hebrew borrowed money from another Hebrew and could not pay the debt, he become the servant or slave of the lender until the debt was paid off. The book of Proverbs speaks to this situation, warning: “the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:17 ESV). We find some strong words from God regarding the abuse of this system in the book of Amos.

“The people of Israel have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They sell honorable people for silver and poor people for a pair of sandals.” – Amos 2:6 NLT

The people of Judah and Israel had taken advantage of the poor and needy within their midst. Once again, the book of Proverbs speaks to this problem.

Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty. – Proverbs 22:16 NLT

Don’t rob the poor just because you can, or exploit the needy in court. – Proverbs 22:22 NLT

God had made provision for those who found themselves in debt and in need of help. A Jew who found themselves with no means of income could voluntarily offer themselves as a servant to another Jew. If they owed a debt they could not pay, they could voluntarily become the lenders servant.

“If a fellow Hebrew sells himself or herself to be your servant and serves you for six years, in the seventh year you must set that servant free.

“When you release a male servant, do not send him away empty-handed. Give him a generous farewell gift from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. Share with him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were once slaves in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you! That is why I am giving you this command. – Deuteronomy 15:12-15 NLT

But notice that God made provision for their release. They were not to remain in servitude indefinitely. And the lender had no right to sell the debtor in order to profit from their sale. At the seventh year, all Hebrews were to release their Hebrew slaves or servants. Their debt was to be considered paid. And the lender was not to send them away empty handed. So, in this chapter, we see Zedekiah making a covenant with the people to release all their Hebrew slaves. We are not told why Zedekiah made this announcement, but we can speculate that he was hoping this action might appease God in some way. Perhaps it was an attempt to increase the number of free men able to serve in the army in the defense of the city. Whatever his motivation, Zedekiah convinces the people to agree to the conditions of the release. But then they change their minds. They renege on their commitment.

but later they changed their minds. They took back the men and women they had freed, forcing them to be slaves again. – Jeremiah 34:11 NLT

We do know from verses 21 and 22, that the Babylonians had evidently disappeared for a period of time. It could be that their unexpected departure led the people to change their minds. They could have believed that the siege was over and they had been delivered from destruction. So, they decided not to keep their commitment. What had appeared to be an act of repentance turned out to be nothing of the sort. Even though they had been faced with their own destruction and possible enslavement themselves, the people were not willing to set free their fellow Hebrews. This all reminds me of a parable that Jesus told in response to a question from Peter regarding the topic of forgiveness.

“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” – Matthew 18:23-35 NLT

The people of Judah were indebted to God. They owed Him for the sins they had committed against Him. And they would have longed for Him to show them mercy and forgive their sins. But here they were, refusing to forgive the debts of those who owed them so much less. It should bring to mind the words of Jesus in His model prayer found in His Sermon on the Mount: “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 ESV). And Jesus would go on to comment about the issue of forgiveness of debts. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV).

God reminds Zedekiah and the people that their actions were reminiscent of the sins of their ancestors. God had given them the command regarding the seventh year, but they had refused to obey. Now, the people of Judah had made a covenant with God and were breaking it.

“Recently you repented and did what was right, following my command. You freed your slaves and made a solemn covenant with me in the Temple that bears my name. But now you have shrugged off your oath and defiled my name by taking back the men and women you had freed, forcing them to be slaves once again.” – Jeremiah 34:15-16 NLT

So, God gives them the bad news. Since they didn’t keep their vow and set their fellow Hebrews free, God was going to set the offenders free to suffer at the hands of the Babylonians. “I will set you free to be destroyed by war, disease, and famine” (Jeremiah 34:17 NLT). At the end of the day, the people of Judah were slaves to sin. They were addicted to wrongdoing. They just couldn’t give up their love affair with evil, even when faced with their own destruction. And they would learn the hard way, that the wages of sin is death.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

The Self-Delusion of Self-Effort.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. – Galatians 4:8-11 ESV

There is a common belief, even among evangelical Christians, that all people are seeking after God. But the Bible seems to paint a distinctively different picture of mankind. Ever since the fall, humanity has been on a trajectory away from God, not toward Him. Men have not been seeking after God, but for anything and everything but Him. They have sought to make their own gods. Adam and Eve knew God intimately and personally. They had a daily and uninterrupted relationship with Him. But after the fall, they found themselves cast out of His presence. And the further mankind got from Eden, the more distant their recollection of God became. Paul paints a vivid picture of this fading knowledge of God in his letter to the Romans:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:21-23 ESV

God’s character was visible through His creation. Paul writes, “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20 ESV). But as time passed, men began to lose their perception of God and their ability to recognize His attributes in the world He had made. They lost their knowledge of the one true God and began to create gods that reflected the qualities and characteristics they deemed necessary for deity. Paul says they worshiped the creation rather than the creator. They even worshiped other men.

But Paul reminds the Galatians that they have had their knowledge of God restored, and it was not something they had achieved. It was not as a result of their own searching or seeking. He emphasizes the fact that they have come to be known by God. It was God who had sought them out and not the other way around. He had chosen to know them and have a relationship with them. He had determined to make Himself known to them through His Son. As the apostle John put it, “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us” (1 John 1:18 NLT). As a result of placing their faith in Jesus Christ, they had come to truly know God for the very first time. Up until that point, they had been “enslaved to those that by nature are not gods” (Galatians 4:8 ESV). They had been worshiping false gods. They had been limited in their spiritual understanding and were stuck worshiping the “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:9 ESV). Their spirituality was of this world and not of heaven. While thinking they were seeking and coming to know God, they were actually moving away from Him.

But God had chosen to seek them out. He had called them to Himself and opened their eyes so that they could see the truth found in His Son’s death, burial and resurrection. For the first time they had been able to see the depth of their own sin, the hopelessness of their condition, and their need for a Savior. Rather than attempting to earn their way into God’s good graces, they relied on the grace of God as expressed in the finished work of Christ. But Paul was concerned that these very same people, who had discovered the secret of justification by faith in Christ alone, were allowing themselves to become enslaved again. They were listening to the false teachers who were preaching justification by works. Suddenly, grace was not enough. The death and resurrection of Christ was insufficient. More was required. Human effort was necessary. But Paul completely disagreed.

There were those who were trying to convince the Gentile converts in Galatia that they were not truly saved unless they became circumcised and began to keep all the Jewish rituals, feasts and festivals. That is what Paul means when he refers to observing days and months and seasons and years. These outsiders were convincing the Gentile believers that their salvation was incomplete. They needed to do more. Their faith in Christ was insufficient. And it was this false teaching, a form of legalism, that Paul stood against so strongly. He would not tolerate it or allow it to take root among the churches in Galatia. Earlier in his letter to the Galatians, Paul had stated his amazement at how quickly and easily the believers there had turned their back on justification by faith alone.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. – Galatians 1:6-7 ESV

There was no other gospel. There were no other requirements. The salvation offered by God was not based on human effort, but on faith in Christ alone. The works of men had never made God known to them. Self-righteousness had never earned anyone access to God. The righteousness God required was only available through faith in Christ. As Paul told the Romans:

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Romans 1:16-17 NLT

We don’t seek God. He seeks us. We can’t earn God’s favor. He must willingly extend it to us through His Son. When it comes to our justification before God, self-effort is self-delusional. We would do well to remember the personal testimony of Paul to the believers in Philippi: “I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9 NLT).

Law AND Grace.

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:1-7 ESV

Here in chapter four, Paul continues to contrast law and grace. More specifically, he will show how faith alone is the means by which men must be saved. And to make his point, he uses yet another analogy. He has already compared the law to a jail, imprisoning everything under sin (Galatians 2:22). He also referred to it as a guardian, watching over us and managing our affairs until Christ came. The Greek word he used was παιδαγωγός (paidagōgos), which “was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class” (“G3807 – paidagōgos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Here in chapter four, he uses the term, “guardian”, again, but it is a different Greek word. It is ἐπίτροπος (epitropos) and it refers to “one to whose care or honor anything has been instructed” (“G2012 – epitropos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It was commonly used to refer to a steward or overseer of one’s estate or children. Paul also compares the law to a manager. He uses the Greek word, οἰκονόμος (oikonomos), which refers to a steward, manager or superintendent, who was responsible for overseeing the affairs of another (“G3623 – oikonomos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible).

In Paul’s day, this guardian or overseer was appointed by a father and given the responsibility to care for his child, overseeing his well-being and managing his inheritance. This, as Paul points out, was to be the arrangement “until the date set by his father” (Galatians 4:2 ESV). In a sense, the son was no different than a slave as long as he was under the responsibility of his guardian or steward. He was expected to do exactly what the guardian told him to do. He had no access to his inheritance, except through the guardian, who managed all his affairs. He was under the watchful eye of his guardian at all times, until the day appointed by his father arrived.

Paul tells his readers that this was their former situation. They were under the guardianship of the law until faith came (Galatians 3:23). Up until the time that Jesus came, they had been “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:3 ESV). Paul does not explain what he means by this phrase, but it most certainly conveys the idea of the limited understanding available to men without the help of God. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12 ESV). Without the Spirit of God in them, men cannot understand the truths of God. They are incapable. Paul went on to say, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). Those without Christ are limited and stunted in their understanding, incapable of grasping the truth about God or the mysteries of spirituality. In speaking of the coming Holy Spirit, Jesus told His disciples, “He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him” (John 14:17 NLT). Paul also said that “God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:21 NLT).

Man, no matter how smart he may be, cannot understand or comprehend the truth regarding God. He is “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” But Paul reminds his readers that, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4 ESV). At just the right time, according to His eternal plan, God sent Jesus “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5 ESV). The amazing thing is that God, in His mercy and kindness, chose to adopt those who were not even His own. The audience to whom Paul was writing was made up primarily of Gentiles. They had not been part of the chosen people of God, the Jews. They were outsiders, aliens and strangers to the family of God. Paul told the Gentile believers in Ephesus, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). But he went on to tell them the good news that “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV).

The amazing thing, Paul tells his readers, is that they were now sons and daughters of God. Because He had sent His Son into the world, “born of woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4 ESV), and His Son had kept the law to perfection, He had qualified Himself to be the sinless substitute to die in the place of sinful men. He took our place on the cross and died the death we deserved, so that we might be redeemed and restored to a right relationship with God. And those who place their faith in Christ become sons of God and receive the Spirit of God, which gives them the right to call on God as their Father. They are miraculously transformed from slaves to sons. They become princes, instead of paupers, and heirs of all the riches of God’s grace. But Paul’s point was that none of this was possible through the keeping of the law. Sonship was not achievable through hard work. The inheritance was not accessible through diligent rule-keeping. It was the gift of God made possible through faith in the Son of God and His sacrificial death on the cross. Man cannot earn a right standing with God. He cannot merit God’s favor through hard work. In fact, Paul will go on to say that, before placing their faith in Christ, his audience didn’t even know God (Galatians 4:8). They had been incapable of knowing Him. They were enemies of God. And so were we. You cannot pursue that which you do not know. Natural man cannot know the things of God. Sinful men cannot seek the things of God. But God, in His great mercy and kindness, sent His Son to make Himself known.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

This is not about law versus grace. Paul is not pitting one against the other. He is not saying that the law was flawed, but only that the law was a temporary guardian or guide, intended to display God’s holiness and expose man’s sinfulness. But when Jesus came, He did what no other man could have done: He kept the law perfectly. He lived up to God’s holy standards, living a sinless life and proving worthy to offer Himself as the payment for the sins of mankind. We are heirs of God, not because we kept the law of God, but because His Son did so on our behalf.

It’s An Inside Job.

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. – Ephesians 6:5-9 ESV

As Paul continues to discuss the application of walking as children of light, in love and in submission to one another, he brings up a particularly difficult relationship for us as modern believers to understand. He has already addressed husbands and wives, and children and their parents. But now he takes on the relationship between slaves and their masters. There are those who would label Paul as a proponent of the institution of slavery, because he does not speak out against it. But Paul, like Christ, was not out to revolutionize civil institutions or bring about social upheaval. He was interested in redeeming the lives of those who made up the society. So while it is true that Paul does not speak out against or condemn the socially accepted practice of slavery in his day, this does not mean he was a supporter of it. In fact, in his letter to Philemon, he appeals to his brother in Christ regarding one of his slaves, a man called Onesimus. Evidently Onesimus had run away from Philemon and had somehow ended up meeting Paul and, under his influence, had become a believer. He ended up ministering to Paul while he was a prisoner there. And Paul had encouraged Onesimus to do the right thing and return to Philemon, his master. Slavery was legal in Paul’s day and Onesimus was obligated to return to Philemon or face severe punishment. But Paul wrote his letter to Philemon to explain the change that had taken place in the life of Onesimus and to ask Philemon to see his former slave as what he now was, a brother in Christ.

For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. – Philemon 1:15-16 NLT

This is exactly the kind of context Paul is addressing in his letter to the Ephesians. Slavery was a socially accepted, legally sanctioned part of the culture of the day. And yet Paul was calling slaves and masters who came to know Christ to radically change their perspective regarding this institution – from the inside out. The interesting thing is that slaves, who were viewed as property and sub-human in many ways, were coming to faith in Christ. Not only that, they were becoming members of the local churches. It was not uncommon for a 1st-Century church to have slaves and their masters as part of its congregation. And within the context of the church, there was a unity and equality that was unheard of anywhere else in the culture of that day. Which is why Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia: “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28 NLT). In the context of the body of Christ, everyone was on an equal footing. But while coming to faith in Christ set someone like Onesimus free from sin, it did not free him from slavery. In fact, Paul wrote to the Corinthians and told them, “Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ” (1 Corinthians 7:20-22 NLT).

Paul’s primary concern was the behavior of believers. He was focused on their walk – the daily living out of their faith within the context of their existing social relationships. Which he wrote to the church in Ephesus, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ” (Ephesians 6:5 NLT). We see once again, that their motivation was to be Christ-centered, as if they were serving Christ. He became a slave, a servant on their behalf, even dying in their place so that they might be freed from slavery to sin. Now He was calling them to serve their earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Rather than forced subservience, Paul was calling them to willing submission. Paul gives them some very specific instruction about how their faith should manifest itself in their relationship with their masters.

Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. – Ephesians 6:6-7 NLT

Notice that Paul encourages them to do the will of God with all their heart. What would the will of God be in their particular situation? To walk as children of light. To walk in love. To walk in a manner worthy of their calling. Yes, even within their context as slaves. Because in reality, they were slaves of Christ. Their earthly situation was temporary. So they could work with enthusiasm, performing their earthly responsibilities as if they were doing it for the Lord, knowing that “the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free” (Ephesians 6:8 NLT).

But Paul is not done. He also addresses those individuals in the churches in Ephesus who happened to be masters. He tells them, “Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites” (Ephesians 6:9 NLT). Their faith in Christ was to have a relationship-altering impact on their lives. Their slaves were now their brothers. And everything they did was to be done as to the Lord. This was a game-changing, life-altering moment in the lives of these individuals. Can you imagine what kinds of renewing of the mind and shifting of their paradigm was taking place as they wrestled with the new-found faith in Christ and the reality of the social construct in which they found themselves? This particular relationship between slaves and masters would put the daily application of faith in Christ to the test like no other. 

Jesus did not come to revolutionize the structures of society, but the lives of the people who make up that society. He did not come to radically alter institutions, but to redeem individuals. Political change or legal sanctions do nothing to remedy the condition of the heart. Overthrowing the evil social structures of a society through rebellion or civil disobedience may bring about external change, but it will never fix the problem of sin. Believers living as children of light in the midst of darkness, loving unconditionally, submitting to one another willingly, and obeying Christ joyfully are the true change-agents in the world.

Children of the Promise.

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. – Galatians 4:21-31 ESV

One of the dangers of biblical interpretation is that of taking what was meant to be literal and turning it into an allegory. This is most often done with difficult passages. Because the Bible is made up of a variety of literary styles, such as history and poetry, and some passages are allegorical in nature, it can be tempting to take what God intended to be literal and force upon it an allegorical meaning. Another thing that can make reading and interpreting the Bible difficult is that there are some passages that have both literal and allegorical messages within them. Paul provides us with a case in point. In his defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, Paul will use the historical account of the births of Ishmael and Isaac to explain the true nature of the law and man’s relationship to it.

Paul somewhat sarcastically asked his readers, who seemed to be set on living according to the law, why they refused to listen to what the law said. He then tells the story of the birth of Abraham’s two sons, found in the book of Genesis, located in the “law” section of the Old Testament. When a Jew referred to “the book of the law,” he was referring to not only the Mosaic law itself, but to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible as we know it today. The Genesis account tells of the birth of Ishmael to Abraham through his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar. This had been the result of Sarah’s attempt to help God fulfill His promise to give Abraham a son. The only problem was that it was not according to God’s plan. Sarah had seen her barrenness as a problem too big for God, so she had intervened and encouraged Abraham to have a child with Hagar. But Paul pointed out that Ishmael, “the son of the slave was born according to the flesh” (Galatians 4:23 ESV). Paul’s emphasis was that Ishmael’s birth was of the flesh or natural.  And as the son of a slave, his relationship to Abraham would be completely different than that of Isaac. God had told Abraham that Ishmael would not an acceptable substitute or stand-in as his heir. God had promised to give Abraham an heir through Sarah, in spite of her barrenness, and He did. God supernaturally intervened and made it possible for Sarah to conceive and bear Abraham a son. And Isaac’s birth was the direct fulfillment of God’s long-standing promise to Abraham.

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. – Genesis 12:1-2 ESV

As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her. – Genesis 17:15-16 ESV

And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” – Genesis 17:18-19 ESV

Ishmael, the son of the slave woman, was not to be Abraham’s heir. That right and responsibility would go to Isaac, the son of the promise. It is at this point that Paul reveals the allegorical or figurative message found in this literal, historical recounting of the births of Ishmael and Isaac. “Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants” (Galatians 4:24 ESV). What Paul is really providing us with is an analogy or illustration of what these historical events represent or foreshadow. Ishmael represented the covenant of the law given at Mount Sinai. Because Ishmael was born “according to the flesh” or through Sarah’s and Abraham’s self-reliance, he was disqualified from becoming the fulfillment of God’s promise. The law, though given by God, was completely dependent upon man’s ability to live up to it. It was based on self-reliance. The law was never intended by God to bring about man’s justification or right standing before Him. It simply revealed and exposed the depths of man’s sinfulness. The law enslaved men under sin. It condemned them for their sin, but could do nothing to relieve them from its control over their lives. That is, until Christ came. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). At one point, Jesus had told the Pharisees, the experts in the Mosaic law, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36 ESV).

Paul was attempting to contrast Judaism with Christianity and compare life under the law with the life according to faith. Paul wanted his readers to know that they were children according to the promise. They had been freed from the onerous task of attempting to keep the law in an ill-fated effort to earn a right-standing before God. Jesus Christ had died to set them free and justify them before God according to His works, not theirs. So why would they ever want to go back to trying to keep the law? Ishmael would share in the inheritance promised by God to Abraham’s heir. And those who attempt to live by keeping the law through dependence upon their own self-effort, will not inherit eternal life, promised by God to all those who placed their faith in His Son. The temptation toward legalism and self-reliance is alive and well today. The pressure to somehow earn favor with God through our own self-effort exists for all believers. But Paul would have us remember that we are called to live our lives by faith. We are to trust in God and His indwelling Holy Spirit, not our weak and frail flesh. We must learn to say as Paul did earlier in this same letter: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT).

In the Fullness of Time.

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:1-7 ESV

Here in chapter four, Paul continues to contrast law and grace. More specifically, he will show how faith alone is the means by which men must be saved. And to make his point, he uses yet another analogy. He has already compared the law to a jail, imprisoning everything under sin (Galatians 2:22). He also referred to it as a guardian, watching over us and managing our affairs until Christ came. The Greek word he used was παιδαγωγός (paidagōgos), which “was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class” (“G3807 – paidagōgos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Here in chapter four, he uses the term, “guardian” again, but it is a different Greek word. It is ἐπίτροπος (epitropos) and it referred to “one to whose care or honor anything has been instructed” (“G2012 – epitropos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It was commonly used to refer to a steward or overseer of one’s estate or children. Paul also compares the law to a manager. He uses the Greek word, οἰκονόμος (oikonomos), which referred to a steward, manager or superintendent, who was responsible for overseeing the affairs of another (“G3623 – oikonomos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible).

In Paul’s day, this guardian or overseer was appointed by a father and given the responsibility to care for his child and oversee his well-being and manage his inheritance. This, as Paul points out, was to be the arrangement “until the date set by his father” (Galatians 4:2 ESV). In a sense, the son was no different than a slave as long as he was under the responsibility of his guardian or steward. He was expected to do exactly what the guardian told him to do. He had no access to his inheritance, except through the guardian, who managed all his affairs. He was under the watchful eye of his guardian at all times, until the day set by his father arrived.

Paul tells his readers that this was their former situation. They were under the guardianship of the law until faith came (Galatians 3:23). Up until the time that Jesus came, they had been “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:3 ESV). Paul does not explain what he means by this phrase, but it most certainly conveys the idea of the limited understanding available to men without the help of God. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12 ESV). Without the Spirit of God in them, men cannot understand the truths of God. They are incapable. Paul went on to say, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). Those without Christ are limited in their understanding. They are stunted in their understanding, incapable of grasping the truth about God or the mysteries of spirituality. In speaking of the coming Holy Spirit, Jesus told His disciples, “He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him” (John 14:17 NLT). Paul also said that “God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:21 NLT).

Man, no matter how smart he may be, cannot understand or comprehend the truth regarding God. He is “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” But Paul reminds his readers that, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4 ESV). At just the right time, according to His eternal plan, God sent Jesus “to redeem those were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5 ESV). The amazing thing is that God, in His mercy and kindness, chose to adopt those who were not even His own. The audience to whom Paul was writing was made up primarily of Gentiles. They had not been part of the chosen people of God. They were outsiders, aliens and strangers to the family of God. Paul told the Gentile believers in Ephesus, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). But he went on to tell them the good news that “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV).

The amazing thing, Paul tells his readers, is that they were now sons and daughters of God. Because He had sent His Son into the world, “born of woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4 ESV), and His Son had kept the law to perfection, He had qualified Himself to be the sinless substitute to die in the place of sinful men. He took our place on the cross and died the death we deserved, so that we might be redeemed and restored to a right relationship with God. And those who place their faith in Christ become sons of God and receive the Spirit of God, which gives them the right to call on God as their Father. They are miraculously transformed from slaves to sons. They become princes, instead of paupers, and heirs of all the riches of God’s grace. But Paul’s point was that none of this was possible through the keeping of the law. Sonship was not achievable through hard work. The inheritance was not accessible through diligent rule-keeping. It was the gift of God made possible through faith in the Son of God and His sacrificial death on the cross. Man cannot earn a right standing with God. He cannot merit God’s favor through hard work. In fact, Paul will go on to say that, before placing their faith in Christ, his audience didn’t even know God (Galatians 4:8). They had been incapable of knowing God. They were enemies of God. And so were we. You cannot pursue that which you do not know. Natural man cannot know the things of God. Sinful men cannot seek the things of God. But God, in His great mercy and kindness, sent His Son to make Himself known.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

 

 

A Gracious Thing.

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:18-25 ESV

Peter now turns his attention to those within the church who were servants. The actual Greek word he uses is οἰκέτης (oiketēs) and it refers to a household servant or domestic. In many, if not all, cases these people were actually slaves. Theirs was not a normal case of voluntary employment. Those for whom they worked were considered their masters. They were obligated by Roman law to obey their masters It is thought that as many as 1 in 3 of the population of Italy were slaves. In the rest of the Roman provinces it was as much as 1 in 5. So slaves were a major part of the Roman economy and social structure. The Ancient History Encyclopedia provides a glimpse into the Roman perspective on slavery.

Slavery, that is complete mastery (dominium) of one individual over another, was so embedded in Roman culture that slaves became almost invisible and there was certainly no feeling of injustice in this situation on the part of the rulers. Inequality in power, freedom and the control of resources was an accepted part of life and went right back to the mythology of Jupiter overthrowing Saturn. As K.Bradley eloquently puts it, ‘freedom…was not a general right but a select privilege’ (Potter, 627). Further, it was believed that the freedom of some was only possible because others were enslaved. Slavery, was, therefore, not considered an evil but a necessity by Roman citizens.(Mark Cartwright. “Slavery in the Roman World,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified November 01, 2013. http://www.ancient.eu /article/629/.)

Peter does not address the institution of slavery. Instead, he speaks directly to those within the church who happened to be slaves or servants. That is the amazing thing. The very fact that these individuals were part of the local body of Christ speaks volumes about the church’s view of them as individuals. They were considered equal members of the body of Christ and were addressed as individuals with both responsibilities and rights. So Peter talks directly to them, giving them very personalized and specific instructions regarding their behavior. They were to “be subject” to their masters. He repeats the phrase he used when speaking to the church as a whole about their relationship to governmental authorities. These slaves had another issue. They were under the authority of their masters. They were obligated by law to obey. But Peter gives them a new way of looking at their role. In fact, he says that they were to treat their masters with all respect, whether they were good and gentle or unjust. And in Peter’s estimation, if a slave was suffering because of his faith in Christ, it was a “gracious thing.” The word he used was χάρις (charis). Charis was used by the New Testament authors to refer to God’s good will, loving-kindness, and favor. It was “the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues” (“G5485 – charis (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org).

They were to view their suffering as a sign of God’s grace and a reminder of His ongoing transformation of their lives into the likeness of His Son. He reminds them that enduring suffering for doing wrong accomplishes nothing. But enduring suffering for doing what is right and good “is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (1 Peter 2:20 ESV). When we endure suffering for the sake of Christ, our actions not only please God, but God is pleased to use those times of difficulty to mold us and make us more holy. Paul told the believers in Rome, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV). Suffering that comes as a result of our faith is to be expected. For a slave in Peter’s day, the ridicule and shame that would have accompanied their faith would have been great. They were not viewed as people. They were property. Their masters would have seen their new-found faith in Christ as a threat. They had no rights. A master seeing their slave mixing in with other individuals of other classes of society as part of the church would have infuriated them.

But Peter reminds the slaves “to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 ESV). Then Peter explains how the example of Christ applied to them. Throughout His suffering on this earth, Jesus “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23 ESV). He kept His faith in God. He knew that His heavenly Father was watching and would reward Him for His faithfulness. He never took His eyes off His calling. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). And it was the suffering of Christ that provided the means of salvation for mankind. By his wounds we have been healed. It was His suffering and death that made it possible for slaves, servants, masters, men, women, children, Jews, Gentiles and people from all walks of life to return to the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls. Christ’s suffering had a purpose. So does ours. It produces endurance, character and hope. And it reveals the grace of God as He uses anything and everything in our lives to produce in us the image of His Son.

1 Timothy 6:1-10

True Godliness.

1 Timothy 6:1-10

Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. – 1 Timothy 6:6-8 NLT

True godliness should make a difference in the way we live our lives. In this short series of verses, Paul addresses three different groups of people in the church in Ephesus. His point was to remind Timothy that the Christian faith was to be a practical part of everyday life. It was to make a difference in the way believers lived and interacted with the world around them. First, he addresses slaves – specifically those slaves who had come to faith in Christ and were now part of the body of Christ. Slavery was a huge part of the culture in Ephesus, with all kinds of slaves living and working in the community. Some had been sold into slavery. Others had been forced into slavery because they had been unable to pay their debts. And these slaves would have been of various backgrounds and cultures. There would have been both Jewish and Gentile slaves. But the ones to whom Paul is referring are believing slaves – those who had placed their faith in Jesus Christ and were now part of the local fellowship in Ephesus. Paul encourages Timothy to teach these individuals to show respect to their masters and to work hard. Paul doesn’t spend time condemning slavery or attempting to disrupt the social fabric of his day. He doesn’t condone slavery, but neither does he condemn it. He simply wants those who find themselves impacted by it to live their lives in a way that would honor God and illustrate godly behavior. In his letter to Philemon, a Christian slave owner, Paul was asking him to receive back Onesimus, a runaway slave who had become a believer. Paul encouraged Philemon, “he is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord” (Philemon 1:16 NLT). Faith in Christ does not always change our circumstances, but it does change the way we should live within them.

The next group Paul addressed were false teachers – those who were contradicting Paul’s teaching and stirring up “arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions” (1 Timothy 6:4 NLT). These individuals were obsessed with arrogant and lacked true understanding. They had turned their back on the truth of God and were concocting their own version of the truth. And their motivation was purely selfish and financial in nature. Paul said, “to them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy” (1 Timothy 6:5 NLT). Their ministry was materially motivated. And their godliness was all for show.

But Paul had a different understanding of godliness. It was to be, in and of itself, the objective. It was not to be a means to and end. Godliness was not to be used as a device to gain respect, power, or financial gain. It was sufficient in and of itself. And when godliness was accompanied with contentment, it would prove more than profitable to an individual’s life. That’s why a godly slave could remain a slave and be content with his lot in life. Circumstances have little or nothing to do with godliness and should have virtually no impact on the degree of our contentment. Godliness is not dependent upon material possessions. The godly individual does not rely upon the accumulation of things to find contentment. Which is why Paul writes, “So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content” (1 Timothy 6:8 NLT). The motivation of the false teachers was money. The motivation of the godly is Christ.

Paul ends up this section talking about those who love money. Each of these three groups were part of the church in Ephesus. There were slaves, false teachers and lovers of money participating in the body of Christ there. And not all those who had a love affair with money were false teachers. There were obviously some who had much and wanted more, and there were those who had little and dreamed of having more. In both cases, the love of money would prove to be dangerous. “…people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9 NLT). Their lives are not marked by contentment. Godliness is not their goal, the accumulation of wealth is. God is not their provider and protector, money is. Paul does not condemn money or wealth. He simply points out that the love of it and obsession over it is potentially harmful for the believer. It can have devastating consequences on a believer’s pursuit of godliness.

True godliness is accompanied by contentment. The desire for more of anything, other than Christ, can be deadly to the believer. The desire for something other than Christ for our contentment, joy, fulfillment and hope can also prove to be harmful to our spiritual maturity. Slaves needed to be content with their circumstances and live godly lives right where they were. The false teachers needed to be content with the truth of God’s Word and the message of Jesus Christ, just as it had been preached, and live godly lives without expecting any financial reward in return. Those who loved and long for money were to be content with their current financial status and live godly lives regardless of how little or how much money they had. Godliness combined with contentment is the real currency of God’s Kingdom.

Father, may we learn to pursue godliness more than anything else in this earth? We get so obsessed with changing our circumstances, thinking that  is the key to happiness and contentment. But the reality is that You are and have always been the only source of contentment for our lives. Help us to continue to discover that true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 7:1-24

Right Where God Wants You.

1 Corinthians 7:1-24

Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches. – 1 Corinthians 7:17 NLT

The Corinthians had questions. Their new-found faith in Christ has raised some interesting issues and caused them to reach some dangerous conclusions. So the appealed to Paul by sending him a letter laced with questions concerning a wide variety of issues. Chapter seven of 1 Corinthians contains Paul’s response. One of the first things they asked about was sexual relationships. This one was extremely confusing for them. They lived in a sexually charged society where sexual immorality was part of the daily worship in the pagan temples. Promiscuity was common place. Marital infidelity was rampant and almost expected. So one of the first questions they asked Paul was whether they should simply abstain from sexual relationships altogether. The problem was that some of them had come to view sex as something perverted and immoral, which led to them to conclude that they would be better off without it. It seems that others within the church were being tempted to take on the standards of the culture around them, where adultery was not only accepted, but expected. There were others who had come to faith in Christ, while their spouses had not. They were struggling with whether or not they should leave their unbelieving spouse. There were evidently some married couples in the church who had completely eliminated the sexual relationship from their marriage – all because they had mistakenly concluded that sex was sinful and wrong. Some, who were single, were struggling with whether or not they should get married at all. After all, if sex was immoral, then what purpose could there be in getting married. But by refusing to get married, these individuals were not eliminating their sexual desires. Their decision was leading to lust and potentially the sin of sex outside of marriage.

It would seem that Paul had been inundated with all kinds of questions in the letter he had received. And he methodically and patiently answers each and every one of them. But there is a phrase that Paul uses three separate times in his response. His repetitive use of this phrase was a not-so-subtle attempt to give it extra weight. He was trying to drive home an important message. After answering a number of their questions, Paul said, “Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you” (1 Corinthians 7:17 NLT). Just a few lines later, he repeats the same admonition: “Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you” (1 Corinthians 7:20 NLT). Then he said it one more time for emphasis. “Each of you, dear brothers and sisters, should remain as you were when God first called you” (1 Corinthians 7:24 NLT). In their attempt to be “good Christians,” the Corinthians believers were contemplating some serious, but misguided alterations to their lifestyles. Believing spouses were seriously considering walking out on their unbelieving partners – even if it meant leaving their children behind. To drive home his point, Paul used the illustration of circumcision. A man who had been circumcised prior to becoming a Christian would not need to try and reverse the procedure after coming to Christ. And a man who was uncircumcised prior to coming to Christ would not need to get circumcised post-conversion. Circumcision was not the point. It was obedience to God. Couples that were considering the elimination of sex from their relationship should think seriously and soberly before making a change of that magnitude. While there might be some short-term situations where abstinence made sense, it was not a good long-term strategy. Paul encouraged those Corinthian believers who had been slaves when they came to Christ to willingly remain slaves. He reminded them that it was more important that they understood they were now free from enslavement to sin and the world.

The Corinthians were confused and struggling with how to live out their faith in their daily lives. Paul seemed to be encouraging them to stay right where they were and watch God work in their current circumstances. How many times have you seen someone come to faith in Christ, then begin to question everything? Should they remain in school or in a certain relationship? Should they quit their job and go to seminary? Should they change careers and look for something more “spiritual?” Should they downsize their home and sell all their possessions? What Paul seems to be saying is that we all need to understand that God was fully aware of our circumstances when He called us. He knew our situation intimately and saved us in the midst of it. In Paul’s mind, it made sense to stay right where you were when God saved you. This does not mean that we should not seek life change and transformation. But we have to understand that a change in circumstance will not make us more holy. Leaving an unbelieving spouse will not result in increased sanctification. When God saves someone, His intention is to set that person apart right where he is. He wants them to be salt and light in his current context. God saved Paul and then used him right where he was. He gave him a new message and a new purpose in life, but he left him in the same environment where he could be an influence on his former peers. Sometimes were are tempted to make wholesale changes to our lives when we come to Christ. But sometimes we need to sit pat and wait for God to show us what He would have us do. Remaining where we are and in the circumstances in which we were saved takes patience and faith. A married woman who becomes a believer will need the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to live in a home with a husband who remains unsaved and possibly antagonistic to her new-found faith. A new believer who finds himself working in a less-than-fulfilling job will need to trust God and wait for His direction before assuming that he would be better off somewhere else. God saved him right where he was. He knew his circumstances and probably had a purpose for converting him in the midst of that context. The question to ask is, “What would God have me do?”

If we’re not careful, we could become so obsessed with making changes in our circumstances that would allow us to serve God more effectively, that we overlook the opportunities right in front of our face. So often, God has us right where He wants us. But we refuse to accept that reality. We get wrapped up in the questions of “What if…?” What if I weren’t married? What if I weren’t single? What if I had a different job? What if I lived in a different city? What if I stopped doing this and started doing that? What if didn’t have all these responsibilities holding me back? What if? What if? What if? Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you.

Father, it is so easy to play the “What if?” game We think a change in circumstances will change everything. And yet, You tend to have us right where You want us. If You want to change our circumstances, You are fully capable. Teach us to be content. I want to be able to say as Paul did, “…for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org