World English Bible translation
6:1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 6:2 "Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with a promise: 6:3 "that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth."
6:4You fathers, don't provoke your children to wrath, but nurture them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
6:5Servants, be obedient to those who according to the flesh are your masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as to Christ; 6:6 not in the way of service only when eyes are on you, as men-pleasers; but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; 6:7 with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men; 6:8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, he will receive the same again from the Lord, whether he is bound or free.
6:9You masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with him.
Paul concludes the household code with more common sense advice for his readers. These he addresses to children, fathers, slaves and masters in their turn. The basis of his advice is still the relationship that each has to the other through Jesus Christ.
Children obey and honor your parents. Fathers don't provoke your children. Raise them with discipline and instruction about the Lord. These concepts are firmly rooted in Jewish tradition and common sense. Paul is not seeking to break new ground with these sayings; he is trying to lay a firm foundation for the relationships within the family.
The next section dealing with slaves troubles some. How could Paul give slaves advice on being better slaves for their masters? Wasn't Paul opposed to slavery? Isn't Christianity? These are legitimate questions.
The concept that has best helped me to deal with this passage is that to God, the state of the human soul is more important than the freedom of the body. The most abject slave that has been redeemed by the blood of Christ is better off by far than the wealthiest unredeemed sinner. The principles of Christianity are antithetical to slavery. But, Christ and Paul did not directly attack the evil of slavery because their priority was the enslavement of the entire race to sin. There were many other evils that Jesus did not directly address during in His physical existence. His time was limited. His priority was to initiate the kingdom. It is up to His body the church to carry on His message and advance it into the areas of life where it is appropriate. So, when the time is right in each culture, the true church rises up and denounces the evils that are opposed to our freedom in Christ.
In the mean time, how should one live if one is in Christ and a slave to man? That is what Paul deals with in this section of scripture. Paul's answer is to serve your human master as if your service were directed toward the Lord Himself. Paul writes that a slave should not just obey with the eyes, but with the heart and hands.
These were not academic instructions. The early church of Paul's day had many slaves and indentured servants as members of the assemblies. Later, some would pervert the words of scripture to support and institutionalize slavery. That was never Paul's purpose. Slaves were attracted to the gospel of Christ because it offered them hope. Even though they were slaves, Christ offered them adoption into the household of God as sons. In Christ, they were as free as their earthly masters were.
To masters, Paul reminds them that their true Master and the Master of their slaves is God the Father. God does not show partiality between earthly master and slave. Before God there is no slave and free. There is only "in Christ" and "not in Christ." Moreover, as Paul told slaves to serve their masters as to the Lord, he tells masters to "do the same things to them" (your slaves). The earthly masters that were in Christ were to "serve" their slaves. And, this service that was rendered to their slaves was true service to the Lord.
It was concepts like these that have driven slavery out of existence in every culture where the gospel of Christ has taken root. Holding another man in slavery is unthinkable when a man sees himself as a slave to Christ. Christ has redeemed us and set us free. Our goal as children of God is to share that freedom with God's creation.
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