Ephesians 6:5-9, Living worthy when stuck in places of suffering.

Class Outline:

Thursday February 10, 2022


How do we live in a worthy manner of our calling when we’re prisoners of some kind of suffering?


Paul’s and Peter’s commandments to slaves answers this question.

In our last two classes we have documented the lamented life of a slave in the Greco-Roman world at the time that Paul wrote. Their life was despondency both physically and mentally. They were bought and sold like animals, threatened, mistreated, beaten, and used as sexual slaves. They possessed no rights, had no family or heritage, would not be remembered, and had little hope of attaining freedom. The few who did achieve manumission were never seen as equals in society. One senator divorced his wife for just speaking to a freed man. Being a slave was the worst possible position a person could find themselves. It was life without dignity or hope.


“Hardly anyone considered the system [of slavery] optional or thought of an alternative. In fact, although there were debates about how slaves should be treated (e.g., Seneca, Ep. 47), slavery was as a social, legal, and economic phenomenon seldom became the object of reflection at all. No ancient government thought of abolishing the institution, and none of the slave rebellions had as its goal the abolition of slavery as such. The institution of slavery was a fact of Mediterranean economic life so completely accepted as a part of the labor structure of the time that one cannot correctly speak of the slave ‘problem’ in antiquity” (Westermann, Slave Systems)” [from World Biblical Commentary, Ephesians]


Some writers paint a better picture of slavery in the ancient world than I have lately. In this same work, though the author admits the “too many cases of cruelty, brutality, and injustice,” he writes, “In general slaves were treated reasonably well, if only because their masters that this was the way to get the best out of them.” Our estimation of how good or bad it was to be a slave can depend on what historian we are reading. What we haven’t touched upon is that of the 20-30% slave population, you could be a slave in the emperor’s house or in the mines. You could be in civil service, medical care, teaching, accounting, business, domestic work, or agricultural work. By the time of Paul’s writing, most slaves were not captured in war but were born slaves to other slaves.


Through Paul’s and Peter’s word, God spoke to the slaves of the world, and through Christ took possession of them, just as He has done for all believers.


Amazingly, slaves are appealed to directly. They are treated as ethically responsible persons who are as fully members of the Christian community as their masters.


In the latest issue of Israel My Glory, David Levy, in his article entitled “The Bible, The Greatest Book Ever Written, opens with this: “Voltaire, the famous French philosopher once called the “prince of the infidels,” reportedly said in 1776 that within 100 years, the Bible would be a forgotten relic found only in museums. Fifty-eight years after Voltaire’s death, his house was being used by the Evangelical Society of Geneva, which distributed Bibles throughout Europe; and the printing presses on which he printed his revulsion of Christianity were printing the Holy Scriptures.”


We can easily attest that this is the result of the power, the omnipotence of God, who protects and promulgates His word, but it is also true due to something about mankind. Too many men and women every day wake up to their need of salvation, and neither Voltaire’s philosophy, nor any other philosopher or Enlightenment thinker have words that save or deliver men’s souls. Everyone knows some Scripture. Hardly anyone knows something that Voltaire wrote.


As God’s possession, God gave slaves dignity, hope, personhood, a family, a priesthood, an inheritance, an equal place in His kingdom, and a real purpose.


Paul states in 1CO 7:22 that the slave is free in Christ. Since all believers belong to Christ, who is their Lord, and all of whom will be resurrected, neither their souls or their bodies belong to anyone but Christ. And, like the wife and the children, the slave is to remain in his subordinate role but now as unto the Lord (used for the wife, children, and slave, but not husband, parents, or master). In the world, willing subordination is frowned upon as demeaning, but in Christ’s church, it is glorifying.


As one writer puts it, “Paul is not asserting the obliteration of difference, but rather the obliteration of dominance.”


Paul describes himself as a slave of Christ, as well as all in the church. He describes the life of an apostle in some similar terms that would describe a slave in his day.


1CO 4:9-13

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. 11 To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; 12 and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; 13 when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.


Notice how Paul contrasts himself and his co-workers in the gospel with the Corinthians who have become deceived about themselves. The Corinthians have judged themselves against world standards propagated by false teachers, and though they are living far from the life of the new humanity, the evaluate themselves as strong and honorable. In Paul’s sarcasm he says that he must be doing things all wrong since his condition is so much worse than theirs.


He is not telling them to go hungry and thirsty, but he is illustrating that dedication to the Christ-life may result in it.


One cannot judge the worth of their life by its material results, but only by its spiritual fruit.


We can imagine the wealthier Corinthians, the ones who were stuffing their faces with delicacies and getting drunk on the wine that they brought from home to the church on the day of the common meal and Lord’s Supper, which they were not even sharing with the poor and the slaves in the church, and concluding from their material and social status that their spiritual lives were quite good. The prosperity gospel was a part of Gnosticism then just as it is now.


Yet Paul would have never thought of his position in the body of Christ as a lowly one. He would have never traded in his life for a more comfortable one if it meant he had to leave the will of the Lord in any way, or in any way hinder the Lord’s gospel. For him, to live was Christ and to die was gain.


All of us suffer to some level. The slave suffered the most under a bad master, yet the slave is here in the Bible and encouraged by God and blessed by God.


We are so materialistic in our society that it is easy to be fooled into thinking spiritual promotion must also mean earthly, material promotion. If you are a slave, remain with God in the position in which you were called, and be sure to remain there “with God.”


In Christ, the slave’s body is not a commodity but a redeemed treasure of God.


GAL 3:26-29

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.


The Gentiles remained Gentiles, but they left paganism. The Jews remained Jews but left the Mosaic law for the law of Christ. Male and female where still such, but both were equal in Christ Jesus. The slave and master now both had Christ as their Master, but remained in their roles. Being Christ’s with His new life and their new and eternal relationships to brother and sister, completely changed how they behaved toward one another.


God gives the power of authority the role of servant as Christ was and He elevates the subordinate to the role of servant as Christ was. We see often in the gospels where Christ lives in both authority and subordination by the will of the Father. God didn’t eliminate our institutions, of which He is the originator, but gave them a new practice.


Christianity is much more than individuals following ritualistic ways, but a new society in church and home to all of every status.


MIC 6:6-8

With what shall I come to the Lord

And bow myself before the God on high?

Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,

With yearling calves?

7 Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,

In ten thousand rivers of oil?

Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts,

The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

8 He has told you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justice, to love kindness,

And to walk humbly with your God?