Timothy 6:1-2: Has Christ set us free?
In Galatians 5:1 after comparing the descendents of the authentic Jewish line of Abraham and his wife Sarah and the somewhat dubious line of Abraham and the slave girl Hagar, Paul declares that it was ‘for freedom that Christ has set us free’. In Romans, Paul makes it clear on more than one occassion that in Christ there is no distinction between slave and free. So how are we to work with these verse from Timothy?
Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed.
Has Paul changed his mind? Is he so ahead of his time that context is everything, and Timothy in Ephesus requires a different interpretation of the gospel of Christ to that which would be suitable for the Galatians or the Romans?
As the message of freedom in Christ came to the towns and cities across the Roman empire, you can envisage a slave population being called to rebellion, subordination, and uprising. These words from Paul would be a hard message for Timothy to preach to the slaves in his congregation. But the message is a balanced one, Paul is under no illusion that slavery is anything but a heavy ‘yoke’ and this challenge to regard their masters as worthy of all honour, is in keeping with the challenging gospel that Paul upholds to be crucified with Christ.
What is clear though is that freedom in Christ from sin (as in Galatians and Romans) does not give an automatic imperative to demand freedom from all authority in our lives. When you become a Christian, generally, you are to still honour your mother and father. When you become a Christian, generally, you are to still respect the leaders and politicians in the land. When young people become Christians, generally, they are to still respect the authority of their teachers, when old folk become Christians, generally, they are to still respect the authority of the elders and ministers of the church. And so Paul says, when slaves become Christians, generally, you are to still respect your masters (even if they are believers too, v.2). Now that doesn’t mean that these relationships involving authority are never abused or are exactly the plan that God had for the flourishing of life in all its fullness. What it does mean though is that Christ is not a ticket to escape the society, culture, role and position you have in society, but instead the Gospel is the liberating news that in Christ, and through his grace, as God’s redeemed, he promises to be with you in our society, culture, helping to shape our positions, giving us strength for his work, and guiding our roles. For some that will be standing against injustice, and seeking the end of slavery, for others it will be respecting their masters and influencing others. For some it will be to use the authority they have with great care and diligence, as God himself does.
Slave or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile, whoever you are, through Christ’s saving grace, you are called to live for God’s glory in this world, by his strength.
Christ has set us free.