Part 8 – End of Slavery – Spiritual and Human
It's impossible to give even a cursory reading of the New Testament, as well as the Old Testament, without being confronted by the obvious 'positive' view of slavery. This brief Letter to Philemon is about a newly converted slave (Onesimus) being sent back to his master (Philemon), and the Letter's author – the apostle Paul – in no way corrects or rebukes Philemon for being a slave owner. This has raised many questions, especially among critics of the Bible and of Christianity, as well as being the source of much conflict within the church, especially in the early years of America's development. During the 18th-century slavery was a major issue in America, with the South utilizing slaves to plant and harvest the very popular cotton plant, and the plantation owners of the South – many of whom were sincere Christians – used the Bible as their defense for owning slaves.
What's important to realize is that slavery in biblical times was much different than slavery in our nation's early history, as well as the wide spread worldwide problem of slavery (human trafficking) that runs rampant, even in our own community. Slaves in biblical times were not slaves because of their ethnic or racial background. Many slaves sold themselves into slavery so they could pay off their debts. In many cases slaves were better off than the poor freeman because they were well fed, had a place to live, and were, in many cases, part of the master's family. For many slaves their work was time limited and they could often buy themselves out of slavery, or even decide to permanently stay with their master.
America's slaves were kidnapped (which is aberrant to the Lord) and many were treated poorly. It was a race issue (all from Africa) and the slaves were often viewed as subhuman, which accounted for the South's refusal to view their ownership of slaves as a problem. So, Paul and Jesus don't rebuke or speak against slavery because it was part of the culture, and Christianity only improved the relationship between slave and master, which eventually led to slavery being gradually abolished.
Jesus didn't come for social issues. Although we as believers should definitely be concerned with social justice, the Lord first and foremost deals with individual hearts. When lives are transformed and repurposed by the Lord God's saving grace and the Spirit of the Lord, then social change naturally begins....and it's lasting!
Paul sent Onesimus back to his master so they could be reconciled to one another; so their relationship will be Christ-centered; so it would positively impact the local church; it would help other slave/master relationships; it would help the future church (us) to have healthy employee/employer relationships; and to show the world what the transforming and repurposing power of the Lord God's grace and Spirit can do for, in, and through sinners.
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