So- why all this talk about slavery? It’s nice to know, it’s kind of an academic question, but the one we're really interested in is the question about husbands and wives...
Can you think of any reason at all why Paul might want to say something without really saying it? Why he might want to choose his words carefully? And maybe say something between the lines?
I’ll answer that by asking: What does Jesus do?
He changes things.
But He does it in His own way- He transforms structures from the inside out- slowly, surely, like (as He described His kingdom) yeast permeating a whole lump of dough.
What He doesn’t do, at least not yet, is tear down our societal structures completely and start over. His revolution is a slow one that depends on changing the hearts of people, not simply imposing His will. Someday the Kingdom will come fully, but for now- he tells us that in Christ there is neither slave nor free- that He came to free the oppressed and we should be like Him.
And it only took us 1860 some odd years to work out what that meant in regards to slaves.
So- the one who came to set the slaves free says to slaves- don’t demand freedom. But do what?
"Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people."
Live in such a way that your master can never complain about your service and yet becomes completely aware that you have a higher allegiance- a different Master...That you serve Jesus first and foremost, that regardless of what your earthly master may think to be the case- you really are free.
And to wives who may have run their own businesses, like Lydia who was well-known for selling purple cloth, or a woman Paul mentions later in this letter who had the unfortunate name of “Nympha” but who had a church meeting in her house… to these women who in many ways were leaders in business and the church but were still considered by the society around them to be property, chattel, He says- don’t demand your rights, but live in such a way that everyone knows- it’s Jesus you really belong to. If you have a non-Christian husband who believes you are nothing more than his property, live in such a way that he can’t complain about anything, but he clearly knows- you belong to another.
This is subversive thinking at its best. This is nonviolent resistance to this broken world and its broken ways at its best.
See, we read this from a society where slaves are already freed and women are no longer property and we think: how awful, how regressive. And we completely miss the radical, freeing nature of what he is saying. And how absolutely seditious and dangerous it would have sounded to the society around them.
So. The big question- do wives have to submit to their husbands?
pt 4 tomorrow-
(This series is adapted from a sermon I preached during our time in Colossians. I'm heavily indebted to Walsh and Keesmaat and their book Colossians Remixed)