Rules for Christian Households
I have spoken to the issue of slavery in other places in these devotions. Suffice it to say that the New Testament writers never condoned the institution. This is clear from Paul’s letter to Philemon where he commands the latter to receive his runaway slave “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 16). Revelation 18:13 condemns slavery, and Paul tells slaves that if they can gain their freedom to do so (1 Corinthians 7:21). I see no point laboring over this. Granted, the early Church did accommodate the institution which was universal in the ancient world; she could hardly do otherwise. But it is truly disgusting that ignorant people will use Paul’s reluctant accommodation of slavery to thereby undo Scripture’s teaching on unnatural sexual liaisons, gender roles in the family, or even gender, itself. It should be instructive for us that though God’s word and the early Church could accommodate slavery, it would not accommodate sexual immorality of any sort which was just as universal and ubiquitous in the ancient world as slavery.
Now to our passage under discussion, as we no longer are burdened with that awful institution (though it still exists in the world and even in more sickening forms) most commentators refer this passage to relations between employers and employees; to wit, that employers should be fair to employees and employees should do their best work, not as unto men but as unto the Lord who is the true Rewarder of their work. Such an attitude among both parties would change labor relations in this country.
However, I wish to go the direction of the passage. What I mean is that interpreting this passage as referring to employers and employees is to lift it out of its context which is the Christian household. The seventeenth-century English Puritans (e.g., Richard Baxter) were very clear about the father’s duty to direct and lead his household in the way of godliness. For instance, he was to catechize the members of the household (including servants) and see that everyone was instructed in the faith. It was his duty to examine servants, children, and even his wife to see that everyone was living the faith. Of course, he was to examine himself as well, and might do so with the assistance of the elders of the church. The point is that the father was not only the head of his household but the pastor of his household as well, and his household was to be a microcosm of the church where it was his duty to lead, guide, and direct in the ways of godliness. Nothing has changed—servants or no servants. Man up Dad. It’s your responsibility.