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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » James Meehan » James Meehan - Does the Bible Promote Slavery?

James Meehan - Does the Bible Promote Slavery?

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    James Meehan - Does the Bible Promote Slavery?
TOPICS: Culture Makers, Slavery

James Meehan: Well, hello and welcome to this week of "Switch Uncut". Pause for effect. Last Wednesday we kicked off a brand new message series called "How to Read the Bible" because, you know, it's a pretty important thing. We believe that the Bible is God's Word for us that teaches us how to understand who Jesus is, how we can live more like Jesus and share our faith with other people, and that's a big part of why this show exists, is to answer your questions about faith, following Jesus and the Bible, because we know the better we understand those things, the better that we can live out our faith and share our faith in a way that is good news for others. And last week, in the first message of this series, we tackled a tricky situation in the gospels where Jesus tells a guy that if he wants to experience eternal life he has to go and sell everything he has and give it to the poor. So if you have ever wondered what to do about that, then check out the message from this past Wednesday, it was a fantastic journey walking through how we read the Bible. And in that first message you actually, Kaitlyn, were teaching us to read the Bible through the lens of recognizing that Jesus is King and context is everything. And so we're just gonna continue that today by looking at another tricky part of the Bible, and it is the subject of slavery. Now if you've been on the internet for longer than a day you've probably seen somebody make the claim that the Bible promotes slavery. And what we're gonna do today is look at how through the lens of Jesus is King and context being everything the Bible does actually the opposite. Not only does the Bible not promote slavery, but the Bible actually actively fights against it. So, with that being said, Kaitlyn Caffrey, would you read the scripture for today found in Philemon 12-13.

Kaitlyn Caffery: Yeah, let's do it. It says, "I am sending him, who is my very heart, back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary".

James Meehan: Pause. Quick context for you. This is written by the Apostle Paul. He is writing this letter to a gentleman by the name of Philemon. Not Phil Lemon, but Philemon.

Kaitlyn Caffery: Dang it.

James Meehan: All one name. And he's talking about the him, he says, "I'm sending him," is a gentleman by the name of Onesimus. Now Onesimus was formerly a slave of Philemon. Now some people believe that Onesimus actually ran away from Philemon, he was a runaway slave, ended up spending time with Paul after becoming a Christian, and now Paul is writing this letter to Onesimus about Philemon and how Paul wants to treat Philemon. Here's what's important to note. Paul starts this passage we're reading by saying that he is sending Onesimus, who is his very heart. So Paul is off the back communicating how important Onesimus is to him, because in the kingdom of God every single one of us are seen as who we really are. Human beings made in the image of God, with value, with dignity, with purpose, regardless of how society sees us. And while society would see Onesimus as less than, Paul is saying, "Actually, he is my very heart". Continue.

Kaitlyn Caffery: All right, picking back up. "Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he's done anything to wrong you or owes you anything, charge it to me".

James Meehan: So, Paul says maybe the reason he was separated from you, maybe the reason he ran away from you was so that even though he might be gone for a little, that you would have him back forever. But not as a slave, but as something better, as a dear brother. Because when we say yes to a relationship with Jesus we are adopted into the family of God. We become brothers and sisters in Christ. That's awesome.

Kaitlyn Caffery: That's so awesome. The last line totally took me to the Good Samaritan story.

James Meehan: Come on.

Kaitlyn Caffery: He's like, "If he owes you anything, charge it to me".

James Meehan: Right, it's a parable of Jesus that's all about what does it look like to love your neighbor as yourself. It looks like doing whatever it takes to make sure that they're cared for and that they have what they need to make it in this thing that we call life. And that's what Paul is saying here, he's saying, "Hey, treat Onesimus not as your slave but as your brother". What happens when you start treating somebody who used to be a slave as a brother? They stop being a slave. And so here not only is the Bible not promoting slavery, but actually Paul is offering Philemon the choice to voluntarily release Onesimus from his former position as a slave. Which, again, in the context that this was written, in Ancient Rome, would have been completely radical because slavery was as common to them as electricity is to us. That was the way their society operated. But the kingdom of God doesn't just fit into the cultural norms of society. It actually upends them, flips them upside down so that we can better reflect the way that God has called us to live, as brothers and sisters. And then, like you mentioned, Paul says, "Hey, whatever wrong he's done, whatever he owes us, charge it to me". Paul is taking on the cost himself. Which is kind of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Jesus said, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many". And so what we're seeing here is this really powerful letter that actually was picked up by so many Christians that were in the abolitionist movement several hundreds years ago. When they were talking about why slavery should end back in the American colonies and colonial Europe and those different places, a lot of them would point to this passage of scripture, this book in the Bible, a letter from Paul to a man named Philemon. And we believe it's because the Holy Spirit that was guiding the authors as they were writing, that was guiding the group of people who came together to decide what books make it in and what books don't, that this was a message that was meant to be given to every single generation of Christians. That in the kingdom of God we treat everybody as they really are. Our brothers and sisters who have been adopted, who have been forgiven, and who have been redeemed.

Yup, that's so good. So, when I'm looking at this, I am, just like you said, seeing Jesus really clearly in the way that Paul talks about, "If he's done you any wrong, charge it to me". And that's literally what you said, exactly what Jesus did for us on the cross. He took the penalty that I owed as a slave to my sin and he died on the cross in my place. He charged it to his account instead of mine so that I could be freed from my slavery to sin. And so the Bible, if we look at the narrative of scripture, it's like this whole story about freedom for slaves.

Come on, dude. 100%. And so what I would say there too is the reason why we pointed to this passage first is because the Bible is a story that leads to Jesus and invites us to become like Jesus, and if we wanna understand one part of the Bible we've got to interpret it through other parts of the Bible. Because oftentimes when people will make the claim that the Bible promotes slavery they will point to the Old Testament, specifically some passages in Exodus where the author, Moses, is describing what you should do if some situation happens between a slave master and their slave. And I think the thing that we can do sometimes is we can read that and assume that that's the Bible promoting slavery. It's actually not, it's the Bible accounting for slavery. So the thing is slavery has basically been around since the beginning of human civilization, but the type of slavery that was present in Ancient Israel is not the same way that we think of slavery in the modern world. So when we think of slavery, we typically think of the type of slavery that was happening in the American colonies or we think of the modern day slavery of human trafficking that is people being exploited for their bodies. In Ancient Israel, when we actually understand all of what's going on and not just ripping a few verses out of context, we see that slavery then was kind of more like becoming an indentured servant where you would work for a time to pay off your debt. It's not that you were captured from your home, exported away from your original continent, put into a new place, and then treated as a slave where your children would be slaves and their children and their grandchildren, where you had no dignity whatsoever. That's not at all the case. Now if you read it out of context, what we can do is read our own understanding into the Bible, but that's not what's happening. And the Old Testament accounts for slavery, it doesn't promote it, and even then there are limits put on what the slave owners could do to the slaves. It was very much like, actually, if you killed your slave because you were beating them, you would be held accountable and the payment for your murder of them was actually the death penalty. And then if you injured a slave, you knocked out a tooth, poked out their eye, broke a limb, then that slave would then be able to go free. In the American colonies, the way that we think about slavery, slaves were literally abused and beaten and there was no repercussions to the slave owner. And that is tragic, it's evil, and it's horrible, but it's not the kind of slavery the Bible talks about. Now there's that, then we look at what Paul writes to Philemon, and then one of the most powerful passages I think in all of scripture that illustrates what life is like in the kingdom of God is found in his letter to the church in Galatia in 3:26-28. Kaitlyn, would you read that?

Yeah. It says, "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus".

And drop the mic.

Come on, Paul.

Right, what Paul is doing is he's showing that when we say yes to Jesus, our old way of seeing ourselves, others and the world is gone, because we've become a new creation no longer defined by our positions or our status or our family relationships, but defined by the radical grace of Jesus. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. That means whether before you were Jewish or not Jewish, that actually doesn't matter because now you're Christian. Whether you were male or female, that actually doesn't matter as much now because you're Christian. Whether you were a slave or free, all of us were united in Christ. Because what Jesus is doing is he's restoring the original vision for humanity, that all of us would be seen as equals made in the image of God. And so for those of us who are followers of Jesus, what that looks like for us today is living like these words are really true, because they are. That means seeing every person we interact with, even the ones who frustrate us, as human beings made in the image of God that are worthy of our love, that deserve to be given dignity and shown value and honor and all of those things, because that's exactly what Jesus has done for us. And so when we look at this specific subject of slavery, reading it through the lens of Jesus is King and context is everything, what we discover is that the Bible doesn't promote it, it does account for it, but eventually the Bible shows what it looks like for it to be abolished all together and for all of us to live in harmony as a family.

Come on. And so, for you, how is this passage, how is this idea challenging you to become more like Jesus? I think for me the thing is, like, do I see people first as a brother or sister in Christ? Not even as a coworker, not as my best friend, not as my mom or my dad, but do I see them first as a brother or sister in Christ, someone who Jesus died for so that I could be in relationship with my Heavenly Father and part of the same family as them? I think a lot of times I can assign labels to people before that understanding of, man, I'm part of the family of God with you. And that could be a game-changer in the way that I view people and in the way that I treat people, because the way that we treat people starts with how we see people. And so I wanna see people first and foremost as brothers and sisters in Christ.

That's so good. So, how do you see people and how do you treat people? Does it reflect the goodness of God, or is there a little bit of selfishness and sin guiding your actions? Whatever it is we know that the Holy Spirit wants to guide us into a way that's better, that's more true and more beautiful. And so if there's anything we can do to pray for you, comment down below, let us know. If you've got other questions or there's other passages of the Bible that are tricky or confusing or whatever, let us know 'cause we'd love to talk about it for you. The big thing I would just remind you of is that when we're reading the Bible, if we keep in mind that Jesus is King and context is everything, that will actually help us answer the vast majority of our questions.

Yeah, it's so cool to me that we can use the Bible to answer our questions about the Bible.

Right, 100%.

'Cause it's all telling the same story and it's all pointing us to Jesus. So yeah, thanks for hanging out with us today. I don't have anything else.

Cool, me neither. See y'all next week.

See ya.
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