This is an extremely difficult passage because Paul seems to acquiesce to the institution of slavery. We want Paul to clearly call for an end to the practice. However, given Paul’s understanding of the Old Testament, it is likely that he viewed slavery to be the equivalent of indentured servitude that was clearly meant to be temporary. That said, how does his message to “masters” shift the power dynamic in the relationship and ultimately subvert it? What principles from this passage—if any—could we apply to current employment structures? What might Paul say today to owners and managers of low-wage employees?
For an interesting look into the mind of Paul on the topic of slavery, consider reading the short letter to Philemon, the master of Onesimus, a runaway slave.
On This Day…. Worker Justice during Holy Week.