Monday, November 10, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 29)

A natural objection would be raised by those who were slaves (who may very well have had slaves of their own, which should probably be taken into consideration when hearing what comes next from Paul), which could be “What if our master is a believer?  Should he not be forced to free us?”  It may be the case that the church met in the very household of a believer who was also a slaveholder.  Undoubtedly, Paul would let the Spirit have its work (one could hear Paul’s words to Philemon about avoiding compulsion), with this heard in his response to the theoretical objections: “But those who have believing masters must not show them less respect because they are brothers.  Instead they are to serve all the more, because those who benefit from their service are believers and dearly loved” (1 Timothy 6:2). 

With these words there is a reminder that Paul, in general, is far more concerned with that which benefits the body as a whole, rather than that which benefits individual believers, which this being quite easy to discern from his letters to the Corinthians and the Romans (not as a source of proof texts, but as communications that reveal the heart of the Apostle).  Again, this will require love, self-sacrifice, and preferential treatment on behalf of the slave. 

This is quite the role-reversal in that day, for it would usually be the master, in the position of patron and benefactor to those that are his slaves, that were looked to as those with the opportunity to be generous and magnanimous.  Here, Paul has effectively reversed those roles, and it is now the slave that is in said position and is therefore in a position to accrue honor.  One should not look to this culturally reversing element as a justification for the extension of slavery, but as an element of the last becoming first and the first becoming last, and as something of an in-breaking of the power of the kingdom of the Creator God.    

Beginning with the sixth verse of the sixth chapter, Paul writes “Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit.  For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either” (6:6-7).  Had this study not already revealed that Paul has dismissed Stoicism, effectively countering its philosophical stance with the hope of the Resurrection (as embodied in Jesus), one may be tempted to hear a resonance of Stoic thought in these words from the Apostle. 

One is better served, however, to hear Paul from within the honor and shame competition of the culture.  Though, as has been said before, it would not necessarily be the case that honor was equated with wealth, this would largely hold true.  So here one finds a way of thinking that militates against the valuation of honor, and the goods that become associated with an every-increasing cache of public honor, with a reminder of that which is truly valuable.  In the end, that would be working to increase the public honor of the one that was made to be Lord and Christ. 

Contentment, as opposed to Stoic apathy, runs contrary to the ceaseless competition for public honor; and as should be well known, godliness, in imitation of the Lord, not only causes one to become unconcerned with public honor, it also causes Jesus’ followers to seek out the places and people and situations and activities that will redound to the accrual of shame.  With shame being the equivalent of death, and generally to be avoided at all costs (as was the going concern of the culture), the believers’ going “down” into shame (though paradoxically it is an elevation in the eyes of the covenant God) can be looked upon as the equivalent of going down into death---going to the cross with Jesus and being crucified with Him.

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