Why didn’t Paul just prohibit slavery?

Watch the complete sermon here: https://www.bridges.church/messages/marriage-kids-and-slavery-ephesians-5-21-6-9/

Hey, thanks again for sending in questions related to our recent sermons. This last Sunday, we’re studying Ephesians five, and then into Ephesians six, where Paul brings up the touchy subject of slavery. In the course of the sermon, we said that Paul’s words and how masters were to treat slaves as if the slave were the master is something that helped to ultimately end slavery, a concept of mutual submission. If masters and slaves are mutually submitting to one another, it would crumble the institution of slavery, which it helped to do. But the question is, if Paul’s goal was to end slavery or to crumble it from the inside out or to crumble it altogether, why didn’t he just say, slavery is wrong?

Why didn’t he just say, stop it altogether? Ten Commandments says don’t steal. Why couldn’t Paul just say no slavery? Which is a great question. Ultimately, we don’t know the answer.

I think we have some clues in know. You go back into the Old Testament, and there are times when God says, don’t do something. Just flat out, don’t steal. There are other times, there are other behaviors that God teaches not to do in different ways. You think about practices of polygamy or primageniture, which is favoring of the firstborn.

The firstborn gets the inheritance. It’s a priority. And so God never says, don’t do those in the Old Testament. But if you read the story, you get the idea. Both of those are terrible ideas.

God’s always overturning prima geniture. It’s not always the firstborn who has a priority. You look at the results of polygamy and the children fighting each other and Absalom warring against David. You’re reading this, and you’re like, wow, that’s a terrible idea. And so just like with our know, sometimes we just flat out say, don’t do this.

Other times we tell them a story, or we read them a story. You’re thinking about how you’re teaching your kids not to play with fire, not to play with matches. And sure, you could just say, don’t play with matches. Or you could read them a story of Smokey and the bear who played with matches and burned down the forest. And then the kid gets the idea, oh, don’t play with matches.

So there’s different approaches, right? And God seems to use different approaches. Sometimes he just says no. Other times he tells a story. Other times he motivates us through what you guys need to be doing is loving one another.

In the time when Paul directly writes to an individual slave owner. In the Book of Philemon, he does instruct, let the slave go out of the basis of love. Not because I’m commanding you even there, Paul says, not because I’m commanding you, but just because you love your brother in Christ. Let him go. And, you know, this is all just guesses, right?

But I will say psychologists have studied one of the strongest motivations to get somebody to do something is love. I think the second strongest is fear. And so fear of punishment could work for a time. But if you want really the strongest motivation to get somebody to do a new behavior, it’s out of love. Which does seem to be the approach that Paul is taking here in Ephesians when he’s talking about slavery.

Out of love, right? Out of love for Christ, mutual submission to each other. You got to treat each other in a way that did ultimately undermine the entire institution. That’s a guess. We can’t say for sure what God was doing through Paul or all the reasons for it, but we do trust that God does know what he’s doing and is leading us to a future where we are in total mutual submission to one another, elevating one another above ourselves in perfect harmony.

So we look forward to that future, and we thank you for the question. Bye.