Contra Self-righteous Virtue-signaling - Part 1 of a series

The Apostle Paul (circa 5 AD  to 67 AD) Christian martyr and prolific contributor to New Testament. Painting attributed to Valentin de Bologne, 17th century
The Apostle Paul (circa 5 AD to 67 AD) Christian martyr and prolific contributor to New Testament. Painting attributed to Valentin de Bologne, 17th century

The first Bishop of Ephesus, Timothy, had encountered some controversy in his young church, because among its members were both masters and slaves.  Evidently, someone in the church was using the issue to stir up enmity, perhaps for some personal or political advantage. In a letter to his protégé, the Apostle Paul writes with divinely inspired authority addressing the issue:

1 Timothy 6:1-5, English Standard Version (ESV)

“Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness,  he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”

The KJ version adds to the end of verse 5: from such withdraw thyself.”  [See also 2 Timothy 3:5 below]  

2 Timothy 3:5

“,,,having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

Paul also elaborates on the proper conduct and relationships between masters in slaves in his general letter to the Ephesian Church:

 Ephesians 6: 5-9

 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,  not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,  knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”

Paul writes something very similar to the Church at Colossus:

Colossians 3:22-25, 4:1

 “Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.  For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.”

4:1 “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”

His instructions to Titus confirm the same themes:

Titus 2:9

“Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people.

We also see that the Apostle Peter, inspired by the same Spirit, agrees:

1 Peter 2: 18-19 

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.”

The Bible does not promote slavery. It is also clear from the stories of Joseph and Moses in Genesis and Exodus that freedom is generally preferable to slavery. However, it is also clear from these verses and numerous others in Scripture that slavery as an institution is not condemned. Neither are slaveholders condemned unless they mistreat their slaves. It was by God’s sometimes mysterious wisdom and Providence allowed, but regulated to soften it.   The most important overall themes in these Apostolic verses are mutual honor, respect, and kindness between masters and slaves, patiently relying on the wisdom and goodness of God’s Providence for peace and justice.

In researching this article, I ran across a Christian website, where its author condemned slavery, not just its abuses, but the institution of slavery and former slaveholders, as the most grievous sin imaginable. Slavery had many serious faults and was highly vulnerable to abuses, but condemning as grievous sin, what God has not condemned, is a dangerous step into arrogant moral and spiritual error and likely to bring woeful consequences.   

The image of slavery in the mind of most Americans is one of chains, whips, grinding humiliation and injustice. Because of this deeply-ingrained image—basically inculcated by many decades of political propaganda—it is especially hard for many Americans to listen with open ears or understand with open minds and hearts the Apostolic teachings on a benevolent relationship between masters and slaves. It is also difficult for them to accept the historical tolerance of institutional slavery. This terrible image of slavery was, however, uncommon in reality. Interviews with thousands of former slaves during the Franklin Roosevelt Administration indicated that more than 80 percent of them had a favorable opinion of their former masters. Less than five percent had an unfavorable opinion, and few of those rose to the level that created best-selling novels.  

The most distorted images, however, continue to be politicized today. It is good that by God’s Providence slavery is behind us, but the attitudes spawned by this obsessive drumming about slavery, ethnic-identity politics, and nurtured grievances feed a political agenda that is destroying the social, spiritual, and political fabric of America. Beneath the self-righteous virtue-signaling of its supporters is a campaign of hatred based on historical ignorance, distortion, and the rejection of Biblical relevance and authority.

We read in Genesis 37:26-28 that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. But many years later, Joseph’s ultimate reaction was forgiveness and reconciliation:

Genesis 50:15-21 Slavery and forgiveness in the story of Joseph

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

What a contrast between the authoritative teachings of Scripture and the hateful grievance mongering, destructive mob violence, and ignorant virtue-signaling that we continually endure today!.

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Mike Scruggs