The reference to a slave’s proper attitude toward his master in 1 Timothy 6:2 allows us to take some time at the beginning of today’s study to examine a hermeneutical (interpretive) issue raised by this text. Today, many voices even within the church seek to normalize homosexuality. We affirm that sexual relations are appropriate only between one man and one woman within marriage based on Scripture (Gen. 2:24; 1 Cor. 7:8–9), but the other side attempts to counter us, saying that since the church changed its view of slavery even though the Bible regulates its practice, we too must abandon centuries-old Christian teaching on sexuality even if Scripture has rules about it.
Adopting the hermeneutics (interpretive approach) of Jesus and Paul enables us to answer such charges. Both Jesus (Matt. 19:1–9) and Paul (2 Tim. 2:8–15) appeal to the original state of things in order to justify their teaching, which shows us that the way things were before sin is how God wants His world to operate. There was no slavery before the fall; it was introduced in light of sin, and the Lord, in concession to fallen societies, provided regulations to limit the practice’s abuse (Ex. 20:8–11; Col. 4:1) even while never granting slavery to be ideal. But even though homosexuality is also a result of the fall, the Lord never approves of its practice and neither should we concede to those who would approve it. The church’s position on slavery says nothing about its position on sexual deviancy, and while Jesus could appeal to the original order to justify his teaching on divorce, nothing in Scripture can legitimate homosexual behavior.
Elements of Paul’s teaching may have eventually led the church, by and large, to reject slavery. But in his day his concern was to make sure the gospel was not tarnished by a slave’s behavior, and, apparently, he knew of some Christian slaves who had Christian masters and who saw their common faith as grounds for lackadaisical service, taking advantage of their brotherhood to disrespect those in authority over them. But whether or not slavery exists today, attitudes like these are inappropriate (1 Tim. 6:1–2a), and Christians should be the best servants and workers of all.
It can be easy to know all of the right methods for interpreting the Word of God and yet at the same time not obey its precepts. This happens all too often in the Christian community when believers, consciously or not, think they can get away with taking advantage of other believers because they are brothers and sisters in Christ. Our services to each other, however, should be of the highest quality, for we should best understand the dignity of others.