The end of this week brings us to the end of I Timothy, Paul’s beautiful and practical letter to one of his successors, St. Timothy, about how to be a bishop. Chapter 6 picks up on some themes I considered two posts ago from Philippians 4:
I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
But I Tim 6 touches on these themes in a way that may not makes us very comfortable.
Those who are bound to slavery must treat their masters as entitled to all respect; otherwise God’s name and our doctrine will be ill spoken of.
Is this a tacit endorsement of slavery? By no means… Ironically, it’s actually Paul and the early Christian community laying hold to true freedom!
Paul knows that whether the issue is slavery, food, physical health, persecution… whatever, wide open… there will always be something making this world a valley of tears. In the end it must be so. Even if we built a perfect city on earth, there would still be death. And if that basic axiom of science, “All living things die,” is to be believed, then the larger issue is, “how do we deal with death?” And that is what Christian doctrine is all about. That is why Paul admonishes slaves to treat their masters with respect: because in their given state of life, however horrible it may be, that is the ultimate sacrifice and thus the one worthy of being joined to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the path to true eternal freedom in heaven. Paul speaks to his heavenward orientation a little further on. He warns us about false preachers who puff themselves up, using “speculation and controversy” and lose track of the truth (cf I Tim 6:3-5). Religion, they think, will provide them with a living. And indeed, religion is ample provision for life, though no more than a bare sufficiency goes with it.” (I Tim 6:6-7). That distinction between making “a living,” (read “salary”) and providing for “life,” (read: “the existence of the soul”) is what it’s all about.
If Jesus is indeed, the Risen Lord… and he is… and if that’s is the kernel of what he came to achieve for us: Resurrection. Then whatever our state in life (no more Jew or Gentile, no more slave and freeman, no more male and female; you are all one person in Christ Jesus Gal. 3:28), we are called to embrace total sacrifice with him, “otherwise God’s name and our doctrine will be ill spoken of.” Or, put another way: we will have made a liar of God… Material circumstances, the world, the saeculum, will have won; and our souls, and the souls of many others, will fall for lack of belief in his Hope. Preferisco Paradiso!