Christianity should pervade every aspect and every role of a believer’s life. In Ephesians 5 and 6, Paul described a number of ways that a believer living the spirit-filled life will act in their relationships. A believer that is filled with the spirit will be joyful, thankful, and humble. Christian husbands will lovingly sacrifice their own preferences and their own comfort for the sake of their own wives. Christian wives will surrender their desires and preferences to their loving husbands. Parents will guide and direct their own children, and children will joyfully submit to their parents. And while there is no doubt that Christianity should pervade every aspect of the family, Paul continued under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to explain that the spirit-filled life will affect work as well.
In the ancient world, slavery was ubiquitous. Nearly every major ancient culture, the Romans included, was founded on and expanded through the use of slavery. This slavery culture was part of the context of all of the New Testament books. In the first century church, there were people who fell on either side of slavery. Some members of local churches were slaves and other members were slave owners. However, nothing broke down the barrier between slave and master as did the truths of Christianity.
In our current context, over 150 years after the ratification of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, we may find some of the statements made regarding slavery to be bothersome. But we would do well to remember the original context in which Paul was writing. He was not seeking to bring sweeping social reform to the entrenched practice of slavery, rather, he was seeking to give guidance to those who were believers and who were existing in that culture and those who would exist in other cultures to follow.
This is the beautiful thing about Christianity. You can tell true Christianity because it is applicable to all cultures. The truth of God and the message of the gospel transcend people groups and languages like nothing else can. This cultural transcendence is something that helps those interested in foreign missions work to see if they are truly carrying the gospel message or if they have attached a bit of baggage to the truth of Scripture. In every culture the plain teaching of Scripture is completely applicable. However, the application of each truth may find itself to be different as it is adapted to different cultures.
To illustrate this, we must see the diversity of worship styles that exist in the global church. In one culture, using drums in worship would seem strange and out of place, whereas in another culture, drums are the prime source of rhythm and help carry the worship. In some cultures, dancing and clapping are seen as strange and awkward, while in another culture to not dance and not clap would seem cold and indifferent towards God. All cultures can obey the command to worship God in joy and in song, but the diversity of humanity demonstrates that the application will vary from culture to culture.
When we read that Christian servants are to obey their masters, and believing masters are to be kind and forbear the insolent slaves under their command, we may feel a tug of disgust. But, what we must understand is that although the application in that culture dealt with slaves and masters, the principles transcend culture and we can find a biblical application for this truth in our culture. For us, in a slave free America, the spirit-filled believer still works 9-5. The same Christian expectation on slaves and their masters can be carried into our culture. In our culture, every Christian employee should strive to work hard and do well in their job that God might be honored and glorified, and every Christian employer must be gracious and kind, even forbearing in love those who at times disappoint them.
Reflect: Is the message of Scripture truly transcendent of culture? Can you think of things that some well-meaning Christians have tried to carry over to other cultures in the name of Christianity?