1 Peter 2

The second chapter of 1 Peter begins with a continuation of the theme of holiness and living an obedient life to which we were called. It tells us to remove anything that hinders this holiness. It’s interesting that in Peter’s list in 1 Peter 2:1, the priority is the relationships we have with one another. Malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander are all about how we view or interact with others. Therefore, our holiness is not an individual thing that we obtain through distancing ourselves from others, but it is actually obtained in communion with others.

This idea is further expanded upon in verses 4-10. Each believer is a spiritual stone, that is being formed to create a temple. The foundation stone of that temple is Jesus. What is also interesting is how a temple is where God’s presence that dwells on earth. We have often been told about how God dwells within us. But often we consider it an individual idea, but there seems to be quite a few verses that explore the idea of a community believers being his dwelling place. I imagine that it is a bit of both: we are individually chosen as stones for a wider body which creates a dwelling place for the manifest presence of God in the world. Verses 9 and 10 use a variety of images that have a group and community aspect to it.

Peter then tells us to live under the authority and rule of unkind masters. First, he discusses the emperor, who would have been Nero. Nero oppressed and killed Christians, so it was not something that was easy. Then, again the topic of slavery comes up. This is because slavery was widespread during the writing of the New Testament, in the context of the Roman Empire. Here, Peter acknowledges the injustice of it, but also asks the slaves to patiently endure. We are to take our model from Jesus, who suffered the greatest injustice of history without retaliation. The key is to trust God as the one who his just. Therefore, it is through remembering Christ’s sufferings that we too are able to endure sufferings.

Philemon 1

Philemon 1 is an interesting letter in many ways. First, it’s short but actually it’s the length of the average letter during the Roman times. Second, the subject matter is fascinating, and answers some of the difficulties we have with other passages written by Paul. In Titus, for example, Paul writes that slaves should obey their masters. However, here we see the same issue but from a different standpoint.

It seems that Philemon is a slave owner (which was exceptionally common in the Roman period), and Paul is writing on the behalf of one of his slaves. Onesimus appears to be Philemon’s slave, that has probably escaped and sought Paul out. Paul, from his imprisonment, has written to Philemon petitioning him to show clemency towards Onesimus and even to secure his release from slavery.

Philemon is a church leader, his wife is probably Apphia and Archippus is possibly a fellow leader in the church. Here we have a short insight into a house church set-up in the Roman Empire.

I think that this letter is particularly helpful in looking at relationships between believers and how to address issues effectively. I think it’s also interesting in how it treats the issue of slavery. He calls a slave his brother. Furthermore, it’s how Paul asks for obedience, which is definitely against our culture, despite the fact that Philemon was probably of a higher social status than Paul. So, it really makes me consider how well we respond to requests from leaders in church today.

1 Timothy 6

Well, this book has not been short of difficult passages and has highlighted many areas in my Biblical that require more research and further reading. Chapter six is no different, and is perhaps a very difficult read, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

This chapter begins with a passage directed at slaves to be respectful to their masters. What we need to remember is that this was written during the Roman period, not during the Atlantic Slave Trade, so this context may help shed light on this. Apparently, around 10% of the entire population of the Roman Empire were slaves during the first century; in Italy is was as high as 30-40%. Also, Paul was written within the legal system of the Roman Empire. The Bible, in this passage, was not encouraging slavery, I believe, but just writing about it as an established fact. Remember, that during the first century, Christians were an oppressed minority, and often persecuted. Therefore, their options would have been restricted.

However, of course, the Atlantic Slave Trade did happen, many years later. Many people used passages (possible such as this one) from the Bible to condone it. However, the legacy of the likes William Wilberforce, whose religious convictions led him to fight for the slave trade to be abolished, is still important to remember. Wilberforce’s actions were very much led by his religious convictions. Interestingly, Wilberforce was also one of the founding members of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Church Mission Society. (I’m currently reading one biography of C.T. Studd and one of William Gladstone, but Wilberforce might be the next on my list.)

Next, this book discusses false teaching and the love of money. It talks about how false teachers cause discord and think godliness and serving the Lord is a means to financial gain. However, godliness should come with contentment, and we should be pleased if “we have food and clothing”. It does remind me of C. T. Studd, who gave away his entire inheritance whilst serving in China and seemed very content with his life because he had clothes and food. In fact, his letters home seemed to extol the virtues of the local Chinese food and how suitable the clothes were for the Chinese climate. Later in the chapter, it tells the rich not to put their hope in money. I know I’m often guilty of that. I think I need to do yet further reading on a Godly attitude towards money. (I need to start writing this list down somewhere!)

Lastly, Timothy is charged to fight the good fight and take care of what has been given to him.