31. Employers/Employees

Meditations in 1 Peter : 31:  Employees and Employers

1 Pet 2:18 Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.

For some of us, when we come across references to slavery in the Bible, and especially when it is in the New Testament, we immediately move into negative mode but that, I would suggest, simply indicates our lack of thought about history. It is legitimate to wonder why God didn’t eradicate slavery because the Bible speaks often of Him being a God of justice. The truth, I believe, comes in the recognition that God gave humanity free will and He never forces His will on us. Thus when we go back to the New Testament period we see that slavery is common in the world and that nowhere in that world are there any stirrings to suggest change. The Lord would have to wait centuries for the likes of William Wilberforce so the battle to remove slavery would be won. Yet, tragically, even now there are places in the world today where there are slaves.

Thus when we come to the Gospels or letters of the New Testament we find they simply accept the fact of slavery and live within it. Peter has been telling his readers to stand out in the world and live in such a way that they bring honour and glory to their Saviour. Now he turns to a group of people who might have every cause to feel negative about others. But no, he doesn’t let them get away with that; he demands that even slaves respect their masters.

Now this takes the teaching about respect that we considered yesterday, to an even higher level. It is a strong word: “Slaves submit yourselves to your masters with all respect.” Now when we think about this more fully in the light of the whole revelation of the Bible, we realise that within Jewish society at least, and according to the Law, slaves would be those who had sold themselves into slavery, probably to help the finances of their family. The Law also required slaves to be released at regular intervals, so slavery in that society was not the same as that which had been seen, say, in the southern states of the USA. This was more like a case of employment but the wages had been paid up front.

The quality of the life of the slave would depend on the master and theoretically if you sold yourself into a family for seven years you would only do it with a master with a good reputation. Yet Peter recognises the reality of living in a Fallen World, that there will be slave owners who are harsh. This was more likely in that period where Rome had subjugated all the nations of that area and so slavery in that context would not have the protections provided by the Law of Moses and in the area to which this letter would go, slave owners were mostly not Jews who respected the Law of Moses..

So, as much as we might wish to think otherwise (as it should have been in Israel in earlier centuries) now with Rome being the dominant force, slavery was a much tougher experience, which makes Peter’s teaching all the more amazing. If in the previous meditation we saw that we should value every person – whoever they are – as people made in the image of God with their own unique special features, this still applies to slave owners. They are still people! They are still people and so, if we have understood this teaching, they deserve respect. We don’t have to like the bad side of their lives but they are still people who perhaps God wants to reach.

This is purely an academic discussion until we place it in the context of modern life, of you being an employee who has a harsh or unkind or unfair employer. Now on occasion the labour market means that sometimes it is possible to change jobs if you don’t like your employer, but that isn’t always possible, and so we need to face this teaching. With God’s grace we have the opportunity to be completely different employees to the rest or the world. The truth is that if there is an employer, manager, supervisor etc. who is harsh, unkind etc. then the other employees will probably be thinking (and talking) badly of them as well.

You and I, with the grace of God, may wonder, why is it that this person is like they are? I remember a teacher at school who was known for being tetchy and harsh with discipline and it wasn’t until I was older and further up in the school that I came to hear that he suffered with constant pain. Understanding what that person is carrying may help us cope with them. Seeing them as someone that Jesus loves and would like to draw to himself – through us? – may also help us adjust our thinking and our behaviour in respect of that person. Causes and possibilities! What causes them to be like they are? Does my bad work add to their attitude? Maybe it’s me who need to change first. What possibility is there of God moving in this person’s life? What could be the outcome if I will be open to what the Lord might want to do in them?

When we suffer an unkind, insensitive or harsh person above us in employment, the temptation is to go down under it and to be negative about them. That is not the way of the New Testament. There is always hope of change and faith looks to the Lord for such change to come. Be a blessing at work. Change the world!

21. Negligence Laws

Lessons from the Law: No.21 : Laws of Negligence

Ex 22:5,6 If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another man’s field, he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard. “If a fire breaks out and spreads into thorn bushes so that it burns shocks of grain or standing grain or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution.

In modern law a duty of care arises when a person is in a position to foresee that an action or lack of action of theirs is likely to cause to others injury of damage or wrong reliance upon them, and negligence occurs when there is a breach of that duty and as a result another has suffered damages (loss). This is law that has only become clear in the last hundred years.  What we now come to are laws of negligence that applied over three thousand years ago in the Law of Moses and they run from verse 5 to verse 15 of chapter 22 of the book of Exodus.

Verses 5 & 6 are about restitution for loss caused by the carelessness of a land owner. Both of these come more under the law of Strict Liability that we recently considered earlier where, if you have something dangerous on your land you will be liable for the damage it causes if it escapes because of your carelessness. If livestock escape, of course they will eat the grass on neighbouring ground. If fire breaks out and is not contained, of course it will cause damage on neighbouring land. In both cases the original land owner is liable for the dame to his neighbours land.

Verses 7 to 9 are about restitution if a neighbour’s goods, generally, are stolen while in the care of another: If a man gives his neighbor silver or goods for safekeeping and they are stolen from the neighbor’s house, the thief, if he is caught, must pay back double. But if the thief is not found, the owner of the house must appear before the judges to determine whether he has laid his hands on the other man’s property. In all cases of illegal possession of an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment, or any other lost property about which somebody says, ‘This is mine,’ both parties are to bring their cases before the judges. The one whom the judges declare guilty must pay back double to his neighbor.” (Ex 22:7-9). If the goods are stolen the original law of theft applies (Ex 22:4) but if no trace of a thief is found it may be that the neighbour may have taken the good for himself and so it must be taken to court, and if the court determines the neighbour has taken the goods for himself then the normal law of theft applies.

Verses 10 to 15 are specifically about animals left in the care of another.  “If a man gives a donkey, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to his neighbor for safekeeping and it dies or is injured or is taken away while no one is looking, the issue between them will be settled by the taking of an oath before the LORD that the neighbor did not lay hands on the other person’s property. The owner is to accept this, and no restitution is required. But if the animal was stolen from the neighbor, he must make restitution to the owner.” (v.10-12) The law appears at first sight to be the same as for personal property left in safe keeping but the difference is that rather than go to court to settle it, it is settled by a solemn oath before God which is seen as sufficient to deter untruth, and no restitution is required when the animal has simply died or injures itself. The reference to it being “taken away while no one is looking” would seem, to suggest it was taken either from his own property or without the knowledge of the person caring for it, because in this case the other person is required to make restitution for it

When it is in the care of another, “If it was torn to pieces by a wild animal, he shall bring in the remains as evidence and he will not be required to pay for the torn animal.” (v.13) i.e. if a marauding wild animal got in and destroyed the animal being cared for, as long as there is evidence of the remains there are no repercussions.

There is one further stipulation: “If a man borrows an animal from his neighbor and it is injured or dies while the owner is not present, he must make restitution. But if the owner is with the animal, the borrower will not have to pay. If the animal was hired, the money paid for the hire covers the loss.” (v.14,15) This is a case where an animal is borrowed (?possibly a horse or a donkey) and it is injured or dies while with the other man. The outcomes depend on whether the owner was present or not. If he was (and can see there was no mistreatment – implied?) there is no come back, but if he wasn’t then the borrower must make restitution. If it happens when the animal was hired, then it is assumed that the hire cost covers such eventualities.

Again, in an agricultural economy, these things would happen and were therefore very important. God gives the guidelines that are quite reasonable and they operate to protect each person involved.

21. If God says


21. If that’s what God says….

Luke 2:21,22 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

“Well, what I think…” How many times have you heard those words? Somehow we try to assert our individuality or create our uniqueness by opinions, as if what we think is THE all-important thing in life. Anyone who has any public role in life – whether it be a politician, TV pundit, newspaper writer, or even simple manager – constantly faces the great temptation to believe that their view is the right one. Politicians probably hold the most extreme position in this respect, when they have to follow a ‘party line’, but we all do it in a lesser measure; we all hold a particular line. I once heard a group of about fifteen men discussing a particular contentious subject with an amazing degree of unity. It was only after about ten minutes that I realized that they had all watched the same documentary on TV the night before and were now all holding the same view. The only problem with all this is when a contradictory view appears in another ‘documentary’ some months later.

With this in mind it is refreshing to observe the simplicity of Mary and Joseph. They don’t go on their own ideas; they, quite clearly, follow God’s views. God has said, through the two angels, that the child is to be named Jesus – so they name him Jesus. Next, being part of the Jewish race, having the Law of Moses, the Law given by God to Israel through Moses, they go to do what the Law required. The Law required the couple to go to the temple after a prescribed period after the birth and present an offering to the Lord. Now this is not the place (with insufficient space) to explain the sacrificial system for the Jews, simply to reiterate that it had been given to Israel to follow. Mary and Joseph therefore followed the dictum, if that’s what God says then we’ll do it.

As we look back over the story so far, we can see that this couple received their guidance from God through direct heavenly communication (the angels), through circumstances (the emperor), through other people (the shepherds), and now through the written word of God (the Law). Similarly today we receive our guidance through heavenly communication (the Holy Spirit – see Gal 5:25), through circumstances, through other people (see esp. Eph 4:11 for ministries and 2 Pet 5:1,2 – shepherds!) and through the Scriptures (see 2 Tim 3:16,17). What a wealth of guidance available to us! I wonder if we avail ourselves of it, or do we only go by what we think, our opinion, our ideas? Such people frequently go astray.

So here is this beautiful couple being led of God. The truth is that it is probably Joseph taking the lead and his capability for following dreams, as we’ll yet see before the story finishes, suggests that he is particularly good at following God’s guidance. Mary, we suggest, simply follows – she’s probably a bit younger than him as well, and following your man was the teaching of the day – and because he’s won the right to call her to follow his headship by first having laid down his life for her. See Paul’s teaching on this (Eph 5:22 -25) which is beautifully epitomized in this couple. So for Mary, she has the additional form of guidance, so alien a concept in the modern Western world, of a life-giving husband, winning her love and submission by his attentiveness to God’s voice and God’s will. Amazing! Is that not beautiful?