Thursday, January 12, 2012

1 Timothy 6:1-2 Servants and Masters

"Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed. 2 And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. Teach and exhort these things."

Vs. 1 The Apostle Paul now commands bondservants to honor their masters; just as he does elsewhere (Eph. 6:5; Col. 3:22-25; Titus 2:9). “…So that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed.”

Honoring those we are employed by is probably the best workplace witness for Jesus Christ that we can have towards them. For God is often glorified or blasphemed according to how we conduct ourselves in our workplaces, just as in our homes and churches. Therefore the Apostle Paul commands bondservants honour their masters. Just as all believers as bondservants of Jesus Christ are to honour the Master, by honouring and obeying all those in positions of authority, regardless of their conduct towards us (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:11-17). Now in the early church it was not uncommon for believers to be, or to have slaves. Yet the Apostle’s commanding submission of slaves to ones master should not be confused with opposition to freedom if justly secured (1 Cor. 7:21-24). For under the law slaves were granted certain protections from overtly abusive masters (Ex. 21:20; 26-27; Deut. 23:15-16). As well Israelites who sold themselves into slavery could redeem themselves, if they became able to do so, or be redeemed by a near relative; since redemption of both people and possessions is foundational to the law (Lev. 25:23-55). Indeed it is because of that principal; of being able to purchase another's freedom from slavery. That Jesus Christ our Lord and Savoir came to redeem us from our sins by His suffering death on a cross, so that He might pay the ransom price of all our sins, and we might receive His having done so the moment we believe in Him.
This command then of honoring ones master should not be confused with endorsing the enslavement of whole peoples. Or worse the savagery of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries; all of which the Bible thoroughly condemns (Amos 1:6-9; Rev. 18:13). Instead it should be understood in the context of the Roman Empire whose very societal fabric and economy was sustained by slaves. Thus though never wanting the enslavement of anyone, the Apostle Paul neither wants to incite those already bound as such to unlawful insurrection! All which could've destroyed the early and then rapidly spreading Christian faith and peaceful witness. Therefore the Apostle Paul never abdicates for a wholesale abandonment of ones earthly duties and responsibilities simply because Christ has made one free. For to be a slave when called by Christ makes one the Lord’s freed man; or to be free when called by Christ makes one the Lord’s slave. Therefore the Apostle Paul gives advice not to become slaves of men, but if duty bound as such to live in the calling which one is called (1 Cor. 7:21-24). For again neither the Lord Jesus Christ nor His Apostles advocate our abandoning our earthly responsibilities; whether in our homes, communities or even greater societies, simply because Jesus Christ has purchased and assures our freedom with Him as His people. That is the principal being exhorted here, not endorsement of slavery, or the bondage of any person to anyone. Just our willful submission to Jesus Christ by obeying those who have authority over us (Rom. 13).

For ultimately abolishment of all social injustice and inequality comes by way of Christ's cross; as people believe and are regenerated and their hearts and minds are renewed by the Spirit of God. These then being transformed by the grace of God, will transform their own homes; families; communities; greater societies etc. For that is always the gospel's effect when it is believed and obeyed; not just the salvation and regeneration of the individual's soul; but also believers inevitably become God's agents and advocates for positive societal change and justice as we exemplify the just treatment of men, women and children everywhere, from every walk of life. For having peace with God inevitably brings with it a God given desire for all to experience His life, liberty and love.

In his epistle to Philemon the Apostle Paul there tactfully appeals for a runaway slave named Onesimus who sought refuge with him after fleeing from his master Philemon. There Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus graciously back; as more than just a slave, but now as a beloved brother In Christ. As Paul begot Onesimus to Christ while they were together (See Philemon 8-22). For the Apostle Paul’s attitude towards slavery is consistently that, to bring men and women, bond and free; thus slaves and their masters into an equality In Christ through brotherly love that transcends all earthly positions and distinctions (Gal. 3:26-29).

Vs. 2 Therefore in verse one the Apostle Paul commanded believers who were servants or slaves of unbelievers to submit to and obey them; even though they now had a Higher Master in Christ who had liberated them. Since believers are never called to incite sedition or practice lawlessness in the cultures in which we are called. Advocacy yes, intercession yes, social justice and positive societal change by every peaceful and lawful means, yes! But never are we to pursue or justify breaking either moral or civil law as a means to an end. So here in verse two the Apostle Paul commands those who have believing masters, likewise not to despise them, because they are brethren. But rather to serve them since those who are benefited are brethren and beloved. “Teach and exhort these things.”

The Apostle Paul now gives some practical counsel on how slaves can honor their masters. These things apply to us who are likewise recipients of the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord and Master. First treat them with respect. The first duty of every believer is treat all in authority with respect. Those who treat people in authority with contempt put themselves in a perilous place. Since Jesus Christ Himself submitted to all earthly authority and He commands the same from all His followers (Matt. 23:1-3).

The second thing is to serve them. In regards to this the Apostle Paul commands elsewhere: "Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. 23 And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. 25 But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality. Col. 3:22-25 Conversely the Apostle Paul says to those who are Masters: "Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven." Col. 4:1

Now taken up into our reality as citizens thankfully void of any traces of slavery; in large part due to Christian men and woman who fought for its absolution. Every Christian as a bondservant of Jesus Christ should treat their employers with respect and serve them heartily as the Apostle has commanded for in so doing we serve our true Master the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact worship of God and serving Him are inseparably linked in the Bible (Exodus 3:12; 1 Chron. 9:33; Daniel 7:13-14; Malachi 3:16-18; Luke 1:73-75; 2:36-37; Heb. 12:28-29; Rev. 7:13-17; 22:1-5). In many ways then how one does ones work is a reflection of their worship of God.

The third thing is to show them fidelity. In this the Apostle Paul wrote to Titus: "Exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things." Titus 2:9-10

Now the word translated fidelity is the same word used in the Bible to describe a believer’s faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. It is a fruit of the Spirit being translated faithfulness there. Thus believers are Spirit equipped to live as people others can likewise put their faith or trust in. In contrast the Book of Proverbs warns: 
"Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble
Is like a bad tooth and a foot out of joint." Pr. 25:9

Therefore believers are to show themselves faithful in all areas of life. And for most of us this begins in the home and workplace by doing and fulfilling our duties and obligations there. Now in regards to monetary faithfulness towards God the Lord Jesus said: 10 He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. 11Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? Luke 16:10-12

Scripture Quotations
The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

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