BIBLE STUDY


Paul's Letters To Timothy
by Greg Williamson (c) 2014, 2019
Featuring the text of the New American Standard Bible *
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Intro | 1 Timothy 1:1-11 / 1:12-17 / 1:18-20 | 2:1-8 / 2:9-15 | 3:1-7 / 3:8-13 / 3:14-16 | 4:1-6 / 4:7-12 / 4:13-16 | 5:1-16 / 5:17-25 | 6:1-2 / 6:3-10 / 6:11-21 | 2 Timothy 1:1-7 / 1:8-12 / 1:13-18 | 2:1-7 / 2:8-13 / 2:14-18 / 2:19-26 | 3:1-9 / 3:10-12 / 3:13-17 | 4:1-4 / 4:5-8 / 4:9-22 ** | Articles & Definitions | Sources

THE CHURCH'S MINISTRY TO SERVANTS (SLAVES)
(1 Timothy 6:1-2)

1 All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against.
2 Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these principles.

 
Be obedient so you do not bring reproach on the Word (v. 1; Titus 2:10) or show disrespect for persons in authority over you. Never take advantage of fellow believers; rather, do all you can to help them. - Warren Wiersbe [ref]
 

QuoteWorthy: Talents
Not all have the same talents. Each person can serve with the skill he or she possesses and as needs require. For example, there are times when the church needs a plumber who can repair a broken pipe more than it needs a pastor to pray over it. [ref]

1 TIMOTHY 6:1 - Christian Slaves of Unbelievers
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SLAVERY & THE NEW TESTAMENT

While every believer is called to follow Jesus' example of self-sacrificial service (Mark 10:42-45), slavery "is degrading, and fundamentally destructive of a person’s humanness [because] one human being is forcibly owned by another and is thus robbed of all freedom. Slaves have three defining characteristics. Their person is another’s property, so that they may be bought and sold; their will is subject to another’s authority; and their labour is obtained by another’s coercion." [ref]

"In the Roman culture of Paul's day, slavery was a deeply rooted institution. It was also widespread, since estimates place the number of slaves at 60 million, or half the population of the empire. Slaves conducted most of the functions of society, from the most menial tasks to work as tutors for children and estate managers. They were used as we use tools, machinery, and technology today. Slavery was economic rather than racially motivated. People usually became slaves as a result of war or poverty." [ref] While slavery was so entrenched within the society of their day that neither Jesus nor Paul condemned it outright, within his writings Paul did spell out a number of

principles which undermined the very concept of slavery and led inexorably to its abolition, even though Christians are ashamed that it did not happen sooner. What are these principles? At the beginning of this letter he has declared ‘slave traders’ to be in breach of God’s law (1 Timothy 1:10); in his earlier letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians he has also shown slavery to be in breach of the gospel. He has implied the equality of slaves and slave owners by declaring that they have the same heavenly master, who shows no favouritism (Eph. 6:9). In consequence, he has told masters to provide their slaves with what is ‘right and fair’, although in those days there was no such thing as ‘justice’ for slaves (Col. 4:1). Paul has also written of the radical transformation of relationships which the gospel effects, so that slave and slave owner become brothers (Phm. 16; 1 Tim. 6:2). Indeed, ‘there is neither … slave nor free … for you are all one in Christ Jesus’, equally God’s children and heirs without any distinction between them (Gal. 3:26ff). Meanwhile, even while slaves remain in bondage outwardly, they can enjoy an inner freedom in Christ (1 Cor. 7:22). [ref]

The freedom offered by the Gospel was like a siren song to slaves living in the first century. As one source explains in some detail:

Slaves were one group in the early church that had been especially drawn by the freedom that Paul's gospel promised. The apostle announced: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Gal 5:1). And he said that in Christ the distinction between slave and free had (in some sense) ceased to exist (Gal 3:28).

In the first century, slaves formed a distinct group within the society of the Roman Empire. Although they were the property of their masters, in practice this did not prevent many of them from experiencing a good deal of freedom and social mobility. Many earned a living or worked in partnership with their owners. Some actually held positions of authority within businesses or administrative posts in lower levels of the government. It was also not unusual for a slave to receive a good education. On the whole, the slaves in the churches of Asia Minor who heard Paul's message lived in a time when conditions were improving. Nevertheless, the desire to be free of slavery was always present. It might be won by outstanding service. But some saw in the gospel a more direct route.

What they failed to see was that freedom in Christ does not release the Christian from obligations to those in rightful authority. This is a lesson I began to learn shortly after becoming a Christian, while serving in the military in England. There were several of us who had just set out on the Christian adventure. In our enthusiasm to serve Christ we somehow concluded that we didn't need to concern ourselves with mundane rules about shined boots and clean, pressed uniforms. Our superiors quickly made the connection between our new faith and our sloppy appearance. And in that small corner of the world, Christianity was in danger of being linked with insubordination.

Some Christian slaves in Ephesus suffered from a similar kind of confusion. The promise of freedom and equality in Paul's gospel had set them expectantly on the edge. Here they met with a new frustration, for they discovered that salvation, and with it freedom and equality, is a progressive thing, often more principle than practice. Its consummation remained a promise to be fulfilled completely only when Christ appeared (1 Timothy 6:14). Neither their masters nor their masters' expectations disappeared. Life on that edge must have been frustrating indeed. Very likely, the false teaching of a completed salvation (see introduction) pushed them right over that edge into insubordination. Both the misunderstanding and its consequences in the church were serious enough to call forth Paul's corrective teaching: Christians must respect the authority of their masters, whether they be superior officers, employers, managers or supervisors, whether they happen to be fellow believers or not. The reputation of the church is unavoidably at stake. [ref]

- AC21DOJ

Paul calls for a resolution rather than a revolution [ref], offering a Gospel-friendly mediating position between the advocation and abolition of slavery: "'Let the slave honor his master, and let the master be kind to his slave. Let both bear in mind that with God there is no respect of persons.' That was the principle. Thus the ill-will, dishonesty, and laziness of many slaves would be replaced by willing service, integrity, and industry. Thus also the cruelty and brutality of many masters would melt into kindness and love." [ref] Regarding the early Church and slavery: "For the Church to have encouraged slaves to revolt against their masters would have been fatal. It would simply have caused civil war, mass murder, and the complete discredit of the Church. What happened was that as the centuries went on Christianity so permeated civilization that in the end the slaves were freed voluntarily and not by force." [ref]

are under the yoke (1 Timothy 6:1)
This is an idiom meaning "to be in a state of slavery." [ref] "Yoke" "implies a hard and disagreeable condition" [ref], and "[t]he power of a master over his slave was almost absolute, like that over his yoke-animals." [ref]

as slaves (1 Timothy 6:1)
While many Bible translations/versions render "slaves" (Greek doulos) as "servants," it is vital to remember that "the word does not bear the connotation of a free individual serving another." [ref]

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SLAVE, SLAVERY

Person owned as property by another, and the relationship that bound the owner and the slave. Slavery was widespread in the ancient Near East, although the economy was not dependent upon it. By Roman times Slavery was so extensive that in the early Christian period one out of every two people was a slave. From at least 3000 B.C. captives in war were the primary source of slaves (Gn 14:21; Nm 31:9; Dt 20:14; Jgs 5:30; 1 Sm 4:9; 2 Kgs 5:2; 2 Chr 28:8).

Slaves could be purchased locally from other owners, or from foreign traveling merchants who sold slaves along with cloth, bronzeware, and other goods (Jl 3:4–8). Joseph was sold by Midianites and Ishmaelites to an Egyptian (Gn 37:36; 39:1) in this manner. Debt was the basic cause for many families being reduced to slavery; an entire family could be subject to slavery (2 Kgs 4:1; Neh 5:5–8). The law code of Hammurabi stipulated a maximum of three years of slavery for the family (Section 117), as opposed to a maximum of six years under Hebrew law (Dt 15:18). Voluntary slavery was widespread as a means of escape from abject poverty and starvation (Lv 25:47, 48). Selling a kidnapped person into slavery, the crime of Joseph’s brothers (Gn 37:27, 28), was a capital offense under the law code of Hammurabi (Section 14) and the Mosaic law (Ex 21:11; Dt 24:7).

In Sumerian society slaves had legal rights, could borrow money, and engage in business. As the normal price for a slave was probably less than that for a strong donkey, the slave always had the hope that he could save sufficient money to purchase his freedom. Slaves performed tedious labor on farms and in households, though some gifted individuals occupied executive positions in households. Despite provisions in ancient law, the release of slaves was not always honored on schedule. A Hebrew who voluntarily entered slavery was normally released the next jubilee year, and theoretically in Israel no Hebrew could be enslaved for life (Ex 21:2; Lv 25:10, 13; Dt 15:12–14).

The Israelites made a deliberate attempt to safeguard the slave from brutality by a master or overseer. By law a maimed slave must be released (Ex 21:26, 27). The few Hebrew slaves in a household frequently toiled alongside their masters in the fields, and they and household slaves often had a reasonable and secure existence, compared with the threat of starvation and destitution of the poorest free men.

In Greek and especially in Roman times, when the number of slaves increased dramatically, household slaves remained the best treated. Many became servants and confidants; some even established good businesses to their own and their masters’ benefit.

Information from Ur, Nuzi, and the Book of Genesis shows that where a wife was childless, the female slave could bear the master’s child (Gn 16:2–4). Legally a Hebrew master could agree to marry a young female slave, have his own son marry her, or establish her as a concubine. If subsequently she was discarded, or the agreement was not fulfilled, she would be released from her slavery (Ex 21:7–11). Conquered people were required to perform forced labor for the state (2 Sm 12:31; 1 Kgs 9:15, 22, 23), including the Israelites themselves in Lebanon (1 Kgs 5:13–18). Temple slaves recruited from the same source included Midianites (Nm 31:28, 30, 47) and Gibeonites (Jos 9:23–25), and the practice continued through the reigns of David and Solomon (Ezr 2:58; 8:20). Nehemiah records that foreign slaves helped make repairs on the walls of Jerusalem (Neh 3:26, 31).

The NT attitude toward slavery indicates that the status of the slave was more like that of a servant and that the institution of slavery generally was declining. There was no strong opposition to slavery from Jesus or the apostles, but an admonition that slaves and servants should serve their masters faithfully and that masters should treat their slaves humanely and fairly (Eph 6:9; Col 4:1; 1 Tm 6:2; Phlm 16). Frequently masters and servants as a household became Christians (Acts 16:31, 32), and worked together to the glory of God (Eph 6:5–8; Col 3:22).

- Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible [ref]


WHY DIDN'T CHRISTIANS OPPOSE SLAVERY?

Looking back over almost twenty centuries, many people have wondered why biblical writers did not speak more directly against human slavery. Here are some of the reasons:

  • Slavery was widespread and an integral part of the very fabric of society. Some slaves lived in wretched conditions and were treated terribly. But many functioned as though they were free. Anarchy would have resulted if Christians had led a slave revolt, and believers stood for peace.
  • Christians were, for a long time, such a small minority that they would have been wiped out. Their allegiance to Christ was already highly suspicious, and many believers lost their lives for love of Christ alone. The Romans would have crushed such a seditious response to their power.
  • Christians also believed that this world was on the verge of passing away. Given the impending end, freeing people from sin seemed a higher priority than freeing them from slavery.
  • The actual accommodation of slavery by Christian slaves and masters gutted the power of slavery from within. As a satanic device, slavery is only as effective as its ability to destroy humans physically, morally, and spiritually. Having declared slave and master brothers and sisters, a deeper freedom was achieved in Christ.
- Life Application Bible Commentary on the New Testament [ref]

regard their own masters as worthy of all honor (1 Timothy 6:1)
As one Bible commentator explains the situation:

 
In Paul's churches there were two categories of slave. The first had come to Christ independent of their masters. From what we have seen of their mobility, this is not at all surprising. But normally the religion of the master determined the religion of the whole household. Any deviation in this pattern would probably not escape notice.

Apparently certain Christian slaves were taking home with them some rather radical ideas. Instead of finding contentment in the hope that God would reward their humble diligence (Eph 6:5-8; Col 3:22-24; compare 1 Pet 2:18-20), they began to treat their masters with disrespect. The masters could not help but think that this insubordination had something to do with the new religion and the one called Christ. What possible good could come from a religion that encouraged such revolutionary behavior? The insubordinate behavior of slaves posed a definite threat to the church's reputation.

Consequently, Paul issues corrective instructions. Although the relationship between Christian slaves under the yoke and pagan masters is difficult, they are to continue to live by the rules of slavery. The fact that they have a higher Lord (Col 3:22-25) does not release them from this obligation. It obligates them all the more to be models of obedience, for this service to human masters is simultaneously service to the Lord. [ref]
 

"Regard" implies "a more conscious, a surer judgment, resting on more careful weighing of the facts (see Philippians 2:3, 6)." [ref] It "denotes a belief or opinion, resting, not upon one’s inner feelings or sentiments, but upon the due consideration of external facts." [ref]

"Their own" is actually "an argument for submissiveness; it is not strangers, but their own masters whom they are required to respect." [ref]

"Masters" is not a negative term in and of itself. The main idea is someone having "absolute and unrestricted authority." [ref]

"All honor" is "not merely outward subjection, but that inward honor from which will flow spontaneously right outward conduct." [ref] Paul's "admonition is for these Christian slaves to treat their pagan masters with the respect and honor due one who is master. They are not called upon to honor what they are, but to honor the position they occupy, lest reproach be brought upon the name of God. Since slavery was a common and accepted institution at that time, it would hurt the cause of Christianity for Christian slaves to rebel against their masters. Peter, in his first letter, exhorts to the same thing (1 Peter 2:18–25)." [ref]

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WORTHY OF HONOR

Several times in his pastoral letters Paul says that someone is worthy of honor:

  • God (1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16)
  • elders (1 Timothy 5:17)
  • masters (1 Timothy 6:1)
  • special/useful household vessels (2 Timothy 2:20-21)
  • widows (1 Timothy 5:3)

Paul made ample use of this same term throughout his other writings, as well (Romans 2:7, 10; 9:21; 12:10; 13:7; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23; 12:23, 24; Ephesians 6:2; Colossians 2:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:4).

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God ... doctrine ... not be spoken against (1 Timothy 6:1)
In showing respect to their masters, Christian slaves would be a winsome witness for Christ with both non-Christian masters and non-Christian outside observers. [ref] [ref] Conversely, "[i]f the heathen could say that Christian slaves were not as dependable as non-Christian slaves" [ref] or, worse still, were rebellious [ref], that would result in a poor witness and even give the non-Christian an excuse to speak against or blaspheme the name of (the Christian) God (cf. Romans 2:24; 3:8; 14:16; 1 Corinthians 10:30; 1 Timothy 1:20; Titus 2:5; 3:2). (This same theme is found in the OT prophets, where Israel is called to account because her disobedience resulted in God's name being blasphemed among the Gentiles. [ref])

As one commentator puts it: "If a Christian slave dishonored his master in any way by disobedience, by acting disrespectfully, by speaking shamefully of his master, the worst consequence would not be the beating he would receive but the curses he would cause his master to hurl at this miserable slave’s God, his religion, and the teaching he had embraced: 'So that is what this new religion teaches its converts!' Instead of bringing honor to the true God and the gospel of his high and holy Name, as every Christian should be anxious to do, this slave would bring about the very opposite, to the devil’s delight." [ref]

"Doctrine" refers to the apostles' teaching. [ref] "Presumably this is in contrast to the false teaching, which may have encouraged insubordination among some of the Christian slaves." [ref]

So what does all this have to do with today's Christian? "Paul's counsel for the master/slave relationship can be applied to the employer/ employee relationship today. The attitude and behavior of believers on the job will help or hurt others' openness to the gospel they share. Employees should work hard, showing respect for their employers. In turn, employers should be fair (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-25). Our work should reflect our faithfulness to and love for Christ. In that way, Christian employees will be a positive witness for Christ to an unbelieving employer." [ref]

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GODLY RELATIONSHIPS

God's Word has established guidelines for how to live in all kinds of relationships. Whenever two or more are in a relationship, God has directions for each person involved. Each party must obey God, even if one does not listen or obey. Thus, both husbands and wives, parents and children, slaves and masters each have duties and commands to carry out.

Good relationships require more than one person doing his or her share at the right time to contribute to that relationship. At times it is a wife's patience that saves the day. Other times a husband's leadership prompts a wise decision. Sometimes a child's need overcomes parental selfishness. A wife's integrity may change her husband's mind. Obedience to God makes relationships the best they can be.

Yet some partners in a relationship have so hardened their hearts toward God or have such a dysfunctional past that they lash out with immoral or destructive behavior. God does not require submission to unjust, immoral, or hurtful behavior.

- Life Application Bible Commentary on the New Testament [ref]

QuoteWorthy: Sin
The beginning of sin is to forsake God. The end result of sin is to be God-forsaken.
Beware of sin. Although God may heal the cut, sin leaves a scar.
[ref]

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1 TIMOTHY 6:2 - Christian Slaves of Believers

"A Christian slave would be more likely to presume on his newly acquired theory of liberty, equality and fraternity in relation to a Christian master than in relation to one that was a heathen. The position of a Christian master must have been a difficult one, distracted between the principles of a faith which he shared with his slave, and the laws of a social state which he felt were not wholly wrong. 1 Corinthians 7:22 and Philemon 1:16 illustrate the position." [ref]

Here Paul provides "three reasons why Christian slaves should show respect for their believing masters and not take advantage of them": 1) their masters are fellow Christians ("believers"); 2) their masters are "beloved," and "[l]ove does not rebel or look for opportunities to escape responsibility"; and 3) "both master and servant benefit from obedience ('partakers of the benefit' can apply to both of them). There is a mutual blessing when Christians serve each other in the will of God." [ref] [ref]

Those (1 Timothy 6:2)
Paul avoids the phrase "under the yoke" because service rendered by a Christian slave to his Christian master should not be seen as a burnden to bear. [ref]

must not be disrespectful to them (1 Timothy 6:2)
"[W]hen a master and his slave became Christians, they became spiritual equals, brothers (and sisters) in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). In some instances, a slave who had been a Christian for some years might even be an elder in a church and thus 'over' a newly converted master. Equality in the church but inviolable separation at home obviously made for interesting interpersonal relations in and out of the church. This issue often caused concern in the early church." [ref] [ref]

The Christian slave whose master was likewise a Christian "must not presume on the equality of Christian brotherhood not allowed by the state’s laws. Some of these Christian slaves might be pastors of churches to which the master belonged." [ref]

they are brethren (1 Timothy 6:2)
"It might be easy for a slave to justify slacking off in his or her work, thinking that a believing master would understand or would not be able to reprimand him since they both belonged to the church." [ref] As another commentator puts it: "The tendency might be to assume one’s equality in Christ with a Christian master, and disdain the authority related to work roles. On the contrary, working for a Christian should produce more loyal and diligent service out of love for the brethren." [ref]

The following fictional account is an accurate depiction of what is many times a sad but true situation:

 
“I WON’T HIRE CHRISTIANS!”

He stood beside a window overlooking the shop floor below. A din of table saws, routers, and other equipment filtered up to the tiny cubicle. His desk was lost under mountains of papers, folders, catalogues, manuals, bills, and an ancient rotary phone.
Turning from the window he sighed and said, “I don’t usually hire people who tell me they’re Christians. I know that sounds mean. And I don’t advertise it. I’m a Christian myself. and I try to run this company the way I think God wants it run. But I won’t hire Christians!”

“Why not?” he was asked.

“I’ve been burned once too often,” he replied. “I’ve hired people just because they said they were Christians, and they turned out to be some of the worst employees I ever had.

“I remember one guy was always standing around preaching to the other guys instead of getting his work done. I couldn’t afford him! Another guy kept coming in late, day after day. His supervisor warned him. Finally he fired him. Then the fellow came to me to try and get his job back. I told him the supervisor had made the right decision. Know what he said? ‘I thought you were a Christian!’ Imagine that! He thought he could take advantage of me just because he knew I was a Christian!

“After that I decided: no more Christians!” [ref]
 

but must serve them all the more (1 Timothy 6:2)
That is, the Christian slave must render his Christian master better service. [ref] "The faith, love and brotherhood which unite [slave and master] in Christ, far from being an excuse for neglect, should be a stimulus to service." [ref]

believers as their masters (1 Timothy 6:2)
"A Christian slave who had a Christian master might be inclined to say in his heart, 'If my master is really a Christian, how can he keep me as his slave? His religion must not amount to very much. Besides, how can I be equal to my master in church (Galatians 3:28), and yet inferior to him at home?' Such an attitude would lead to trouble all around. So the apostle recommends the very opposite attitude: if the slave is in an exceptionally privileged position, having a believing master, let him render exceptional service!" [ref]

benefit (1 Timothy 6:2)
When service is rendered "with the right motive, Christian 'good will' (Ephesians 6:7)" [ref], that service then becomes a gift given freely by one who is free in Christ. [ref]

A helpful alternative translation of the first part of 1 Timothy 6:2 reads: "If the masters are believers, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. Those slaves should work all the harder because their efforts are helping other believers who are well loved" (NLT).

teach and preach (1 Timothy 6:2)
This refers to formal teaching and public proclamation.

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CONCRETE TRUTH

What is especially important in this connection is that, wholly contrary to certain present-day trends, the apostle [Paul] is definitely not of the opinion that all propositions touching religion and ethics are necessarily subjective and relative, and that the only justifiable method of arriving at some measure of truth is that of asking questions, such as, “Brother Brown, what do you think of this?” and “Brother Smith, what is your opinion about that?” Paul has accepted certain definite propositions which he considers to be the truth of God! He wants these to be taught! And he requests that Timothy urge their acceptance and application to life! See also 1 Timothy 4:11; 5:7.

- William Hendriksen [ref]

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*Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org) | **This outline is from The Bible Exposition Commentary, by Warren W. Wiersbe