Text: 1 Timothy 6:1-2
In the 1st century, especially in the areas where the Roman Empire extended, the most common type of slavery was a skilled worker who became part of a family and often paid for their work.
Now slavery was still wrong, and no matter the situation, slaves in biblical times did not have it easy. The servant still was not free. They were still considered part of a lower social status. In some cases, you may serve under a kind master, who treated you with respect and paid you well. In other cases, you may serve under a cruel master who was unfair and unkind.
Paul is writing to encourage Christian slaves, no matter their situation, God wants to use them as powerful witnesses of the gospel right where they are…
1. Honor unbelieving masters for the sake of the gospel.
[6:1] Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor…
That phrase “under a yoke” is very descriptive. It’s meant to portray a heavy burden, a bad situation. For the slaves who are serving non-Christian masters, they didn’t have an easy life. It was hard enough not to have your freedom, but what made it even worse was if your master was not a Christian and treated you poorly.
Paul is speaking directly to those slaves in the church who have become Christians, who have learned that they have a new identity in Christ, they are free from the bondage and slavery of sin, but that spiritual reality didn’t change their physical circumstance.
Paul is telling those slaves, honor your unbelieving master. Regard him as worthy of respect.
That had to be a shock to the system. That had to be difficult to hear. But here’s what Paul’s saying: Christian, you are made free in Jesus. He is your new Master. But don’t use your freedom in Jesus as an excuse to be a poor witness. God’s top priority is not your physical freedom or your social status, or even to alleviate your suffering. God’s top priority is to use you right… where… you…are.[6:1b] …so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.
When a slave came to know Christ, it would be understandable for them to think that their freedom from the enslavement of sin would also mean freedom from their cultural enslavement.
But Paul makes it clear – let your Christianity be seen in how you honor your unsaved masters. Let them see how your faith in Christ sustains you, and how the gospel is good news, even to those who cannot change their circumstances. In this way, the name of God and the gospel we preach will not be reviled or despised, but you will be a testimony to the transforming power and peace of Christ.
Even when our circumstances don’t change, we can respond in a God-honoring way because our hearts have been changed. If we act like Christians only when things go our way, then our witness is flawed. It’s when we’re in the middle of adversity, in a trial, in a struggle, and the gospel is still enough to sustain us – it’s in those times that Jesus is glorified and others see that our faith is real
2. Honor Christian masters with faithful service.
[6:2] Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.
Not only were those with unsaved masters tempted to dishonor them, but also those with Christian masters were tempted to disrespect and dishonor them, possibly because of familiarity and being part of the same congregation.
Paul is encouraging the slaves who have Christian masters, don’t dishonor them because they are Christians. In other words, don’t disrespect them or think you can violate your contract of service with them because they are a fellow Christian. Instead, you should serve them all the more faithfully, all the more joyfully, knowing that what you’re doing is benefiting another believer.
Paul is saying the integrity of our Christian witness should be a priority, not only when it involves an unbeliever we want to display the gospel to. But it also means how we treat other Christians, serving each other, knowing that how we love each other is a powerful testimony of the gospel.
There are times we think the biggest change we need is a change of location or circumstance. And sometimes that’s a good thing. But God is more intent on changing us, more than changing our circumstance. God wants to transform our hearts right where we are. Whether that’s in the job you have, in your marriage, where you live, your personality, whatever it is. Inward change of the heart is always God’s priority.
The final goal is not that we live a comfortable, problem-free life. The goal is that each of us live lives that glorify God, that magnify and display for others the grace of God in forgiving a sinner like me, showing God to be merciful and kind, good to forgive and powerful to save.