Meditations in 1 Timothy: 34: Slaves and Masters
1 Tim 6:1,2 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them. These are the things you are to teach and urge on them.
As Paul continues to give practical guidance for Timothy and for the church, he comes to a group of believers in a way we might struggle with. He speaks of slaves, but note how he refers to their lot in life: “All who are under the yoke of slavery.” (v.1a) A yoke held an animal in position and it was stuck there. Paul recognizes that this is not an easy place to be.
Now perhaps we should be aware of the reality of the position of the slaves that Paul is speaking to. The Law spoke thus: “If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave. He is to be treated as a hired worker or a temporary resident among you; he is to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then he and his children are to be released, and he will go back to his own clan and to the property of his forefathers. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves.” (Lev 25:39-43) Israelites were not to work as slaves and were eventually to be released back home. Where there were slaves they were servants of limited duration, or they were foreigners (Lev 25:44,45) The Law also provided a variety of protections for those who were working as slaves. What is also interesting is that slaves must have been part of the congregation of the local church for Paul to have written to them and for them to have heard his letter read out.
Now Paul doesn’t say, “God’s grace is here for those of you who are slaves, to help you cope,” because this ‘servant-hood’ wasn’t seen in harsh terms. He was more concerned that they maintained a righteous outlook in life as slaves and was aware that because of their position there were particular temptations to be overcome and thus he says that they, “should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.” (v.1b) The latter part of that sentence is interesting. Make sure you continue to respect your masters so that no accusation may be brought against the church that we have been teaching a freedom that brings a rebelliousness in those of you who are these bought servants. No, make sure that doesn’t happen by giving full respect to your masters.
This temptation or difficulty was even more likely in the case where the master is a Christian: “Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers.” (v.2a) Familiarity breeds contempt is a familiar saying and simply because both Master and Slave (bought servant) are not brothers in Christ, that should not mean the slave doesn’t esteem the Master for who he is.
Respect is a strange thing in our society. We have largely lost it for people in authority, MP’s and the like, because so often they have shown that they have large feet of clay and have often failed us. Yet in the streets of some cities, gangs get upset for being disrespected by another in the street. Respect is given when we recognize worth, value or achievement. In this case, ‘Masters’ – to be able to have afforded a slave – would have been men who had achieved status and wealth and are worthy of respect for who they are and what they have achieved. We shouldn’t be afraid of saying that. We need to recapture respect and honour.
No, says Paul, don’t treat them as equals just because you are both Christians now. Yes, there is equality in the faith, but these are still men (or women) of achievement in the world and are worthy of your respect for that, if nothing else. We’ve seen it before but it’s worth repeating, the apostle Peter taught, “Show proper respect to everyone.” (1 Pet 2:17) If for nothing else we respect EVERY person for being someone made in the image of God and loved by God. To the Ephesian elders Paul had said, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) The church has got to be precious to God because His Son gave his life for it. Each person is precious to God in the church and outside it, there are people who one day we are going to see as those destined for the kingdom. Let’s reclaim the respect thing!
So, says Paul of the bought servants, “Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them.” (v.2b) Slaves, be a real blessing to your Christian Masters, work to bless them as fellow members of the church. Timothy, “These are the things you are to teach and urge on them.” (v.2c) These are areas of difficulty in the life of the church, Timothy, so make sure you face them and deal with them through teaching accordingly.