Church 101: Slaves and masters / Workers and Employees.
Most of us have been exposed to bad workers. I could list off a number of bad work habits I’ve had to deal with.
First of all there is “always late Leroy” you can almost set your watch to five minutes after by the way he peals into the parking lot and runs to the time clock to punch in, only to stand around for a few minutes tucking in his shirt and putting his stuff in order so he can report to his workstation fifteen minutes after he should have. Then of course there is “Geraldine the gossip queen” you can always count on Geraldine to be neck deep in a conversation about all of the latest dirt while simultaneously managing to ignore her responsibilities. You get the feeling that if she put ½ the effort into her job as she did her jaws that she would outperform everyone else on the job. Don’t forget “Long lunch Leonard”, “Early to Exit Edgar” and the closely related “Sometimes Sick Sylvia”. They’ve always got an excuse not to finish their task, or call off, quit early or just plain not come in. The list could go on but you get the point.
Now take any of those people – call them a Christian and call their boss an unbeliever. What happens then? A recipe for disaster, because there is more at stake than a bad performance review or a pink slip. That boss is going to look at the behavior of his “Christian” employee and have opportunity to curse God and to malign the gospel. And worse than that – a man may be kept out of the Lord’s kingdom because someone calling themselves a Christian is lazy, mouthy and inconsiderate.
This is the starting point of today’s text in 1 Timothy 6:1-2. Please open your Bible and read these two verses with me.
Read 1 Timothy 6:1-2
The Rightness of Work.
We have a very different idea of slavery than that which was common in early Roman times. Roman slavery was not founded upon evolutionary based racism – which if you think about it; the whole concept of a black race and a white race is based upon atheistic evolutionary principles in which some races of people are more evolved than others and are therefore more worthy to rule over them. Racism is entirely foreign to Christianity because it relies upon evolution to make it’s case. But in Acts 17:26 we read that God, “...made [from] one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth…”
Rather than racism, the Roman slavery system was based almost entirely upon economics. It has been estimated that the Roman world may have been up to 1/3 slave labor. The source of slaves was anything from prisoners of war to people selling themselves into slavery in order to settle debts or even being born into it. In fact some slaves had their own slaves.
Slavery was not always an economic bust either. As one person said, “Not only the barber, the butler, and the cook but even the family-physician might be “under the yoke.”
Frankly I’m grateful that in large part slavery is a thing of the past. Unfortunately it still exists in portions of the world but at least here in America it is gone. That doesn’t mean this passage doesn’t speak to our situation however.
The principles at work in this passage transfer pretty easily to our own work situation. And I’m not talking about the old coffeecup or bumper sticker that says, “You can’t fire me – slaves have to be sold”. It might be cute at first glance but it is belligerent and betrays an Christlike attitude toward employers and toward work in general.
We need to remember that work was created by God before the fall. In Genesis 2:15 God took Adam and put him in the Garden ino order to keep it. The very first thing God gave Adam was the gift of work. But our society has reduced work to a necessary evil to be avoided or at the most, done to the bare minimum in order to get by.
And that is where this text comes in.
1 Timothy 6:1
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
doctrine will not be spoken against.
For The Sake of God’s Name and Doctrine
The fact of the matter is that your attitudes at work affect the reputation of God. The sad reality is that in all of the studies and statistics I have ever read I have never seen anything regarding the relationship of faith in Christ and production levels at work. And I’m even more saddened to say that I’ve never seen the difference either. It is not impossible for a godless man to do good work, but we should think of it as a rank impossibility for a godly man to do bad work.
This principle extends not only to the quality of the work but as is listed here the attitude in which we do our work. Whether you work as the manager of a multimillion dollar plant or work for minimum wage, the way you do your work is a constant week-long ministry both to your employer as well as your fellow workers.
By the same token we can turn to our many varied roles, wherever we might be under authority and we can apply this principle of respect so that our Father is respected for it.
To you kids who are in school or in college – your attitude with which you approach your schoolwork – classroom assignments and the manner in which you address your teacher – these things matter. For many of you in this small community, your teachers know you go to Church but if they see you disrespecting them; you could well cause them to blaspheme the name of Christ! I know that some of your teachers and professors are unbelievers; just as some of them know that you claim to be Christians. The fact of your honor or dishonor of them may indeed determine whether they honor or dishonor Christ!
Men and women at work, the principle applies in your attitudes towards your boss. In any place where we are under authority we must count those authorities over us as worthy of all honor. Failure to do so can give reason for others to speak ill of our Lord.
In Romans 2:24 Paul accuses the Jews for giving the gentiles reason to blaspheme and in 2 Samuel 12:14 we see that the worst part of David’s affair with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah was that he had given an occasion for the heathen nations to blaspheme God.
Do not let anything you might do bring any cause for anyone to think small of God or of Christian doctrine!
Sometimes you might wonder, “What can I do at work to help spread the gospel?” How about starting with this simple direction: honor your boss. Furthering the gospel at work (or anywhere for that matter) begins with not being the reason for others to speak evil of God, Christ or the gospel. There is nothing more sacred than God’s name and doctrine.
For the Sake of the the Brethren
Looking into the next verse we read,
1 Timothy 6:2
“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
Apparently in Ephesus there were some Christian slaves who were failing to treat their Christian masters with respect. I believe that their mental line of reasoning would have gone something like this: “since we are equals in Christ, and we are equals at church we must be equals in life, therefore my master cannot tell me what to do and I am under no need to obey my master! It is the Christian thing to do for me not to respect him!”
Now you can well imagine what kind of damage that would do. One commentator answers the problem this way, “There is no respect of persons before God; but before man the divisions of social rank must be held in due regard.”
Paul turns that kind of reasoning on it’s head. Being a Christian does not erase chains of command. In this context a Christian slave is equal to his master before Christ but he is not so equal to his master that he no longer owes him respect as his master. Indeed we see elsewhere (
Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven.
) Christian masters are under orders to deal kindly with their servants – proper work protocol flows both ways. Christianity should make us better workers and more responsive employees (and employers) rather than mark us as belligerent.
If you’ve ever looked at the Bible and wondered, “what does this have to do with me?” This passage speaks directly to you. You have a responsibility to guard the reputation of God by honoring those in authority over you. The key issues in this passage are the reputation of God’s name and of Christian teaching. The task of this passage is to guard against God’s name or the teaching of the church being spoken against. The practical outworking of how this is done is for slaves to count their masters as worthy of all honor. The reality expressed in our own lives is honoring those in authority over us.
So what should your Christianity look like on Monday morning? It should look like you being the absolute model of honor, respect and hard work.
1William Hendrik sen and Simon J. Kistemaker, vol. 4, New Testament Commentary : Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles, Accompanying Biblical Text Is Author’s Translation., New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001), 190.
2John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, J. J. van Oosterzee et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures : 1 & 2 Timothy (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2008), 68.
3John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, J. J. van Oosterzee et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures : 1 & 2 Timothy (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2008), 68.