Please turn to 1 Timothy 6:1-2. In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul has written to faithful servants of the Lord in order to give them the priorities for healthy local church life and ministry. In these letters, Paul has also addressed different groups within the church. For example, in chapter 5, he addressed widows and the church’s responsibility to them, and their responsibility in the life of the congregation. Paul also addressed elders and their responsibilities to one another and to the Lord, as well as to the congregation. In chapter 6, Paul gives directions to Christian slaves regarding their attitude toward their masters and work for them. This passage can be divided into three sections. First, Paul addresses individuals who are under the yoke of Roman slavery. Then, he tells them to honor their masters in a manner that brings honor to God. Finally, Paul presents two principles that are universally applicable for all Christians. 

I. Paul Addresses Individuals under the Yoke of Roman Slavery.

In verse 1, Paul says, “Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against.” Paul is giving directions here relating to the Christian conduct of believers who happen to be slaves. You may not know it, but it has been estimated that a third of the Roman Empire was constituted of slaves. Thus, Paul addresses these Christians who are slaves out of a pastoral awareness of their situation. He knows that to be a slave brought specific challenges to the Christian life. And so he pauses frequently in his writings to speak to Christians who are in the condition of slavery. We should note here that there are significant differences between the kind of slavery most people experienced in the Roman world and that of chattel slavery in the American South in the nineteenth century.

Practically, this reminds us that all of us have different conditions and circumstances in life that impact our service of the Lord, our walk with the Lord, and our love for the Lord. And we should be concerned to pray for one another in those different conditions and circumstances that we would be faithful to the Lord. It also reminds us that we need to continue to be concerned for Christians who are experiencing slavery in our own time. Tens of thousands of Christians are under the yoke of slavery around the world. As Christians, just like Paul, we too should be concerned for them in the midst of that hardship.    

II. Paul Calls on Those under the Yoke of Roman Slavery to Show Honor.

Notice again in verse 1 that Paul says, “all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor.” This is a surprising statement. At this point, most of us would expect Paul to call for the liberation of slaves. Instead, he gives instructions to Christian slaves to show honor in the context in which they find themselves. That potentially offends our modern sensibilities. We are expecting the New Testament to speak out against this horrible condition and this social evil. How do we explain this? 

First, Paul elsewhere makes it clear that if a Christian who is a slave has an opportunity to become free, he ought to take it. Paul recognizes that slavery is not a desirable condition. Secondly, in the book of Philemon, Paul works to mitigate some of the difficulties and hardships that are entailed in slavery, even as he speaks to the master, Philemon, about the runaway slave, Onesimus. Indeed, Paul’s instruction to Philemon to receive Onesimus back as “a beloved brother” has radical ramifications for their relationship, and for the institution of slavery itself. Thirdly, it is important to note that Paul does not ground his teaching on how a Christian ought to respond in the condition of slavery in the positive teaching of God’s moral law or in the creation ordinances. Why? Because slavery is an institution of a fallen world, and the Bible mitigates, constrains, and attempts to mark out proper actions within the bounds of the relationship of slavery, but it does not command or condone it, or argue that slavery is somehow “the way things ought to be.”

III. Paul Calls on Those under the Yoke of Roman Slavery to Live in a Manner that Gives Glory to God. 

Paul says that Christians who are burdened with the yoke of slavery are to honor their masters in verse 1. In other words, Paul gives theological and doctrinal reasons for Christian slaves’ behavior. Paul tells the Christian slave that his conduct has implications for God’s reputation and God’s glory, and the credibility of the truth of the Gospel. He wants all Christians’ behavior, even that of Christian slaves’, to commend the one true God and Christian doctrine to unbelievers. Paul is reminding us that in all our human relationships and obligations, an overarching concern should be the witness we give to the one true God and Christian doctrine. And so he is ready to say to these Christian slaves, “I want you to live in such a way that brings honor to the name and reputation and glory and Gospel of God.” 

Now, my friends, I want to suggest to you that Paul’s counsel to Roman slaves has an important implication for you and me. If Paul can tell Christians who are Roman slaves to live and serve in such a way that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against, then all of us, in our various vocations, should have the same concern in mind. If Christians in a lamentable social status and situation need to be concerned for their witness, how much more those of us who enjoy freedoms and privileges in our different callings need to be concerned for our witness. All of us should do what we do with a view to causing regard for the name of God and the truth of Christ. We don’t want God to be reviled because of our conduct. 

Then Paul surprises us by speaking about “believing masters.” The Gospel has already penetrated the various strata of socio-economic status in Roman culture. Hence, you have now the possibility of Christians being in both the categories of master and slave in the same family. In that context, Paul is concerned that Christianity express itself in greater respect and better service, rather than in disrespect and poor service. 

Take note, this verse does not provide warrant for quietism in the face of an institution like chattel slavery. Rather, what Paul is doing is talking about the way that shared faith and love should play out in our vocations, when we are serving fellow Christians. His concern here is that Christians are not to use their Christian profession as an excuse for less exemplary service of other Christians. In verse 2, he says “serve them [that is, Christians] all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved.”

Again, there are implications for us. Most of us are in a far better socio-economic situation than Roman slaves, and our vocational conduct ought to commend the Gospel. Our lives and work will either commend the truth or undermine it. People will either say, “What she believes is immediately credible to me because of the way that she lives.” Or, they will say, “You know, I would not want to believe anything that that person believes, because I know how he lives.” May God grant that we would live in such a way as to adorn the Gospel and bear witness to Jesus Christ.