This morning we come to a subject that you kind of wonder about. The passage before us is dealing with slaves and the issue of slavery. And this is one of those passages that I wondered whether or not I should address.
This is the second time I have preached through 1 Timothy, and the first time I went through this letter I passed over these two verses. I didn’t feel that I knew enough about them and I didn’t really know how they would be applicable to our day and age. So I ignored them and went on to verse 3.
I will admit that this is still a passage that continues to baffle me for modern day relevance. And I will leave it to you to determine at the end of the message today if I should have skipped it again or not this time around.
But we do hold the conviction that all Scripture is profitable for teaching, rebuking, and training in righteousness. And this is part of the reason why we preach consecutively through books of the Bible. It is so that we cover the whole counsel of God and do not skip certain teachings.
So, I felt obligated to study this passage and speak on it this week. I felt that I would be cheating Scripture if I skipped it again. And I hope that the words I have to day may be a blessing.
As we jump into the text, I want you to know that we will be looking at the passage under 4 headings this morning. Each of these headings starts with the letter D.
For our first heading we are going to use the word Despotism.
And I use this word because that is the Greek word that is used in verse 1 which we have translated “master.” The word for “master” is the Greek word “despot.”
Now we usually think of a despot as a tyrannical leader, like a communist or fascist. But the Greek word despot simply signifies someone who is in charge. For example, Jesus is called a despot in 2 Peter 2:1. Peter says that there will be false teachers who deny the “despotes” (the Master) who bought them.
We usually define despots as people who abuse authority. But, biblically speaking, a despot is simply the one who has lordship or mastery due to ownership.
I want to begin with this idea of despotism because it is important to realize that this concept is something that is virtually extinct in the Western, Christianized world.
I recognize that slavery still exists in many parts of the world. And there are indications that some forms of slavery (such as sex slavery) are experiencing something of a resurgence in our day. But, on the whole, slavery is something that is highly uncommon, at least in the west—that part of the world that has been the most influenced by the truth of Scripture. It may have taken a long time, but it is true: Slavery is virtually extinct.
And I want to start with this because when you come to a passage like this you may be a bit confused. We read here that Paul commands the slaves to be obedient to their despots. It would seem that Paul is commending or condoning the whole idea of slavery.
But we need to remember that this passage comes with a context. It comes in context of the whole letter, the whole teaching of Scripture; not to mention a historical context.
As you read this passage, the first thing you need to recall is that Paul has already condemned the involuntary enslavement of people. In the very first chapter of this epistle Paul lists several sins that he says are contrary to sound doctrine. Along with murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice homosexuality, and those who strike their fathers and mothers he lists enslavers (or man-stealers, as some versions have it).
Paul is very clear that kidnapping someone and selling someone into slavery is a great evil. And, by implication, anyone who participates in the act by buying a slave is an accomplice to the sin of kidnapping. To anyway indignity human life by equating it with some form of property is an evil thing in the eyes of God. It goes against the 6th commandment, which has as its core the need to preserve, respect, and promote life.
So when we see that Paul here commands slaves to submit to their masters, we need to keep that in mind. We need to keep in mind that it comes in the context of this whole letter. We also need to keep in mind the fact that there is a whole historical context in which it is set. There are other issues at stake here. Remember that Paul is speaking in the context of the Roman world, which was essentially built and operating on the backs of slaves. It is said that a third to almost half of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves. And slaves, if they revolted against their masters or tried to run away, could be killed on site without a trial.
There is a sense in which Paul is seeking to preserve social order. Paul knows that involuntary slavery is not right, but he does not want to cause any unnecessary shedding of blood or let the good order of society be disturbed. He recognizes that these things need to change, but they need to change in God’s good time. And the best way that they can change is through obedience at this time.
Now, someone is going to say to me, “Well, doesn’t the OT promote slavery?” And we will readily admit that it does provide regulations for it. But we need to think about the kind of slavery that it promoted.
First, in the OT Jews were not allowed to enslave their brothers. Israelites were never to be forced into slavery. You could sell yourself into slavery. If you became poor, and needed to survive, you could become a voluntary slave. And even then it was only for a period of 7 years. Every 7th year you were to be freed. If you didn’t want to go, you could make it permanent. But it was still voluntary, and it was much better than the alternative, which was dying of starvation!
The only time forced slavery was permissible was when it was a foreign nation with whom you had gone to war. The captives that you had taken could be enslaved and forced into labor. And again, that is better than the alternative: death. But you should see this captivity in terms of the land and covenant promises. When these foreigners were brought into Israel, they would be circumcised and given the right to participate in God’s covenant. So, in all reality, that enslavement was a form of evangelism back in those days.
Today we don’t have the enslavement of captive nations. That law was one that we believe passed away with the ceremonies and the land. So the only kind of slavery that may be permissible in our day would be the voluntary kind. And, I believe, our constitution still allows, even to this day—despite having abolished race based slavery—indentured servitude. That’s because it promotes life.
That being said, we as Americans don’t really practice that kind of servitude. We seek to help those who are homeless by enabling them to live on their own and use their gifts and graces as freemen.
All that is to say, this idea of despotism—i.e. being someone else’s master—is a concept that is essentially dead in the water in the west. And we give God and His Word all the credit for that. Wherever Christ does not reign and wherever His footprint is not felt, there you will find despotism. Slavery, unfortunately, exists wherever Satan rules. Under the Humanistic reign of communism, people are enslaved. Islam continues to this day to be the biggest proponent of slavery. But not so with Christ. He declared that the truth will set you free, and you will be free indeed. And everywhere you find His fingerprint—wherever the truth of Scripture has had a large influence on society—there you will find a tombstone devoted to despotism.
Now the second word that we want to look at is the word “doxology.”
From time to time we will sing the “Doxology.” The doxology is a song of praise. The Greek word doxa means “praise” or “glory.” So doxology has to do with giving God honor and paying tribute to the excellency of His Name.
And that is a good heading for what we find in the rest of verse 1. Read the verse with me. It says, “Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.
One of the reasons why Paul says these slaves need to be submissive is so that the name of God and the Christian faith as a whole are not given a bad reputation.
You can imagine how this goes. Slaves start realizing that they have been liberated from the bondage of sin. They have been made servants of Christ. They have a new Master and new status as a new creature in Christ. They read these stories about how their God has freed his people from the bondage they had in Egypt. Add to this the fact that slaves and masters are starting to worship together. Maybe some of these slaves are even being made elders (the section that we dealt with last time). So these slaves have some authority over their masters!
All this is a recipe for these slaves to start something of a revolt. They may not want to submit to their masters anymore. But Paul puts all this to rest. He says that they are to submit, and the reason is ultimately an issue of doxology. If you slaves begin to revolt, people will look at Christianity as a religion of revolution. They will see it as a subversive religion and people will think that this Christ is nothing more than a trouble maker.
So, part of the reason why these slaves still need to submit to their masters is so that the glory of God will not be impeded. If these slaves are rendering proper obedience then the word of God can continue to spread and more people will end up giving praise to God.
So Paul points out how much the glory of God should rank in our lives. He wants us to put a premium on the propagation of the gospel and be willing to sacrifice our priorities and privileges so that the name of Christ might be lifted up among the heathen people.
Perhaps you have heard the story about the two young men who desired to preach the gospel to a certain enclave of people. But the nation to which they wanted to go was closed to the gospel. Missionaries were not allowed to enter. But these two men were so intent on seeing Christ exalted among these people that they sold themselves into slavery. They gave up their freedom so that they may be able to begin to preach the gospel and influence the populous for Christ.
That’s what Paul is calling these people to do. The first principle is that our freedom and our personal standing is a secondary matter. Christ should rank first in our lives in everything and we should do everything in our power to keep His name from being defiled.
And this, remember the very embodiment of the gospel. Jesus Christ was one who was willing to deny the freedom He had. He gave up the high and glorious status He had as the Son of God and He, in his incarnation, became what was nothing more than a slave. He submitted himself to the will of His father. The whole focus of His life was the glory of God’s Name and the spread of the faith. You today are able to enjoy the fruits of his saving grace because he was willing to submit to some pretty harsh despots.
The comforts of life were secondary things for him. And we who follow in His footsteps are called to the same kind of doxological life. We are called to make the Honor of his Name and the reverence of it among the nations our highest and chief calling. As our Shorter Catechism says, “Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Now the third thing that I think we can glean from this passage can fall under the heading “dominion.”
AT the very beginning of Scripture, we find the dominion mandate. We are to rule over the earth and subdue it. That is God’s call to us to work and to be productive in our lives.
That’s essentially what you find being reiterated here. The essence of this subservience is work. The passage says that these slaves are to consider their masters “worthy of honor.” Now, we’ve talked these last two weeks about what this word “honor” means. It carries the idea of compensation. It is to pay someone or support them with wages. Of course, the slave’s form of compensation is his labors. The form of payment/honor is his work.
So, there is a sense in which this passage calls us to be men and women who take dominion over the earth.
That’s important, and we could all take a lesson to the fact that we are all called to dominion. My children think doing the dishes after dinner is a form of slavery. So here is a way to think of it in better terms.
But there is more to the idea of dominion here. The dominion that Paul talks about is not just a dominion over the earth, but there is actually dominion over the master.
What do I mean by that? Look at the passage again. Look in verse 1. Paul says, “Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor.” The word “regard” is an interesting one. It has a double meaning. It can mean “to consider or to think,” but it also can mean “to rule over, or to govern.”
The thinking process here is a form of dominion. You are to rule over your master by considering him worthy of honor. Now why is that important? It may be that he isn’t worthy of it! He may be a real despot in the modern sense of the word. He may be a cruel man and a tyrant. But you are to exercise power over him by counting him worthy of your labors.
In a sense, you are imputing worth to him. He may have be a rascal. But you are to demonstrate dominion over him by recognizing him to be worthy of your works.
Now, this may sound completely absurd. Why would you give to someone your hard work? Why would you suffer and do all this on behalf of someone else when they are not in the least bit worthy of it?
Well, if you want to know the answer to that one, you can ask Jesus Christ. This is the essential character of the gospel. This is exactly what Christ has done for us. Are we not dirty little despots who have forfeited the right to anything good? We are the rascals that are not in any way worthy of any good treatment? But what has Christ done for us? He has demonstrated his dominion over us. He has taken rule over us by regarding us in a much favorable light.
And this gets at the whole thing we call the “doctrine of imputation.” Jesus gives us this honor that is being talked about here. He gives to us all of his works. The merit of his righteousness is paid to our account so that we stand before God as perfectly justified.
So what Paul tells these slaves to do is embody the gospel. He tells them to apply the doctrine of imputation and grace through this exercise of dominion.
The last “D” word that we can glean from this passage is the word diligence.
In verse 2 Paul says that those who work for Christian masters should “serve all the better.” Some slaves may have been tempted to be a little less diligent. But Paul says that the fact that you are a Christian means you should be even more diligent. You should serve all the better.
In other words, being justified, you should now become more sanctified.
And this is important because I’ve heard stories of how employers do not want to hire people who profess to be Christians because they’ve had a number of bad experiences with Christian employees. I’ve heard complaints that Christians are constantly late to work, they cut corners, they don’t have good attitudes. They are less thorough, less obliging and so forth.
This is a scandal on Christ. The work that you do now should be energized by the fact that God lives in you and you have a whole new standard by which God expects you to live.
And this is a good reminder to us. As people who have been blessed by the grace of God—as people who have had the works of Christ imputed to us, we should be ready to work “all the better.”
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.