Extreme Focus on Christ

1 Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 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. (1 Timothy 6:1-2)

If we take God’s Word seriously – and that is an important if – if we take it seriously then we are faced consistently with challenging truths that put us in a sometimes uncomfortable situation of choices that must be made. God does not leave us in easy places but moves us on to Christian growth that can be hard. Good but hard.

Hard things are a part of life. But as Christians hard things have purpose, and if we are on board with God’s purposes then hard things become bearable and even can grow and strengthen our faith. We can in the strength of Christ live under hard circumstances knowing that God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are with us and are taking care of us and are leading us.

Now, I don’t want to just talk in theoretical words. I want to get very practical here today. Part of the message in our passage today is that we can glorify God here, God has us even when circumstances are very, very hard. To illustrate this, we have in 1 Timothy 6 what seems to me to be one of the most difficult of circumstances. And though none of us are in the exact circumstance that we will read about, none of us are slaves, we still all deal with hard things. And when we are in hard places we don’t need to feel like we can’t act, like we can’t live our faith, like we can’t do what is honoring to our Lord, because we always can.

Let me show you what I mean as we go through this together.

When Paul says in verse 1, “Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants,” let’s be clear, he is talking about slavery. This is talking about one being under the yoke of another. Animals are under yokes, that is what a yoke is for, it is for animals. Animals are property and slaves are property of another. Slavery was huge in the first century. All kinds of people were slaves and they came to be slaves in various ways.

I’ve done a fair amount of reading about slavery in the first century to try and understand what it was like. Some try to downplay it saying it was only a benevolent type slavery. They mean by that slaves were treated as family, cared for properly and lovingly as a family member, they were managers in the home and respected as such. Well, there were instances of that, but this was not always the case. There were also slave owners who were harsh, evil, and treated slaves as animals, as property, and not as human beings created in the image of God. There were some who became slaves voluntarily, just to be able to survive, others were forced into it because of a debt owed, others who through war were captured and enslaved. The first century economy in this area was heavily dependent on slavery, it was a big deal and it was a part of the culture at this time.

It is interesting that when Paul talks about certain social relational groups he usually argues for their existence and permanence from a Godward view. For instance in marriage he makes his appeal from creation’s order. Marriage is called into existence as a permanent institution and it goes all the way back to God’s creative order.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:31)

For parents and children he makes his appeal from the fifth commandment:

6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (Ephesians 6:1)

The existence of marriage and parent-child relationships is rooted in, solidly rooted in God’s revealed will. But for slavery we see no such appeal from Paul or the Bible. In fact, Paul urges slaves to get out of that relationship if possible.

Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) (1 Corinthians 7:21)

We also see Paul urge slave owners to free slaves. Speaking of Onesimus in Philemon 16, Paul says to treat him, “no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

I say all this so that we don’t get an idea that there is a condoning of slavery here in this passage, because there is not. What we do have is Paul instructing those who are in this awful situation how they can glorify and honor God.

Our tendency is usually, “Lord, get me out of this,” rather than, “Lord, help me to honor you in this.”

Paul is giving counsel to slaves because he is persuaded that they can live as Christians and bring glory to God even in their slavery. They were sufferers, and in suffering God can be honored.

The question for them would be, “Do you want to honor God even more than obtain your freedom?” That’s a hard question. And the question for us is the same: “Do we want to honor God more than simply escape our current pain?” This is always the question, and the way we answer it says something about our relationship with the Lord.

These are hard words for slaves, and yet words that can be followed if thinking rightly. Let’s look more specifically at what Paul says. Here is what they are to do: “Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor.” Some may read this in horror, in disbelief. Slaves, Paul says, are to regard, or think of with action, their owners as worthy of honor. There is no qualifying word here. He does not say, “Treat your honorable masters with honor.” No, he says regard your master (this would be all masters) as worthy of honor. So this includes the terrible ones too.

In other words, treating with honor is not related to being deserving of honor. Giving of respect does not relate to someone being deserving of respect. Giving of love does not relate to deserving of love. This is very anti-human flesh, anti what we think of as reasonable even.

The Christian life that we are called to live is one of giving to others what we can because we know God wants us to. How do we know? Because He says so in His Word. Give honor, in the case of this verse today, “Give honor, regard masters as worthy of it.” Treat those with honor who are forcing you, against your will, as a slave, to perform work for them that you may find despicable. Honor the one who has put you under a yoke of slavery.

I can think, really, of no worse circumstance than having all my rights stripped away and being fully under the control and whim of a harsh taskmaster who cares nothing for me, and even worse if my family were also in such a place. What could be worse? This is an extreme we aren’t faced with today. All I could think about, I’m afraid, is getting myself and those I love free. I’m afraid that freedom would become my god – not just my desire but my god. I say that with fear in my heart because I know that we are to have no other gods before the one true God. And the one true God says why, in our case and in the case of even slaves, what the reason is why we should honor those in authority over us – “so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.” Do you see that? Why honor those in authority over us? So that the name of God and His truths will not be reviled. So that the name of God will stand strong. So God will be glorified. So God will be seen as worth everything to us, so that He will be seen as more important to us than even our freedom that we might crave and desire. So that God will not be mocked.

What would have more influence or best reveal Christianity to a slave owner? Christians who work hard and honor him, or Christians who cut corners and openly despise him? If the aim is to glorify God then they should honor their masters, if the goal is to appease their own flesh then dishonor will win the day.

We come in life, so often, face to face with whether we will live our lives for God no matter what, or whether we will live this life to please our fleshly desires of comfort, wanting respect, wanting position, wanting fairness in this world, or whatever. Is life for you and for me all about appeasing our fleshly desires, or is it about living for our Lord who has saved us, loves us, is gracious to us, carries us through life and promises paradise in eternity with Him? Why are we here?

Who is in authority over you? Your parents? Your husband? Your boss? Your government? Your elders? Do they always treat you fairly? Do they always make good decisions? Do they always love and care for you? Of course not, they are sinners in every case. So what do you do with that? Well, you, we should honor them. For God’s sake, for His name’s sake we should honor them.

I think verse 1 is the most extreme of the two verses we will look at because I think verse 1 is speaking of honoring unbelieving masters. In verse 2 there is a shift and that is to those with believing masters.

I read verse 2 and my first thought is, “What? Believing masters! Why are there believing slave owners?” I haven’t found a good answer to that, but there were some. It seems the word from Paul here ought to be to the believing masters and the word should be, “Let your slaves go.” Now again, we know that Paul did urge Philemon to do so, but in this context he is not counseling the masters but the slaves. Maybe many masters did come to Christ and eventually release their slaves, I hope so. But here Paul is concerned with and focused on how slaves are responding to and reacting to believing masters.

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. (1 Timothy 6:2)

What an awkward place. To be owned by a brother in Christ. But this was the case. But even here the instruction is to be the best slaves ever. It is like, “You are serving a brother, so serve all the better! Serve better because it is a brother who benefits from your service!”

We simply cannot look at these two verses and avoid this truth that we are not to live for our flesh in our own self-pity or even to think that we can get fairness or justice in this life. We cannot put ourselves first, that is never the admonishing in the Bible. We cannot demand our own way, even if we do it won’t happen. Our aim must be to honor our Lord no matter where our circumstances take us. We are never in a place where we cannot serve our Lord. And when we serve Him, especially in seemingly unfair circumstances, He is greatly honored and people take notice.

If you are a child living with your parents, have you disrespected or dishonored your parents recently? Have you spoken badly of them to others? Have you refused to honor your parents? If so, you have dishonored the Lord and I would call on you to repent. Wives, God says your husband is head of you in authority. Have you shown disrespect to your husband, talked badly about him to others? I would call on you to repent. Men or women, what about your boss at work? Have you dishonored your boss? Then repent for the sake of Christ and His name. Any of us, what about government leaders, what about elders in the church? Have you shown a lack of honor to those God has placed in authority over you? Then I call on us to repent. To refocus our minds, not on ourselves but on our God. In extreme cases even, show honor.

I know that some of you are in hard places right now and showing honor is hard. But let me say this: with God all things are possible. With a focus on Christ, with a focus on His beauty, with a focus on His gracious provision and love for you, you can honor others, you can do that for His great name’s sake. If you can’t see that, if you can’t figure out how exactly to do that I would encourage you to seek counsel with another believer that you respect who is willing to help you.

Life is short here and we have this brief, really it is a brief time to make a stand with and for Christ, and it is our counter-worldly attitudes and actions that will give witness to a life with Christ. Isn’t that true? It is in the ways that we stand in contrast to living simply for ourselves that will shout that we are different. And not just different to be different, but different with a purpose, and that is to proclaim that Christ has come and that living for Him is worth everything. He is more important than freedom. He is more important than convenience. He is more important even than life itself. To die, Paul says, to die is gain…right? And to live is Christ.

Do our lives reflect such truths? We can honor those, for the sake of Christ, who do not deserve honor, and let that speak volumes to those who will see.

We will be saying:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Yes, let’s say that to a watching world, let’s live those words to a watching world. For His glory let’s live for Him! If the slaves in the first century can, by God’s grace, we can too!

1 Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 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. (1 Timothy 6:1-2)