A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 6:1-2. 3). Slaves (continued).
In both verses 1 and 2 the slaves whom Timothy is to instruct are clearly Christians and church members. There is a difference between the verses, however. Whereas in verse 2 we are explicitly told that their slave owner is a believer, in verse 1 it seems likely that he is not. So Timothy is to adjust his teaching to the context.
First, slaves *should consider their masters*, even though they are unbelievers, to be *worthy of full respect*. That is, they will treat them with respect because they consider them worthy of respect, which they are as human beings, irrespective of their behaviour. Then there is another and missionary reason why slaves should respect their masters. It is because the reputation of *God’s name and our teaching* (literally ‘the teaching’, meaning that of the apostles) are at stake. If slaves show disrespect for their masters, they will bring discredit on God’s name and the apostles’ teaching; but these will *not be slandered*, but will rather be honoured, if they respect their masters (1).
Secondly, *those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them (‘must not take liberties with them’, REB) because they are brothers*. Evidently some slaves were guilty of this twisted reasoning, and were taking advantage of their masters’ Christian faith. Christian employees in Christian firms today sometimes make the same mistake. *Instead (‘Quite the contrary’, JBP, REB) they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them* (2a), or ‘are one with them in faith and love’ (REB, following JBP). The two ‘because’ (*hoti*) clauses are parallel. Because their masters are brothers, slaves must not show them less respect. Instead, because they are believers and beloved, they must serve them even better. The faith, love and brotherhood which unite them in Christ, far from being an excuse for neglect, should be a stimulus to service. *These are the things*, Paul writes to Timothy in conclusion, which *you are to teach and urge on them* (2b). He is to pass on to the church the instructions he has received from the apostle.
These instructions have concerned the church’s social responsibilities, particularly in relation to widows, presbyters and slaves. These three groups are disparate in several ways. They are men and women, slaves and free, young and old, workers at home and in church, church leaders and church members. What unites them? It is the word ‘honour’. The church is to ‘honour’ real widows and care for them (3). Presbyters who lead well are to be counted worthy of a twofold ‘honour’ (17). Slaves are to regard their masters as worthy of ‘honour’ (6:1). The same Greek word, as either a verb (*timao*) or a noun (*time*), occurs in each of these three verses. Indeed, the duty to honour people is much emphasized in Scripture. For example, ‘Give due honour [NIV “Show proper respect”] to everyone’ (1 Pet.2:17). Again, ‘Honour one another above yourselves’ (Rom.12:10), or ‘Outdo one another in showing honour’ (RSV). Every human being is worthy of honour, even pagan slave owners, because they have been made in the image of God. Once we perceive the intrinsic worth of human beings by creation, and therefore recognize them as worthy of honour, all our relationships are enriched and ennobled.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 6:3-21. Material possessions.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.