Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:1-10
Originally, I planned to finish 1 Timothy today, but that’s not going to happen. I’m splitting chapter 6 into two parts. But let’s begin reading together in verse 1.
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.
This is one of several places in the New Testament where instructions are given to Christians who were slaves. But before I explain the instructions, I want to make some general comments.
The Bible never endorses the kind of slavery that existed in American history. In fact, the African slave trade is something that was punishable by death in the Old Testament. God did not allow people to be stolen and sold as property. Exodus 21:16 – “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.” That’s pretty clear.
What the Old Testament did allow was voluntary servitude. There was no such thing as a middle class because they didn’t have modern economics. Some people owned land and animals and everyone else worked for those people. You were a master, or you were a servant. That’s how society worked in the entire world.
When Paul wrote 1 Timothy, there were more than 50 million slaves in the Roman Empire. If the apostles told slaves to revolt against their masters, the Romans would have immediately crushed the early church. Paul seemed to know this, because he encouraged slaves to honor and respect their masters – so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.
And yet, the seeds of abolition can be found all over the New Testament… especially in Paul’s letters. The Bible has had more impact on the institutions of slavery and other forms of tyranny than anything else, by far.
It was good Christian ethics that took down the institutions of slavery around the world. It is the influence of Christianity that has helped dismantle the caste system in India. Any tyranny that exists currently in the world is influenced by pagan or atheistic beliefs. And so, if you hear the nonsense that the Bible supports slavery, I’m setting the record straight.
Paul describes slavery here in verse 1 as being “under a yoke”. What works under a yoke? An animal. That’s a nod to the dehumanization felt by slaves. And what does Paul say in Galatians 3? In Christ Jesus, there is neither slave nor free. The Gospel spiritually undermines and eventually dismantles barriers in society like race and class. So, no, the Bible is not pro-slavery.
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.
For our purposes, it is probably best to think of this in terms of business relationships. Employers and employees… contract labor… and the message here is not to take advantage of people because they are Christians.
As an example, instead of expecting a discount from a Christian business owner, pay a fair price. Serve all the better. Go above and beyond. Respect and honor people.
Teach and urge these things.
Meaning – everything I have said in this letter. And now, we have come to the final section of the letter. Paul returns to the subject of false teachers.
3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness,
4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.
Puffed up means “filled with smoke”. They think they know what they are talking about, but it’s only hot air.
He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions,
5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
Notice the problem is not controversy, but an unhealthy craving for it – motivated by a belief that godliness is a means of gain. It’s not clear in English, but Paul is talking about money when he says a “means of gain”. It’s financial gain they are after.
In other words, these men are teaching bad doctrine, they are dividing the church, and they are motivated by greed. We know that the city of Ephesus was wealthy at this time and Paul was concerned that some of the leaders were using the faith as a way to exploit that wealth.
Paul defended the pursuit of godliness earlier in the letter, but here he says that greed corrupts that pursuit. Another way to say it is this: if you think of following Jesus as a way to get blessed financially, then you’re missing the point. You’re doing it for yourself, not for God. That’s the problem with all the health and wealth teaching. It has nothing to do with Jesus.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain,
7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.
8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
Contentment is being satisfied with what you have. But to be clear, Paul’s not saying that people who are destitute should be content with their extreme poverty. We know that because he says be content with food and clothing. He’s not telling starving people to be content.
Instead, this is an indictment against Christians who want more than they need – which is the vast majority of American Christians. Every single one of us should feel some conviction on this point. Why? Paul continues:
9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
Look carefully at these verses. Paul is not condemning people who are already rich. Nor is he saying that money itself is evil. He makes it very clear that he’s talking about the heart.
“Those who desire to be rich”… “The love of money”… this is heart language. And what is the danger? What is the risk of this love? This desire?
Ruin and destruction. Self-inflicted harm. Wandering away from the faith.
This fits with the teaching of Jesus.
In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus talks about some seed falling among the thorns. He explains:
As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Three of the four Gospels tell the story of the rich young man walking away sad after Jesus tells him to sell everything and give his money to the poor. And in all three stories, Jesus says this to the disciples after he walks away:
Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.
24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
We should pay close attention to this – because by the world’s standards Americans are all extremely wealthy. The poorest 20 percent of Americans consume more goods and services than the national averages for all people in most affluent countries. And in places like Haiti, Afghanistan, and Uganda, people are consuming 30x less than the poorest Americans.
I say this because so much of how we think about contentment is influenced by what we see around us every day. It is difficult to be content when we see so much wealth around us.
The heart problem is a tendency to believe that God is holding out on us. We start to focus on all the things we believe we deserve. And that problem is confronted by the tenth commandment – do not covet. Do not desire things you see other people enjoying.
And you may be thinking, that’s easy for people to say when they have everything they want. I hear you. But this is what the Bible says will make us truly happy. To be content with what we have. And modern psychology actually defends this view.
By and large, people in poor countries live happier, more socially fit lives than people in affluent countries. If you want to see this for yourself, watch the free documentary called “God Grew Tired of Us”. It follows three orphans from south Sudan who were given an opportunity to travel to the United States. They were provided with jobs and education. But they were miserable, and they missed their friends in the orphan camps.
Deep down we know this, but our sin fights it tooth and nail. We know the stories of lottery winners who say they wish they never won the money. We see the dysfunction of celebrities who have everything they thought they wanted.
The only way to fight this heart condition is with the Gospel. And that’s spelled out for us clearly in Hebrews 13:5 –
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
What motivates the Christian to be content – to see money as a tool and not an object to be loved and desired? It is the belief that Jesus will never leave or forsake us.
He is the answer to every potential problem Paul addresses in this chapter. Remember that God the Son became a man, submitting himself to the yoke of the flesh to ransom us from the slavery of sin and death. Remember that He humbled Himself – emptied Himself – taking the form of a servant and dying the death of a criminal to save us from sin and death.
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
One of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes, from Mere Christianity – he says it like this:
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Every temporary happiness offered by this world is a rush of brain chemistry. It never lasts. But our experience of God through faith in Christ – that’s something that moves our soul. Jesus is the path to lasting contentment. He is the living water, a well that never runs dry. The best part – his yoke is easy and his burden is light.