Slaves and Heretics
1 Timothy 6:1-10
Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor…


1. Toward unbelieving masters. "Let as many as are servants under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the Name of God and the doctrine be not blasphemed." Paul had to legislate for a social condition which was, to a considerable extent, different from ours. In the early Christian Churches there were not a few whose social condition was that of slaves. They are pointed to here as being under the yoke as servants. To service there was added the oppressive circumstance of being under the yoke. That is, they were like cattle with the yoke on them - having no rights, any more than cattle, to bestow their labor where they liked, but only where their masters liked. It was a degradation of human beings, for which no apology could be made. Under Christianity the eyes of Christian slaves could not be altogether closed to the flagrant injustice inflicted on them. They would also see that, in this sonship and heirship of glory, they were really exalted above unbelieving masters. It would have been easy, with such materials, to have inflamed their minds against their masters. But Paul, as a wise legislator, understood better the obligations of Christianity. No inflammatory word does he address to them; he tells them, not of rights, but of duties. Their masters, notwithstanding their being identified with injustice, were still their own masters, i.e. men to whom in the providence of God they were subordinated. Let them be counted worthy of all honor, even as he has already said that the presbyters, or ecclesiastical rulers, are to be counted worthy of honor. And we need not wonder at this; for still, at the basis of things, they are the representatives of Divine authority. As such - and who are wholly entitled to be called worthy representatives? - let them be counted worthy of all proper honor. Let them be treated thus, that the Name of God and the doctrine be not blasphemed. There was involved in their conduct the Name of God, i.e. of the true God, as distinguished from the false gods which their masters worshipped. There was also involved the teaching, i.e. what Christianity taught about things. If they were insubordinate, both would be evil spoken of. The heathen masters would think of Christianity as upturning the fundamental relations of things. We are apt to forget how much the Divine honor is involved in our conduct. We should give such a living representation of our religion as will give none occasion to blaspheme.

2. Toward believing masters. "And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but let them serve them the rather, because they that partake of the benefit are believing and beloved." Men might be despotic masters, holders of slaves, and yet be Christians, their conscience not being educated upon that point. It was not said to them that they were to go and liberate their slaves. It was better that they should receive the essence of Christianity without their prejudices being raised on that point; correction on it, from the working of Christian influences, was sure to follow, with a slowness, however, that might leave many unenlightened of that generation of them. It seems to be implied that, though unenlightened, they gave their slaves Christian treatment, i.e. treated them as not under the yoke, in the avoidance of harshness and unreasonable exactions often associated with the yoke. This was rightly to be interpreted as a homage rendered to brotherhood in Christ. But let not slaves be led into a mistaken interpretation of brotherhood. It did not mean that respect was no longer due to their masters. The earthly relation, though not so deep as the new relation in Christ, still stood, as giving form to duty. Let them not despise them, i.e. refuse the respect due to superiors. And, instead of giving them less service, let it be the other way. Give more service, because they that get the benefit of it are of the same faith, and beloved as masters that have learned front Christ the law of kindness. Emphasizing what has been said. "These things teach and exhort." There was to be both direction and enforcement.


1. Standard in relation to which they are heretics. "If any man teacheth a different doctrine, and consenteth not to sound words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness." The other doctrine is that which departs from the standard. This is contained in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Truth, and has the right to rule all minds. There is a healthy vigor in his words, not the sickliness that there was in the words of the heretical teachers. The doctrine contained in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ is that which is according to godliness. There is grounded in our nature, apart from all teachings, a certain religiosity. That is, we are made to have certain states of our soul toward God, such as reverence. As we cherish these states we are pious, godly. What our Lord taught was in accordance with the norm of godliness in our original constitution, and was fitted to effect godliness as a result. The condemnation of the heretics was, that in not consenting to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ they were going away to doctrines which were not fitted to promote piety.

2. Moral characterization.

(1) From the inflatedness of ignorance. "He is puffed up, knowing nothing." It is only in Christ that we have the right point of view. If, therefore, we are not taught by him, we know nothing aright. Those who have true knowledge are humbled under a sense of what they do not know. The heretics who had not even a smattering of true knowledge were puffed up with conceit of the multitude of things which they knew.

(2) From the morbidness of sophistry. "But doting about questionings and disputes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth." Not consenting to sound words, they have diseased action. That in which they show themselves diseased is in busying themselves, not, like Christian inquirers, around realities, but, like the sophists with whom Socrates had to do, around questionings which become disputes of words. This disease of hair-splitting is attended with various evil consequences: envy toward those who evince superior skill, strife with those who will not admit the value of the distinctions, railings where there is not reason, evil surmisings where there is not charity, and frequent and more bitter collisions where the truth, not honestly dealt with, is forcibly taken away.

3. The special obnoxiousness of their teaching.

(1) This was in asserting that godliness was a way of gain. "Supposing that godliness is a way of gain." This was evidently a stratagem on the part of the heretics. Suspected of a worldliness that was unbecoming their religious pretensions, they got over it by taking up the position that godliness was a gainful trade. They appealed to men to be religious for the sake of the worldly gain it would bring to them. It can be seen that the apostle regards the heretical maxim with contempt. It is a maxim from which many act who would not like to admit it in words. They keep up religious appearances, not because they have any love for religion, but because it would be damaging to them to appear irreligious.

(2) Godliness is a way of gain if associated with contentment. "But godliness with contentment is great gain." "Elegantly, and not without ironical correction to a sense that is contrary, he gives a new turn to the same words" (Calvin). Godliness (what we have in relation to God) is great gain; but its gain lies in its producing a contented mind (in relation to ourselves). Where a man is contented it is as though he owned the whole world.

(3) Reasons for contentment. Our natural bareness. "For we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out." The same thought is expressed in Job 1:21 and in Ecclesiastes 5:15. Viewed at two points we are absolutely poor. There was a time when earthly good was not ours, and there will come a time when it will cease to be ours. We are not, then, to make an essential of what only pertains to our earthly state. We can do with little. "But having food and covering we shall be therewith content." Something added to our bare natural condition we need while we are in this world, and it will not be wanting; but it does not need to be much. Food and covering, these will suffice for us. We can do with less than we imagine. Shakespeare tells us that

"The poorest man
Is in the poorest thing superfluous,
Demands for nature more than nature claims." The wreck of our present day is that no one knows how to live upon little; the great men of antiquity were generally poor. The retrenchment of useless expenditure, the laying aside of what one may call the relatively necessary, is the high-road to Christian disentanglement of heart, just as it was to that of ancient vigor. A great soul in a small house is the idea which has always touched me more than any other (Lacordaire). The sad result of the opposite state. "But they that desire to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition." By them that desire to be rich we are to understand those who, instead of being contented with what they can enjoy with God's blessing and what they can use for God's glory, make riches their object in life. They fall into a state of mind that is seductive and fettering. And this unnatural craving for possession does not stand alone, but has many affiliated lusts, such as love for display, love for worldly company, love for the pleasures of the table. Of these no rational account can be given, and they are hurtful even to the extent of drowning men in misery, expressed by two very strong words - destruction and perdition. Confirmation of the last reason. Proverbial saying. "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." The proverb is intended to have a certain startling nature. Desire of money is not certainly the only root of evils, but it is conspicuously the root of evils. We need only think of the lies, thefts, oppressions, jealousies, murders, wars, lawsuits, sensuality, prayerlessness, that have been caused by it. The victims. "Which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows." The apostle thinks of the ravages wrought on some he knew. Within the Christian circle, they unlawfully reached after gain. This led to their wandering from the faith, and to their being pierced through, as with a sword, with many sorrows; bitter reflections on the past, disappointment with what they had obtained, apprehensions of the future. These he would point to as beacons, warning off the rock of avarice. - R.F.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.

WEB: Let as many as are bondservants under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and the doctrine not be blasphemed.

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