The Lord’s Day Morning
October 10, 2004
I Timothy 6:1-2
“Doctrine and Practice as Witness”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
I Timothy, chapter six. We’re working our way through the pastoral letters of
Paul: I Timothy, II Timothy, and Titus; letters which Paul wrote to two faithful
servants of the Lord ministering in local congregations of Christians. And he
wrote these letters to these faithful servants of the Lord in order to show them
what church was supposed to be like. He wanted to give them the priorities for
healthy local church life and ministry. And we’ve seen various aspects of God’s
direction for local church life and ministry so far, as we’ve studied through
the Book of I Timothy.
Last week we looked at I Timothy 5 and what it has
to say about elders, and about mutual accountability and discipline amongst the
elders of the church. In fact, if you look at the whole of I Timothy 5, it’s
dealing with different groups in the church, beginning with widows and the
church’s responsibility to them, and their responsibility in the life of the
congregation; and then dealing with elders, beginning in verse 17, and their
responsibilities to one another and to the Lord, as well as to the
congregation. And so Paul has been addressing different groups within the
And in the passage we’re going to read today he
turns his attention to yet another group. Now, as we begin to read you may be
tempted to think, “This passage has absolutely nothing to say to me, because we
don’t have anyone in this congregation that fits into the category that Paul is
about to address. The group that Paul is addressing in the Ephesian church does
not exist at First Presbyterian Church.” So, you may be tempted to say then,
“Well, this passage doesn’t have anything to say to me.” Or you may say, “Well,
I’m going to have to transpose what this passage says to this group of people to
my relationship to my employer,” and there might be some legitimacy in doing
that. But I want to suggest that what we in fact learn from this passage is
deeper and more profound than that. I think there are two principles that are
universally applicable for Christians that are learned from these important two
small verses in I Timothy 6, verses one and two.
Let me just outline for you the passage so that
you will be ready to look for where we’re going to be going. First of all,
I want you to notice who Paul speaks to. Secondly, I want you to notice the
surprising thing that he says to them to do. And then thirdly, I want you to
notice why he tells them to do what he tells them to do. Because it’s from that
last portion, the “why”–and there’s one “why” in verse one, and there’s another
“why” in verse two. It’s from the “why” that the two great principles for all
of us are discovered. Let’s look to God in prayer before we read and hear His
word proclaimed. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, we acknowledge that this is Your
word. You are true and faithful, and so Your words are true and faithful. But
they’re not only true, they are applicable; they are practical; they are meant
to change our lives; they are meant to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our
way. So, by Your Spirit, open our eyes to understand Your word, and by that
same Spirit cause our hearts to walk in the truth of that word in our lives.
This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear God’s word:
“Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of
all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against.
And let those who have believers as their masters not be disrespectful to them
because they are brethren, but let them serve them all the more, because those
who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired
and inerrant word. May He add His blessing to it.
I. Paul is giving directions here relating to the
Christian conduct of believing slaves.
Paul, in this passage, is giving directions
to Christian slaves regarding their attitude toward and work for their masters,
whether they’re working for pagan masters or for fellow believers. And I want
you to look at this passage closely and see how God speaks to you by the
principle of His word.
First, look at the group to whom Paul is speaking.
He’s giving directions here relating to the Christian conduct of believers who
happen to be slaves. “All who are under the yoke as slaves….” You may not
know it, but it was said, and has been said for many years, that perhaps a third
of the Roman Empire was constituted of slaves. A third of the city of Rome was
made up by slaves. And Paul regularly took time to address Christians who were
slaves, because there were many Christians who were slaves in the churches. You
remember how he opens the letter of I Corinthians speaking of the fact that
there were not many rich or powerful or wise in the congregation in Corinth.
No, they were those who were looked down upon by the world. They were weak and
powerless in comparison to those who were in influential positions in society.
And many of them would have been in this same state as members of the
congregation in Ephesus.
And so Paul deals with these Christians who are
slaves out of a pastoral awareness of their situation. He knows that to be a
slave brought specific challenges to the Christian life. And so he pauses
frequently in his writings to speak to Christians who are in the condition of
I should say in passing that that reminds us that
all of us have different conditions and circumstances in life that impact our
service of the Lord, our walk with the Lord, our love for the Lord. And we
should be concerned to pray for one another in those different conditions and
circumstances, that we would be faithful to the Lord. We should be concerned
for one another.
And that reminds us as well that we need to continue
to be concerned for Christians who are experiencing slavery in our own time.
Thousands and thousands, and tens of thousands of Christians are under the yoke
of slavery in the Sudan and elsewhere around the world. We as Christians, just
like Paul, should be concerned for their conduct as Christians in the midst of
that hardship. So that’s the first thing. Paul is speaking to slaves.
II. Paul calls on Christians who are burdened with the
yoke of slavery to honor their masters.
Secondly, notice what he says. It may
surprise you. Paul says in verse one, “all who are under the yoke as slaves are
to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor….” Now, does that surprise
you? Does that shock you? Were you expecting Paul to call for the liberation
of slaves? Were you expecting Paul to make a “Christian Emancipation
Proclamation,” to inveigh against the evils of Greco-Roman slavery? And let me
say, the evils of Greco-Roman slavery were many! This was not a happy life.
But Paul surprises you, doesn’t he? He doesn’t call
for emancipation; instead, he gives instructions to Christian slaves to follow
in whatever context they find themselves. Now what do you make of that? That
offends our modern sensibilities. We’re expecting the New Testament to speak
out against this horrible condition, this social evil. How do we explain this?
Well, first of all, let me note that Paul
elsewhere makes it clear that if a Christian who is a slave has an opportunity
to become free, he ought to take it. In other words, Paul recognizes that
slavery is not a condition that it is desirable to be in. To mitigate some of
the difficulties and hardships that are entailed in slavery, even as he speaks
to the master, Philemon, about the runaway slave, Onesimus.
Secondly, in the book of Philemon, notice how Paul
works to mitigate slavery.
Thirdly, notice that Paul does not ground his
teaching on how a Christian ought to respond in the condition of slavery in the
positive teaching of God’s moral law or in the creation ordinances. Let me
contrast for you, for instance, how Paul treats marriage and family with how he
Turn with me to Ephesians 5, and let your eyes fall
upon verse 31. And in Ephesians 5:31, Paul is giving the biblical reason why
husbands ought to love their wives sacrificially, and why wives ought to respect
their husbands, even as the Lord. And he says in Ephesians 5:31 that the reason
for this is:
“For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to
his wife; and the two shall become one flesh.”
In other words, Paul is grounding his instruction on
husbands’ and wives’ relationship to one another in the bonds of marriage
in–what?–in how God created marriage originally in the state of perfection in
the Garden of Eden. In other words, God’s ordinance in creation in Genesis
2–where this quote comes from–is to be determinative for how Christian wives and
Christian husbands relate to one another. In other words, he’s giving a
positive grounding for the way we relate to one another as man and wife in God’s
Now, let your eyes look down further on the page to
Ephesians 6:1. Here Paul says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for
this is right.” Now, what is Paul’s reasoning? Look at verse two: “Honor your
father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may
be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.” Paul goes to the
Fifth Commandment. Paul says, ‘This is the reason, children, that you are to
obey your parents: because God has said that it is right to do so, in His moral
So in both Paul’s teaching on marriage and his
teaching in parenting, he grounds our obligation to relate to one
another in a specific way, or to obey our parents, or to respect one another or
to love our wives, in God’s original creation order and in God’s moral law–the
But here, if you look back over at I Timothy 6,
you will note that Paul does not ground his teaching in the creation order or in
the moral law. And that is because slavery is an institution of a fallen
world, and the Bible mitigates, constrains, and attempts to mark out
proper actions within the bounds of the relationship of slavery, but it does
not condone it or sanction it, or argue that slavery is somehow the way
it ought to be.
For instance, if you look at Exodus 20-21, as God
begins to give the civil law to Israel, in the midst of those civil laws,
beginning in Exodus 21:1, He gives laws on slavery. And all of those laws,
by and large, are requirements on masters treating their slaves well. In other
words, Moses’ law is designed to mitigate the state of slavery. Paul does the
same thing in Philemon, as he attempts to mitigate Onesimus’ situation with
slavery. So he doesn’t ground slavery in the creation ordinances or the moral
law; no, slavery is an institution of a fallen world that the Old Testament
and New Testament teaching manages rather than condones.
And yet, he says to Christians who are burdened with
the yoke of slavery to honor their masters. Why? Well, Paul tells you why in
verse one. Look at what he says: “Regard your own masters as worthy of all
honor, so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against.” In
other words, Paul gives an evangelistic reason for Christian slaves’ behavior.
Paul tells the Christian slave that his conduct has implications for God’s
reputation and God’s glory, and the credibility of the truth of the gospel. And
so Paul expects Christian slaves to so care about their witness to God and to
the truth of Christianity that they bear witness in their service and attitude,
even though they are in a dreadful personal condition.
Now, this is absolutely phenomenal. Paul is
reminding us that Christ has freed us to serve Him. And the service of Christ is
true freedom, but that freedom Christ gives us enables us to die to ourselves
and to our desires for special treatment, and to live for Christ. And so he is
ready to say to these Christian slaves, ‘Whether you have a pagan master or
whether you have a believing master, here’s what I want you to do: I want you
to live in such a way that brings honor to the name and reputation and glory and
gospel of God.’
III. Paul gives an evangelistic and apologetic reason
for the Christian slaves behavior.
Now, my friends, I want to suggest to you
that that counsel has two staggering implications for you and me. None of us
are slaves, at least not in the way that these people were slaves. Some of us
may be slaves to death; some of us may be slaves to opinion; some of us may be
slaves to popularity; some of us may be slaves to other things. But none of us
are slaves in this way. We are all in positions of privilege and power relative
to these dear brothers and sisters, and yet the principles that Paul sets forth
for them speak even more so to us.
Here is the first principle. Based upon Paul’s
command to the Christian slave to live so that the name of God and our doctrine
will not be spoken against, we see this principle: Christians are to fulfill
our calling with a view to defending the name of God and the gospel, and to
commending the name of God and the gospel.
When Paul tells these slaves, “Regard your masters
for the sake of God and the truth of Christ,” he’s calling all of us in our
vocations to do what we do with a view to causing regard for the name of God and
the truth of Christ. Paul is saying, ‘Don’t let your lamentable status blind
you to your kingdom responsibilities.’ And especially since most of us don’t
share in this lamentable status, it is especially important for us in our
vocations to honor God in how we live.
Isn’t it a shame that so often Christians are looked
upon by the community around us as not fulfilling the highest standards in our
employment and in our vocation? And Paul is saying, do nothing in the way you
work for pagans that would besmirch the reputation of God and the gospel of the
Lord Jesus Christ. Now, if he can say that to slaves, how much more does that
apply to us, friends?
I was at a conference yesterday, and a man quoted a
story from Sergei Kourdakov’s book, The Persecutor. You’ve heard of
Kourdakov, a Russian intelligence and naval officer who defected in 1971 to
Canada, and then told his story. He was killed two years later, perhaps by the
Russian secret police. But he was converted to Christ during that time, and he
wrote in his book The Persecutor the story of how he and his special
police unit were assigned to attempt to break up Christian churches and to
And he tells the story of his fellows coming into a
church gathering in a home one day, and seeing a beautiful young woman named
Natasha. One of his colleagues picked Natasha up above his head and flung her
against the wall, so that she was knocked unconscious. Three days later they
went into another Christian setting, and guess who they saw?–this beautiful
young woman, Natasha. Being flung against a wall and knocked unconscious had
not fazed her in the least. She was right back there where she was supposed to
be, worshiping the Lord.
At this time, they stripped her naked, and they beat
her until the flesh began to fall off of her body. She bit through her lip in
order to contain herself in the midst of this beating. A few days later they
went into another Christian setting, and guess who they saw? Natasha! This
time, when one of Kourdakov’s men moved towards her with a club to kill her,
another of Kourdakov’s colleagues stepped in front, and said, “No. You don’t
touch this girl.” Kourdakov, when he came to Christ, wrote a letter to Natasha,
whom he never saw again, and simply said, “Thank you, Natasha. You showed me
what the gospel does for a human heart.”
Now, she was faithful in her calling. She was where
she was supposed to be. She was mistreated for her calling, and her calling was
used to witness for the gospel of Christ. If she, in that horrendous
circumstance, can do that, how much more should we do that in our callings? We
are to bear witness to the gospel of Christ in the way that we live. The way
that we live either commends the gospel, or it undermines the gospel.
And so, Paul is saying Christians are to fulfill our
callings with a view to defending and commending the name of God and the
But secondly, and you’ll see this especially in
verse two, he says that Christians are not to use our Christian profession as an
excuse for less exemplary service of other Christians. Look at what he
says: “…serve them [that is, Christians] all the more, because those who
partake of the benefit are believers and beloved.” In other words, he’s saying
to these Christian slaves, regard your Christian masters all the more because
they’re fellow believers. You know, the logic might have been this: we’ve been
freed in Christ; there’s no longer slave or free in Christ; therefore, I’m
really not obligated to serve this fellow-Christian as a slave, because we’re
both free in Christ. And Paul says, wrong logic. Being a brother and sister in
Christ does not free me from my obligations to serve to the best of my ability
those who are fellow believers.
In other words, Paul is telling us, don’t use your
equality in Christ as an excuse for sloppy service. And that’s an enormously
important message. I’ve told you before the story of Richard Halverson, the
former Chaplain of the United States Senate, and the man who owned a series of
area car dealerships in the Washington, DC, area. He wanted to witness to
Christ. He thought of having his salesmen hand out tracts, and even New
Testaments to all those who came into the shop. But he was notorious as a bad
businessman. He didn’t stand behind his product. He came to Halverson and he
said, “Wouldn’t this be a great idea, to give out tracts and New Testaments?”
And Halverson said, “That’s a wonderful idea, but you know what a better idea
would be? Treat your customers right. Be an upstanding businessman. Stand
behind your product. Honor your warranties. Don’t sell lemons.”
My friends, the greatest barriers to our gospel
witness in this congregation to our community are our lives. Our lives will
either commend the truth or undermine it. People will either say, ‘You know,
that woman, what she believes is immediately credible to me because of the way
that she lives.’ Or, they will say, ‘You know, I wouldn’t want to believe
anything that that person believes, because I know how he lives.’ May God grant
that we would live in such a way as to adorn the gospel and bear witness to
Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.
Lord God, hear our prayers. Change us by the
gospel. Make us good witnesses in our lives to unbelievers. And Lord God, as
we serve one another, grant that we would do it with all our heart, knowing that
we’re serving fellow believers. What a privilege! And bear witness to Yourself
and to Your power, and to Your grace in this. We ask it for the glory of
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