1 Timothy 6:1–10 (NKJV)
1 Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed. 2 And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. Teach and exhort these things. 3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, 4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, 5 useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.1 Timothy 6:1-5
In this passage, Paul goes down a road of logic that some would consider inconceivable. A bondservant (slave in some translations) should count their own masters as worthy of all honor? How ridiculous that sounds! However, there is a spiritual principle at work here that may escape the imagination at first glance. While Paul has said often in other letters that all people are equal in the eyes of God, here he seems to suggest that slavery is not only valid, but that masters should be honored by their bondservants. What is the rationale behind such a statement? It is that in whatever state you find yourself, personal freedom is not as important as the reputation of the gospel. Therefore, a believer who is a bondservant should honor his master as a sign of the love of Christ that is in his heart. This command is given to those who are under the yoke of an unbelieving master, in the hopes that this attitude will serve as a witness to that unbeliever. The next admonishment is to those who have believing masters. While this seems a contradiction of terms (believing masters), Paul still instructs the believing bondservant not to despise them, for the work they do benefits that believer, beloved in the body. Timothy is to teach and exhort these things.
The Greek word for slave or bondservant (transliterated doulos) can apply to one either voluntarily or involuntarily pressed into service to a master (δοῦλος dŏulŏs, doo´-los; from 1210; a slave (lit. or fig., invol. or vol.; frequently therefore in a qualified sense of subjection or subserviency):—bond (-man), servant.).* It is possible that one would submit to the authority of another to satisfy a debt, or that they had no other option of gainful employment to support their family, so they attached themselves, either for a time or permanently, to a citizen that had the means to pay them or support them. There were obviously slaves who were pressed into service, which is not acceptable in the eyes of most decent Christians, but the possibility of voluntary servitude is perhaps a more acceptable way of perceiving Christian masters. Paul does not condone or endorse slavery, but he is trying to help bondservants make the best of a horrible situation. Obviously, these bondservants were not restricted from attending house church meetings or worshipping with other believers, so perhaps the nature of this slavery is different from what one would envision happening in other settings where slaves were regularly beaten, and their every move was controlled. The main thought being set forth here is that servants should serve well and honor their masters for two reasons: that the gospel would not be compromised, and that their masters would receive good service to bless them and the name of the Lord. While slavery in general is reprehensible, the servant–being a Christian–should serve well.
6 Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.1 Timothy 6:6-10
Paul then instructs Timothy about the sinfulness of greed. Right after a tough speech about slavery, Paul touts the virtue of godliness with contentment. Paul wants Timothy to teach that real wealth is knowing God, serving God, and honoring Him with contentment in life. Being greedy is useless. We come into the world with nothing but life, and we leave this world with nothing as well. Being cared for with food and clothing is enough in the words of Paul. Paul may have come from a wealthy background, and had certain privileges as a Roman citizen (through his father), but in his ministry, he often only had the clothes on his back and a little food to eat. Some may say that Paul had a skewed opinion on wealth because of his circumstances. However, he also speaks of the abundant blessings of God in other places. The principle here is not wealth so much as one’s attitude toward it. Do not desire riches, for that desire may lead to temptation and snares, lust for more of this world’s goods which can drown men and lead to destruction and sin. He then offers the famous phrase, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil….”
What is Paul saying to the church of today? He is saying the same thing, but to a different societal context. While many of the pioneers of the early church were not wealthy, and some were even slaves under the yoke of a master, they needed a positive and respectful attitude in order to survive. Many today, especially connected with the American church, are wealthy by the standards of the rest of the world, especially in third world countries. While we do not serve as slaves or get by on food and clothing, we still need to serve well those by whom we are employed. We also need to be content with what we have. The problem with the kind of “wealth” that many enjoy today is that it leads individuals to seek more, moving the baseline up, always desiring to be richer or more affluent. Learn in whatever state you exist to be content. Whether you annual salary is below, above, well below, or well above the poverty line, understand that it is all a gift of God, the supplier of all things. While there may be perceived injustices in who lives at what standard, contentment is the clarion call of Paul, so that no one chases the wealth they desire, but rather is thankful. The rich should share with the poor, and all should work hard and have what they need. This is Godly, and will help each individual avoid sin.
*James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 24.