1 Timothy
by Francis Foulkes ©


'Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be defamed, Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brethren; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved' (6:1,2).

This letter has said a good deal about the Christian as a 'servant of Jesus Christ'. Most Christians, however, are also servants of men. In New Testament days, they were not just servants, but slaves. They were 'under the yoke', as an animal is put under the yoke and made to work in whatever way its owner wishes. The bodies and minds of slaves belonged to their masters. We need to understand what instructions Paul gave to Christian slaves in their situation long ago; then we want to think what these instructions have to teach us in our different situation today.

a. Slaves in the time of Timothy

At the time of this letter some 60 million people in the Roman Empire were slaves; it is said that one person in every three was a slave. Some had been taken in war; others had been sold into slavery; others again were born in slavery. What should Christian slaves do about their slavery? They might have said, 'We are free men and women, made free by Christ. We should be slaves no more.' But our Lord Himself and His apostles never suggested that slaves should rebel against their masters. That would have caused a civil war and endless bloodshed; and Christianity would have come to be known simply as the cause of social and political revolution. The gospel would not have become known in the world as the message of the forgiving, saving love of God in Christ.

The apostle did say that a Christian master should treat his slave who had become a Christian 'as a beloved brother' (Philemon 16). He also reminded the masters of slaves that they had a heavenly Master to whom they would one day give account for their treatment of those under them (Ephesians 6: 5, 9 and Colossians 4:1). He gave teaching, in fact, which in the end was to bring Christian men to fight for the abolition of slavery. But he did not teach slaves to struggle to shake off their bonds (see 1 Corinthians 7: 21-24). Rather he said to them, 'Honour your masters. Serve them well. If your masters are Christians, still serve them, and give them the benefit of good service, because you love them. In doing this the name of God and the gospel of Christ will be honoured' (see also Titus 2: 9,10).

b. Employees in our own times

Thank God, not many people in the world today are slaves. But most of us are employees. We serve a master, we work for a boss, whether in the factory, the office, the farm, the school. Even in the life of the church there are those who are 'over (us) in the Lord' (1 Thessalonians 5:12). In our daily work we should show them that we are Christians. We will do so if we honour our masters, and give them the best service in our power. If your master is not a Christian, if he seems unreasonable and harsh, still serve him well. That will show Christ in your life. If your master is a Christian, do not think that he should let you off with low standards, and easily overlook your faults. Love him as a brother in Christ, and give your best work to him.

The words of Ecclesiastes 9:10 apply to all that a Christian does, 'whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might'. In Ephesians 6:5-8 we are called to do everything that we do for men 'as to the Lord'. This means living by the highest standards. It means that we cannot follow with others when they refuse to give their best, when they take time for themselves that belongs to their master, when they rebel against conditions of service to which they have agreed. It is hard for the Christian to stand firm for what is right in these things. Sometimes it is hard for him to see what is his duty. But the Lord whom we serve will always give wisdom to know the way, and courage to follow it. The Christian workman will thus commend his Lord by being a better workman, more trustworthy and more faithful than the others.


Lord, help us to accept only the highest standards for all the work that we do. Make us faithful to those who are set over us, so that Christ may be seen in us. Guide all employers, and help them to consider in all things the well-being of those who work for them. Work Thy will in the hearts of employees. May the leaders of trade unions seek only what is right and fair. So may Thy name be hallowed, and Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; through the strength of Jesus Christ. AMEN.

Further Study. 1. What further teaching concerning slaves and masters is given in Philemon, in Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; Titus 2:9,10 and I Peter 2:18-25?

2. What teaching concerning the duty of the Christian workman today can be found in these same passages, and in Ephesians 4:28 and 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15?