1 Timothy 6:1-2, “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. 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. Teach and urge these things.”
There are a number of Scriptures that speak of slaves and servants. These passages present in a very matter of fact manner the existence of slaves, even among the people of God. 1 Timothy 6:1-2 is one such passage that addresses those noted as being in slavery.
Understanding what Paul is speaking to in this pericope is vital as an improper approach can lead and has led throughout the centuries to an incorrect position on slavery. Even the great Puritan preacher Cotton Mather fell prey to an incorrect understanding of Paul’s statement in this passage resulting in an attempt to find support for the slave trade. While the reality of slavery was indeed an ever-present and unfortunate reality for many in Paul’s day, 1 Timothy 6:1-2 does not condone slavery.
So what is Paul telling us? He certainly is addressing those under the yoke of slavery. The Greek word doulos which is often translated as servant, slave, or bondservant, refers to one who is in a servile condition. Essentially, it is one who is the property of another. Those in this position are commanded to regard their masters as “worthy of all honor.” The term master (despotes), meaning master or Lord, only serves to reinforce the fact Paul is speaking to slaves.
This is a rather interesting command by Paul. If one is in slavery, regarding the one who physically owns them as worthy of all honor can be a rather grandiose request. The servant is to approach his master as having a value or weight concomitant to someone who deserves great deference or reverence. Notice Paul does not say this honor is to be given only to a master who treats them with a sense of human dignity. Conversely, Paul commands servants to regard their masters as worthy of all honor, irrelevant of how they are being treated.
The purpose for the slave regarding their master with honor is noted by Paul as essential so that, “the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.” What teaching is Paul referring to here? It is the message of the gospel. As it relates specifically to the time of Paul, Philip Ryken saliently notes, ”This was an important issue for slaves in the early church, because the Romans typically started to get suspicious whenever their slaves decided to worship some new god. According to Cicero, they commonly believed that slaves who dabbled in foreign religions would turn against their masters and overthrow the social order. If Christian slaves showed disrespect to their masters, then all of the Romans’ worst suspicions about Christianity would be confirmed, bringing dishonor to both the name and the gospel of God.”
Those with believing masters must not take for granted their hopefully better situation. In fact, Paul exhorts slaves in this position to go the extra mile in their servitude and in regarding their master with honor.
Now this passage may seem irrelevant to us today since we are not in slavery to another human being, at least not in a sense experienced by those whom Paul is addressing in 1 Timothy 6:1-2. Such a temptation to ignore the truth found in this passage must be avoided as there is much in Paul’s command to those in slavery that can be applied to our lives.
For starters, we all work for someone. Even the President of the United States has a boss, namely the citizens of America. As we go about our duties at work, we should do so in a manner that gives proper respect and honor due to those in authority over us. This means giving a full day’s work for our wages. As with those who had abusive masters in Paul’s day, it is difficult to give regard to a tyrannical boss. If we ignore and disobey the command to give honor to those in authority over us by participating in water cooler gossip, slander, and not giving our all at work while at the same time claiming the mantle of a follower of Jesus, we are reviling the name of the Lord and doing damage to the gospel. In the same vein, if we take for granted giving regard to a boss who is a believer by slacking off and taking advantage of their good graces, we are also reviling the name of the Lord and doing damage the gospel.
We can also take Paul’s command in this passage to an even greater level, namely in how we approach our service to Yahweh. Throughout Scripture, believers are called bondservants of the Lord. We often speak of how we are to serve the Lord. Perhaps we flippantly utilize such descriptions, failing to recognize how the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 6:1-2 apply to us today given we are servants of the Lord.
Are we living a life that glorifies God in all our actions? Are we serving Yahweh with every fiber of our being in a manner that declares the glorious message of the gospel to all we encounter? Are we taking for granted the grace and mercy of God by not recognizing the need to live a life of obedience to His commands to us as His servants? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then there is a problem. Repentance is in order, and a paradigm shift required so that we will give all honor and glory due to the One who regards His servants as adopted sons.
Let us meditate on the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 6:1-2, recognizing the need to work as unto the Lord, resisting the urge to gossip and slander those with earthly authority over us. Furthermore, let us assess our efforts in service to the Lord, ensuring “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:17)
In the words of Paul at the conclusion of these two powerfully important verses, “Teach and urge these things.”
 Philip Ryken, 1 Timothy (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007), 236.
 Ibid., 242-243.