Before we start our exposition of this sixth chapter of 1 Timothy this morning, I would like to turn to Paul’s second letter to Timothy, chapter 3 verse 16 which says, 2Tim. 3:16-17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” I quote that verse as a reminder that the text we are looking at today is indeed Scripture, and it is therefore profitable, even though at times we may question it’s relevancy today.
1 Timothy has several difficult passages, not the least of which are those found at the beginning of chapter 6. And because of the difficulty of this passage and others like it, I have sometimes doubted my own sanity in choosing to preach through 1 Timothy on Sunday mornings, and especially to preach through it on the beach. But as I have stressed every week, Paul is writing this letter, according to chapter 3 vs 15, “so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”
Now to that end, how we are to conduct ourselves in the household of God, Paul has talked about virtually every element of the household of Christ, from pastors/teachers, to women, old men, widows, deacons, and now he is going to speak to slaves. But the primary point of what Paul is speaking about here is not the rightness or wrongness of slavery per se, but the Christian’s life of godliness as opposed to worldliness. That’s really what Paul is addressing, godliness versus worldliness. And he is going to give instructions about that in reference slaves and indirectly to their masters in regards to this principle of godliness.
Now remember, this is scripture, it is the truth of God. But in rightly interpreting scripture, it is imperative that we begin by understanding the immediate historical context in which it was written. Only when it has first been understood who it was written to, at what time it was written, under what historical conditions and circumstances it was written, are we then able to extract principles which can then be applied to todays circumstances and conditions. But if you fail to take the historical context into consideration, and instead try to make application of what was written directly to today’s culture or the society that we live in, you are very likely to end up with a distorted, or incorrect interpretation of scripture.
I say all of that as an introduction to this section, because though Paul is addressing the broader theme of godliness as opposed to worldliness, he is going to work it through the historical context of slavery as he knew it living in the height of the Roman Empire. It’s estimated by scholars that there were about 60 million slaves at that time in the Roman Empire. Slavery was the status quo for about 1/3 of the population. Slavery was a grievous institution both then and now, but in Paul’s day, it was much more an accepted way of life for a large segment of the population. You were either slave or free. And in the church, there were both slaves and free people mixing together, as one body, which was the household of God.
In Roman society, there were many ways you could become a slave. One of the most common ways was that your native country had been conquered in war, and the survivors were offered either slavery or death. The majority of people faced with that choice chose slavery. And as a result, there was a broad range of the types of occupations that were occupied by slaves. Most of the artisans and tradesmen were slaves. Teachers were predominately slaves. Even physicians were sometimes slaves. Slavery affected all levels of life. And it was a fact of life in that society that was not something that could just be easily done away with.
So as Paul addresses this large group of people within the church, his concern is not to rouse them to rebel and to overthrow their masters so that they might be free. His concern is that they live lives that are godly, and as such, they become examples of godliness to others, that they might be drawn to the gospel and be saved. Paul doesn’t approve of slavery. But he doesn’t advocate abolishing slavery from external means such as through rebellion or legislation, but he advocates working from the inside out. He knows that if hearts are changed, then society will be changed, and slavery will be eventually abolished. God’s method of changing man is always from the inside, to the outside. Not vice a versa. We are not commissioned to change the world through political maneuvers, not even through legislating morality, but we are commissioned to go into the world with the gospel, that hearts might be changed, souls converted, so that men might become workers of righteousness, and not doers of evil.
So understanding that historical context, let’s consider Paul’s words in vs 1. “All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and [our] doctrine will not be spoken against.” You should remember that in chapter five the church was told to give honor to widows, then it was told to give double honor to pastors. And now Paul is saying that slaves are to give honor to their masters.
To give honor in this respect is not to give financial remuneration as with widows or pastors, but to give respect and honor to their masters as in giving them an honest day’s work. And they are to do that so that the name of God and the teachings of Christianity would not get a bad reputation. The goal of Paul’s instruction is that God would be glorified, Christian doctrine would be magnified, and souls would be saved. Having a rebellious attitude, sloughing off when you are supposed to be working, perhaps pilfering from their employer, all those things would only serve to give Christianity a bad name, and give an excuse to those who are looking for a reason not to become a believer.
Another possibility for misuse of their position might be that not only was the slave a Christian, but his master may have become a Christian. So how did that change the worker/owner dynamic? Paul says in vs 2, “Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these [principles.]”. So rather than seeing the fact that their master has become a believer as a possible benefit to themselves in regards to better work, or less work, or even their potential freedom, Paul says that they are to actually work even harder for their Christian masters.
Now that goes against the grain of our thinking. Our first inclination is to say that the first job of a Christian convert should be to free their slaves. Paul doesn’t say that. He does not advocate for slavery, but neither does he call for it’s abolition here. His immediate concern is that the one whom is a slave is to be without reproach in his responsibilities to his master. As the master’s heart is changed and conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and he learns to love his neighbor as himself, his attitude towards owning slaves will be undoubtedly changed. But Paul is going to trust that change of heart to God, and not try to legislate it. And in the interim, the slave is to be diligent in his work and give honor to his master.
Paul doesn’t see fit here to spend any time writing about the evils of slavery. That’s not his point. His point is to exhort the church in all it’s facets to a life of godliness so that the cause of Christ will not be maligned and the gospel will not be hindered. In due time, the church and it’s doctrine will be the undoing of slavery. But it will come from God changing hearts, and not Christians changing culture.
Now that was the message in it’s historical context. And the principle that we ought to take from that and apply to our day is that as Christians in the workplace, we should give honor to our employers. The best worker at the job site should be the Christian. The most conscientious worker in the office should be the Christian. We should not be undermining the authority of the boss by backbiting or slacking off. Instead our testimony at work should be such that the name of Christ is glorified by our work and our attitude at work. And if we should work for a Christian employer, then rather than seeing that as an opportunity for taking advantage, but should render them even more diligent effort in our work. I will say from personal experience, that unfortunately that is not always the case with Christian workers. I built a house many years ago, and wanted to use Christians from my church as contractors. And I found that some of the Christian contractors were the worst in regards to the work that they did and the timeliness of it and so forth. I suspect that they thought they should expect a greater degree of laxity due to the fact that we were both Christians. Paul says that should not be. A Christian should exemplify godliness in his work, whether it be for believers or non believers.
That principle of godliness on the part of the church is the subject of the next paragraph. Vs3, “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited [and] understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness [actually] is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.”
So what does Paul mean by a different doctrine? What was the original doctrine? Well, the true doctrine of the church is stated in vs 2 as that which conforms to godliness. What is godliness? Godliness is being holy, being Christ like, being like minded as God, and our actions following suit. It’s the life of sanctification. It’s following in the example of Jesus Christ. Godliness is God’s character lived out in our lives. Godliness then is the template that is given for our lives. And Paul compares that with worldliness. Worldliness is life that is according to man’s natural inclinations, what seems right to us, what the world’s wisdom advocates.
And what Paul has been teaching in this letter since the beginning, is that there was and is in the church a doctrine which purports to be of God, but in actuality is the doctrine of demons. It is the doctrine of the world. Man’s wisdom mixed with a little bit of scripture, verses cherry picked from here and there in order to substantiate man’s wisdom.
Notice how Paul describes what that worldly doctrine produces; “he is conceited [and] understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”
Worldly doctrine produces conceitedness, pride in oneself, in one’s achievements. Pride in one’s rights and what they have deemed to be blessings given to them. Worldliness produces controversy about words, arguments about scripture, which they try to twist to serve their own interests, and use to validate their rebellion. They are not interested in the truth of God, but only in how to use God’s word for their benefit or to substantiate their position or agenda. Did you know that you can find some text in the Bible to seemingly validate almost anything you want to do? That was done in regards to slavery in this country for a long time by quoting from this very passage. And it’s done today to validate homosexuality or women in ministry or host of other errant doctrines. They twist scripture and use verses out of context and argue about what something really means in order to try to validate their agenda.
And what is the world’s agenda? Generally speaking, their agenda is to accumulate more of the world’s riches, to get rich. And to that end, Paul says, they suppose that godliness is a means of gain. There is a prevailing false doctrine today that we are constantly being exposed to by a large number of preachers out there which is what we call the prosperity gospel. And it is a very good sounding doctrine, very appealing. It promises health and wealth and prosperity to those who believe in Christ. And the bottom line of that doctrine is that God wants the best for you, and for you to have your best life NOW. Not the best life in eternity in heaven, but right now in this life. And you can have YOUR best life now, whatever you want that to be, if you will just believe it. If you have enough faith, God will give you all that you can imagine and ask for, in order for you to have your best life now. And they have a lot of Bible verses that they can quote which to the naive seem to support that doctrine.
But that is not God’s truth. They have twisted God’s truth and made their own doctrine. And Paul says that doctrine may have a form of religion, but it is worldly and it produces worldly results, which are envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction by men of a depraved mind and deprived of the truth. A depraved mind is a mind set on the things of this world, what this world can offer. But that which the world offers can never satisfy the soul. Sin begets sin, and lust begets more lust, and that life which the world offers can never satisfy, and the riches of this world you can’t take with you when you die, so they won’t be of any help in the next life either. The currency of this world is of no use in the next. It won’t spend.
Paul says in vs6 “But godliness [actually] is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” Contentment in the way Paul is using it here means something like being satisfied. The idea is that you are content with your lot, content with the life you have in Christ. It’s not trying to find satisfaction by material things, because we know they will never satisfy. But it’s being satisfied in what God has done in your heart. Knowing that you are God’s child, knowing that He cares for you. Knowing that your sins have been forgiven, that you have an inheritance in heaven that is far greater than anything you could ever imagine.
Paul speaks of having that contentment irregardless of his circumstances in Phl. 4:11-13 “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
So godliness with contentment is a great gain. It’s something we should aspire to. Not in the accumulation of the world’s goods, but in conformity to the example of Jesus Christ. Being willing to suffer temporary hardship now in order to experience eternal glorification later. Contentment is satisfaction deferred now, for the satisfaction that will endure forever when we are with the Lord.
The Psalmist said in Psalm 131:2 “Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child [rests] against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.” A nursing child cannot rest against the mother’s breast without wanting more milk. But a weaned child can rest against his mother’s breast and find even greater comfort than simply warm milk. That is a picture of contentment with godliness. Not always wanting more and more, but simply being satisfied with what God has already provided, knowing that He will take care of our needs.
So the opposite of godliness with contentment is worldliness and a craving for more. Paul addresses that craving for more as a desire for riches in vs 9 “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Notice the downward progression of the product of worldly doctrine. First there is the desire, the craving for riches. Then the fall into temptation, the sin that allures us with the promise of riches, and then the plunge into ruin and destruction.
And notice that riches itself are not identified as a sin. But the love of money is a root of sin. It’s not the only root, there are other causes of sin. But the love of money is A root of sin which leads men into sin, in order to try to satisfy their desires. We excuse a lot of sinful practices in the name of making money. Money is the world’s god. And the world promises that money will make you happy, that it will provide satisfaction. But of course, when you die, your money goes to someone else. You can’t take it with you.
On the other hand, you can use money for good. Money in and of itself is not evil. But the desire for money, to accumulate money, to hoard money, is a root of all sorts of evil. And many people have been ruined by it. If that’s what you’re living for, then what you have ruined is your hope of heaven. Jesus said in Matt. 6:24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
So serving God produces godliness and contentment. Serving worldly wealth produces ruin and destruction. , Paul says “for the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Wandering away from the faith does not mean they are no longer saved, but they have wandered away from the truths of the faith, the doctrines of the faith. Those are the doctrines which produce godliness. But instead they have turned aside to other doctrines, and those doctrines are false, offering false hope in worldly wisdom, and they end up suffering the consequences of that sin. And those consequences are often painful.
So Paul ends this section with an exhortation to be godly. Vs 11, “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance [and] gentleness.” If you are a man or woman of God, then your life will be characterized with the attributes of God. Those attributes are things we should pursue, and not the allure of this world. The attributes of God is righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. I don’t want to belabor those attributes, for the most part they are self explanatory. But we will look at them in more depth next week.
For now let’s just close with that exhortation to pursue godliness. To follow in the footsteps of Christ. To fix your mind on things of heaven and not on things of earth. I think a good example of godliness with contentment is seen in Abraham, about whom Hebrews 11 says, “By faith [Abraham] lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign [land,] dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. … All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. … But as it is, they desire a better [country,] that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”
Let us keep our gaze fixed on things above, and our purpose fixed on the mission here on earth. Then after we have suffered a little while, and kept the faith, and proclaimed the gospel, we will find that in the future there is laid up for us the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to us on that day; and not only to us, but also to all who have loved His appearing.