Passage: 1 Timothy 6:1-2
Speaker: Mitch Kim
Series: Truth Over Spin
Character Of Servants
How do you deal with systemic evil in the world? Sometimes the systems become so deeply rooted that it is difficult to uproot them without tearing up the very foundations of society. Slavery in the ancient world was like that; while the institution bore important differences to the chattel slavery of America, it degraded people as property and placed them “under a yoke” (1 Tim 6:1) like animals. However Jesus and the early church do not call for immediate and complete abolition, but they lay our principles that undermine the concept of slavery and lead inexorably to its abolition. In this passage Paul calls for submission as an act of witness and subversion.
First submission is an act of witness (1 Tim 6:1). Slavery is clearly seen as a “yoke,” yet resentment and bitterness have no place in the heart of a believer. Instead they should “regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled” (6:1). The honor shown to widows (5:3) and elders (5:17) is also to be extended to slave masters. Clearly the posture of slaves in the midst of this evil system was to work at everything with all of their hearts. Yet the purpose is for witness, “that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled” (6:1).
At the same time, submission is also an act of subversion (1 Tim 6:2). In these verses and elsewhere Paul lays out principles that subvert the concept of slavery and lead inexorably to its demise. Slave traders clearly violate God’s law (1 Tim 1:10). Slaves are given dignity, as slaves and masters alike are brothers (6:2; cf. Gal 3:26–28). Yet their common identity should not lead to disrespect (1 Tim 6:2) but even better service. Slaves were not only given the dignity to be seen as brothers but even as benefactors. In a patronage culture benefactors would provide for others, typically financially, and honor would be given to the benefactors. It is radical, however, to consider slaves as benefactors. Yet slaves were to act as benefactors, benefiting their masters “by their good service [as] believers and beloved” (6:2). This reflects the reversal of greatness that Jesus instituted since “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matt 20:26–27).
So what? Submission in a problematic system does not mean that we acquiesce to its evils. Rather such submission can be an act of witness of the greatness of our God as well as an act of subversion against the evil inherent within that system. May we oppose sin and evil wherever it may be find as we witness to Jesus Christ and subvert systems that undermine his purposes in the world.