The many [among the assembly] who are slaves should render respectful service to their masters lest the name of God be defamed. And to those who have believing masters: let them not be shown disrespect since they are [their] brethren. Those whose masters are believers must not treat them disrespectfully, because they are beloved brothers and so should render their service [all the more] because of their faith, the common bond from which they share the benefits of [such] service.
     These are things you should teach and commend. If anyone teach otherwise and is of a mind to disagree with these positive words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the teaching that promotes godliness, he is self-elevated, understanding nothing, but has been infected with contentious arguments over words, out of which comes envy, strife, defamation, evil rumours, perpetual wrangling, having become men of warped minds which is deprived of any truth, supposing that godliness consists in gaining more and more. But there is [indeed] great gain in godliness with [deep] contentment. For sure we brought nothing into the world, and neither can we take anything out, satisfied - as we will be - with enough food and clothing.
     But they that resolve to become rich, fall into temptation and are snared by many foolish and hurtful desires, by which men drown in their wrecked and ruined lives.
     For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil by which some in their persistent hankering have inflicted profoundly painful injury upon themselves. - I Timothy 6:1-10.

People shaking hands

Whether slave or free, all followers of Christ are "image-bearers of the Lord", says Bruce C Wearne. PICTURE: Warren Wong/Unsplash

Paul's advice to Timothy concerning those who are slaves includes advice to masters as well. We could put it the other way as well. His advice to masters includes advice to slaves. Being a slave is no cause for being shown disrespect or showing disrespect. Both are to be respected as image-bearers of the Lord. The transcending fact of Christ-following slaves and Christ-following masters is that Christ Jesus is their common Master, their faith a bond of brotherhood rather than a ball and chain of bitterness. There is no place either for presumptive bitterness or overlordship.

Paul is, of course, cognisant of how servitude can be degraded but as well, as a son of Israel, he is aware of the salvation wrought by the suffering servant of the Lord. Israel's story cannot be told without the account of Israel's salvation that came from Joseph who the Lord raised from servitude to second-in-charge over all of Egypt. Immediately after the Ten Commandments, the Torah emphasised to Israel that they were called to show due respect to slaves (Exodus 21:1-11).

When there is opportunity to do so, a servant is to work in such a way that God's name is honoured even by the mutual giving of respect between servant and master. Here is Paul's view of the “opportunity” to render such service. The “opportunity” is that the master may, in fact, confront the blessings of the Lord in the service of the servant.

Paul is also cognisant, having noted how “falling away” is something that is going to confront Timothy and all who seek to advance the Good News, that such masters who have aligned themselves with the congregation of Christ Jesus may come to resist the teaching of the truly Good News and seek instead to become more and more wealthy. The presumption that holiness consists in growing wealthy has to be resisted.

It also seems that Paul is aware that such an apostate life-style can arise from within the institution of household servitude, where the master-servant relationship is malformed by a pious gloss. When the love of Christ is displaced by love of money a thoroughly compromised “way of life” is in evidence. It is merely a way of drowning in a wrecked and ruined life. It is a way in which good desires are snared by foolish and hurtful schemes. It is a way of painful self-destruction. Timothy is simply pointed to the other way, the way that has been opened for him as he follows Christ Jesus.