FOCUS: Jesus is the King
FOCUS: Godliness With Contentment
FOCUS: Honoring Authority
FOCUS: Values for the Family of God
FOCUS: Protecting the Church
FOCUS: The Mission and Message of the Church
FOCUS: Church Leadership
Focus: Men and Women in the Local Church
Focus: Sinners and Saints Like Us
Focus: Sound Doctrine
What does it mean to give honor to our leaders? In our series, FOCUS: A Study in 1 Timothy, David Leventhal teaches through 1 Timothy 5:17-6:2a, showing what it means to honor those in authority by seeking first the Kingdom of God in those relationships.
Well, good morning, Watermark! How are we doing? It's so good to see your faces, to be together in person. For those of you who are joining us online or in one of the overflow rooms around our campus, we are so glad that you've joined us, and we're glad to get together. As Mickey mentioned, we are rolling on in our series on 1 Timothy we're calling Focus.
We actually have three weeks left before we wrap this bad boy up. I don't know about you guys, but for me, I have been encouraged and challenged and reminded as we've worked through this amazing little letter that Paul wrote to his co-laborer, Timothy. We're going to get to dive in more this morning and work our way through more of chapter 5.
Before I do that, I wanted to just share kind of a funny story. My wife and I celebrated our twenty-second wedding anniversary back in September. We were in the midst of just a lot of life, and so we decided, "Hey, we're just going to carve off 24 hours to get away." We got a hotel downtown and left the kids and said, "Hey, we'll be back tomorrow," and off we went.
One of the things we did while we were on our sabbatical for 24 hours is we went for a walk on the Katy Trail, which is a great little gem we have here in Dallas, if you've never checked it out. As we're walking, as we get onto the trail, I kind of laughed and I was chuckling to myself. I shared with my wife this story.
About seven years ago, I was on the Katy Trail going for a run. As I was running on the trail, I noticed coming toward me in the other direction was Troy Aikman. You need to know that Troy Aikman was my childhood hero. By the way, for those of you who don't know who Troy Aikman is, my goodness. He was the greatest quarterback in the history of the Dallas Cowboys. Yeah, for sure.
My dad played football at UCLA in the 60s and Troy Aikman played at UCLA. The head coach at the time when I was in junior high was a classmate of my dad's, teammate of my dad's. So I got to go to UCLA and see Troy in the spring of '87, in his senior year spring training. Then I watched him become the cowboy of America's greatest team and lead us to three Super Bowls.
Troy Aikman was my hero. I passed him on the Katy Trail. I was tempted to turn around and follow him. I was like, "That would be creepy," and I didn't. So I was sharing that story with Missy as we jumped on the Katy Trail like two months ago. I kid you not, two minutes later, who comes walking the other direction? Troy freaking Aikman.
You need to know that normally when I see celebrities, I'm normally not the guy, but something came over me. I couldn't control myself. I said, "Troy! I was literally just telling my wife how I saw you on this very trail like six years ago." He looked at me with the most disinterested, disgusted, what-is-wrong-with-you look.
I was just so flustered and so humiliated that here was my childhood hero and I just whiffed. My wife thought that was great. She took advantage to giggle with me about what an idiot I looked. This was my childhood hero. All I wanted to do was to honor my childhood hero, and I just stepped in it. It was awful. When we want to honor people, we want to do it well.
Thankfully, God's Word helps us know how to not do what I did with the great Troy Aikman, number 8, on the Katy Trail. I share that because the section of Scripture we're going to be looking at this morning is going to talk about how we honor people. Specifically, how do we honor people who are in authority over our lives?
So that's what we're going to be talking about today. I know that story is not super tight, but it's a funny story, and I thought it'd be fun to share with you guys what an idiot I looked like as I tried to honor my hero. God doesn't want us to look like idiots. He doesn't want us to whiff. He wants us to know how to honor those in our lives and specifically those in authority.
So if you have your Bibles, turn with me to 1 Timothy, chapter 5. We're going to start in verse 17. We're going to go through the first couple of verses in chapter 6. I want to read the whole section to you, and then we'll dive in. By the way, somebody asked me not too long ago, why do I read the whole section that we're going to cover when we're together? I try to if we're not going to study the overview of Isaiah.
The reason I do that is because, as I've shared before, the Bible was not written in verse-by-verse nuggets. The basic unit of thought in your Bible is the paragraph. So it's easy for us to pull stuff out, but the parts only make sense in light of the whole. So I want you to hear the whole passage together because that passage is how it was meant to be read. It wasn't meant to be read one verse at a time. So that's why I do that, in case you were wondering why I take the time. So starting in verse 17, chapter 5, of 1 Timothy.
"Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,' and, 'The laborer deserves his wages.' Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.
(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.
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."
So last week, John Elmore taught us and shared with us from the first part of chapter 5, about the way that the church is to honor widows. He did an amazing job. If you weren't here or didn't get to tune into that, I would highly recommend you go back and watch John's sermon from last week. He talked about when we honor widows, we honor them by financially providing for them and by caring for them.
Paul is going to continue this theme of honor. He is going to look at how we honor two other groups of individuals, two other groups of people. This whole section, both what John covered last week and what I'm going to cover this week, is all tied together by the word honor. It's what connects this section together.
Now before we go any further, let me just define what the word honor means. How does the New Testament use that term? Really in the New Testament, the word honor carries two primary meanings. There are more, but the way it's used most primarily is in two ways. One, to honor is to recognize or show respect. Think like Ephesians 6:2 where it says children are to honor their father and mother.
They're to show their parents the respect and the appreciation that is due them because of who they are and their role in the child's life. So that's the first definition: to recognize or to show respect. The second definition, the way that the word is used in the New Testament, is to honor is to financially provide for or compensation.
We think about the term honorarium. You guys have heard that term, an honorarium. It is what you pay somebody, who is likely not asking for it or looking for it, for a service they provided. So when the New Testament uses the word honor, it is most often using it in one of those two contexts, one of those two definitions: to show respect and appreciation or to financially provide for.
So there's a financial component to it, okay? When I use the word honor this morning, that's what the word means. As we see in these verses this week and last week, we're to honor widows, we're to honor elders, and we're to honor masters. Those three groups of people: widows, elders, and masters, can be divided in two groups.
Last week, we looked at how we honor those who have no authority. On the social spectrum of the first century, a widow was on the far end of the spectrum. She had no authority in society, but yet we're to honor those widows. On the other side, we are to honor those who do have authority, those who do carry authority. We're going to be looking at elders.
We're going to see today that, as it relates to elders, we're called to honor leadership through appreciation, through provision, through shepherding, and through thoughtfully appointing them to leadership. We're also going to look in the couple verses in chapter 6 at honoring those who are in authority over us. We're going to look at slave masters.
I know that topic is a hot topic, so I want you to stick with me as we unpack and try to make sense of what God's Word says as it relates to that. So that's where we're going. Now this passage breaks up really nicely into four sections.
First, we honor those who rule well through appreciation and provision. As we look at honoring those who are in authority within the church, I shared a couple of weeks back when we studied 1 Timothy 3 the qualifications for an elder and a deacon. I just want to remind you that leadership is a big deal. Leadership really matters. It especially matters in the household of God because those of us in leadership within the church, as we teach and as we think about ministry strategy and how we're going to serve the lost, it's a big deal.
We are shepherding the souls of men and women. That's a big deal. Scripture makes that a big deal. When we make decisions that are in line with God's Word, that are backed by wisdom and thoughtfulness and care, the church is blessed. Those at Watermark are blessed when leaders lead that way.
When leaders don't lead that way, when they don't lead well, it's a tragedy. It's a disaster, and it has significant consequences. Proverbs 29:2 says, "When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan." So when the church is led well, the Bible tells us how we're to respond to those in leadership when they rule well.
When the church is not led well, as we're going to see today, Scripture tells us how we're to navigate those waters. So let's unpack this first section, verse 17 and 18. "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,' and, 'The laborer deserves his wages.'"
First, let's just acknowledge that this is a little bit awkward. I'm an elder, and I'm doing my best to preach this morning. I'm reading to you a passage that says, "Hey, guys in leadership that are doing what I'm doing are worthy of double honor." It's kind of weird. So I want you to… I'm not going to throw out my Venmo account @elderswhorulewell or anything like that, because I want you to know this is a first century context is what's going on here.
The way the early church was providing for his leadership was not the way that we do it. I mean, it wasn't the sense of it takes financial provision. You're not writing a check to David Leventhal. You're supporting the mission of which I get to be a part of. In the early church, these house churches, it was a different structure. It was a different system. Paul wants to make sure that those who are leading are provided for.
That said, why does Paul teach that elders who rule well are worthy of double honor? Let me remind you what we've been talking about through this whole series. The church in Ephesus was being taken over, being overrun by false teachers. These false teachers, some of them appear to have been elders in the church. They were not leading well.
They were pulling some offsides. They were teaching false things. They were, as Paul would describe to Timothy in 2 Timothy, pulling some of the widows away. They were not blessing the church. So when you have elders and leaders who aren't ruling well, who aren't leading well, it takes the other folks on the leadership to stand up and say, "Listen, we're not going to do this. We're going to address the sin that's going on in the body."
When you do that, when you have to stand up to false teachers, that's a big deal. By the way, I want to remind you, as we talked about already, Paul specifically warned the Ephesian elders. Because remember, Timothy is at Ephesus. Paul had previously warned these men in Acts 20 that false teachers were going to come. These guys who were leading the church had a heads up. We read in Acts 20… Paul says to the Ephesian elders, these men he is talking to now,
"Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish [you] …"
The primary task of an elder is to protect the flock. That's the primary task of an elder. That's one of the things on the elder committee we spend our time doing: trying to make sure we're protecting the flock. Because souls are at stake. It's a big deal. When you hold up God's Word as the plumb line for what is right and wrong, and not the culture… When you say, "This is what God's Word said is right," you are opening yourselves up to be a target to be misunderstood, to be hated, to be villainized, to be called all sorts of things.
That's what happens when you lead well. Paul says, "The guys who are doing that, the leadership in the church? They're worthy of double honor." Listen, those of us who have decided to jump into this line of work, I'm not just talking about guys like me up here, but I'm talking about our pastoral staff in general.
Those who decide to jump into this line of work, you understand that as you go and minister to the community, as you are the face oftentimes for what God's Word says, that's going to create some frustrations and some anger and some hatred as you define and you describe what God's Word says about the brokenness of humanity, about the exclusivity of Jesus, about what God's view is on the sanctity of life, what God's view is on how we're to treat the poor and the oppressed and the marginalized, about marriage, and about sexuality. To do that is to be criticized.
Listen, pastors aren't bulletproof. Okay? Those who lead in the church, we're as capable and culpable for discouragement and doubts and disillusion as anybody. Just because it doesn't look like an arterial bleed out doesn't mean it's not happening. Pastors, like you guys, go through those periods of discouragement.
Sometimes I think that people think that because you're on staff at church, somehow, you've opted out of those opportunities. That's just not true. Paul says, "Listen, those men, those folks who are leading well, are worthy of double honor." He goes on to quote two verses to make his point: Deuteronomy 25, which is, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain." You know, I guess being compared to an ox, being compared works.
The idea is that if God cares about the ox while he is working, how much more does he care about those who are leading the bride of Christ in the household of God? Then he goes on to quote Jesus, who, when he is sending out the 72 to go and minister in the community in Luke 10, says, "Go out. I've given you the authority. When you go into a town, stay there the whole time and let them feed and provide for you "…for the laborer deserves his wages." "
That's who Paul quotes as evidence of why we should do this. I want you to know, as Mickey just said earlier, we are so thankful for the generosity of this body that has allowed us to minister to the community, to those within these doors. I mean, this year-end report? I mean, my goodness!
Sometimes it's easy to forget that all these stories, these statistics, and these things, each one of these represents people, represents your neighbors, your coworkers, and folks you bump into at the grocery story. Life change is happening, and it's happening through the generosity of this body. So well done. You are honoring the leadership of this church in the way you care and provide for.
So when elders and pastoral staff and other leaders within the church rule well, they should be encouraged, appreciated, and provided for. You may have asked, "Well, how do I do that?" Well let me give you some ways you can practically do that.
You can pray. You can pray for those on this church staff who lead, who teach, who disciple, and who serve. Not just guys who are here on the weekends, but all over this body, at Summit, at Women's Bible Study, The Collective, at Shoreline, at Wake, at re:gen. All over this campus are ministries. You can pray that God would protect them from sin, from discouragement, from pride, and from temptation. That is a blessing. You need to know.
When I jumped on the elder team about three years ago, a guy sent me a text that said, "I'm going to be praying for you." Do you know that just about every Thursday, I get a text from this guy? He says, "Hey, how can I pray for you? What are the things going on? What can I do to lift you and your family up?" He writes them down. He keeps track, and he sends me updates. Then when he is done praying, he laminates his prayer sheet and mails it to me. He has been doing that for almost three years.
Do you know how much that blesses my heart to know that I am being prayed for? Because I can be an idiot. I can go off the rails in a moment, but it's the prayers of the saints who are upholding not just me, but this church. You can pray. You can encourage with notes, letters, and phone calls. Those of you who have kids in Wake and in Shoreline, and you have young adults pouring into your kids, you can invite them over for dinner, you can feed them, you can show your appreciation through encouragement.
You can speak well of them to others. I'm talking about don't gossip about the leadership of the church. If you have an issue you think is a sin issue, come to us. We're accessible, the leadership of this church. Go to your Community Group leader and they'll very quickly loop us in if we need to. If you think that we're in sin, pull out the conflict field guide and come see us, but don't gossip about us out in the community.
I had a guy come up to me a couple of weeks ago, a guy who I know and trust and love. He said, "Hey Lev, I think it would serve you better if you did not wear tee shirts when you teach, if you wear button-down shirts." Okay. Button-down shirt. Now listen, I don't mind that feedback. Now if five other people had come and said, "Did you hear about what he said about the way you look on Sundays?" that'd be a bit of a discouragement.
It might still be true, but it'd be a bit of a discouragement. So don't gossip and don't dog leadership to others. If you have an issue, a sin issue, come to us. Then continue to be generous. The generosity of this body is what allowed us for 21 years to keep serving this body and this community through the intentional, purposeful, thoughtful giving of this body. So you can continue to honor and appreciate the staff, the leadership team by continuing to be generous. We honor those who rule well through appreciation and provision.
Secondly, we shepherd those who aren't ruling well by rebuking them, and if necessary, removing them. So Paul says, "This is how you respond to those who are leading well, and this is how you respond to those who are not."
"Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you [Timothy] to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality."
So in this section, Paul is going to give Timothy three clear instructions for how to shepherd an elder who is not leading well, an elder who is in persistent unrepentant sin. That's the category that Paul is talking about. These instructions follow a very similar path that God laid out for Moses in Deuteronomy 19.
First, you assess the charge. When someone brings an accusation against a leader in the church, that charge needs to be validated. Because there is a lot of smear activity that could happen in any leadership position. So you want to make sure, "Hey, is this a person who just has a bone to pick, an axe to grind, or is there a legitimate offense?" He says, "Timothy, you have to assess that charge. You need to make sure you do the work to figure out what's really going on here. Is there a problem with the leader in the church? Do the homework."
Secondly, you have to respond to that charge. "If you discover, Timothy," as Timothy discovered in the church in Ephesus, "that there are elders or leaders within the church staff who are in persistent unrepentant sin, you are called to act on that." First, privately. Jesus tells us you go to an individual privately. Then you widen the circle.
For those who are in leadership, that circle gets widened to the entire congregation. Why? So that the congregation, Paul says, may stand in fear. Fear of what? Fear of knowing that sin is a really big deal. In Genesis 4, God says to Cain, "…sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you…" if you don't get it under control. So Paul wants the church to be aware, when you are sinning in persistent unrepentant sin, it is a big, big deal not just for the elders, not just for the leaders, but for all of us.
Thirdly, Timothy, you need to guard the process. You want to make sure you maintain absolute impartiality. You're not picking on a guy that you just don't get along with and you're not glossing over a sin issue because it's somebody who you have known for a really long time. You want to follow these instructions, Timothy, with absolute impartiality.
We shepherd those who aren't ruling well by rebuking them, and if necessary, removing them. Listen, this is appropriate not just for conflict and sin in the leadership team, but for conflict and sin in your life and in those who you're in Community Group with. If you have a brother or sister who is in sin, you need to go to them if they're a believer and address the sin. This whole idea isn't just for leadership. This is applicable to all of us.
Thirdly, we honor authority by thoughtfully appointing people to leadership with great patience and great thoughtfulness. He goes on, "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine [because you have some health issues].) The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not [easily seen] cannot remain hidden."
So now Paul moves on, because if you have elders who rule well, you want to fan that flame. If you have elders who aren't ruling well, who aren't leading well in persistent unrepentant sin, you have to remove them. When you remove them, you may need to replace them. So Paul wants to remind Timothy, "When you have to replace an elder, be thoughtful. Be patient. Don't be hasty in laying on of hands."
Paul has already told Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:6 that an elder must not be a recent convert. Listen, I was a member at this church for 16 years before I entered into what was about a year-long process before being added to the elder team. We don't do things hastily around here. Hastily is not like weeks and months. We don't do things hastily, as in months and years.
We want to make sure we are trying as best we can discern that a guy or a gal is ready for leadership within the church. "…nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure." If Timothy were to fail to rebuke those unrepentant elders who were in persistent sin, then he would be participating in their sin. If Timothy were to appoint to leadership men who did not meet the qualifications of an elder as described in 1 Timothy 3, if he would just kind of overlook that because they were golfing buddies, that would be participating in sin.
When we ignore sin, we enable sin. When we enable sin, we take part in that sin. So if we see sin in another believer's life and we don't address it, we're taking part in it. Listen, you and I, we are not responsible for changing somebody's behavior. Do you understand me? That's the Holy Spirit's job. Our job is to lovingly, gently, thoughtfully, with great patience and careful instruction to point out when somebody in our life is not acting in accordance with what God says. That's what we're called to do.
Lastly, we let the Spirit do the work of convicting. If they're in a position of leadership and they don't respond, we have steps on how we'll respond to that. He says, he kind of puts this little parenthetical statement there, "(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine…)" What in the world is that all about? That seems sort of out of nowhere.
What Paul is doing is at the end of that previous verse, "…nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure." I think Paul is reminding, as he is working this letter together, oh yeah, there are some in the church, as we've already studied a couple of chapters earlier, who were saying… They were forbidding marriage. They were forbidding certain foods.
Paul says, "Timothy, you need to keep yourself pure, but by the way, listen. For you, that doesn't mean you can't have wine. In fact, Timothy because of some of the health issues that you have, you should drink a little wine." Because in the first century, wine was very frequently given for medicinal purposes. I don't know if it worked or not, but that was what they did. Wine was a common drink for medicinal purposes.
Paul says, "Listen, when I say keep yourself pure, I don't mean don't have wine. I know that there are leaders in the body who are saying you can't get married and you can't eat and drink certain things. That's not what I'm talking about, Timothy. So buddy, for your health, get a little bit of pinot noir in your system."
"The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later." The reality is that none of us are perfect at assessing individuals. Sometimes we can clearly see the train wreck that is somebody. Their reputation precedes them. You're like, "Okay. It's very clear to me that you are wheels-off, that your life is in shambles. I can see that in a very quick conversation."
Others, sometimes it doesn't show up until later. I remember when I met my wife, and I'm trying to sell her that I'm worth hanging out with. I had my public relations department on full press. I wanted her to know how great I was. For the first month, I was probably as good as I'll ever be until she sort of took the bait.
I remember after we got married, I think it was within the first couple of weeks, we got back from our honeymoon and we had ordered some new furniture. The furniture was to be delivered. They said, "Call this phone number, and they'll tell you the time frame for when it will be delivered." So I called the number, and I got this message that, "You dialed the wrong area code. Hang up and do it again, but with this area code."
So I hung up and thought, "That's weird. This is the number they gave me." Dialed again and I got the same freaking message, and it said, "This is the wrong area code. Dial the other area code." So for about five minutes, I'm going back and forth on this merry-go-round that I want off of that I'm getting increasingly discouraged.
Some may say, my wife would say, that's to put it mildly. I was getting really frustrated and angry. After about five minutes, I just lost it. I threw the phone across the room. I dropped the granddaddy cussword of them all in my anger. Missy was like… She could've said, "The sins of other appear later." That's what that means.
It was like, "Hey, it's going to show up eventually, but sometimes it doesn't go before them." That's what that idea is. So we appoint people into leadership with great thoughtfulness and patience. So that's how Paul says we are to honor those who are in authority within the local church, but he is going to pivot now.
He is going to stay with the idea of honoring. He is going to hit the clutch, and he is going to say, "Now how do we respond to and honor those who are not within the church?" We're going to see that the gospel transforms toxic institutions and relationships within society. He says, "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." So let me remind you of the context. I want to be clear. Paul is talking about slaves, bondservants. He is asking them to honor their masters. So that's what's going on here.
I realize that even in saying that, that's going to generate some questions beyond this passage. So I want to take a step back for just a moment, and I want to talk about this. I want to talk about the idea of slavery. What you need to know is that in the first-century Roman Empire, slavery was not based on race. Okay?
Slavery had been institutionalized. It had affected every corner of the Roman Empire. Rome was a slave society. Front to back, top to bottom, it was an inescapable core part of the very foundation of the empire. Slaves within Rome experienced a wide variety of treatment. Some slaves were highly educated; cared for very, very well; and had the opportunity to buy their freedom. That's one end of the spectrum.
On the other end of the spectrum, you had slaves who were treated horribly, who were exploited in every way imaginable, and who never had the opportunity to obtain their freedom. What I want you to hear is that there was no social construct in the first century that did not include slaves. It was everywhere.
The idea of a human being owning another human being, you need to know, goes counter to what God rolls out in the very first pages of the Scriptures in Genesis 1. We see that, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Every human being who has ever lived on this planet is made in the image of God, and is worthy of dignity and honor and respect.
Slavery is a result of the fall of mankind. When we talk about indentured servitude, where someone says, "Hey, I'm going to put myself in your service if you'll pay for me to cross this sea," or, "I have a debt, so I'll put myself in your service." You need to know the fact that that would even be an issue, that there would be some sort of a debt issue, that's a result of the fall.
The fact that human beings were kidnapped and trafficked in the first century and in America, it's a result of the fall. Okay? So in the first century, the church had no concept as a fledgling movement for overturning slavery. The question they asked themselves was, "How does the gospel inform the way that we interact with society?"
Slavery was a part of every corner of the Roman Empire. So they said, "How does the gospel affect how to live? How does a Christian ethic exist in such a society?" Let me just take an aside for a moment and acknowledge that while that was the case for the first-century church in terms of their lack of authority, their lack of power and influence in society, that was not the case with America.
The American church had the influence. It had the leverage. I think it had the power to radically speed up the abolition of slavery in America, the slave trade. There were a lot of churches that did. There were a lot of individuals who gave their lives fighting for the dignity of the slaves in America, and there were a lot who didn't.
There were a lot of churches who would use passages like this to justify what Scripture clearly condemns: the kidnapping of a human being, of a soul. So dad-gummit, the church dropped the ball. That caused, and still causes to this day, pain and heartache and scars in this country, but that wasn't the case in the first century.
I'm not saying it makes it right or wrong. I want you to think about this in a way that I think it biblical. So with that, let me jump back into the passage and let's unpack what specifically Paul is saying to these men and women who find themselves in this fledgling movement called the Jesus movement, in a society where the idea of no slavery was unfathomable. How do you respond in such an environment?
He is going to address two groups of people. He is going to address slaves who have unbelieving masters, and he is going to address slaves who have believing masters. In each instance, he is going to issue a command or a charge, and he is going to give you the reasons why he is giving you that command.
So first, verse 1, Christian slaves of unbelieving masters. Paul says, "…regard their own masters as worthy of all honor…" like you would a widow or an elder. With the why, he says that he is going to draw a direct line from the way that a slave regarded his master with the mission and the effectiveness of the gospel ministry. Because the reality is that in the first century and today, poor conduct in the church makes the father of that family look bad.
It was true back then, and it's true today. We are ambassadors for Christ, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5. We are ambassadors. Our role today, and the church's role back then, whether you were free or a slave, was to be a representative of Jesus. When we proclaim our faith but then we treat those whom God has put in authority over us with disrespect, it's confusing and it causes the name of God to be reviled. That's what Paul says.
We see that happening all over the place today. We see people behaving poorly. It's like, "Well man, if that's what your God produces, I don't much think I'm interested in your God." So that's how Paul says, "For those who are under the authority of a nonbelieving slave master, you want to serve them and show them the respect because of the role."
Because when you do that, that's the thing that's going to transform society as we'll keep talking about. It's going to allow the name of God to not be reviled. He goes on and says, "What about Christian slaves of believing masters?" He says, "Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers…"
The why for that command is because, "…those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved." Now the question is, who is benefitting from the good service? Is it that the slaves were benefitting from the good service of the masters? There was a clear category for that in the first century where slave owners served as benefactors to those in their care. So that clearly existed.
Or is it that the masters benefit from the bond servant's good behavior? The answer is, the Greek is not clear. Commentators, for good reasons, are divided on why they think that, but here's the take away. What's clear is that Paul wants the gospel to sweeten the relationship of those in this authority structure.
The fact that these bond servant masters were believers should be the thing that motivates them, because their relationship is not one of authority; it's one of a family relationship as brothers. So this is what Paul says. This is what verses 1 and 2 of chapter 6 mean. Now into this slave society comes Jesus, comes the gospel, and the early church.
The gospel says that all of mankind is fallen and in need of a Savior: slaves and free men alike. The gospel says that once someone trusts in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins they enter into a new family where there is no distinction and there is no partiality. Paul was crystal clear on this point. Look at Colossians 3. Paul says to the church of Colossae. "Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all."
So in the family of God, it doesn't matter what your ethnicity is. It doesn't matter what your social status is. It doesn't matter if you're married or single, circumcised or not, you are family. Paul would say in 1 Corinthians 12, "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit."
As the gospel goes out into this slave society, individuals begin to become radically transformed to the gospel one at a time. The early church begins to be built up and established. It comes face to face with this society whose fabric is built on slavery. What do you think happens when those two things come crashing together?
How should the gospel inform those in that society? Well, let's go back and look at what Jesus did. That's what Paul did. Jesus was clear that the kingdom of God was going to start small and then grow. Jesus talks a lot about this in parables. Matthew 13:33, "He told them another parable. 'The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.'"
So the kingdom of God, says Jesus, is going to start really small. It's going to be a small speck in this much larger loaf. But as it works its way through, it's going to soon take over the entire society. Kingdom people would be light in the darkness. Jesus was clear that when you become part of the family of God, you become light in a dark world. Matthew 5:
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way [kingdom people] , let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."
So the kingdom is going to start small. It's going to grow. As it grew, it would be the means of transformation for men and women in the first century, slaves and masters. As lives were transformed by the kindness and the mercy of God, they would begin to…what? To walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.
That is going to include rethinking all the social relationships, not just husband and wife but slave and master. We see this all throughout the New Testament. We see the clear condemnation. We've already read this in 1 Timothy 1. Week one, we taught on this, that Paul condemns slave traders, those who are kidnapping. He puts them in the same category as murderers and liars and ungodly. (First Timothy 1:10)
We're going to see Paul encourage slaves, "Acquire your freedom whenever you can." (First Corinthians 7) We're going to see instructions to those who are slave owners to treat their slaves justly, like without threats. You treat them like brothers and sisters. Because both of you belong to Christ. You're in the same family.
When you're in the same family, it nullifies the negative effects of the relationship. You become peers with that person, not the social construct. That's Ephesians 6. That's Colossians 4. Paul gives instructions to those who are under the bondage, a bond servant. He says to honor, obey, to serve sincerely as they would Christ. Even those whose masters were unjust.
That's Ephesians 6. That's Colossians 3. That's 1 Timothy 6, where we are today. That's 1 Peter 2. Then we see in 1 Corinthians 7, a call for all Christians, slaves, free, circumcised and uncircumcised, married, single that to recognize your station in life is not the thing that defines you. Christians are to recognize that within the family of God, and 1 Corinthians 7 is clear on this, 17 through 24, within the family of God, you are free in Christ.
If you're a slave, you're free. Guess what? If you're free, you are a bondservant to Jesus Christ. God is sovereign over your circumstances. Guess what happened then and happens now. When the people of God take seriously the call of God, the church actually serves as salt and light. We pull back evil while we push out the kingdom of God. The lost are found. Lives are changed. The vulnerable are protected. Relationships are healed. Society is transformed. The kingdom of God continues to expand.
So I don't know what relationships you're in right now if we roll this thing forward today. Some of us are working under those who are unkind and unjust. You may have an employer. Students, you may have teachers or coaches who are jerks. God is going to say, "Listen, within the structure where you're being treated unfairly, you're called the same thing: to show respect for the authority."
God sees it. God sees where you are. He is not absent. When we have spouses who are difficult or our kids are rebellious, God says, "Listen, you lean into that with love and with kindness." That's what the gospel enables us to do. It allows us, because we've been forgiven much, to extend forgiveness and to recognize the image of God in all of humanity and to move forward. Because the gospel transforms the most toxic institutions and relationships in society.
So listen, as we're trying to land the plane today, I do want to talk about another aspect of honor that Jesus specifically talked about. He was having a conversation in John 5 with some Jews who wanted to kill him. That's what it says. I'm sure that was an interesting conversation. Jesus responds to these men in John 5. He says, "Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life."
I want to just remind all of us in the room that if you have not ever come face to face with what it means to honor the Son of God, then can I just be honest? Honoring leaders in the church and honoring your boss? Don't spend any mental equity on those. You need to spend time thinking about what it looks like to honor the Son.
I want to remind you that the Son loves you. He is not mad at you. He came to live a perfect life. He was betrayed, mocked, tortured, and put to death for you and for me so that we could be reconciled to God. I spent time yesterday in Romans 5:6-11 just reminding myself that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
If you've never come face to face with what it looks like to honor the Son, I want you to know that is of first importance for you. It doesn't just affect the way you're going to experience your job on Monday. It affects your eternal destiny if you don't know that you're broken, that you're in need of a Savior.
That Jesus came to live the perfect life that you and I could never live. That his death created a bridge back to God that we could never build. That bridge allows us to be reconciled to a God who loves you. If that's new information for you, we would love to talk to you. We'll have folks down front this morning, but I want you to know that should be of first importance to you. Okay?
Heavenly Father, I want to pray for my friends who are in the room and those who are watching online. I pray for our hearts that you would help us to know you. That you would remind us of your great care and kindness for us, that while we were sinners, you died for us. I thank you for this letter and how you have instructed us on how we're to live in relationship with those in authority over us within the church and outside the church.
God, I know that there are folks in this room who are under a very difficult set of circumstances. They're wondering if you see them. They're wondering if you're aware. They're wondering if you've forgotten them. I pray that in this moment and in the moments that follow, you would remind them that you see them.
You have entered into their pain and their suffering and their isolation and you sent your Son to experience what it's like to be forsaken so that we could be brought back to you. We thank you for Jesus. We thank you for Paul, for Timothy, for the church in Ephesus that we can learn from them even to this day. We pray all this in Jesus' name, amen.