By Adam Brown –
In 1 Timothy 5, we are told that we are to honour those who cannot help themselves (widows), that we are to consider elders who rule well to be worthy of double honour, and that workers (slaves) are to regard their employers (masters) as worthy of all honour. Thus, we see a progression from single honour, to double honour, to all honour.
In North America, we cringe at the mention of slavery. Without getting into all of the details of slavery in the Roman Empire, it is necessary to note that the slavery envisioned here is not the same as the trans-Atlantic slave trade that fuelled American slavery in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.
Without question, there were sinful abuses in Roman slavery. Paul identifies one such abuse, slave trading, as blatant sin (1 Timothy 1:10). When operating properly, however, the system of slavery was the only active social safety net in the Roman Empire. Bond-servants exchanged their labour for provision, security, and debt repayment.
For our purposes in 2017 Canada, the principles espoused by Paul about masters and slaves are directly translatable to the relationship between employers and employees.
The twelfth instruction for the church is that workers are to regard their employers as worthy of all honour.
In 1 Timothy 6:1 we learn that this is true whether the employer is a Christian or not
1 Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.
Paul is addressing Christian bondservants. They are to give all honour to their masters, Christian or not, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.
What does it mean to give all honour? The word, “Honour,” has two connotations: (1) to show proper respect; and (2) to be of material benefit to the one being honoured. The idea of all honour is to give one’s life entirely to the exaltation and material benefit of the one being honoured.
In our context, it means that workers are to serve their employers in such a way as to demonstrate to all the way in which the Church is to serve Christ.
When slaves/workers regard their own masters/employers as worthy of all honour, God’s name is honoured and the teaching of Scripture is put on display. Imagine a world where every Christian treated their employer as he or she would treat Christ. What kind of impact would that have on our global witness to the Gospel?
All Honour with Respect to Attitude
Giving someone all honour begins in the heart. Ironically, it can be more difficult to show a Christian brother or sister all honour because of our clear equality in Christ:
2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers (1 Timothy 6:2a);
Brothers love one another, but they do not always respect one another. Imagine how difficult it must have been for James and Jude to come to terms with the realization that their brother, Jesus, was also their God! Proclaiming the full divinity of Jesus must have been more difficult for them than it is for us, simply because they were His earthly brothers.
Likewise, it can be difficult for us to respect our Christian employers. It is natural for us to cut corners, to be loose with our tongues, to make inappropriate jokes that unnecessarily undermine our employer, even in jest. In place of these things, however, we are called to serve with an attitude of joyful submission, respect, and thanksgiving.
We are to treat our Christian or non-Christian employer as we would treat Christ.
All Honour with Respect to Work Ethic
Giving someone all honour is demonstrated by our work ethic. Whether we are serving a Christian brother or sister, or a non-Christian employers, we are to work as unto the Lord:
. . . rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved (1 Timothy 6:2b).
Our culture understands that we work for our wages. This alone might compel us to work hard. However, the Gospel gives us even greater incentive to “serve all the better.” We not only work for our wages, but we work out of love for our employer. This is all the more true if our employer is a Christian (though it remains true if he or she is not).
When we are motivated by love, we earn two paychecks. The first is temporal, and is the wages due to us. The second is eternal, and is stored in heaven where rust and moths cannot ruin or destroy.
Teach and Urge These Things
At the end of 1 Timothy 6:2, Paul writes, “Teach and urge these things.” This short command sums up all of 1 Timothy 5:3-6:2. Show honour to widows, double honour to elders, and all honour to masters. Such extensions of honour ought to characterize the local church to the glory of God in heaven.