Leaders, their work ethic, and the integrity of the church.

1 Timothy 6 directly addresses four different groups in the church: those in the work force, teachers of unhealthy doctrine, Timothy and future pastors, and those who are wealthy. The way Christians behave in the workplace has a direct impact on their Gospel influence.


Evangelistic Opportunity

1 Timothy 6:1-2 fall into the book's larger context of evangelistic emphasis. No matter what topic Paul is addressing – praying for civic leaders in chapter 2, qualifications of church leaders in 1 Timothy 3:7, and instructions to young widows in 1 Timothy 5:14 – a prime motivation is always the church's testimony before unbelievers.

Christians in the workforce are numerically the largest evangelistic opportunity available to the church. Work is where we spend the most time interacting with people outside of the home and our own neighborhood. Believers must be equipped in the church so they are able to be Gospel light outside the church even without speaking the content of the Gospel.

Every Christian must learn to honor God in their roles and how they relate to those in authority. Paul had given instruction to the churches in Ephesus four years earlier, recorded in Ephesians 6:5-9. They evidently hadn't fully embraced this and needed to be reminded by the time Paul wrote 1 Timothy.

Context of Slavery in the Roman Empire

The positions and relationships of slaves and owners in the Roman empire have no comparison to the slavery in mid-nineteenth-century America. Understanding the background will greatly help us to apply this passage to the twenty-first century workplace.

Slaves numbered between one-fifth and one-third of the first-century population. The church contained both slaves and slave owners. People with no connection to slavery were often the poorest in society.

Under Roman law, slaves could count on eventually being set free, most by the age of 30. Many slaves were educated. They could own property, save money, and buy their own freedom. Typically, slaves took on the social status of their owners rather than being despised. Slaves could even hold government office. Selling oneself into slavery was a common way to gain Roman citizenship.

Slaves were property to be bought and sold, not legally considered real people. While the buying and selling of humans for gain and loss will never meet godly standards, slavery in Paul's context was much more benign than our modern assumptions.

The New Testament church did not pursue the demise of slavery or encourage Christians to undo the system. In their culture, the status of slaves and slave owners were so similar, they mirrored today's employees and employer relationships.

The church is always more interested in the coming of Christ than social or political reform. All believers are equal in Christ as servants and disciples (Galatians 3:28). As one author put it, "Radical brotherhood in the local church would in time sound the death knell for slavery." Social influence comes not because it is a primary emphasis but as a result of discipleship yielding greater light in the community.

Responsibility in Position

An employee's responsibility to their boss, whether saved or unsaved, is to be submissive.

Just like today, the majority of Christians in the Ephesian church worked for unsaved bosses. Some worked for saved men and even went to the same church as their owners. Some slave owners could have been church leaders. Believers in both positions needed to objectively understand and embrace their roles for the sake of the Gospel and the unity of the church. Right relationships at work began with relating well in the church.

Responsibility in Disposition

Employees are to give "all honor" to their unsaved masters. New believers often are excited and distracted by the desire to witness to everyone at their workplace, but this is not our job at work. Neither is it our responsibility to be the moral police. God's calling for you at work is simply to work.

God's concern is that Christians have a Gospel effect in their workplaces just by working hard. There is plenty of time to answer questions about your relationship with Jesus off the clock (1 Peter 3:15).

Responsibility to a Saved Boss

Employees who work for fellow believers are not to disrespect their bosses because they are equal in Christ. In the work environment, there is an authority structure by God's design that should be embraced. Any unrealistic expectations between fellow Christians, whether of special treatment or hyper-scrutiny, are to be set aside. You should still work just as hard, if not harder than everyone around you.

There are always people watching your behavior at work. The Holy Spirit uses your obedient testimony and work ethic to draw others to Himself. Do your job and trust God to do His.

Application Points

  • Pray that God would burden your heart for one unsaved coworker.
  • Do you work hard? The best way to maintain an evangelistic testimony in any environment where God has given an objective structure is to serve. You are a servant-minister of God everywhere you go. Do you have a mindset of service at home, church, work, and in community?

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • Philemon 1:10-16 – Paul's appeal to an elder in the church who owned a slave.
  • 1 Peter 2:18-20 – Working for an unsaved boss.
  • Titus 2:9-10 – Paul's similar instruction to employees under Pastor Titus.
  • John 13:12-17, Mark 10:45 – Jesus set an example of service.
A Hymn to Encourage: "A Servant's Heart"

Make me a servant like you, dear Lord,
Living for others each day
Humble and meek, helping the weak,
Loving in all that I say.

Give me, Lord, a servant's heart.
Here's my life, take every part.
Give me, Lord, a servant's heart.
Help me draw so close to You
That Your love comes shining through.
Give me, Lord, a servant's heart.

Make me a witness like You, dear Lord,
Showing the love of the cross,
Sharing Your Word till all have heard,
Serving whatever the cost.

Give me, Lord, a servant's heart.
Here's my life, take every part.
Give me, Lord, a servant's heart.
Help me draw so close to You
That Your love comes shining through.
Give me, Lord, a servant's heart.