Lessons from I Timothy: Lesson 13 – Masters and Slaves and Lesson 14 – False Teachings and its Results

This series on I Timothy is planned especially for church societies, study groups, and all others interested. Two lessons appear in each issue. The writer, Henry Vander Kam,  is pastor of Grace Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.


I Timothy 6:1–2

Masters and Slaves

One might consider it strange that the subject of master-slave relationship is mentioned so often in the New Testament. Paul refers to it in Ephesians 6:5–9, Colossians 3:22–4:1, Titus 2:9 and in the epistle to Philemon. Peter also makes mention of it in his first epistle 2:18–21.

There were so many important things to make known to the church of future ages and the time and opportunities were limited; then why the frequent mention of this particular subject? Evidently the Apostles considered this too to be one of the most important matters.

An important relationship – It is, of course, true that this is a very important subject in every age. The master-slave relationship in one age and the employer-employee relationship in another age asks for the consideration of virtually all men. It is one of the most important relationships in any society. It is well, therefore, that the light of Holy Writ shine on this subject.

Tn the day of Paul and Timothy slavery was common. It was also all that the term implied. It meant that the one enslaved was the property of the master who had indeed bought him. The rights of slaves were almost non-existent. The labor was arduous. Paul speaks of it as being “under the yoke.” One could cite various instances to show the cruelty of slavery as it existed at that time, but that is not necessary for our purpose. Of course, there were also kind and benevolent masters, but that too is foreign to the Apostle’s teaching in these verses.

Slavery not condemned – In the whole socioeconomic system in which there were both masters and slaves there lies a tremendous problem for the believer. Does not the believer have freedom in Christ? Has the same Apostle not written to the churches in Galatia (3:28) that in Christ there can be neither bond nor free? However, slavery is still the sorry lot of many who confess Christ and will be under the pastoral care of Timothy.

In this section the Apostle does not condemn the institution of slavery. To many this is very disappointing. Seeing men are free in Christ, why does he not condemn the practice of slavery in the name of Christ. This would he consistent, wouldn’t it? At least one might expect tbat he would call them to throw off the yoke and demand their rights as believers! Yet, the Apostle docs neither the one nor the other. The “logic” of those who always sec things very simplistically is not adopted by the Apostle.

Paul honors the whole gospel. The freedom in Christ docs not cancel the teaching of turning the other cheek nor the teaching that the meek shall inherit the earth. It is always difficult to see the gospel in its entirety and not to drive one aspect to its bitter—conclusion!

Slaves must live their Confession – Those who are slaves are here addressed. They must recognize the relationship in which they stand to their masters. They are to count their unbelieving masters worthy of all honor because they are their masters. They are required to keep the fifth commandment! God has placed the one in a position of authority and the other in the position of servitude. Those who occupy the position of slave must live in obedient faith. If he should not honor his master, the name of God would be blasphemed.

The unbelieving master does not know the God and Father of Jesus Christ. He will learn about this Cod from the believing slave. The conduct of the slave reveals the true God if the slave gives due honor to the master. It will then become apparent that he serves a God who is far different from all other gods. If the slave is rebellious, but claims to serve the true God, the master will conclude that this God is no different from all other gods and the name of God is blasphemed. The same is true of the “doctrine,” the gospel. Rebelliousness toward his position will cause the slave to place the gospel in an evil light before his master. That gospel teaches love and contentment. It teaches obedience. Paul admonishes them to live their confession!

Attitude of believing slave to believing master – What should he the attitude of the believing slave to a believing master? From the one point of view it will he much easier 10 give honor to such because there would be a better relationship, but from another point of view the problem becomes more intense. How is it possible for a wealthy man who confesses his faith in Jesus Christ to enslave fellow believers? Yet, that was the case at times. In such instances the danger is real that those who were slaves would despise the master. The question could arise; Why doesn’t he set me free? That is his duty! He knows that the gospel is supposed to set men free and that only one is our Master, namely, Christ! However, the Apostle forbids them so to despise those who are believing masters.

These masters are their brethren. They worship the same God and they together come to the table of the Lord. They ought to rejoice in the fact that they have believing masters. They ought to “serve them the rather,” i.e., they ought to bring exceptional service to such masters. Therein they will show the appreciation for them and such masters will, in turn, favor them in many ways. They will be able to expect better treatment from them than from the unbelievers. They must realize that such believing masters are the beloved of God too.

Gospel like a leaven – Although the Apostle does not call those who are slaves to rebel against this “system” in the name of Christ, there is an emphasis in this passage which may not be lost from sight. Christ indeed comes with the sword to deal violently with those things which may not continue (Matt. 10:34). The Apostles were accused of turning the world upside down. However, the normal working of the gospel is like a leaven. This power affects all that it touches, hut does it silently.

So Paul is instructing Timothy in the master-slave relationship. Let them witness by their godly life to the unbelieving masters and these will soon discover that the gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives, but that it also changes all human relationships. They will learn to realize that the name of that God must he reckoned with and the “doctrine” will instruct them. This silent obedient witness on the part of the slaves who confess the name of Jesus Christ will do more to overturn the institution of slavery than all those who preach revolution! The gospel not only calls to individual conversion, but it affects the whole social and economic system. The gospel leaves nothing the same.

Those who have believing masters are in an even more favorable position. Of course, slavery should have no place among brethren! In their attitude toward such masters the slaves must realize that much of the sting of that slavery has already been removed because they are fellow believers. Let them bring exceptional service to such masters for the time! They are to be patient. When the gospel sets a man free he ought to set all his slaves free. That would be consistent but not realistic. When a man has confessed Jesus Christ and has found salvation through His blood he does not yet see all the implications of the Lordship of Christ! This takes time—and—the Apostle is willing to give him this time. God can be very patient; milch more than many zealots in the church throughout the ages.

Sound doctrine and Christian living – These things Timothy must teach and urge upon the people. These things must be taught and urged upon them constantly. Timothy is given so many things to teach the church so that it may reveal itself as the body of Jesus Christ. He must teach them sound doctrine so that the purity of the gospel will be maintained. He must warn against false doctrine and against those who would lead God’s people astray. He must discipline those who will not repent of such evil deeds.

Now the importance of this master-slave relationship is underscored. It is so important because it deals with their daily lives. Christianity is a matter of the heart, of the mind, but also of the hand. Some may think that sound doctrine is far more important than these ethical pronouncements. Paul (and the Spirit), however, teaches the totality of the claims of the gospel. Pure doctrine is of the greatest importance but it must show its genuineness in deeds which conform to  the law of God. A faith which does not reveal itself in every part of life, is not the true faith. Although many still deny it, Paul is in perfect harmony with the teaching of James when the latter says that faith without works is dead!

Questions for discussion:

1. Why has slavery been so common in an unbelieving world? Do philosophic teachings ever set people free from slavery? 2. Can revolution ever be Christian? Does the teaching: We must obey God rather than men, have any bearing on the masterslave relationship? 3. Why doesn’t the Apostle urge those slaves who have unbelieving masters to witness to them verbally? Could this be done? 4. How does the gospel finally destroy slavery? 5. Is Paul’s method of dealing with the problem of slavery in keeping with the nature and purpose of the gospel? Shouldn’t it be overthrown “right now”? 6. Why do you think the Heidelberg Catechism brings up the subject of “good works” several times? Do we have an inherent weakness concerning this particular subject?    


I Timothy 6:3–10

False Teachings and its Results

How often the New Testament warns against the evil of false teaching! To a large extent the sharpness or this warning has been blunted in one day because many have adopted the view that no one has all the truth, and the question of true or false teaching is it relative matter. If a person has a “different” doctrine, he is entitled to his opinion and we should by all means listen to him. This is not Paul’s view. He makes it very clear that an objective truth has been given and anyone who deviates from this truth is committing a great sin and will suffer the practical consequences.

Doctrine determines life – “Sound words” have been given by our Lord Himself. During His earthly ministry He taught the truth and the words He uttered have been recorded. The “doctrine which is according to godliness” has been taught by the Apostles who have followed Him.

The words of Jesus, the teachings of the Apostles, and, in fact, the whole Scripture give men all the need to know to be satisfied in every part of life. The right way has been shown. Anyone who departs from this “right way” will suffer. Cod has spoken and expects men to listen! If they do not listen to the Word they will not only have great intellectual problems, but the practical life will also be adversely affected. A believing acceptance of the Word of God alone gives a life which is blessed. Therefore the New Testament places such a strong emphasis on pure doctrine. Doctrine determines life!

False teachers conceited and sick – Those who do not “consent,” who do not embrace the true teaching are “puffed up,” they are filled with conceit. They believe that they know better than Jesus or the Apostles. They approach the truth with a show of wisdom but in reality they know nothing. They look for a “deeper” meaning in the words of Scripture while they negate its clear meaning. This view of the Bible was already a problem in the early church and is one of the greatest problems in the Christian church in the last century.

Not only are such false teachers conceited and without knowledge, but the Apostle says that they arc sick. He had characterized the true teaching as “sound words,” i.e., healthy words. The true teaching would produce health for those who accepted it.

In contrast, the false teachers come with a doctrine which produces sickness. They do this by questionings and disputes about words. In the first chapter of this epistle Paul had also referred to these teachers. They were not outsiders but were doing their destructive work within the church. They would focus their attention on very minor matters and blow them up to something of first importance. So they would turn the attention of their hearers from the heart of the gospel to something inconsequential.

What is the result of this type of teaching? Does it deepen the faith of those who are so instructed? No, the very opposite is true. The result of such teachings is the direct opposite of the teaching of the gospel. False teaching hreeds envy. The false teacher comes up with very fanciful interpretations. The one is more fanciful than the other. Strife is horn of envy. Discords arise among them. This leads to railings; they begin to slander each other. Every one becomes suspicious of every other. There is constant friction.

This is the end to which false doctrine leads. It destroys those who teach it and those who receive this instruction. It is by no means an innocent intellectual exercise. Only sound (healthy) doctrine can rescue men from these destructive attitudes. These false teachers are using their teaching for gain. The whole picture shows them to be corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth.

Great gain from true teaching – Having made mention of the fact that the false teachers charged large fees for their teaching and thus sought to become rich by means of the gospel, the Apostle now turns his attention to the true teaching concerning this matter. It is, of course, true, says the Apostle, that godliness with contentment is great gain. It makes all the difference what you mean by gain. He owes everything to the gospel of Jesus Christ and it was therefore great gain for him.

But that is not the kind of gain meant by the false teachers. They had monetary gain in mind. This kind of gain is far removed from the mind of Paul. He speaks of this matter in several of his epistles. If you have true godliness and contentment as the product of that godliness, that is indeed great gain. We brought nothing into this world and we will not be able to take anything out of it when we leave this life. This means, therefore, that the monetary gain does not belong to the essence of life. Job says that he came into the world naked and so will he leave it. This is true of all whether they he rich or poor while they are in the world. Despite the great riches of some, they will not be able to take anything with them when the end of life comes.

Yet, though man has not brought anything into the world when he arrived, he often has the idea that while he is here he must accumulate as much of this world’s goods as he is able to do. Still, he will have to leave it here when he departs.

It is true that we have certain needs while we are here. These needs the Apostle describes as food and covering ,i.e., food, clothing, and shelter. These are the hare necessities. These are also the things promised us. Because they arc promised, we must also be content with these things when we receive them. We are to pray for these necessities and must then be able to give thanks for them when they are received. This gives contentment.

Evil desires grow out of wrong teaching – Then are many, and to this group belong the false teachers, who are not content with only the hare necessities of life. They are minded to be rich. They want the things which are not absolutely essential. They have a passion fur wealth—for those things which they did not bring into the world nor will he able to take not of the world. These are in danger of falling into many foolish and hurtful lusts. The one sin begets the other. The strong desire for riches blind them to the approved things of life.

The getting of riches often runs roughshod over the rights of others. The fulfillment of the desire often leads to an exertion of power which is not lawful. The final end, says the Apostle, is their drowning in destruction and perdition. When the wrong desires arc constantly fed, the end is ruin.

Notice that the Apostle has been speaking of evil desires which grow out of a wrong teaching. This is the process which leads to destruction. He does not say that all desire is wrong nor that riches in themselves are wrong. God blessed Abraham and Job and others in such a way so that they became the richest men of their time. These individuals were called to give thanks to their God for these gifts. Our stewardship must always be recognized in connection with all the riches we may possess. When riches become an end in themselves –ruin and destruction are at hand.

Love of money, a root of all kinds of evil – Verse 10 has been quoted out of context as much or more than any verse of the Bible. It is also usually quoted wrong. It is usually quoted as though it said that the love of money was the root of all evil. Paul doesn’t say that; he says that it is a root of all kinds of evil. Neither does this verse stand by itself, but is to be seen in the light of the word.~ which have gone beforeThe love of money is such a potent force that it is capable of leading to all kinds of other sins. This love of money can he such a strong desire that the eyes arc blinded to all the commandments of God and everything in life has to serve that craving. The Bible has various examples to show us concerning this evil, e.g., Ananias and Sapphira, Judas, etc.

Those who have this kind of a craving for money have been led astray from the faith. They have wandered—drifted away from the truth as it has been revealed. The author has been speaking (If the false teachers, i.e., those who gave the impression that they were teaching the truth. Their teaching was false and their attitude in regard to money again showed that they wandered from the truth. Those who teach the truth correctly and live according to that teaching will not have this kind of craving for wealth.

Those who have wandered away from the faith have already lost the true joy of life: The sound doctrine alone is alone to give tile joy which envelopes all of life—is true health. The false teachers have traded this wealth for another which they prized even more highly—money. Instead of bringing the happiness which they expected they have “pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Instead of happiness, it brought grief. This is a common experiences of men. How can that which does not belong to man’s essential being (we brought it not into the world and we cannot take it with us out of the world) ever give true happiness? The love for the pure word of God alone safeguards against the evils which slay men.

Questions for discussion:

1. The trend today is away from sound doctrine. What will this do to the moral life of men? Is the “old” doctrine still sufficient? 2. Do you think this passage has anything to teach us regarding the “New Hermeneutic”? Why do you think there is an attempt to find new ways of interpreting the Scriptures? 3. What does it mean to be content? (cf. Phil. 4:12). Does it mean that we should never attempt to better ourselves? 4. Paul warns against the danger of riches, or the craving for riches. Is poverty just as dangerous? (cf . Prov. 30:7–9).