I Timothy 6
New King James Version 1. Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed.
The Resultant Version 1. Let as many of you slaves as are under the yoke consider their own masters fit for all honor, in order that the name of God and His teaching may not be blasphemed.
Now Paul speaks to the slaves. This is not “bondservants,” as in the New King James Version, but is the Greek word doulos, which means “slaves.” Slaves were a very crucial element of the economy in the Roman Empire. A large portion of what we would call the “blue collar work force” was slaves. In Israel this was regulated by God, Who did not allow any Israelite to enslave his fellow Israelite for longer than a set period of time, unless that slave chose voluntarily to bind himself to that master for his lifetime. Thus slavery in Israel really was much more like employment than the slavery we know of in the American South in times past.
Yet in the Roman Empire slavery could be for life. This was not all a one-sided thing, however, for the masters had the responsibility for their slaves, and had to watch out for their livelihood. Slaves were often attached permanently to a household, and there was not much of this buying and selling of slaves in the marketplace, a practice which made some of our ancestors so angry that it was part of what led to the Civil War. Some slaves could have quite a bit of power in the household, though there were cases where slaves were mistreated, as there must be as long as human nature remains as it is and one person has power over another.
Paul here speaks to the slaves, just as he does in the books of Ephesians and Colossians, and says much the same thing to them here as he does in those books. This is one thing that ties this book to those important books that introduce the dispensation of grace. As we have already discussed, this book of I Timothy clearly bears the mark of a post Acts 28:28 book, in spite of some difficulties that some think they find here in placing it after the dispensational change.
He speaks to the slaves who are under the yoke. Of course, this yoke is not like the yoke of the Lord Jesus, which He says is easy (Matthew 11:29-30). It is not the yoke of the law, as Peter spoke of it in Acts 15:10, and as Paul spoke of it in Galatians 5:1. Rather, this is a yoke to a fellow man, and that can be a difficult thing to bear. Yet Paul urges such slaves to count their own masters worthy of all honor. Notice that he does so without any reference to the master’s character. He does not say “if he is a good master” or “if he is a fair master” or anything else. This could be a lot to ask for, depending on the character of the master! Why does the Lord ask such a thing of slaves? The answer is given in the latter part of the verse: so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed through the rebellious or disobedient conduct of believing slaves.
Now Paul had made some radical statements about slaves in the books of Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, all of which were written before I Timothy. He had urged masters to treat their slaves with the same kind of behavior as their slaves were to treat them in Ephesians 6:9. He urged them to treat them justly and fairly in Colossians 4:1. And in the book of Philemon, he commanded Philemon to treat his runaway slave Onesimus like a brother, not like a slave, and in fact to treat him as he would treat Paul if he were there. Such teaching was sure to make some slave owners very uncomfortable. It could well be that many had accused Paul of teaching things that could lead to improper conduct among slaves, or to them failing to respect their masters as they should. Paul seeks to head off such accusations here by urging Timothy to let the slaves know that they must treat their own masters with all honor. If they use Paul’s teaching as an excuse to disobey and act insolently, they will bring both God and His teaching into disrepute.
Notice here that Paul was not a social reformer. He was not out to change the slavery system in the Roman Empire, though there are no doubts that it was not entirely good and needed to be changed. Yet the Lord’s first concern is the gospel and His Word, and so He urges the slaves to act in ways that will ensure that the word is respected, not blasphemed, among the slave masters. The only way to keep from justifying those who would speak against Paul’s radical teaching regarding slaves is for the salves to see to it that they act in a way that shows all honor to their masters.
New King James Version 2. And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. Teach and exhort these things.
The Resultant Version 2. And those having believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brothers, but let them much more slave for them because they are believers and beloved, who also take hold of the well-doing. These things keep teaching and encouraging.
Now he speaks specifically to those slaves who have believing masters. In this case, the matter is a far different one than for a slave whose master does not believe. If he has a believing master, first of all he should not despise him. In our society, it seems that many almost feel themselves obligated to look down upon those who are over them in their jobs, like their managers. Slaves in a household at the time could have the same attitude towards their masters. Yet this was not a Godly attitude for any slave to have toward a master who was a fellow believer in Christ.
Secondly, we might point out that a slave might also despise his master because he was a fellow believer. Perhaps he might think that because his master is a fellow believer, he will be unable to treat him harshly or punish him if he does a poor job at his work. Perhaps he becomes lazy and disobedient, thinking his master will not dare to do anything about it to a fellow believer. Yet this would really be despising his master because he is a brother, and would not be a proper attitude at all to have towards a master who believes. We would hate to think that anyone would have such an attitude, but sadly we can see that there are believers even today who will take advantage of their employers if they are fellow believers. This is simply not right. Instead, a believing servant with a believing master should serve him all the more enthusiastically because the ones who are benefitted by his faithful service are believers and beloved. This is the attitude he should have: that he should serve all the harder for a brother.
Finally, Timothy is to teach and exhort these things. “Exhort” is the Greek parakaleo, meaning that he should come alongside his fellow believers to help them accomplish these things and have these attitudes. Timothy’s job is to take these things the Lord is giving him through this letter from Paul and to teach and encourage his fellows regarding these things.
New King James Version 3. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness,
The Resultant Version 3. If anyone teaches otherwise, and does not come to sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the teaching that is according to true worship,
Now he speaks a word about anyone who teaches otherwise than what Paul has taught in this letter. Such a person does not consent to wholesome words, even the word of our Lord Jesus Christ. The words we are studying in I Timothy are not merely Paul’s words, nor do they merely reflect his opinion. No, these are wholesome words. This word can be used for healthy as opposed to sick, and as here is often used for sound teaching as opposed to false or improper teaching. These sound teachings are also the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the truth.
This brings up the problem I have with what are called “Red Letter Editions” of the Bible. These editions claim to put the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in red. However, Christ said of His Own words, “the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.” (John 14:24) Yet to His disciples, the Lord promised that they would receive His words. “13. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.” This means that the apostles received the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that is what they spoke. Therefore, if the Lord Jesus’ words were actually His Father’s words, and the words of the apostles were actually given them by the Lord Jesus, then it is the epistles that should be in red in our Bibles, not the words of Christ in the gospels!
I am speaking a bit facetiously when I say this, for I realize that all the words of Scripture are really given by God. Yet that is largely my point: all of Scripture is from God, so why should we put the “words of the Lord Jesus Christ in red” when it is just as much Him speaking in the Old Testament, or anywhere else. This creates a higher class of Scripture in the words of the Lord Jesus which I believe is entirely mistaken. The reality is that God’s revelation in the Bible is progressive, and in many ways the most advanced teaching in the Bible is found in the words of Paul, not in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. To put the words of Christ in red, then, is to create a false impression and deny the reality of the relevance of all Scripture. As Paul said in II Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for teaching, for evidence, for correction, and for discipline in righteousness.” Paul was not just referring to the words of Christ, but to the whole Bible when he said this. In the same way, the “wholesome words” and the “words of our Lord Jesus Christ” that he refers to here are, I believe, the very words he has been writing in this book. These are the words that some in Ephesus may not have been willing to consent to, as Paul is warning Timothy.
He also speaks of the teaching that accords with godliness. “Godliness” here is the word eusebeia, which occurs fifteen times in the New Testament and eight times in I Timothy, four of them in this chapter. It is the word that was translated “true worship” in The Resultant Version of I Timothy 3:16, which referred to the “secret of true worship.” Once again, it is the teaching of I Timothy that Paul is referring to here as the teaching which accords with true worship. That is really the topic of this book: what does a truly Godly life look like now in the dispensation of grace? How was a Jew like Paul or Timothy to live now that the law was no longer the order of the day? In this book God is answering these questions.
New King James Version 4. he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions,
The Resultant Version 4. He is conceited, knowing nothing, but is diseased concerning debates and battles about words, out of which come to be envy, strife, slanders, wicked suspicions,
Paul now speaks of the one who does not consent to the wholesome words of our Lord Jesus and the teachings that accords with true worship. He claims that such a person is proud. The word here is typhoo, and seems to mean that he is puffed up, or that he has his vision obscured as by smoke. He thinks he knows better than the words of the Lord, but in reality he knows nothing.
He is obsessed with other things that wholesome words. The word “obsessed” here, noseo, seems to mean that he is sick or diseased in mind. He has a morbid fondness for a thing, a mania or an obsession. What this rejecter of wholesome words is obsessed with are disputes and arguments over words. “Disputes” is zetesis, and is used six times in Scripture, all seeming to have to do with a dispute or argument. “Arguments over words” is the single Greek word logomachia, which comes from logos and the word for “fighting.” This does not refer to the study of words to discover their meaning. This is something we often do in studying the Bible to seek to learn what the Greek words God used really meant. Yet this one disputes and argues over words in a trifling way, as when President Clinton argued over what the meaning of “is” is. This kind of dispute is not a valuable thing, but just much ado over nothing.
From such disputes and arguments over words come such bad things as envy, strife, reviling, and evil suspicions. “Envy” has to do with jealousy, and is the reason that the religious leaders delivered the Lord Jesus to Pilate, as we read in Matthew 27:18. These arguments lead to jealousy, as perhaps the point of the argument is to satisfy one’s pride rather than to obtain the truth. For such a person, to lose the argument leads to jealousy towards the one who won it. Strife is the Greek eris, and has to do with contentions and fightings. Reviling is the Greek blasphemia. We usually think of blasphemy as something that only can be done against God or the things of God, and not against other people who are just like us. Yet really the word just refers to slander, and those who dispute and argue frivolously over words can indeed stoop to slander when they find themselves unable to win their precious arguments. “Evil suspicions” can have to do with bad assumptions or suspicions against another person. Those who argue in this way will automatically start to suspect the worst about those whom they argue against, for the argument becomes all, and those who will not get on board are suspected. This is not the attitude of those who cling to wholesome words of our Lord Jesus.
New King James Version 5. useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.
The Resultant Version 5. Incessant quarrelings of men corrupted as to their minds and bereft of the truth, supposing devoutness to be a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.
Paul characterizes all these things to be useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds. “Useless wranglings” is diaparatribe, or, depending on which Greek manuscripts you look at, paradiatribe. We are probably all familiar with the word “diatribe,” and the fact that it refers to a bitter and abusive attack, criticism, or denunciation. The addition of para seems to give it the idea of a constant arguing or an incessant diatribe. Such a thing is not valuable or good for believers to be involved in. Yet for some who, in the words of Paul to the Ephesians elders in Acts 20:29-30, are “savage wolves” who came in among them, and for others who of the elders themselves had risen up “speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves,” this kind of incessant arguing and disputing could be used to try to discredit Timothy in the eyes of the believers and to encourage them to follow them as their disciples instead. People like this are worthy of the Lord’s scathing assessment of them here.
They have corrupt minds, or the Greek diaphtheiro would indicate that their minds have been changed to corruption. They are destitute of the truth. The Greek is apostereo, which has more the idea that they are robbed or defrauded of the truth. Yet from the context, it does not appear that any other person has robbed them of the truth, but the corruption of their own minds has despoiled them of the truth they had once had.
These men of corrupt hearts are supposing that Godliness is a means of gain. How many are there in our day who suppose the same! I listened to one television preacher one time who kept telling stories of all the places he had gotten money and all the people who gave it to him, and claimed that God taught him, “I can give you money wherever you are.” This man obviously just looked at Godliness as a means of gain, and the corruption in his mind and the fact that he is destitute of the truth was made plain by this. For these Ephesians, the gain they intended may have been monetary, or it could be they just wished the power of getting disciples who are loyal to them, as Paul warned in Acts 20:30, rather than being loyal to God.
Ultimately, he tells Timothy to withdraw himself from men such as these. The true follower of Christ should not associate himself with those who corrupt themselves and use their position in Christ this way. When the dishonesty and corruption of such men becomes plain, we do not want to have associated ourselves and our true faith with them. Therefore, all we can do with one who dishonors the right ways of God in this way is to withdraw from them and have no fellowship with them.
New King James Version 6. Now godliness with contentment is great gain.
The Resultant Version 6. Now devoutness with contentment is a great means of gain.
Yet the Lord does not want us to think that Godliness does nothing for the one who has it. He assures us that godliness with contentment is great gain. Yet this gain is not monetary, nor greedy, nor power-hungry. If one has Godliness and along with it contentment, then that will be great gain to the one who has it. Indeed, what we have received from God we have received to enjoy, and to be content with this and to be Godly is a great gain to any person.
Yet we need to note that what is exalted here is Godliness with contentment, not Godliness with poverty. Some people have the idea that riches are somehow ungodly or sinful, yet this is not the teaching of the Bible. This passage is not saying anything about setting a standard of poverty or lack of wealth among the believers. The point is being content with what you do have, and neither wishing you had more nor regretting that you do not have less.
New King James Version 7. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
The Resultant Version 7. For we brought nothing into the world, and it is certain that we are not able to take anything out.
We should learn to be content, for we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. This is very true. When you are born, you have nothing, and come into this world system with nothing. When you die, you go out with nothing. Even those who try to be buried with some dear possession of theirs, we realize that that is truly useless, for that thing can do them no good in the grave. How quickly after a person dies are that person’s possessions distributed! They are soon gone, and, as Scripture says, the place that person occupied forgets him. In light of this, what good is the gaining of possessions? They are no good certainly. What truly will follow a person is his Godliness, for that will be remembered by God when the time comes for Him to raise the dead. That is why Godliness with contentment is true gain, whereas gain in the things of this world does one no long-term good.
New King James Version 8. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.
The Resultant Version 8. And having nourishment and covering, with these we will be content.
Therefore Paul advises Timothy that, having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. This is certainly not a high minimum standard! We would like to at least think of food, clothing, and shelter as a minimum for a standard of living. Bullinger in The Companion Bible points out that this Greek word skepasma means a covering, so could include a shelter beyond just clothing. Yet when we consider how Paul and Timothy had traveled together and probably spent many nights without a roof over their heads, we can see why they might consider food and clothing as all they really needed.
This kind of minimal living is about as far from reality to Americans as it could get, for we not only throw away large amounts of food, have closets full of extra clothing, and live in houses far bigger than we would really need, but we then suppose that we cannot be content without many other conveniences and trinkets that Americans suppose they “need.” I do not think that many of us, myself included, would feel very content if we were suddenly reduced to nothing but food and clothing. Yet there are those of God’s people down through the years who have lived with nothing more than this, and done so very contentedly. Perhaps we have learned to live far too much for this life. This can be seen in the fact that, in spite of our wealth, many Americans are profoundly unhappy, and this can be true of believers as well if we get sucked into the thinking of this world. The reality is that we all will enjoy God’s abundance in the life to come, and then we will learn that material possessions are just the icing on the cake. The real gain will be found in other things of far greater importance. Then perhaps, though we will enjoy the wealth of the kingdom, we will realize of how little value it really is above mere food and clothing and shelter.