Working for Jesus
How many refrigerators does Emmanuel Baptist Church own?
I could give you a minute to try and count. And you might need a minute, because the answer is not two. Yes, we have two refrigerators over there in the kitchen, but who ever said that this building is Emmanuel Baptist Church? I thought that we are Emmanuel Baptist Church.
And if we think of it that way, then this means that Emmanuel Baptist Church probably has dozens of refrigerators.
Do you think about us as a church that way? That we’re not just the building or the Sunday gathering, but that we are the people spread across this town and beyond each week, living our lives and playing our part in the biggest story ever told?
That’s the way Paul thought. 1 Timothy is a letter written to Timothy about the church. It’s been filled with instructions about the church, and what the church’s gatherings should look like, and what the church’s leadership should look like, and what the church’s financial priorities should be like.
But the church is so much more than just what happens when we gather together. The church is its people, and so our life as a church includes everything we do when we’re not together in the rest of the week.
And that’s why, after giving instruction on widows and elders, Paul turns to bondservants, or slaves, and gives them instruction on how to behave. And he’s not telling them how to act in the church service. He’s telling them how to act in their jobs the rest of the week. Because, as we’re going to see today, how they acted in their employment situations was as crucial to the cause of the gospel as anything Timothy was doing inside the structure of the church.
As we begin, let’s talk for a moment about this word “bondservant.” A bondservant is a servant who is bound to their master for at least a period of time. If you read this verse in the NIV, you might notice they use the word “slavery” here. And truthfully, “slave” is a fair way of translating this word.
The problem with the word “slave” is that it immediately makes us think about slavery in America before the civil war: where slaves were kidnapped away from their homeland and shipped across the ocean and could be treated worse than animals. Masters could beat and kill them with no consequence.
And slavery in the Roman Empire did look like that at some points. But by the time of Paul, it had developed somewhat. It had become easier and easier for slaves to earn their freedom. They were often treated quite well as full members of the family. Their service often had a time limit on it of seven years.
So this word bondservant helps us understand that these weren’t all slaves with chains on their feet like we sometimes imagine.
And yet, despite all of these improvement, they were still bound to their masters. That’s why Paul uses this language of “yoke” here. Like oxen under a yoke, they belonged to their master, they had almost no legal rights, and they had to do what they were told.
Can you just imagine how miserable life would be with a bad master? Think of the worst job you’ve ever had, except that you have no legal protection and no option to quit and find a new job.
Now just imagine what the gospel must have done for these slaves or bondservants who became Christians. They believed this message which promised them salvation and gave them a new master named Jesus, and told them that we are all one in Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
And it’s not hard to imagine many slaves becoming Christians and saying, “Yes! I don’t need to obey my master any more. I’m serving Jesus now.” This would have been especially easy if your master was himself a Christian, because surely he would understand that you are one in Jesus now.
And that’s where verses 1 and 2 of today’s chapter come in. Because he knows that if the slaves do this, if they stop respecting their masters because they are free in Christ, this is going to reflect poorly on the church.
Masters are going to say, “You follow Jesus, and now you’re acting like this? Some good that’s doing for you.” And if that carries on, and others catch word of it, the whole Christian community gets its reputation tarnished. God has His name tarnished.
And everything Timothy was doing to clean up the church, stop the false teachers, establish godly elders—everything could be jeopardized just by a few disrespectful slaves.
So this is why Paul writes verse 1 and 2. “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” (1 Timothy 6:1).
Notice that he doesn’t say that their masters are worthy of all honour. Some of them may have had terrible masters who didn’t deserve any respect in and of themselves. And yet they were to be regarded as worthy of all honour, because they were in the position of being their master.
Verse 2 tells us that this doesn’t just apply for masters who are not Christians. If a slave has a master who was a believer, even though they were both one in Christ Jesus, that didn’t give them a pass to slouch off and stop taking orders. Instead, because it was a beloved brother who will benefit from their service, they should see their work as an act of love and render it as such.
Now what we’ve just done so far is summed up the big idea of this passage. And I trust that, so far, this makes enough sense to you.
But we’re not finished this morning. Because as I thought about this passage this week, especially verse 1, it became clear to me that there’s a lot below the waterline here. Everything that we’ve seen so far is just the part of the iceberg peaking above the surface.
And here’s what I mean by that. What that Paul writes in verse 1 and 2 only makes sense if some other things are true. And Paul does not explain what these other things are, but he assumes them to be true, and he assumes that Timothy and the Ephesians understand them to be true as well.
And so if we are really going to understand this passage and properly apply it to our lives today, we need to make sure that we understand these three big assumptions as well. So that’s what we’re going to do next.
We’re going to put on our diving equipment and take a look at these three big assumptions beneath the waterline of this passage. And as we do that we’ll discover just how much this passage has to say to us today.
1. No Private Christians
The first thing Paul assumes in this passage is that the bondservant’s master knows he or she is a Christian. Just think about it. If a slave was disrespectful, the only way that would reflect negatively on God’s name or the teaching about Jesus is if the master knows that their slave follows Jesus.
Paul does not think for a moment that someone could come to faith in Jesus and then just keep that to themselves. He assumes that if that slave is a Christian, their master knows about it.
Is this a fair assumption? I think so. Didn’t Jesus say, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
Or think about 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
This is what we were saved for. And this means that to be a Christian is to be a public Christian. There is no such thing as a private Christian.
This is implied even in that well-known verse from Romans 10: “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
“Confessing” means saying it publicly. There is no such thing as a secret Christian.
Now I want to acknowledge that in many places in the world today, this is a real struggle for many of our brothers and sisters. Think of a county like Iran or Saudi Arabia, where it is illegal to convert to Christianity. If you become a Christian there, and make it public, you can be jailed or worse. And it’s a real dilemma, because it would be so easy to say, “I’m going to keep this quiet, that will give me the chance to secretly tell more people about Jesus.”
And then there’s us here in Canada. And I wonder sometimes how big of a difference it would make if we ever were persecuted for our faith. Because in my experience, many Canadian Christians live as secret Christians. They come to church, but their co-workers or friends or sometimes even family members don’t know that they are followers of Jesus. Or if they do, they don’t know what that actually means. They’ve never had the gospel explained to them.
So here’s an evaluation question for you: if you were to start being a disrespectful person tomorrow—either at your job, or with your friends or family—how much damage would you do to God’s reputation?
Is there a chance that some of us are like the people in John 12? “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42–43).
Could it be the case that we love what other people think about us more than we love what God thinks about us?
Or maybe that’s not the issue. Maybe it’s because you’re scared. You’re afraid of people asking you hard questions about the Bible or your faith and you don’t have the answers.
And if that’s your fear, I’d remind you again that we don’t need to have all of the answers. The most important thing is that we know the gospel. Because the gospel is the powerful message God uses to save people. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
I’m going to be posting some more on this topic on the blog this week, so you can keep an eye out for it. But let’s return to Paul’s assumption here: there is no such thing as a private Christian. We should be so public with our faith that if we started acting up, Jesus would take heat for it. And therefore we don’t act up for the sake of His honour and glory.
2. Christianity Is Not Popular
There’s a second assumption going on here in this passage, and it’s that Christians, in general, didn’t have a great reputation in the community. They were not well-respected. They were not culturally powerful.
Now here’s where I get this from. First, just think of the logic of this verse. If Christians were well-respected, if they held a high place of cultural power and influence, then if a Christian slave started to act poorly, what would his master say? “My slave got mixed in with those Christians, and it hasn’t done him any good, which is strange because I’ve been hearing so many good things about them and I have so much respect for their leaders, and I’m so happy that my slave gets to spend time with these great people. I hope they have a good influence on him.”
That’s not what was happening. Christians in the 1st Century did not have a great reputation. They were not well-respected. They had no cultural power.
And why is that? The reason is the gospel itself. They believed in a crucified Messiah, and that was craziness to everyone on the outside. “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22–23).
For Jews, the idea of a crucified Messiah was bonkers and totally opposite of everything they had been expecting. For the Greeks, the idea that God would take on human flesh was appalling to them. They thought it was literally ridiculous.
For the Romans, the idea of a crucified king was just as silly. But it was also dangerous. Caeser was their lord. When the Christians said “Jesus is Lord,” that was a political shot across the bows. And so Christians could be seen as a threat to the peace that the empire had worked to hard to achieve.
And then there were other local situations, like the situation in Ephesus. Ephesus had a temple to the goddess Artemis. Selling her images was big business there. And Acts 19 tells us that as more and more people started following Jesus and not going to the temple of Artemis and buying her little silver statues, the silversmiths got upset and started a riot which threw the whole city into confusion.
Verse 34 says that “for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Acts 19:34).
So being a Christian was not only weird and foolish, but it also got you labelled as a disloyal troublemaker.
And that’s why, over and over again in 1 Timothy, we’ve read of Paul’s concern for the Christians to have a good reputation, and to give God a good reputation in the process.
In chapter 2 verse 2 they were told to pray for their leaders so that they “may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” That word “dignified” speaks to their reputation and how we come across to our community.
Chapter 3 said that an elder needed to be “above reproach” and “well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:1, 7). Widows were called to and conduct themselves in such a way that the adversary had “no occasion for slander” (5:14). With so much negative press, setting a good example and bringing glory to Jesus with their life was really important.
And so, everybody had a job to do—including the slaves. As they were public with their faith and treated their masters with utmost respect, this would earn the respect of their masters and so bring glory to God’s name.
Let’s think for a minute about the similarities between us and the Ephesians in terms of how much cultural power we have as Christians. It’s true that for a few centuries, Christianity has enjoyed a fair amount of cultural power in the western world. Christians have been well-respected. Just a few decades ago, most of our country went to church and knew the Ten Commandments. Being a Christian was a good thing and a popular thing. If a boss had a bad employee who was a Christian, that was just an exception to the rule.
But that’s not the case anymore. Being a Christian—especially a Christian who believes the whole Bible and refuses to compromise with the values of our new secular establishment—is very unpopular. We’re called names. We’re accused of hate. We loose access the summer job program. Things are getting tougher and tougher for us.
And I find it interesting that when the pinch gets put on us here, we start getting all worked up and say that Jesus must be coming back soon because these are all signs of the end.
I do believe that Jesus is coming back soon, but not because of anything Justin Trudeau has done. Christians have had a hard time for most of history, and still do have a hard time in most of the world today. And in Canada it’s still way easier for us than for most of our brothers and sisters around the world.
Now I’m not saying we should not care about this. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pray for our government leaders so that we may live a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way, so that we’d be able to continue to spread the gospel without interference.
All I’m saying is that we need to consider the whole picture. Just hear these words from Hebrews chapter 10, for example: “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:32–36).
The days ahead may be difficult for us here. And yet, as that happens, we are simply joining the ranks of Christians throughout all of history who have suffered for the name of Jesus.
And in the meantime, let’s not make it harder on ourselves by being rude or argumentative like I often see, especially on social media. Let’s practice what we’ve read in 1 Timothy by being respectful and dignified. Let’s earn a good reputation—not for ourselves, but for the Lord whom we confess. That is one of the most important ways we can glorify Jesus in our new climate here.
3. You Can Be a Christian Slave
Now there is a final and third assumption here in our passage. It’s an obvious one, but also a surprising one. The assumption is simply that you could be a Christian slave. You could be a Christian who serves Jesus and a slave who serves your master, at the same time.
Not everyone got this. It’s likely that some people thought, “Now that I serve Jesus, I can’t serve my earthly master at the same time. I need to break free from my earthly master so that I can serve my heavenly master.”
And Paul says “no” to that suggestion. Instead, he teaches that the way slaves serve their heavenly master is by honouring their earthly master.
This is taught clearly in a couple of other passages in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 7:17 says, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” And it goes on to say that if someone was a slave when they became a Christian, that means God has assigned that life to them and they are to remain there with him and for him (1 Corinthians 7:20-24).
Colossians 3:22-24 says, “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
As you serve your master, you are serving Jesus. And this thinking clearly permeates our passage today. Slaves didn’t have to stop being slaves in order to enjoy God’s presence and live for His glory. They could serve Jesus right where they were, and it started with the hard and simple task of honouring their own masters.
Now this one is more interesting to apply to our lives than the others. Because none of us are actual slaves. We generally have the ability to leave our employers and go find other work if we so choose.
And yet, often we do find ourselves in a place in life that we feel stuck in. Maybe it is a tough work situation, and there are no other options for you. Maybe it is a family situation, and you have no choice but to endure.
I’ve been in both of those types of situations, and others like them. And when we’re in a spot like that, we should hear those words from 1 Corinthians 7 and remember that God has assigned our life to us, that He is with us, and that even in that difficulty we can bring Him glory. If a slave could be a part of the spread of the gospel just be honouring their master, then surely there are ways we can bring glory to Jesus right where we’re at.
Every single one of you working a job right now has a really straightforward way to apply this truth to your life today. Be the best possible employee that you can possibly be. Surpass your employer’s expectations. Be the one that they can trust and rely on. Do the hard jobs nobody else wants to do.
And when they ask you why you work the way that you do, tell them that it’s because you serve Jesus and this is what He wants you to do. That’s how you can be a part of the spread of the gospel, right where you are, no matter how lowly your job is.
I hope that’s encouraging to you.
Maybe you’re in another spot in life. Maybe you’re not stuck. Maybe you’re young and have lots of options and the world lies open before you. Maybe you’re retired and have a fair bit of freedom in that regard as well. You should see that, too, as the life God has assigned to you. So use it for God. Don’t waste your freedom on yourself. Don’t sell out to comfort and ease.
Whatever your life situation is, whatever your unique opportunities or unique challenges are, use them to serve others for the glory of Jesus. That’s why they’ve been given to you in the first place.
Now as we draw things to a close this morning, let’s remember where this all started and where it all comes from, back in verse 1.
Verse 1 tells us that it doesn’t matter how great things are here at EBC, how wonderful our services are, how careful we are in appointing leaders. None of this matters very much if we all go out and make Jesus look terrible the rest of the week by the way we act.
So that’s a way of stating it negatively. But we can also state it positively: no matter how tough your life situation is, no matter how bad your job is, you have the chance, this very week, to be a part of the mission of God’s people. You have the opportunity to glorify God’s name and make the gospel look great. You have the opportunity to spread the gospel and adorn the gospel.
And it starts with what’s right in front of you. If you have a job, do it well. And don’t keep it a secret why you’re doing it well. Don’t keep the glory to yourself.
And for those of you not in jobs, we all have opportunities to serve. We all have relationships with those who don’t know Jesus, and we can apply these principles of respect and dignity and love and service, and as we do that we’ll find that even in the ordinary things we can play our part in this mission.
And so we’re going to end with a prayer here this morning. “May the peoples praise you!” Make this a prayer for your life this week. May God use your life for this great end of His glory among the nations.