Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 350 - July 1885
From matters of ecclesiastical and moral order the transition is easy and becoming to the due feelings and conduct of slaved, a burning question for the house of God on earth where materials lay so abundant for mischief at the hands of men rash, heady, and unbroken. Some have yielded to their subjective notions bred in the unhealthy swamps of modern licence, and, with no appreciation of the apostle's gracious wisdom any more than of his stern disallowance of self-assertion, dare to question the inspired claim of the passage or even its genuine Pauline character. Suffice it to say that to the believer every word is as seasonable and wholesome in itself as the importance of the exhortation is plain for that time and any other. Nor is one without hope of sufficiently vindicating its value, as we weigh it clause by clause, in its bearing for our day on souls who owe domestic service, where the pressure of bondage no longer exists.
"Let as many as are bondmen under yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and the teaching be not reviled. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise [them], because they are brethren, but the more let them serve, because they that partake of the good service are faithful and beloved. These things teach and exhort. If any one teach differently, and accede not to sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is according to godliness, he is puffed up, knowing nothing, but sick about questionings and word-disputes, out of which cometh envy, strife, revilings, evil suspicions, wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth, supposing that godliness is gain" (ver. 1-5).
The law given by Moses had done much to mitigate slavery in Israel, and this not merely as to a Hebrew sold for debt or selling himself through poverty. A year of release came round speedily, after which his abiding servitude was quite voluntary, with a blessed antitype in view familiar to the instructed christian. The old and still prevailing British boast is but an echo of the command that a slave who escaped among them should not be delivered to his master but was free to live unoppressed and free, where he pleased in their midst (Deut. xxiii). It was not however in this regard to his social position merely, but still more religiously that the law stands in contrast with other codes, yea with selfish and haughty Christendom. For Jewish slaves were entitled among other privileges to circumcision, enjoyed expressly the Sabbatical rest—indisputably a boon to none more than to them, and had their place at the solemn assemblies of the year, joining in the feasts like others, and in the fruits of the sabbath of the land every seventh year, as well as in the universal joy and liberty of the jubilee. Still it is fully allowed that the law made nothing perfect, as everywhere else so here also; and that in view of Jewish or human hardheartedness not a little was tolerated which was far from God's mind, till He came Who is the truth in grace. Christ changed all, and the bondman became His freedman, as the freeman rejoices and is honoured in being His bondman. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, no male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. Circumcision or uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian: what matters one or other now? Christ is all things and in all. All is grounded on His death andresurrection Who, ascendedinto heaven, has formed an entirely new and heavenly relationship, of which the Holy Spirit actually come is the power.
Such is the christian teaching, and no class seems to have reaped the blessing more bountifully in God's grace than the slaves who heard the gospel. Here we have most wholesome precepts to which Timothy was called to give heed, and this in view of false teachers, ever ready to abuse the truth for their lasts, as political leaders too had done from time to time in the world's history.
The first verse, as a maxim of the widest sphere, urges as many as were under yoke as bondmen to deem their own master worthy of all honour. Some might cry up other masters, others might dislike or disparage their own: neither spirit is of faith or becomes the christian; and a slave, if a christian, is no less responsible than another to reflect and live Christ. It is no question what their own masters might be, Jew or heathen, vain or proud, immoral or self-righteous, mean, ambitious, or what not. If God's providence had cast their lot under the obligations of bondmen, they were responsible to Him for counting them worthy of all honour, not because they deserved this or that praise, but simply as being their own masters. The possession of eternal life, redemption, and glory in prospect, was meant as it is calculated to lift the heart into moral elevation; inasmuch as it can only be truly in the sense of sovereign grace on God's part to a guilty sinner, saved at the infinite cost of His blood Who has thus secured the blessing, and waiting for Him to come, one knew not how soon, to consummate his heavenly hope.
It is not often the Rhemish V. can justly lay claim to exactness, but here it may through adhering to the Vulgate. All the older English seem to me to have failed, as well as the Authorised Version, in not regarding "servants" or slaves as part of the predicate. And so I understand the Pesch. Syr., though somewhat vague, whilst the Philoxenian reflects the more ordinary view. This gives undue prominence to "being under yoke," whereas the true force is but complemental. It seems to be only a full description of all in bondage, not the peculiar case of some; and the general duty of such follows. How solemn for the inconsiderate and unwatchful christian in such position to remember that his failure toward his master causes God and His truth to be ill-spoken of! To a light mind their conscious knowledge might expose to a slighting of their own masters more or less destitute or even opposed. But doing the truth in all lowliness and honouring each his own master is the simple, true, and efficient way of bringing glory to God and the truth.
Next comes the special circumstances of such as had believing masters. This privilege might seem to promise only comfort and blessing; and doubtless the difference of the atmosphere would be great. But every position has its snares and difficulties; and both masters and servants, if believers, would be as apt to expect a great deal mutually, as sometimes to be sorely disappointed. Hence the apostle guards with care the exception. "And let those that have faithful masters not despise them, because they are brethren, but the more serve, because those that partake of the benefit are faithful and beloved." It is needless to remark that the Rhemish with Wiclif is nearer the truth, not the other English translations which since Tyndale treat the last clause as part of the predicate. This beyond just controversy the article forbids, the force of which they overlooked. On the other hand Beza, Bengel, &c. are quite mistaken in the thought that the article with εὐεργεσίας points to God's beneficence in Christ, which would make here the poorest sense possible. The article is really due by implication, as often happens, to the previous phrase μ. δουλ. Faith does exalt the lowly and humble the proud; but it does not misuse communion in the Spirit to equality in the flesh. Rather would it teach the believers because they know this or that, instead of despising their masters, to render the more service, because those that reap their good service are believing and beloved. And there was then, as now, urgent need to impress these lessons on souls, particularly on such as are in the subject relationship. With these the apostle uniformly begins, when as in Ephesians and Colossians he exhorts both. A carnal acquaintance with the gospel readily falls in with the selfishness of the humbler class which shuts out Christ, and breeds socialism, the basest caricature of Christendom.
But it seems a strange division which severs that which follows from the foregoing, by taking "These things teach and exhort," either as the beginning of a new paragraph, as do Green, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Webster and Wilkinson, Westcott and Hort, Bengel, Matthaei, or as the end of the previous one as Ellicott and the Revised Version. It is better with Alford, Bloomfield, &c. to regard this as an unbroken context; and the more as the denunciatory warning which now commences stands in more evident contrariety to the exhortation just concluded. "If any one teach differently [play the strange teacher] and accede not to sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the teaching that is according to godliness, he is puffed up, knowing nothing, but sick about questionings, and word-disputes, out of which cometh envy, strife, revilings, evil suspicions, wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth, supposing that godliness is gain" (ver. 3-5).
Thus plainly does the apostle prepare his younger colleague to watch against the strange teaching that would undermine the truth in these things and substitute the proud and reckless will of man under fair pretences.
Some may think it strange that the apostle should speak so decidedly to Timothy. But let them weigh the moral judgment which this eminently sober servant of the Lord pronounces tinder the immediate power of the inspiring Spirit. None that fears God will tax him with undue severity; yet does he unqualifiedly condemn any man who taught a different teaching from what has been laid down. To undermine the relation of a servant to a master was heinous in his eyes, and not less so because fair pretexts and high sounding professions were put forward. For the duty of subjection flows from the relation, and it is strengthened, not relaxed, by the faith of those concerned. In every case supposed those under yoke are assumed to be believers: else they would not fall under the apostle's scope. In the latter case those in authority are represented as believers. In no case is a disrespectful, still less a rebellious, spirit tolerated; but every approach to it is repudiated as dishonouring God and the truth.
Nor is this all. For to teach otherwise is not to accede1 to sound words, even the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the teaching that is according to godliness. The Spirit of God descried socialistic principles impending, if not then at work, which drew out so sweeping and unsparing a rebuke. Can one conceive any censure more suited to check and destroy such a tendency? Who that knows what it is to be a sinner, owing every mercy to grace in Christ, would dare to persevere in a line of direct antagonism to His words who is the Lord of all and the ordained Judge of quick and dead? Who so satisfied with his own theories and pleadings as to despise the apostolic declaration that his doctrine was incompatible with that which is according to godliness? There is such a thing as, after knowing the way of righteousness, turning back from the holy commandment delivered to us. No true-hearted saint would trifle with so awful an admonition from such a quarter: he who would persist in trusting his own heart, spite of it, must reap the bitter fruit in the ruin not only of his testimony but of his soul; for God is not mocked, if man deceives himself. Corrupt teaching is of the enemy, and, if unjudged in the light that grace gives to expose it, cannot but issue in the worst results, especially for such as teach error where Christ is named and consequently all are responsible to set forth the truth.
Here too there is no excuse on the score of abstruse thought or delicate shades of expression. It is a question of fundamental morality, or, as the apostle puts it, "the teaching that is according to godliness." How blessed for us that Christ covers all truth, the highest and the humblest alike, our heavenly privileges and our most commonplace responsibilities! Nor is anything more perilous than the vaulting spirit that treats these ordinary proprieties of every day as of no moment in its one-sided zeal for union with Christ on high or the special glories of that great mystery. It is clear that our apostle gives no quarter to such shortsightedness; and the less where it is as arrogant and vituperative as it is rash and shallow. He is Himself the best example of a teaching which rests on foundations morally broad and deep, on which alone can be safely built that which melts into the light and glory of God's presence.
Hear how the apostle lashes the offender: " He is puffed up, knowing nothing, but sick about questionings and word-disputes." Is it not a faithful likeness. of mind at work without conscience, or heart, where Christ is only made the means of exalting the church, instead of the church subserving His glory?
We are sanctified by the, not by a, truth; but human one-sidedness (which ever boasts of its measure as all that is worth hearing, and so much the more, the narrower it is) is but the knowledge that puffs up. Think of Paul or even Timothy glorying in their friends as the men of intelligence in contrast with Peter or Apollos and those who appreciated them! No; they left such vain comparisons to the carnal Corinthians. Love builds up. This was the apostle's aim even in his withering exposure of the true character of this empty inflated teaching, which availed itself of the richest grace and highest truth to set aside the plain duties of every day in human relationships. And a great mercy it is, when simple souls who understand little else take their stand on the Christ they know and reject the sacrifice of common morals, whatever the showy pretensions which accompany or even extenuate such laxity. Their conscience, not yet depraved, assures them that it cannot be of God to treat grave sin lightly, while cultivating extreme zeal for ecclesiastical pretension or yielding to excessive pre-occupation with our peculiar and heavenly privileges. Partial views are but "knowledge," apt to minister directly to the egotism that cherishes only those who hold with them exclusively, to the disparagement, not only of saints less informed, but of those who, better taught and subject to Christ, cleave to the truth in all its immensity. For thus are we best kept both in the sense of our littleness and in love to all the saints, instead of being puffed up iii self-complacency and contempt of brethren generally. It is the budding of Gnosticism which is thus nipped by the apostle in more than one passage of the Epistle, though it afterwards assumed a far more subtle and malignant shape. But, whatever its form, it is the inevitable enemy that dogs the steps of the truth, ever claiming the highest value for its own chosen line, but none the less betraying its alien source and nature, not only by its pride and party-working, but by its palpable neglect of the teaching that is according to piety. This the truth promotes, because it is the revelation of Christ to the soul, and in Him who fills all things we learn practically as well as dogmatically that, as there is nothing too great for us who are by grace made one with Him, so there is nothing too small for God who went down to the dust of death in the person of His Son. The most despicable position on earth through the grace of Christ becomes the fairest field for magnifying Him in our body, whether by life or by death.
And equally sorrowful is the fruit: "whereof cometh envy, strife, revilings (or, blasphemies), wicked suspicions, wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth, supposing that godliness is gain." They are the unmistakeable works of the flesh excited by the hopes of turning piety to a selfish account. Far different is it when faith is at work through love! There the fruit of the Spirit cannot be hid in love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodliness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance; for Christ is the object, net self veiled under deceptive appearances only the mane loathsome to God, which therefore break out ere long into confusion and every evil work.
The last clause of vet.. 5 in the common text and the Authorised Version is rejected by all critics as destitute of adequate authority, though the Syrr. &c. favour the insertion. It seems like an answer to the last clause of 2 Tim. iii. 5, which is unquestionably genuine, though not in exactly the same terms. Here the exhortation is out of place; for it is only the hypothetic case of some one guilty of insinuating the false principles in question; whereas in the second Epistle it is an evil state that is positively predicted with directions how to act then. Further, the insertion in the first Epistle interrupts that connexion of the apostle's words, as any one can see in the context before us.
1) Bentley's conjecture is singularly confirmed by the Sinai Ms. which reads προσέχεται (with an itacism). Still there is no sufficient reason to abandon the common text supported by all other authorities.