Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. (1 Timothy 6:1-2)
Accepting a hierarchy of authority is difficult for the Western mind. We tend to believe in upward mobility so much we are repelled at the idea of accepting any non-autonomous status. To this democratic egalitarianism has been added the more sinister effects of Marxism. Marx saw inherent conflict of interest and the victimization of the proletariat by the bourgeois. Those who follow the thinking of Marx see contempt for their superiors as natural and just. Dissatisfaction and envy then dominate their relationship with superiors.
What Paul said to Timothy is especially pertinent to the employer-employee relationship because Paul spoke regarding a situation far more onerous to the modern mind—the master-bondservant relationship. Paul commands servants "under the yoke" to "count their own masters worthy of all honor." He requires voluntary submission. He does not discuss the justice of their servitude, only their de facto status.
When Paul says they must "count," he is saying how they must consider; he is commanding that they think in a certain way. Too many have taken ideas of civil liberty into the church. When presented with what Scripture says on a particular point they all too often reply with "But I think . . ." or "I don't see why. . . ." Every sinner wants not only to be king of the hill; he wants to "be as gods" (Gen.3:5) determining good and evil for himself. Paul says what a godly man is to think.
Servants are commanded to count their masters "worthy." This brings into view their obligation. They must not only think good thoughts about their masters; they must consider them deserving "of honor," which goes beyond outward obedience and involves a diligence in their faithfulness. To honor someone is to respect his position in God's providence. For a bondservant to respect a master in thought and in service would be a difficult thing, but an employee should have much less difficulty. He is not in a position of injustice but one of voluntary contract. If he feels any injustice as a free man he has recourse to resolve the matter without seething over his pretended victimization.
It is not always easy to honor those in authority, but lawlessness and anarchism have absolutely no justification in Scripture. God's providence has placed all of us in our respective positions. We must first recognize that providence and acknowledge that God's plan for us must supersede our own. Our egos must at times be suppressed if the Son of God humbled himself in submission to the Father's will. Paul apologized for unknowingly speaking harshly to the high priest. When Paul referred to himself as "an apostle of Jesus Christ," he did convey his authority but only by subordinating it to that of the Messiah. We must know our position. We cannot give due service and honor unless we believe it is our responsibility and we desire to do it faithfully. Our nation was once known for its Puritan work ethic; we can only return to such a work ethic by seeing work as a means of serving God in our calling.
Paul urges good attitudes and work ethics "that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed." It may have been that the converted slaves of unbelievers were under the mistaken impression that liberty in Jesus Christ might mean liberty from servitude. If all men in Christ are brothers and all are equal before the throne of the Father, one might assume no man may be superior to another. This would have been a natural, if flawed, error to those oppressed by the harshness of servitude. Men want to expect their own betterment. But Calvin said, "We are always more ingenious than we should be when it comes to seeking our own advantage." Paul's warning was given so that the name of God and the Christian Faith not be blasphemed or spoken evil of. This was probably a reference to accusations of sedition. The gospel message is not one of rebellion, but of restoration. It is not one of revolution, but of regeneration. Sedition was a charge used against both Christ and Paul. It is a serious threat to a culture and is one true patriots and Christians should avoid.
If Christians should obey unbelieving masters they most certainly should obey those who are of the Faith. The belief that you can do anything can help you accomplish great things, but it can also lead to great dissatisfaction with your current state. Yet dissatisfaction without the moral and legal pursuit of something better leads to discontent, bitterness, and revolutionary anarchy. We can be assured that we are equals with the highest men of our or any age in what matters most — we are adopted as the children of God and are joint heirs with Christ. This should cause us to bear our earthly calling with patience and humility.