Much of this chapter is devoted to exhortations against yielding to ideas and practices which believers might be tempted to adopt under the influence of the world. It has five parts :–
Verse 1. Let as many as are servants under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour,–the word rendered “servants" is douloi, bondservants (from deo, to bind). The practice of slavery was widespread in the Roman world. In large cities considerable numbers of the converts were slaves, and the problems arising therefrom were difficult. The way in which apostolic instructions met them is set forth here, and elsewhere, e.g., in 1 Cor. 7. 21-24; Eph. 6. 5; Col. 3. 22; Tit. 2. 9; Philm. and 1 Pet. 2. 18. On this see further at the end of the next verse.
The phrase “under the yoke" may indicate that the primary reference in this verse is to those who were under heathen masters in contrast to those who had “believing masters.” The exhortation, however, would apply to all bondservants. On the other hand the contrast may be to those erstwhile slaves who had become “freedmen" (on which subject see 1 Cor. 7. 21, 22). This is perhaps suggested by the order, lit., ‘under the yoke (as) slaves.’ In Roman law a freedman, unless he became such by the operation of law, remained the client of his master, and both were bound by the mutual obligations arising out of that relation. It was often a pecuniary advantage to the master to liberate his slave. He obtained a payment which enabled him to buy a substitute and at the same time gain a client. A freedman would therefore cease to be “under the yoke" technically. Cp. The circumstances in Israel. Ex. 21. 5.
There is no stress on the word “their own" as if in contradistinction to other masters; the word idios here practically has the meaning of “several”; the word had a tendency to be weakened in force (cp. Eph. 5. 22).
The fact that converted slaves enjoyed the spiritual liberty wherewith Christ had made them free, did not nullify the obligation of respect due to their masters.
that the name of God and the doctrine be not blasphemed.–if submissiveness to masters were not maintained by converted slaves, the heathen would reasonably, from their own point of view, judge of their professed Christianity by their rebellious conduct, and speak evil of Him whose attributes and character they professed to acknowledge, who was the sole object of their worship, and consequently the doctrines of the faith would be stigmatized; see especially Tit. 2. 10.
Verse 2. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but let them serve them the rather,–more literally, ‘ those who have believers as their masters.’ For the word kataphroned, to despise, lit., to think down upon, hence, to think slightingly of, see at 4. 12.
The “they" refers to the masters. The word translated “the rather’ bears stress and is thus better rendered in the R.V. than the A.V. “rather.” The word rendered “let them serve" is douleuo, corresponding to the noun doulos, a bondservant.
Equality of membership in God’s family affords no pretext for refusing respectful loyalty to superiors and attention to duty. To presume on the spiritual liberty, equality and fraternity enjoyed in Christ is to act upon principles alien to the teaching of the Scriptures.
because they that partake of the benefit are believing and beloved.–the word rendered “benefit" is euergesia, lit., ‘good work,’ and here betokens the higher quality of the service rendered by the Christian slave, service done with a right motive; “they that partake" of it are the masters (the phrase is the subject of the sentence, as in the R.V.), who are described as “believing" (or ‘believers’) and “beloved.” The A.V. rendering is incorrect.
The word antilambano, lit., to take (or lay) hold of, or to take in turn, has the meaning here of partaking of; elsewhere in the N.T. it denotes to help, Luke 1. 54; Acts 20. 35.
These things teach and exhort.–"These things" refers to what precedes; cp. 4. 11, where see Notes, and Tit, 2. 15.
It has been laid to the charge of the apostle, on the ground of what he inculcates here and elsewhere, that he countenanced slavery. The imputation is baseless. Christ did not commission the apostles to interfere with existing social relations, or to endeavour to alter civil and political conditions. Their duty and aim were to preach the gospel, that men might be saved, and to teach the doctrines of the faith and thus to lead converts to maintain a life-testimony worthy of Christ, They did not denounce abuses, but insisted on principles which necessarily led to their abolition.
As Ellicott says,” It was perhaps the most perplexing question of all the questions Christianity had to face"–this one of slavery.
- It entered into all grades and ranks. It was common to all peoples and nations. The very fabric of society seemed knit and bound together by this miserable institution. War and commerce were equally responsible for slavery in the old world. To attempt to uproot it, to preach against it, to represent it in public teaching as hateful to God and shameful to man–would have been to preach and to teach rebellion and revolution in its darkest and most violent form.”
As a matter of fact Christianity eventually did far more to ameliorate social conditions than would have been the case if its preachers and teachers had attempted to interfere with them. The Christian faith is an expulsive, as well as an attractive, force. It was not long in the early history of the present era before slavery ceased to exist in the Roman world.
Verse 3. If any man teacheth a different doctrine,–the verb rendered “teacheth a different doctrine” (A.V., “teach otherwise") is the same as that in 1. 3, where see Note. It is here used in contrast to “teach” in the preceding verse. There is a connection with the injunctions concerning converted servants; if such made their Christianity a pretext for endeavouring to gain worldly advantage, their example would give encouragement to suppose that “godliness is a way of gain" (verse 5).
and consenteth not to sound words,–the verb rendered “consenteth" usually means ‘to approach,’ but here has its later sense of assent of the mind. For “sound," or wholesome, words see on 1. 10.
even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ,–there is no reference to actual words spoken by the Lord as recorded in the N.T., but what He taught provided the standard of apostolic teaching, and the Lord Himself is the source of sound doctrine, which thereby conforms to what He Himself taught.
and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;–cp. 1. 10 and 2. 2, and see Notes there. The effects in life and conduct are the test of the soundness of the teaching. The doctrine of Scripture is always practical, it never consists of merely theological tenets, it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness”; it furnishes the man of God “unto every good work.”
Verse 4. he is puffed up,–see on 3. 6.
knowing nothing,–i.e., having no conception of the true meaning, purpose, and power of the doctrine which is according to godliness.
but doting about questionings and disputes of words,–the verb noseo, rendered “doting," primarily means to be ill, to be diseased, or, used of the mind, to be morbidly occupied with anything; hence, to be unsound (cp. Jer. 50. 36).
For “questioning" see on 1. 4. The word logamachia, might mean either wordy quarrels or quarrels about words. The latter seems to be the meaning.
whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,–the first two are in the longer lists in Rom. 1. 29, 30 and Gal. 5. 19-21; see also Phil. 1. 15; phthonos, envy, differs from jealousy, though it forms an element in it; envy is discontent with another person’s superiority or advantage; it desires merely to deprive another of what he has; jealousy also desires to have the same or a similar thing for itself.
"Strife" is the expression of enmity. “Railing" is the translation of blasphemia; besides its meaning “blasphemy" or speech defamatory of God, it has the general sense, as here, of any contumelious speech, reviling, or calumny.
Surmisings are suppositions or suspicions ( huponoia, lit., ‘underthinking’ is used here only in the N.T.).
Verse 5. wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth,–the word rendered “wranglings" denotes mutual irritations or constant strife. The A.V. marg. has “gallings one of another.”
The R.V. ‘'corrupted in mind" expresses the original more closely than the A.V., “of corrupt minds”; the implication is that there was a time when they were not in that deplorable condition. The believer needs to be on his guard against any and every influence or teaching that, unchecked, would produce such a condition. Cp. the characteristic of the old nature in Eph. 4. 22, and see 2 Cor. 11. 3.
So again with the phrase “bereft of the truth”; the A.V. “destitute of" implies that they never had the truth. But, as with incipient corruption and its process, those referred to were guilty of defection from the truth they once held. The corrupting of the mind and the loss of the truth are to one another as cause and effect. Cp. 1. 19.
supposing that godliness is a way of gain.–the order of the words in the original, and the grammatical construction, confirm the accuracy of the R.V. rendering. The A.V. “gain is godliness" misses the meaning.
Such teaching (the result of pride, prejudice, and self-aggrandise-ment on the part of the false teachers) might fall on ready ears in the case of slaves, but the danger was not confined to them, as the following context shows. The evil of the profession of the Christian religion and the holding of ecclesiastical positions in the churches, as a means of self-enrichment, has been far from absent in the history of Christendom. Priestcraft provides the most noteworthy examples of the evil. Cp. Tit. 1. 11; 2 Pet. 2. 3.
For eusebeia, “godliness," see 2. 2; 3. 16; 4. 7, 8; 6. 3. Porismos primarily denotes a providing; hence, a gainful business, a way of gain.
Verse 6. But godliness with contentment is great gain :–the evil of supposing that godliness is a way of worldly gain, leads the apostle to represent the true relations of believers to earthly welfare and belongings. There is indeed an advantage, even in the present life, in godliness if accompanied by “contentment.”
The word autarkeia here signifies the satisfaction with one’s circumstances which renders a person free from dependence upon other resources than those provided by the Lord. It is used elsewhere in the N.T. in 2 Cor. 9. 8, where it is rendered “sufficiency.”
The corresponding adjective autarkes, “content" which is found only in Phil. 4. 11, expresses exactly what is here set forth, and marks the apostle as himself an example of what he now indicates.
He who apprehends that he is here a “sojourner and a pilgrim" trains himself to be satisfied with the supply of his strictly personal needs. The acquisition of wealth is not in itself an evil, when, having been received from the Lordr it is placed at His disposal and so used for His glory. It does not necessarily involve an abandonment of “godliness with contentment.” See further on verse 8.
Verse 7. for we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out;–cp. Job 1. 21; Psa. 49. 17; Eccles. 5. 15. The reference is of course to earthly possessions. This verse is quoted by Polycarp in his letter to the Philippians, written early in the second century, giving evidence that Paul’s Epistle was known in the churches at that time.
Verse 8. but having food and covering we shall be therewith content.–the word skepasma may include shelter as well as clothing, just as we say “board and lodging.” It is used in the plural and found here only. The verb rendered “we shall be content" corresponds to the latter part of the noun rendered contentment in verse 6. The meaning here is ‘we shall have a sufficiency’; i.e., food and clothing are enough, and concerning these the Lord tells us not to be anxious (Matt. 6. 25, 26). In Heb. 13. 5 (where the word rendered “content" is the same verb as in this verse) the commandment “be ye free from the love of money, content with such things as ye have" is accompanied by the assurance “for Himself hath said, I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in anywise forsake.” God’s kind provision and assurance are designed to keep our contentment unbroken.
Verse 9. But they that desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts,–the
word boulomai, rendered “desire” (A.V., “will"), implies a deliberate grasping after wealth as a dominating object in life. For the use of the word, cp. 2. 8; 5. 14; Tit. 3. 8. The danger lies in attempting to acquire for one’s own ends more than satisfies one’s needs; cp. Prov. 28. 20.
For the word empipto, to fall into, see at 3. 6, 7. There is perhaps a suggestion of various stages in the descent to which the desire leads. To begin with, there is certainly in aiming at the increase of riches a temptation to aim at the acquisition of more, and this carried with it the danger of gaining it by doubtful or unrighteous means, a veritable snare. This pagis, or trap, is used in 3. 7 of the allurements to evil by which the Devil ensnares a person. See also 2 Tim. 2. 26. Here it indicates the seductions to evil which result from tendencies within. There is a further snare of being involved in worldly associations.
The series now broadens out to a variety of foolish and hurtful lusts; foolish because the determination to obtain wealth tends to involve a passionate craving for things undesirable; hurtful because of the injury done not only to the soul but to the body.
such as drown men in destruction and perdition.–the metaphor of drowning is suggestive of the suddenness with which calamity falls upon the self-willed aspirant. What may appear to outward observers as a sudden disaster is here shown to be the climax of a course of evil.
The word buthizo denotes to plunge into a depth, to sink. The word olethros, destruction, is found elsewhere in the N.T. only in 1 Cor. 5. 5; 1 Thess. 5. 3; 2 Thess. 1. 9. It denotes ruin, and like its synonyms, apoleia and phthora, signifies not the destruction of being but of well-being, not an end of the existence of a person or thing.
Verse 10. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil:–this confirms the statement in the preceding verse as to the desire to be rich. “The love of money" is represented in the original by the single word philarguria (from phileo, to love, and arguros, silver). Th£ R.V. “a root" is the correct rendering, in contrast to the A.V. “the root.” There are other passions which are productive of evil; yet there is no sort of evil which the craving for wealth may not induce. It has originated every sort of crime in the history of humanity. The love of money is one form of covetousness. As Trench points out, covetousness (pleonexia) is the genus of which philarguria is the species. The word rendered “evil" is in the plural. Not merely miserliness is in view, but any sort of craving for wealth.
which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith,–the word orego means to reach or stretch out, not to covet, as in the A.V. A believer who directs his every effort to obtain money cannot avoid the danger of apostasy from the faith, and the evil does not rest with such departure. Some of the converts at Ephesus had for the sake of gold lost their first love and their loyalty to the truth, and such delinquency cannot but have had a blighting effect upon the assembly and its testimony. The similar sin of Achan disastrously affected the entire company of the Israelites.
and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.–seduction from the faith robs the believer of joy and, sooner or later, has the effects of the gnawings of conscience and a remorse which brings other sorrows in its train. How important then to give heed to the command “be ye free from the love of money” (Heb. 13. 5, R.V.; see also Psa. 16. 4).
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