“Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.”
Paul is giving instructions to young Titus concerning his ministry among the new Christians on the island of Crete. He must preach and teach the truth, and godliness of life that is consistent with the truth. One’s acknowledgment of the truth should be accompanied with godliness (), and Titus must keep on speaking and exhorting and rebuking with all authority those things that are consistent with sound doctrine ( ).
The people with whom Titus was working had been ungodly. They were living in the midst of ungodliness. Thus Titus is to be very specific in showing the new Christians how the teachings of gracious salvation are not only to be believed but also to be lived (; ; ). After helping Titus see how godliness is to characterize the various age groups in the Christian churches, he then shows how godliness is to be evidenced in the lives of converted slaves.
Notice that spiritual conversion does not free one from slavery. Slaves will remain slaves (as Paul taught Onesimus in his letter to Philemon). But salvation from sin by grace makes them more useful slaves.
The Chief Calling of Slaves Who Are Christians
Among the new Christians in the churches on Crete were servants/slaves. A slave was owned by another. He was completely dependent on his master, and he was expected to obey him. He or she was the property of the master and called to do his bidding 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The master/lord was to care for the slave, providing food, housing, and clothing. In this connection, notice that Paul identified himself as a slave of God (). He saw himself to be in the 24-hour a day service of his Master. This was not the case simply because Paul was an apostle. This was the case for Paul in the same way that it is true for everyone who is not his own but is bought with the precious blood of his Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
There were also hired servants in the churches in Crete. They were free men who worked for wages for whomever they chose. God’s law severely restricted an Israelite’s use of slaves. Hired servants were therefore more common than slaves in Israel. While a hired servant could work for whom he would, Scripture gives the same instruction to a hired servant as it does to a slave. Consider; ; ; and ff. As long as a hired person agrees to work for someone, he is that person’s servant ( ff.).
Whatever Scripture says to those who are slaves, it says in effect to employees. While an employee is not the property of the employer, the employee must recognize the authority of the employer to be that of God, which authority must be honored according to the fifth commandment. We will make that application.
The chief duty of the slave (employee) is to “be obedient.” While it is translated “obedient,” the Greek word in the original emphasizes submission rather than obedience. It means “to arrange under, to subordinate, to place oneself under, to submit to one’s control, to yield.” Submission is the chief duty because the employer/master is placed by God in a position of authority. As in the other spheres of authority (home, church, and state), so the employer/master has the God-given right to rule his employees/slaves in the work. And the employee is to submit to that authority.
The goal of this submission is to be well-pleasing to the master in all things. That is the meaning of the phrase, “to please them well in all things.” Many workers submit, but not in an attempt to be well-pleasing to their employer. Most of the time we submit in order to protect our jobs or so we do not jeopardize a potential pay raise or promotion. But Jesus expects the employees/slaves whom He saves to seek to please their employers in all things by doing everything that is required of them. To do anything other than try to please his employer/master is rebellion against God-ordained authority. While the near goal is to please the employer, the ultimate goal is to please God!
Three Implications Arising from This Calling of Submission
The first implication is, “not answering again.” This refers to speaking against or contradicting. To answer again is to complain. This complaining is sometimes brought to the employer. But it is often also voiced to others. Both are equally wrong. There is a correct way to bring a complaint. It must be brought in an attitude of request, with a readiness to submit (or seek employment elsewhere). And it must be motivated by a desire to promote the well-being of the business. To “answer again” is not the way to be well-pleasing to God-ordained authority.
The second implication is “not purloining.” This is the activity of setting apart for oneself, i.e., embezzling. This can be the outright theft of money, tools, or materials, or it can be working as little as possible for one’s wages. Every employee has the calling to be very conscientious in his working, so that he is not wasteful, inefficient, or indifferent. Many consider their stealing to be justified if, as they think, their employer does not pay enough. But God considers all purloining to be a violation of the eighth commandment. It is never justified!
The third implication is the positive calling to show “all good fidelity.” This refers to the character trait of being reliable and trustworthy. An employee who is a Christian must inspire the confidence of his employer. This is accomplished by the manner in which he works and by the attitude he exhibits toward his work. This is a loyalty to the business and a genuine concern for the business and for the employer’s affairs. This attitude stands over against that of those who are concerned only about their job and their paycheck. And it stands over against shoddy workmanship and absenteeism. The calling to show good fidelity implies that a labor strike is nothing less than an act of rebellion against God-ordained authority. God calls the Christian employee to show personal loyalty by promoting the welfare of the employer in every way he is able. Then he will be judged to be dependable and reliable.
The Purpose for Godliness in Christian Employees
This passage gives as the purpose of such Christian conduct by slaves and servants this: “that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.” One’s conduct and attitude at work is a powerful indication to others of what we believe and confess.
What the Christian professes to believe is the teachings of God, who is our Savior. This is the “sound doctrine” of verse 1. These are the health-giving (“sound”) teachings and instructions of Scripture concerning Jesus Christ, the Savior, our God. The profession of these beliefs should be evidenced in a certain lifestyle. A lifestyle inconsistent with one’s profession indicates that the profession is of poor quality. It is one thing to say that you believe these doctrines, but it is another thing truly to believe them. True faith is always evidenced in a godly life.
This must be true for every Christian. For males and for females. For the older and for the young. For the free and for the slaves.
Paul explains that our conduct is to “adorn” what we believe. Our conduct and the attitude our conduct exhibits are to embellish, ornament, add to the beauty of what we believe. A godly life that is consistent with or harmonizes with the beautiful doctrines of salvation by grace alone in Christ alone adorns those doctrines. Otherwise the name of God and His doctrine are blasphemed (b).
This is the calling of every believer! In a unique way this is the calling of servants and employees.