“Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and His doctrine be not blasphemed.”
The text above is one among many that demand of the servant that he honour his master. We shall refer to the others presently. This one uses literally the wordhonour and is an amplification of the teaching of Paul that we are to render honour to whom honour is due. The Paul who by divine inspiration declared that truth to the church at Rome also amplifies his teaching to Timothy and points out that servants are to honour their masters in order that the name of God and the truth concerning Him be not blasphemed.
That the text speaks of those who are in the very literal sense of the word slaves cannot be denied. Men under the yoke were men who had no choice as to whom they would work for and whose good they were obliged to seek. Scripture does not condemn slavery but unjust treatment of slaves. Paul writes a letter to Philemon whose slave had run away. He neither encourages nor upholds the flight for freedom; nor does he demand of Philemon that he set this slave free, especially since he is now a fellow believer. Many who would preach a “social gospel” today are concerned with an earthly freedom and equality that ignores and does violence to spiritual freedom and advocates dishonouring the superiors and authorities, in order to get a social freedom that does bring blasphemy to the name of God and His doctrine. Rendering honour to whom honour is due is still our calling today in our day of emancipation and abolishment of slavery in that literal sense. We are not, of course, advocating a return to the days before the Civil War, and of buying and selling of the bodies and souls of men. We are interested at the moment with honour to those in authority over us also in the sphere of our present day working conditions, and the social structure that speaks of employer and employee rather than master and slave, and even of capital and labor.
There is only one difference between the slave of yesterday and the employee of today and the honour which he must render to his master or employer. And that difference is that the employee of today has the privilege of choosing who it is for whom he will work, and whom he will so honour, and he can quit at any time he wishes; or he is in a position to draw up a contract for any specific period of time he and the employer choose and agree to mutually. The matter of obligation to honour the employer is not one whit different or less than it is between the slave and his master. A man may hire himself out and so become a willing servant. Shall we quibble about the words servant and slave? Scripture has one word which is correctly translated both ways. The doulos or slave of the text above, who is under the yoke, is designated no differently from the doulos who speaks in Luke 2:29 (None other than just and devout Simeon, who was waiting for the consolation of Israel) and declares, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace…” And Paul, who speaks of servants under the yoke to Timothy also calls himself such a doulos or servant. Let the servant who has hired himself out to his employer count his master worthy of all honour. That is the point.
The other passages which we mentioned a moment ago, Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9 and I Peter 2:18 simply speak of servants without the addition of “who are under the yoke.” And therefore every man employed by another today is under this obligation of rendering honour to his employer. How he got under the authority of another is not the question. He is under it. He is as surely under it when he willingly gives himself out for hire and agrees to work for the employer as he is when he is a servant bought with money or born of one bought with money. As one who hires himself out, he has agreed to place himself under the authority of another, and he is obliged to honour this man as his master in the sphere of the work which he has agreed to perform.
And it is not difficult to determine what that honour is which we must render to the man whose employees we are. We must count them worthy of the honour of being our masters. We dishonor them the moment we take things in our hands and assume their position. Peter warns us not only to be subject to the gentle employer but also to the froward, and that with all reverence and respect before him as the master who has the right to demand what he will of us. And he adds in I Peter 2:19, “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.” The sweat shops of a few years ago that spawned the organized labor movement were not unknown to Peter. He knew of the cruel bondage of Egypt upon Israel. He knew of brutal, arrogant and froward, that is crooked, perverse (as the word is used in Philippians 2:15), unfair, surly masters, for whom one would not like to work, if he could only escape.
And there exactly is the point today. We have not this slavery according to which we are bound to work for a certain employer. Let a man not satisfied with his wages, let a man who has been refused a raise by a surly, unfair, crooked, greedy employer give notice of quitting his job and of leaving when his contract has been filled. But let him not take things in his own hands. Let him not take to himself the honour of the employer and insist on holding his job but refusing to work and forbidding the employer to hire someone in his place. Let him not go on strike and boycott the establishment. Then he takes to himself the honour that is to be rendered to the employer. Then he gets up in the driver’s seat and tells the employer what to do. That is the evil of today’s labor unions. And they cause the name of God and His doctrine to be blasphemed when these strikers, these rioters, these revolutionists, these revolters carry the name of Christ and the name of member-of-His-Church into the battle!
Unionism itself is not evil. Let men unite and organize. God is a God of order and of organization. God is One, and He loves unity. But one must be organized on a good, spiritual, righteous foundation. And men must unite in the truth and in the love of God. Men must unite in order to do righteousness. Laboring men may unite, but then they must unite in order to honour their employers and never to dishonor them. Men may be organized as a group of employees, but then it must not be in order to try to make might be right. It never is and it can never be made to be right. The right is God-given, and all the employees in the world pitted against one employer cannot take from him the right that God has given him. Let men unite and organize and then with a united front let their desires (not demands) be made known to their employer. If then, in the light of the fact that so many have this same grievance or desire, the employer sees the justice of the claim or request, they have gained their point in an honest and righteous way. And the evil of the ten tribes was not that they asked unitedly for lighter taxes and a load more easy to bear. They were even willing to give Rehoboam time to consider and weigh their arguments. Their evil was that they would not continue to honour the foolish and churlish king. They took themselves from under his rule. They refused to honour him as their king. And they began to slide rapidly down to ruin and extinction as a nation. God is not mocked. He is not mocked today either in all the dishonouring and coercion and strikes and boycotts of today. We, as a nation are suffering for it and will suffer even more in the future. Lawlessness, riot, revolt, rebellion, revolution are spreading to every department of life in our country. And now there is no hope of putting on the brakes. We have priced ourselves out of many markets; and American manufacturers are forced to have their goods made in Japan to be sold here, because the Labor Unions have brought the manufacturers to the point where they cannot continue to pay and give paid vacations and benefits and turn out a product that will compete in price and even quality of imported goods. Not only that, but with every raise due to a prices; and the cost of living soars and inflation threatens the whole economy.
Holding a stick over the head of the employer is not honouring him as the employer. It is not walking in love with him. It is not walking in His fear and is utterly devoid of the love of God. And the name of God is blasphemed thereby. It is God Who put that man in the position where he could hire you. It is God Who gives him the right to decide how much he will pay you. We did not say that God gives him the right to underpay you. But God did give him the right to have the determination of that pay. If he is wise — and not foolish as Rehoboam — he will listen to you and weigh your cause, whether you come as an individual and explain your family needs, or whether you come through the representatives of a group, so that he sees that yours is not an isolated and personally prejudiced case, and he will, if he is a regenerated child of God who walks in his fear, give you what he can. If he does not, and you cannot support your family on that wage, you are free to leave his employment and seek it where you can. But you have no right to hold a stick over his head, threaten to cause him financial damage by shutting up his factory, destroy his property and the like. You dishonour him, and you blaspheme the name of God!
God is The Authority. And when you dishonour one whom He has invested with authority, you dishonour the God Who gave that authority. Paul says in Romans 13:2, “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” We live in a day and age when we do not like to have things stated so sharply. We want to be like God as much, and even more so, than Eve did, when she took the forbidden fruit to be able to be in the position where she could decide for herself what is good and what is evil. O, yes, that is the case with us as well as with the world. The church-world is not a sphere where one is isolated from the passions of the flesh. We need but remind you again of ten tribes in Israel, the sphere of the church, the church world of that day. Before that time it was Korah, Dathan and Abiram. And is not every sin that we commit simply an admission on our part that we want to be in God’s place, yea that we have in that very sin assumed the position where we do decide for ourselves what we are going to call good and evil?
It is so extremely difficult for us — and by the flesh impossible for us — to abide by the authority of those God placed over us and thus to render them the honour due unto them. If there is any way that we can manage to get our way and to circumvent their way, we are going to take it. We will let them keep the title and still go under the name of employer, but we will hold them in line with threats and harassments until in weariness they give in to our way. Our honour we will not lay in the dust for another upon whom God has bestowed an honour above us. Although we do not say it, and would perhaps be surprised if one would call our attention to it, we sound so often so very much like blasphemous Pharaoh who said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice?” Just a minute now. Calm down and consider, you who are ready to go on strike against the man upon whom God has vested the honour of being your master, you who have your employer “over the barrel” and now can and intend to “pour it on,” you who have managed to get your employer in a corner so that by force, by coercion, you threaten him with financial ruin, you who are willing to bring him much loss because you think that he has made you endure much loss, you who think your ideas are so far superior to his and intend to put pressure on him to get your way. Does or does not the Word of God say? “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.” Does or does not the Word of God say? “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the gentle, but also to the froward.” And when you intend to lord it over your employer and master him and bend and turn him to conform to your way of thinking, have you not said to God Who speaks in the verses above, “Who art Thou, that I should obey Thy voice?” To honour the employer, the master who stands above us with God’s authority, is to receive him as master, to leave him in the position of being master. Fail to do that and you blaspheme God’s name as surely as Pharaoh. He was open enough to come out with it in words to Moses. The rebel, the revolutionists, the rioters, the strikers, the boycotters, the users of force and threat over their superiors say it just as surely by their deeds. Unless we render all honour to those in authority over us we dishonour God and tell Him that we do not think that He is One Whose voice we have to obey.
What a society it really is then, in which we live! How little of His fear there is to be found anymore. How bold men have become. How sin has developed so that the branches of the tree hang low with all the evil fruit. It is almost ready for the harvest and the fire! But, the Lord willing, we will continue this element of honour to the employer next time.