Published: 13 November 2023

What Would You Sacrifice for the Kingdom?

Sacrifice for the Kingdom
Iron slave shackles. Photo:

Becoming a Christian in the modern Western world typically doesn’t entail significant personal sacrifice. Sure, we must repent of our sins and make lifestyle changes to follow Jesus. Nevertheless, this usually doesn’t create personal hardship in occupations. This hasn’t always been the case. In the early days of the church, the demands of the gospel required many Christians to sacrifice personal freedoms. Following Jesus may sometimes demand a significant sacrifice for the kingdom.

Slaves for the gospel’s sake

In 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Paul provided instructions to Christian slaves. Given that slavery is no longer applicable in most modern contexts, some Bible students tend to overlook these verses or apply them to employer-employee relationships. However, doing so may cause us to overlook a valuable lesson.

1 All who are under the yoke of slavery should regard their masters as fully worthy of honor, so that God’s name and our teaching will not be discredited. 2 Those who have believing masters should not show disrespect because they are brothers, but should serve them all the more, since those receiving their good service are beloved believers. Teach and encourage these principles. (1 Tim. 6:1-2 BEREAN)

Many, especially those who oppose Christ, have observed that Paul did not condemn slavery. They question why he missed the chance to do so. Did Paul lack social conscience? Did he not care about believers, his brothers and sisters in the Lord, being owned by others? Why did he instruct slaves to comply and serve their masters?

In these instructions, Paul’s primary concern is that Christians do not tarnish the name of God and His teachings (v. 1). The reason slaves were to honor their masters was evangelistic. You see, when a Christian slave honored their master it reflected positively on the church and God.

How do compliant Christian slaves serve the interests of the kingdom?

1 Timothy 6:1-2 suggests that Christian slaves longed for their Christian masters to recognize them as fellow believers, not mere subordinates. Verse 2 also implies something else. Some believing slaves might have become resentful, displayed disrespect, and possibly even acted insubordinate due to these unmet expectations.

“Believers’ abuse of their newly found freedom in Christ proved to be an issue in other churches (cf. Rom 14:1–23; 1 Cor 11:2–16; 1 Pet 2:11–18), and 1 Tim 6:2 shows that in the Ephesian church slaves were taking advantage of their spiritual relationship to their believing masters.”1

Paul was concerned that misbehaving and insubordinate Christian slaves could potentially damage the influence and reputation of the gospel.

“Slaves are to respect their masters not because slavery is a proper institution or because Paul supposedly has no social conscience. Rather, the success of the gospel is more significant than the lot of any one individual, and therefore slaves should behave in a way that does not bring reproach on the gospel.”2

The proclamation of the gospel was the number one priority. Social reform (i.e. abolition) must come about through the gospel’s influence, not through insubordination, rebellion, anarchy, or political pressure. 

Did Christian slave owners have any responsibility in this matter?

Did Christian masters have an obligation to free their slaves? Given that slavery was deeply entrenched in the ancient world, it’s plausible that Christian masters faced challenges in transitioning away from the practice, particularly all at once. This situation is akin to requesting modern society to swiftly eliminate electricity and fossil fuels, a task that would likely lead to chaos and significant social upheaval. Therefore, Paul advocated patience to ensure the continued spread of the gospel message.

So, slaves were to persist in their service, and they should also bear in mind that when they have a Christian master, they are serving a beloved brother. However, he did not let Christian masters off the hook. They too had to sacrifice for the kingdom.

“Although Paul does not aggressively attack the institution of slavery, his use of εὐεργεσία, “act of kindness,” reminds the master that the slaves ultimately are not slaves and should not be treated as such. This is similar to Paul’s statement to Philemon that he should receive Onesimus back “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (Phlm 16). Just as the slave views his master as a fellow Christian and works all the more, so also the master must realize that the slave is not ultimately a slave but a fellow Christian whose labors are acts of kindness.”3

Sacrificial love for Jesus

I cannot imagine the self-denial and sacrificial love for a fellow believer this would require. “It is difficult for someone in a society in which there is no slavery to understand the tension that must have existed between two believers when one owned the other and how the internal contradiction must have chafed against the slave’s conscience and faith.”4 This teaching of Paul’s was socially revolutionary within the culture of his day. Relationships between believers transcend the expectations of society. 

I wonder if there was ever a circumstance where a slave was an elder in the church and his Christian master had to submit to his slave’s spiritual leadership? In such a case, surely the master had to swallow his social pride as a sacrifice for the kingdom.

What are you willing to sacrifice for the kingdom?

The Christian slaves of Ephesus considered the gospel’s reputation to be more important than their personal gain. Their example and Paul’s admonition has direct relevance to Christians today. What personal sacrifices are we willing to make to ensure the concerns of the gospel are put first? 

  • If you are cheated by a fellow Christian, will you tarnish the gospel’s reputation by suing him in secular courts (1 Cor 6:1-8)? Will you put your own interest above kingdom interest?
  • If you are at liberty to engage in a behavior that is not inherently sinful, will you abstain for the sake of a brother’s conscience (Rom 14, 1 Cor 8:8-13)? Will you sacrifice your liberty for the sake of your brother?
  • If you are a pastor who, either rightly or wrongly, has been removed from a church, will you go across town and start a new congregation with those who followed you? Are you acting in your own self interest or the kingdom’s interest when you foster disunity (Jn 17:11, 21-23; Eph 4:3)?
  • If you are a Bible teacher, or author of biblical content, will you give away your knowledge for free (Mt 10:7-8)? Will you sacrifice personal financial gain for the benefit of the gospel?

Would we do these things to ensure the reputation of the kingdom? What would you sacrifice for the kingdom? 

Then Jesus said to all of them, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23 BEREAN)


  1. Mounce, William D. Word Biblical Commentary, Pastoral Epistles, Vol 46, Nelson, 2000, 648.
  2. Ibid., 650.
  3. Ibid., 652.
  4. Ibid., 651.