July 26, 2020
Dave Zuleger (South Campus) | 1 Peter 2:18-25
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.—1 Peter 2:18–25
Introduction: The Horrors of Slavery and the Hope of a New Identity
Last week, we looked at what would have been a hard word of submission for a people under a leader like Nero who likely started his own city on fire and blamed Christians— a leader who would eventually round up Christians and use them as human torches at his immoral parties. We talked about how when we submit in areas where we are not called to sin, then when we must resist because the authorities are asking us to disobey God—it shows we actually stand for Jesus Christ. This is what it means to free. We are free servants of God, submitting to those he calls us to submit to when it is not sin and standing against them if they do require us to sin—because we ultimately serve the Lord, not man.
Our passage today would have been another hard word. The apostle Peter uses a different word here for slaves than he did a few verses earlier speaking about us as servants. The word here is used for household servants. In fact, Peter uses this word because I think until 1 Peter 3:7, he is now addressing the typical Roman “household”—husband, wife, family, and servant-slaves. But, as I’ve researched, most of these folks would have been slaves—people owned by their masters—rather than servants in a business arrangement.
Many of us are aware of the dehumanizing horrors of slavery in our own country and the abuses that characterized it. So, because that’s the lens we often see this word through. It’s important to say what was similar and what was different.
First, let me say what was different about Roman slavery compared to American slavery.
So, as Peter writes, he writes into a bit of a more diverse situation where there were lots of variables at play. However, let me also say what was similar about this Roman and American slavery:
Those are the horrors of slavery. Human beings devaluing other human beings for the sake of power and position. It is ugly. And that is what Peter is writing into. This is another hard word. What we will see again is Peter is going to shift their focus to the hope of their new identity. It is likely that many of the new believers were slaves and Peter wants them to remember their primary identity was as free in Christ to follow him. So, with that background, let’s look at the text.
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
I want you to remember verses 11–12 as we read this text. Our call is to fight our own sinful desires and to fill the place the Lord has placed us with beautiful conduct that shows the beauty of our King. That’s the whole point of everything we will cover in 2:11–4:11. Notice two repeated phrases from our passage last week.
Be subject and do good.
A general posture of submission to those in authority and a commitment to do good. As these commands are obeyed in real life, there would be a need to walk in radical submission to Christ and wisdom.
Peter is asking these household servants to generally have a posture of submission to those who are over them. And yet he is also asking them to fill that spot they are in with beautiful conduct that shows they ultimately submit to Christ. A posture of submission would be part of that good—but we also realize doing “good” as a servant of Christ could mean problems. A servant with a master who might ask them to do something that is evil in God’s eyes could not do it! So here again we have general submission that will shine the faithfulness to Christ when there must be resistance.
When might these things come into conflict? You can imagine a servant who has come to know Jesus Christ and call him Lord being asked to participate in the family worship of one of the many Roman gods. They would not be able to do that! You can imagine a slave beginning to have the courage to speak up against cruel, unjust treatment of themselves or others as they follow Christ. You can imagine a servant wanting to gather with believers nearby and a master finding out and punishing them because of the horrible way Christians were characterized.
A general posture of submission—yet an ultimate allegiance to “doing good.” Notice that Peter doesn’t urge them to avoid suffering—he urges them to suffer for what is good not what is evil. This is similar to the call in our last passage. We should not use our freedom as a cover-up for evil but as servants of God. In the same way, these servants should not suffer for doing evil deeds. Rather, they should fill up this place they find themselves in with “good”—beautiful conduct—and if they suffer for that, then it is a beautiful thing in the sight of God. Paul gives them two phrases to help them walk through this suffering.
Be Mindful of God. In everything they do, they are mindful of God. This is actually the word for their consciences. They are to always have their consciences calibrated toward God and therefore be eager to submit as he is calling them to, even it means suffering.
A gracious thing in the sight of God. As they obey their God and calibrate their conscience towards him—even when they suffer for doing good, even when they endure unjust treatment by cruel, twisted masters—they will find God’s grace coming to them in his presence. God will be with them in their suffering and he will pour out grace for the moment and grace to endure as they obey him as their ultimate master.
Again, Peter is calling Christians to fill the sphere of influence where God has placed them with the beautiful conduct that points to the beauty of their King—that the aroma of Christ would infect every nook and cranny of society. Now, this begs the question, does the Bible not care about the wrong attitudes found in slavery? I think it does, but rather than a focus on societal change appealing to pagan rulers, it appeals to a change from the inside-out from a new nation within the empire.
If you go to 1 Corinthians 7:21–23 for example, the apostle Paul says this:
Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is ta bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.
Paul is appealing to their new identities. Are you a servant? No, you’re free in Christ. Are you free? No, you’re a servant of Christ. All bought with a price. All have our ultimate master as Jesus and not man.
Or, consider where, in the book of Philemon, Paul is writing to Onesimus about his slave who had run away. Paul implores him to think of the return of his servant as “a brother” and to receive the servant back “as you would receive me.” Then, Paul says, he is confident that Onesimus “will do even more than he says.” Notice the re-ordering of identities again. No longer “master-slave,” mainly but “brothers” in Christ.
Where the gospel takes root and creates a new nation and a new family with allegiance to Jesus as ultimate and love for one another with deeper roots than any other identity, slavery cannot remain. The roots of slavery are pride and power—the gospel of Jesus pulls those out by the roots when it brings about humility, self-giving family love, and a recognition of the image of God in every human being.
Yet, while this enterprise remained, Peter called his hearers to submission and to doing good that would show the beauty of their ultimate King. While this enterprise remained, Peter called them to be mindful of God in all they did and willing to endure suffering knowing that God would pour out his gracious power and presence to sustain them. Imagine the counter-cultural witness it would have been to see a servant as submissive to his master as he could be, yet with ultimate allegiance to God. Eventually, this good and beautiful conduct would have been impossible to ignore, and Jesus would be seen to be supreme and sufficient as their Savior and their Lord.
Read the history. Eventually that’s exactly what happened in Rome.
Why does Peter call them to this? Because it shines forth the beauty of the ultimate suffering servant—Jesus Christ.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
They’ve been called to this by God. What a calling. God places us where he will for his purposes. Christ also suffered leaving an example to follow in. All of these pictures are taken from Isaiah 53 that speaks of the Suffering Servant of the Lord who would come to suffer unjustly to redeem people from their sins and create a new people.
Jesus did good. In fact, he never committed sin. Can you imagine someone like that? Can you imagine a day without sinful thoughts or actions in your own life? Jesus never sinned. He came into our mess and he never sinned. There was no deceit found in mouth. Never misleading words. Never manipulation. Never telling half-truths. He always did good. He was tempted in every way we are, yet without sin.
When Jesus was mocked and reviled he did not match the mocking or the reviling. He was silent. He kept his eyes on his Father. When he suffered unjustly, he did not threaten and shake his fists at the unjust masters ordering his beatings, mocking, or crucifixion. Instead, he entrusted all things to his Father—the one who always judges justly and the one who will bring about final, perfect justice for eternity. Perfect justice is coming. It will either come in eternal punishment in hell for those who reject Christ, or it has already come on the cross of Christ for those who trust him.
How could these servants endure unjust treatment and continue to do good in hard suffering? Follow Jesus in his suffering. Follow Jesus in trusting the one who judges justly. Keep doing good with Jesus as Master and submit to the foolish masters of your household over you knowing that your desire is that they would see Jesus and be saved. But if not, they will be judged by the perfect Judge one day soon.
As the people were called to endure and do good, Peter reminds them that they have a Savior and Lord who himself was the Suffering Servant who suffered unjustly to save sinners. He is their example. He understands their pain. He has walked this path before them. He promises to be with them as they follow him. And he will bring about ultimate justice one day soon.
Application: Entrusting Ourselves to and Empowered by Our Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 2:24–25)
I’ll just confess to wrestling through an application for us. And I decided that I could make the argument from the greater to the lesser. If Peter could call these servant-slaves to this kind of Christlike suffering, submission, and doing good with the promise of the Lord’s presence, favor, and justice coming, then certainly we can entrust ourselves to him as our Chief Shepherd as well, right?
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
We were straying toward eternal punishment like foolish sheep but have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. Jesus paid the price to bring us back. Jesus died for us while were yet sinners. Jesus has begun the process of healing our souls by his blood and the indwelling presence of his Spirit. Those promises were enough for Peter to call for radical obedience and beautiful behavior and suffering and submission of these folks—certainly they are enough for us as well.
Do you seek to entrust all of your life to God? I find that I need to do this even as a good Calvinist. This is simply the call in all of the brokenness and suffering of this life in general. That could be cancer or criticism. It can be disability or division in relationships. It can be broken bodies or broken relationships. Do you entrust it to God? Do you open your hands and say, “Not my will but yours be done”? Are his promises enough as you endure pain and persecution?
I need to stop and remember that God has numbered my days before there was one of them. I need to remember that no matter what else is going on that my God predestined me unto adoption as his child and is pursuing me with goodness and mercy every day of my life. I need to remember that he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for me, how will he not also with him graciously give me all things I need to endure? I need to remember that my Savior knows suffering and is well-acquainted with grief so that he is a merciful high priest who is always with me and interceding for me. I need to remember that I was broken beyond repair without any ability to heal myself—and by his wounds, I have been healed!
There very well could be days ahead where mocking and maligning of Christianity will be on the rise. You may find those in authority over you eager to cause you pain and malign you. Perhaps it is an employer. Perhaps it is local official. There are all sorts of places where authority exists. What do you do? Submit to them where you can. And fill wherever you are with beautiful conduct that shines the beauty of your King. Entrust all of your life to God. Live all of your life mindful of God. Know that he promises his presence and power to endure. Know that ultimate justice is coming soon.
I saved one last little point for last. If we look back at verse 18, it says to be subject with all “respect.” That is the same word for fear that we just saw in verse 17, where it says “fear God.” It’s the same word we see when it says to “fear our Father” back in chapter 1. I think the call is to carry out this submission in the fear of God. In other words, you can do this hard word and fill this place with the beauty of Jesus because you walk in a holy trembling before God more than you fear any man. The fear of God casts out all other fears because perfect love casts out fear. The fear of God reminds you that you are a child of God and can submit even to his hard words because they are for your good and you can trust him and follow him and obey him.
Do you operate from fear of God or fear of others things? Are you prone to shake your fist and fight back? Are you prone to anger, harsh words, and fighting fire with fire? Or are you prone to good to those who hate you as you entrust your life to God and walk in love?
We are no longer slaves to fear of other things, because we live in the fear of God and therefore are free to love others even in the most difficult circumstances.
Let me leave you with the words of Jesus we read last week from Luke 6:33, 35:
And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.