1 Peter 2:18-25 Submission of Slaves
18 Household slaves, submit with all fear to your masters, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel. 19 For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God.
21 For you were called to this,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
so that you should follow in His steps.
22 He did not commit sin,
and no deceit was found in His mouth;
23 when He was reviled,
He did not revile in return;
when He was suffering,
He did not threaten
but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.
24 He Himself bore our sins
in His body on the tree,
so that, having died to sins,
we might live for righteousness;
you have been healed by His wounds.
25 For you were like sheep going astray,
but you have now returned
to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (HCSB)
Because of the potentially sensitive nature of the central theme at the beginning of this passage, slaves and slavery, it is essential that we have a correct understanding of slavery in the 1st century, as in many ways it is significantly different from modern slavery, especially the issue of slavery in American history.
Characteristics of slaves/slavery in the ancient Greco-Roman World.
- Many slaves lived a miserable existence, especially those who worked in mines.
- However, many slaves served in what would today be considered a professional occupation.
- It was not unknown for a slave to have a higher education than their master.
- Many household slaves were loved and trusted by the family they worked for.
- Some slaves owned their own slaves.
- Slavery was not based on race.
- Slaves could suffer brutal treatment from cruel masters.
- Children born in slavery belonged to the master.
- They were subject to any form of abuse one could imagine.
- Manumission – the process of purchasing their freedom.
- Required help from their master.
- Usually only available for urban slaves.
- Most slaves had no hope of this possibility.
Now that we have an understanding of what Greco-Roman slavery looked like, it is important to discuss the New Testament’s position on slavery.
- It is not commanded to be part of the social structure.
- It is regulated as part of the social fabric.
- The argument that the early church should have vigorously fought against slavery ignores the fact that the early church had little power, and slavery was such a normal and accepted practice that the church would have been doomed to failure.
- Instead, the early church’s focus was on the believer’s relationship to God, and they focused on the sin and rebellion of individuals against their Creator.
- New Testament writer’s concentrated on a godly response of believers to their mistreatment.
As we move through this study, it will be essential for us to bring the underlying principle from the Greco-Roman world to our modern world. That principle is submitting to our boss, supervisor, or workplace requirements.
- Believers are called to obey their masters, even if they are wicked.
- However, there is a fine line implied in this command.
- Peter is not saying that Christian slaves should participate in or follow a wicked master in the execution of evil.
- Peter is saying that completing non-evil tasks are commanded even if their master is an evil person.
- Let’s look at a modern example.
- A Christian secretary’s evil boss asks them to type a letter that doesn’t contain any evil actions. That is ok to complete.
- A Christian secretary’s evil boss asks them to type a letter that encourages and promotes abortion and gives details on how to get an abortion. In that case, it is ok for the secretary to refuse the command.
Peter now explains why believers are to submit, even if their master is evil.
- It brings favor. The literal Greek word here means “grace.”
- This same term concludes verse 20, indicating that the two verses should be viewed together in context.
- Although Peter is addressing slaves here, it is also a model for how believers are to respond to social injustice.
- Slaves who endure unjust suffering because of their relationship/obedience to God will be rewarded by God.
- In the same way, believers today will receive a reward for unjust suffering because of their relationship and obedience to God.
This verse expands upon the previous, explaining under what circumstances believers can expect a reward.
- Doing wrong (sin) that results in punishment will not result in a reward from God since they received what they deserved.
- On the other hand, if the believer does what is good and receives punishment, they will receive favor (grace) from God.
These verses show the example of Jesus and how He lived His life. They also tie back into verses 19-20. We are to endure suffering for doing good because Jesus suffered at the hands of the authorities even though He lived a sinless life.
Christ is the example.
- Jesus’s suffering serves as an example to all believers.
- We are called to suffer through righteous living because Jesus set the example.
- At the same time, we will never experience suffering to the level Jesus did.
- Being crucified.
- Bearing the sins of the world.
- Godly living displayed by believers can win the lost to a life of faith.
- Only Jesus’ suffering and death atone for sin.
Peter directly references Isaiah 53:9 and the suffering servant.
- He committed no sin involves wrong actions in a general sense.
- No deceit was found in His mouth involves not sinning with words or speech.
The sinless life that Jesus led was anything but easy.
- He faced insults and severe suffering.
- His silence in the face of persecution and suffering is an extraordinary example of His nonretaliatory spirit. This is especially true when we consider the events surrounding His trial and crucifixion.
- The urge for revenge can be overwhelming when we feel wrongly accused or mistreated.
- In the ancient world, people would demonstrate their innocence by arguing zealously against those accusing them.
- Jesus’ silence demonstrated complete confidence in God vindicating Him.
- Jesus’ lifestyle matched His teaching, love of enemies, and a spirit of nonretaliation found in Matthew 5:38-48.
- Believers triumph over evil because they trust God will vindicate them and judge their enemies, righting all the wrongs found in Romans 12:19-20.
- Jesus is proof that a person could be completely in God’s will and suffer unjustly.
- Churches/pastors that teach believers they will not suffer if they are in God’s will are preaching a false message.
The unmistakable difference in the suffering between Jesus and His followers is now clarified.
- The suffering and death of Jesus are unique and the foundation for our salvation.
- He bore the sins of all who would place their faith in Him.
- His sacrificial blood cleansed us.
- The purpose of Jesus’ death was not merely to provide forgiveness.
- It was also to provide His followers the power to live for righteousness.
- Living for righteousness results in dying to sin.
- We would experience freedom from the power of sin.
- The idea of being healed does not refer to physical healing. Peter is talking about healing from the penalty of eternal separation from God because of sin.
- Believers now live a new life.
We have to be honest and admit that living this way through adversity and persecution is not easy. Unfortunately, there are those who drift away from the faith when life gets hard, and they feel that they can’t cope anymore. However, there is safety and support by staying under the care of the shepherd instead of leaving.
This verse connects back to verse 24, with the idea of being healed in verse 24.
- Healing involves the forgiveness of sins.
- Believers are no longer lost sheep, following the ways of the world.
- Believers have submitted to the care of the Shepherd and Guardian of their souls, Jesus.
- Peter reminds the reader that their ruler is not the emperor or their master; it is Jesus.
- There is also an implied reference to the church of Jesus.
- Peter is illustrating Jesus’ authority here.
- The word “Guardian” in the original Greek is episkopos. This term is used for those who had authority in the early church and is found in Acts 20:28, Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:2, and Titus 1:7.
- Christ is the ultimate authority in the church.
- The truth that Peter wants us to understand is the following.
- As we live godly lives and submit in times of suffering, we follow Jesus’ example and become more like Him.
- We submit and obey for the following reasons.
- As an example to the lost around us.
- To show our love for Jesus.
- So that we may grow spiritually and become more like Jesus.
- Do we respect and follow the requests of our boss, workplace, and organization as long as it doesn’t go against the commands of Scripture? There may be tasks or requirements that we don’t like, but we must do them. There may be bosses or co-workers we don’t like, but we must still treat them with respect. The only time we can go against the instructions of our boss or organization is when they go against God’s commands.
- We should expect to suffer as we live our Christian lives. It is never fun, but we still need to persevere through those times by holding fast to Jesus. Suffering for doing good will be rewarded. Suffering for sinful behavior will receive its just punishment.
- Our one and only loyalty is to Jesus. Anyone or anything that redirects our loyalty needs to be removed or adjusted. We will answer to Jesus on judgment day, not a person.