1 Peter 2:18-25 Servants, Submit to Your Masters WC McCarter
The two great apostles, Peter and Paul, both have in their writings sections concerning household duties. These sections instruct Christians as to how they are to relate to one another in the home: husband—wife, father—children, master—slaves. Lists of “household duties” were common in the Greco-Roman period, so it was necessary that the Christians address the issue as well, but the apostles did so from a different perspective. While wives, children, and slaves were to be under the headship of the male in the Christian home just as it was in the Roman home, these instructions were given bearing in mind Christ’s humility, submission, and sacrifice. In this section, strong exhortations will also be given to the Christian men. Christians are to be holy, that is, different from those around them. They would keep the same cultural structure in the home, which would not bring about added insult or persecution, but they would also be expected to relate to one another in a drastically different way than the world around them.
The practical teaching in this section is rooted in the Old Testament theology of Christ’s suffering specifically found in Isaiah 53. The word “suffer” is a key word in our passage today and several quotations will come from Isaiah 53. So, we saw last week how all Christians are to relate to the governing authorities; today’s sermon will be about slaves submitting to their masters, which I think has very practical applications for today; and next week’s sermon will discuss how husbands and wives are to relate to one another. I hope that you will plan to be here next week to hear that very relevant message from God’s word—for your sake and for the sake of your loved ones who could really use some mentoring in that area.
READ Scripture- This is the Word of God
Servants, Submit to Your Masters (18-20)
Part of honorable conduct among all and submitting to every ordinance of man is for slaves to submit to their masters. I mentioned last week that slavery in the Roman Empire was a very common situation. Some estimate that approximately 1/3 of the population in first century Rome were slaves. Also, to remind you of what I said last week, slavery was not like North American slavery—primarily forced, racially based, etc. Although, we should say, there were many slaves who had been captured in wars, and there were also those who were born into slavery. In the Roman Empire, slavery was basically a source of employment—of course, it was a less than ideal job. Peter, here, raises the status of slaves simply by addressing them in his letter. Slaves were considered property and had no rights as citizens. While many were working as doctors, teachers, managers, and other fine jobs, there were also many who were working miserable, abusive jobs.
So, Peter says to the slaves, “Submit to your masters.” It would have been basically impossible to overturn the slavery system of the Roman Empire. The Bible is not pro-slavery as some have claimed. The biblical writers were practical. They were realists. There had been many slave uprisings over the centuries but they were all crushed by the Empire. Many lost their lives trying to subvert the governmental structure of their day. Peter does not command revolt, he commands submission. This is the godly thing to do; the holy thing; the scriptural thing; the commendable thing; the Christian thing to do. These household duties ensured that the church would seek to keep the peace and not be subversive without good reason. Are we going against the grain at many points? Are we to be counter-cultural in many ways? Of course we are, but we are not to rock-the-boat in this way. Notice the other parts of the submission that is commanded by Peter:
1. “With all fear” – Remember or look back to 1:17 and 2:17 about the kind of fear that Peter has already been talking about. It is fear of God, fear based on knowledge and conscious. Jesus taught us: “Do not fear the one who can kill the body, but fear the One who can kill both the body and soul in Hell.”
2. “Not only to the good and gentle but also to the harsh” – There is some value in submitting to good and gentle masters, but there is that much more value in submitting to those who are harsh.
*3. “This is commendable”
A. “What good is it for being punished for your faults?”
If you are punished for wrong-doing, then you get what you deserve—there is no commendation, there is no defense.
B. “Commendable when you do good and suffer [patiently]”
But, if you are punished even when you have done well—God remembers you. So, he says, take the harsh treatment patiently. This is a great Christian witness. This is holy living. This is godly perseverance. Things are not always going to be rosy and cutesy. We must fear God even when we are suffering.
Exhortation: May we also extend this teaching to those who are working jobs that are not ideal? There are many, maybe some of you, who are treated badly in the workplace. There are many who deal with insult, humiliation, or worse. The exhortation, then, is to not give up. Are we allowed to look for another job? Of course, but it is not always so easy to switch positions or careers. Are there legal ways that we can defend ourselves? In our society there are still some things in place that offer some hope, but many of those things are fading away. The question that I think our passage today addresses is, what do you do in the meantime if things are very difficult at work? The Scripture teaches that we are to submit with all fear—not fear of our employer or any man but fear God. If you do your job well and you still take heat, this is commendable before God. God looks favorably upon those who suffer innocently.
Called to Follow Christ’s Example (21-23)
Now, in verse 21, what does the word “this” refer to? It refers to verse 20—“when you do good and suffer, if your take it patiently, this is commendable before God.” The Apostle says that you were called to unjust suffering. Notice the past tense. It must refer to when you became a Christian. Part of your new birth was being called to unjust, innocent suffering for the cause of Christ. Now, what is all of this rooted in? What is the basis for this kind of Christian doctrine? He says, “Because Christ also suffered for us.” Here is the deal—(1) if you live long enough, you will suffer some kind of unjust and harsh treatment, but (2) Christ’s suffering brings dignity to our suffering.
We are called to follow Christ’s example of innocent suffering.
1. Christ suffered [for us]
2. He committed no sin or deceit
Since Christ suffered without sin, so should you! ***Isaiah 53
3. When reviledàdid not revile in return Suffering Servant
4. When sufferedàdid not threaten
*What did Christ do? He committed Himself to the One who judges righteously. He kneeled in the garden to cry out to the Father and said, “Not My will but Your will be done.” He cried out on the cross, “Into Your hands I commit My spirit.”
Penal Substitution (24-25)
He did not suffer for His own sins. He bore our sins in His own body on the tree. He absorbed in Himself the sins of the whole world. So, should slaves seek to subvert the cultural structures of their day? No. Should Christian employees in the workplace today look to get revenge against harsh employers/supervisors? No. Take unjust punishment for what it is—unjust. But do so with God-consciousness, knowing that He remembers you.
What Christ did was:
1. That we may live for righteousness (and this is right, this willing submission)
2. That by His stripes we may be healed (primarily the forgiveness of sin)
3. We have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. I have been struck by the emphasis that Peter has put on the “souls” of Christians. While he teaches very practical things about the Christian lifestyle, he is always mindful of how this affects our inner-selves, our spiritual lives, our souls. Look back to 1:9; 1:22; and 2:11. There are many who try to lord over our flesh, but there is only One Shepherd of our souls, and it is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Conclusion and Christian Application
We have been called to follow Christ’s path to glory à through suffering.
Lastly, notice how the cross affects every aspect of the Christian life—when you’re young and when you’re old; when you’ve been a Christian a year or for several decades; if you’re a man or a woman; if you’re black or if you’re white; if you’re a slave or if you’re free; if you’re married or you are single; in the home, the church, and the workplace. Think through each part of your life and how Christ wants to influence you on the basis of what He has done and the example that He has left.