My last boss was so bad, she inspired me to start my own business. About two weeks after I started my job, my boss stopped showing up for work. Then my only remaining co-worker stopped showing up for work. In their absence, I did my best to keep our project on track. My boss would appear at crucial meetings to take credit for my work.
I’d like to say that I handled this situation as a gleaming example of submission to an unfair master. But, truthfully, I grudgingly did what was right with gritted teeth and seething hostility. And I only managed that thanks to the wise counsel of my pastor at the time.
In 1Peter 2:11-25, Peter addresses this very situation: How should you respond when you are being treated unjustly?
Peter is writing to give his readers the right perspective on life. In 1:1-12 Peter presents that right perspective: the good news about the work of Jesus the Messiah.
Coming to faith in Jesus is such a profound change Peter calls it being born again. We have been rescued from God’s wrath and from our guilt but there is more that we need to be rescued from.
The future rescue is what he calls our living hope of an eternal inheritance guarded for us in the kingdom of heaven. In the future, death will be completely defeated and our rescue will be completed. Meanwhile, we live in a world that looks at things differently than we do and may even hate us. We are faced with choices about how to live and act, and we should make them based on our hope in the gospel.
Then in 1Peter 2:1-10, he encourages us to long for the word the way a newborn longs for milk. Wisdom and understanding nourish our faith the way milk nourishes a baby and causes growth. He then ended that section with several quotes from Isaiah and Psalms to inspire us that as God’s people we are part of the sweep of redemptive history and are being built into a living temple with Christ as the cornerstone.
1Peter 2:11 begins a new section of the book. He’s finished laying the groundwork of our hope, our inheritance and our status as God’s people. Now he’s going to apply it.
11Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. – 1Peter 2:11-12 ESV
- Peter gives us the principle in 1Peter 2:11-12. Then he applies that principle to 3 situations where someone is being treated unfairly in a binding social relationship: a citizen under an unjust government, a slave under an unjust master and a wife married to an unbelieving husband. This talk examines the first 2 examples.
- He gives us the principle in both a negative and a positive– a “don’t do this” and “do this instead.”
- On the negative side, resist and reject desires fueled by your own selfishness.
- On the positive side, strive to keep your behavior excellent and above reproach among nonbelievers, In doing so, you reflect God’s grace to them.
Applied to citizens of an unjust government
13Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. – 1Peter 2:13-17 ESV
- Peter is aware of the dangers faced of living under an oppressive government. Nero is on the Roman throne as he writes.
- In 1Peter 2:13, he tells us submission is for the Lord’s sake and in 2:15 he tells us that this is the will of God and that we are submitting as free people.
- We do not submit because the king is our master, but rather because God is our master and that is the way He wants us to behave.
- The goal is to silence the ignorance of foolish people. His concern is the message we send to unbelieving neighbors.
- As a citizens of the kingdom of God, we have a right to see ourselves as free from all human institutions but we are to conduct ourselves such that we communicate we stand for justice. As far as we can in good conscience, we should lives that communicates that we are not exempt from the demands of justice and public order.
Applied to servants of an unjust master
18Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20For 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. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23When 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. 24He 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. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1Peter 2:18-25 ESV
The interpretative question: Is telling a slave to submit to his master like blaming the victim? Why not talk to the unjust master?
- Roman slavery was not like American civil war slavery. Roman slaves were paid and had most of the rights of free citizens.
- In the context in each of his examples, the people in power are wrong. That’s a given in his argument.
- He is writing to believers who find themselves in a bad situation which they cannot easily escape.
Why would God call a believer to submit to an unjust master?
- Peter is encouraging believers to submit when God takes them through suffering just like we trust God in every circumstance.
- Christ modeled this for us. He trusted God in the midst of truly unjust suffering because he knew God had a purpose for that suffering.
- Peter quotes Isaiah 53 to emphasize that Jesus did not strike back when he suffered unjustly so that we might be rescued.
- Just as Jesus’ suffering had a clear redemptive purpose, so our suffering might have a redemptive purpose.
- Peter’s advice does not mean the difficult situations will comes out better for you (the one suffering). Rather like Jesus sacrificed himself to save us, we ought to be concerned with the destiny of others to the point of taking costly burdens and unjust treatment.
- Act in such as way that others see your hope and maybe they will come to share it.