Peter has been teaching us to live as a holy nation, a chosen race, and as God’s people who have received mercy. Last week we saw that we are to yield to every human institution. We do this for the Lord’s sake so that people in the world will see our good works and glorify God, though for now they malign you now. In verse 16 Peter told us to “live as servants of God.” Peter is in the midst of discussing the attitude of service and submission as a reflection of being the people of God.
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 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. (ESV)
Yield To Those Who Are Over Us
We need to yield to those who are over us. The HCSB does a good job in translation by rendering this as “household slaves.” It is not the same Greek word used in other New Testament texts for slaves. It is the Greek word most commonly used for house servants in that day. Their Christian duty was to yield to their masters. Because this phrase seems to be most appropriately addressed to household servants, I think it is a fair parallel for us to apply Peter’s words to employment. The differences are there. We can quit if we do not like our employment, but a household servant could not. We have rights that protect us from many kinds of mistreatment, but they did not. But I think this only amplifies the parallel because their situation was worse than ours. If this was meant for the household servant, then, since our situation is not as drastic or grave, we should be able to use the same principles for our employment circumstances. With this in mind, let us consider Peter’s instructions.
With all respect. We are called to yield with all respect. We should begin to see that being the people of God and acting as God’s holy nation means that we are going to yield in every circumstance. We are to yield to governments and human institutions. We are to honor everyone, by yielding to them. Love the brotherhood by yielding to them. Yield to those who have charge over you. Yield to them showing them all respect. Now, we do not like this. We may do what they tell us to do, but we are not going to respect them! Show them respect and yield to them. “But Brent, you don’t know what a terrible master I have!” “You don’t understand how awful or how evil they are!”
Even the unjust. But look at the rest of verse 18. We are not to show respect and yield to those who are good and gentle, but even toward those who are unjust. I think the NET gives a good rendering, “but also to those who are perverse.” The word translated “unjust” by the ESV and “perverse” by the NET is the Greek word skolios, which means “curved, crooked.” Your masters are not doing what is right and good. But you will show them all respect and yield to them anyway. How can we do this? How is this possible?
Mindful of God. Verse 19 tells us that we do this by being mindful of God. We submit for the sake of God. We will endure sorrows while suffering unjustly. But Peter says that this is a gracious thing. This is grace. This is commendable. This is to our credit when we endure in this way. Keep an eye on that phrase, “a gracious thing,” because we will see it again in a moment. We endure mistreatment for the sake of the Lord. How is this for the Lord’s sake? It reaches back to verse 15,
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. (2:15; ESV)
We keep doing good, showing ourselves to be different from the world, so that we can silence foolish people and bring them to glorify God. How will most people react when mistreated by those who have authority over them? Today, most people will bring lawsuits, complain, act evil in return, steal, or do something to the master who mistreats. Peter says that we are not to act like that.
Suffer for good, not evil. But look at verse 20: be sure you are suffering for doing good. If you suffer for sin, there is no credit for that. We are simply getting what we deserve. If we are mistreated by our masters because we are acting out of line and are not yielding to their authority, then we are getting what we deserve. There is no grace there. This is not commendable. Often, this is exactly our problem. We are doing wrong and authority smacks us for our wrong, and we think we are being mistreated. But we are deluding ourselves. We see this a lot in society today. A young man is arrested and the parents come out and say that he is such a good kid. Well, no, his actions speak otherwise. Wandering around with weapons and with troublemakers and evildoers and being wicked is not being a good kid. You will be arrested and you will justly suffer. There is no credit to you. The grace is when we are doing good and we are respectful and we still are mistreated. See it there is verse 20 — if we do good and suffer and endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. This is the second time that Peter said that this is grace and favor with God.
21 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. (ESV)
Now Peter reminds us why we endure this. Why don’t we rebel? Why do we quietly enduring suffering and mistreatment? Why not fight back? We have been called to yield. We have been called to endure mistreatment and suffering for doing good. Why? We are called to this because Christ suffered for us. Jesus suffered for us and so that reminds us that we are to follow his example. Your master endured suffering also. God never promised to get us out of suffering. Sometimes we think our faith is some sort of “get out a jail free” card that should cause us to avoid suffering. God has promised to get us through suffering. Our faith helps us through suffering. But our faith in Jesus does not avoid suffering. God has not promised that we will get around suffering. Now Peter will recall the example of Jesus.
The Example of Jesus (22-25)
22 He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth; 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (HCSB; TNIV)
Remember the sufferings of Jesus. Jesus did nothing wrong either. Jesus did not commit any sin. There was no deception in his life. Jesus did not deceive anyone and never sinned. When Jesus was abused and insulted, how did Jesus handle it? It seems clear that Peter is asking us to think about the example of Jesus in the trial and crucifixion. Jesus did not retaliate. Jesus did not respond in kind to how he was mistreated. Jesus did not make threats to those who mocked him. Peter wants us to look to the cross.
How Do We Do This?
The example of Jesus helps us deal with mistreatment. Jesus continued entrusting himself to the Father who judges justly (2:23). We must realize that judgment will come, but that judgment is not to be executed by us. We are to entrust our case to the Father who will deal justly, righteously, and fairly. I think the NLT touches the point accurately here,
He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. (NLT)
Those who abuse us, mistreat us, and malign us will receive the judgment due to them. God knows what they have done and they will not escape justice. It is with this knowledge that we continue to do good works, even in the face of evil and mistreatment.
The second way that we deal with mistreatment is by keeping our eyes on the cross. Do not forget what our Lord Jesus has done for us. He bore our sins in his body on the cross. This statement has had much theology inserted into without cause. The Greek word for “bore” is anaphero, which means “to carry upwards, lead up, offer up, take up, bear” (Mounce’s Expository Dictionary). Thus, the NLT does a great job here in presenting to us the imagery of the sacrifice of Jesus.
He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. (NLT)
Jesus personally carried away our sins through the sacrifice of his body on the cross. He did that so that we could be dead to sin and live for what is right. We need to remember what Jesus did for us. This is remembrance will help us do good in the face of evil acts. Throughout this section Peter is quoting or alluding to Isaiah 53 which predicted the sufferings of the Messiah.
Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12. With these things going on, Jesus says these words: Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34; TNIV). Can you believe he said this with all that was going on? Do you see the example of Jesus?
The cross is a picture of contrasts. Jesus died that so that we can live to righteousness. Jesus was wounded so that we could be healed. We were straying but his death has returned our souls to God. This is why Jesus died. Jesus carried our sins and we killed him.
When we suffer, our first desire will be to respond in kind. We will want to fight back. We cannot. We must model the example of Jesus. We are not the only victim of suffering. We caused the suffering of Jesus. We have been caused to suffer for the cause of Jesus. We strayed away but God has made it possible through Jesus to come back. Serve, love, and treat others like Jesus treated us. They don’t deserve it? Neither do we!