Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
1 Peter 2:17-21
Slavery was a fact of life in the Roman world of the first century, and Peter addresses it as such. It isn’t accurate to insist that the Bible condones it, however, as some would do. It was not permitted under the Law of Moses, and the New Testament addresses it only as one of the ways of this world. There were many in the past who cited the New Testament’s treatment of slavery in an attempt to justify the practice, and of course there are some today who use the same approach to discredit Christianity, but in both cases, such commentators demonstrate a complete lack of understanding concerning the nature of the New Covenant, which established a Kingdom not of this world, and in opposition to this world.
Since we, for the most part, live in places where slavery does not exist as an economic system, we can draw insight from this passage regarding our relations with employers, and that is how I’ll approach it here.
Peter is telling slaves (employees) to submit themselves to their bosses out of regard for God. He goes on to say that we should do this not only with “good” bosses, but with the harsh ones as well. For our time, let’s look at it this way: If you are a Christian and you have a bad attitude at work, how does this look to your fellow workers or your boss? You talk about all the good and wonderful things, and then you are resentful, demanding, and lazy and cause problems for everyone. So, is this what it is to be a Christian? Seems a fair question. If you are always telling your friends that the boss is always trying to cheat you, what kind of impression does that make?
OK, to be fair, I was almost always in management, but to me you would just sound petty and selfish, certainly not like a humble servant of Jesus… but maybe I’m wrong.
Peter goes on to ask what good it would do for you to suffer a beating for doing wrong. For our time, you sure can’t complain too much if you get fired for doing something wrong, can you? Getting in trouble for doing right is a whole different matter! In all cases, Peter is saying that we need to do what is right in God’s eyes and in building God’s Kingdom, and if that requires some sacrifice on our parts, that’s well worth enduring for His sake. Jesus thought so, and as a result of His willingness to suffer and sacrifice, you and I are free from sin and death.
In the next section, Peter looks directly at the suffering of Christ, and we will dive into that one next time.