Summary: We are to react to mistreatment the way Jesus did.
“Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect [for God], not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For [the reason for submitting] it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is 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” (vv. 18-20).
• FUNCTIONAL: a distinguishing of our roles and the work we are called to do
• RELATIONAL: a loving acknowledgment of another’s value as a person
• RECIPROCAL: a mutual, humble cooperation with one another
• UNIVERSAL: an acknowledgment by the church of the all-encompassing lordship of Jesus Christ
Submission is voluntarily cooperating with anyone out of love and respect for God first and then secondly out of love and respect for that person. Submitting to nonbelievers is difficult, but it is a vital part of leading them to Jesus Christ. We are not called to submit to nonbelievers to the point that we compromise our relationship with God, but we must look for every opportunity to humbly serve in the power of God’s Spirit.
Slavery was the foundation of the Roman economy (like minimum wage jobs are today). Some have estimated that slaves made up one-third of the population of urban areas.
In this passage, Peter tells slaves to submit to their masters, whether they are treated kindly or unfairly.
Does this mean that the New Testament condones slavery? NO!
• The slavery of the first century was “LESS EVIL” than the slavery of America:
(1) Race was not a factor.
(2) Education was encouraged (some slaves were better educated than their masters).
(3) Slaves could own property.
(4) Manual labor was not the only task of slaves (some were doctors, teachers, accountants, etc.);
(5) While most slaves were born that way (because their mothers were slaves), many voluntarily chose slavery over the vagabond existence of finding odd jobs.
(6) The majority of slaves could anticipate freedom by the age of 30.
Still, the New Testament does not speak well of slavery as it does of human government (2:13-17) and marriage (3:1-7)—institutions established by God for the good of society.
• The first century church didn’t have the POLITICAL INFLUENCE to change the laws of the land. The Roman government was not a democracy.
• The church’s mission is not to change society as a whole, but to share the message of Christ, which is able to change the hearts of INDIVIDUALS.
• While the New Testament does not call for the abolishment of slavery, it does teach the EQUALITY of all believers, whether slave or free. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). “Perhaps the reason [Onesimus] was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord” (Philemon 15-16).
• The New Testament raises the status of slaves:
(1) By addressing the mistreatment of slaves. Aristotle had earlier argued that injustice could never be done to a slave, for the slave was mere property (Nic. Eth. 5:10.8).
(2) By describing Jesus as a slave. He took “the very nature of a servant [or slave]” (Philippians 2:7). He is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (quoted in v. 22). Jesus actually suffered a death reserved for slaves under Roman law. Like many slaves, Jesus suffered though He was innocent of any wrongdoing.
What does this passage say to us today?
THE BIG IDEA: We are to react to mistreatment the way Jesus did.
The point of this passage is not if we suffer but how we act when we suffer.
“To this [suffering for doing good, v. 20] you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (v. 21).
The term for “example” is not simply that of a good example that one is exhorted to copy, but the pattern letters that a school child must carefully trace if he or she will ever learn to write.
Jesus suffered for us; now we are called to suffer for Him.
Jesus lived a perfect life. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (v. 22).
How did Jesus react to mistreatment?
1. He refused to RETALIATE.
“When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats” (v. 23a).