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).