Summary: Christians are not unique in their opposition to injustice, but we find their uniqueness as we examine the response they are to make to unjust acts against them, and the reasons for making this response

Injustice is an evil that has been so universally despised that one

need not depend on Christian authors alone to attack it. Cambyses,

the king of ancient Persia, had a keen sense of justice. When he

discovered that a close friend was taking advantage of his secure

relationship to him by selling his decisions to the highest bidder, he

ordered arrested and to be skinned alive as a warning to others. To

prove it was only out of his love for justice that he was so severe he

permitted the son to succeed the father in his office of high honor.

Here was a pagan who loved justice, and many are the pagan

philosophers who agree with Seneca who said, "A kingdom founded

on injustice never lasts." Even Ingersoll, the famous infidel said,

"There is but one blasphemy and that is injustice." This is an

overstatement, but it shows that one can even be anti-Christian and

still despise injustice.

Christians are not unique in their opposition to injustice, but we

find their uniqueness as we examine the response they are to make

to unjust acts against them, and the reasons for making this

response. Peter is writing to first century slaves who are under

entirely different circumstances then we are, but the facts of

injustice are still present and call for a Christian response. The

principles that Peter establishes are as relevant and valid for us

today as they were in his day. The two questions that the Christian

needs to have answered are: What is to be my response, and why?

Peter gives us the answers in that order. First,


Peter begins with a clear principle. Here is a way a Christian

slave should behave toward his master. He should be submissive.

There were 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire, and Christianity

spread rapidly among this class, and so it is understandable why

there is specific instruction to slaves in the New Testament. Without

this instruction from the Apostle to guide the slaves in their attitudes

the Gospel could have easily produced a revolution. The Gospel

brought to the slaves a sense of their own personal worth. They

were not mere property, but persons with eternal souls equal with

all men before God, and this included their masters. They were

children of God, and it would be so easy for the slaves to become

victims of pride, and then conclude that as children of light they

should not be serving a master who was a child of darkness.

Jesus said that people cannot serve two masters, and this could

have been misinterpreted as a justification for rebellion.

Christianity was never in a better position to promote a revolution,

but we see instead that it promoted submission. Non-violence is the

Christian attitude. Christianity was unique in that it turned the

world upside down by the power of the Holy Spirit in love and

moral strength rather than by physical violence. There are many

books written to defend violence by an appeal to Scripture. The

favorite passage is where Jesus in anger drives out the

moneychangers from the temple. This is a weak argument, for there

is no evidence that anyone was injured, and this was a unique act of

Jesus revealing His messiah-ship. Nowhere do we get the impression

that He did this as an example for His disciples to follow. If He did,

they missed the point, for they never did likewise.

Peter was the sword swinger, and he would have been the first

to promote rebellion if that was what he learned from Jesus, but he

urges slaves to be subject to their masters. And not just to the good

and gentle, but to those who were over bearing. The Christian is not

to operate on the natural level, but he is to be different. Peter is not

concerned with the civil rights of the slaves, but with their Christian

witness. His aim is not political but spiritual. He is not concerned

about the feeding the opponent, but in winning him for Christ. Any

heathen slaves can be a rebel, but a Christian slave is to be

submissive in order to convince his master that Christ is a saving

and transforming Lord.

This does not mean that no non-Christian slave could be

submissive, for just as there were some good non-Christian masters,

so there would be some very loyal and submissive non-Christian

slaves. The point is, a Christian must be submissive even if it is

against his natural personality just because it is God's will that he be

so. This means that a Christian may inwardly rebel but still be

submissive because he desires to obey God rather than the leading of

his own nature. It is the motive of wanting to obey and please God

that enables the Christian to act in contrast to his personality. The

non-Christian has no such motivation. If he submits, it is because he

has a submissive nature, but a Christian is to submit regardless of

his nature. Nathaniel Cotton wrote,

To be resigned when ills betide,

Patient when favors are denied,

And pleased with favors given,

Dear Christian, this is wisdom's part,

This is that incense of the heart

Whose fragrance smells to heaven.

Peter actually expected the Christians of his day to apply the

Sermon on the Mount to life. He did not think it was to be reserved

for the millennium, but was to be lived out in contemporary life. G.

Smith wrote, "Nothing indeed marks the divine character of the

Gospel more than its perfect freedom from any appeal to the spirit

of political revolution. The founder of Christianity and His Apostles

were surrounded by everything, which could tempt human

reformers to inter on revolutionary courses...Nevertheless our Lord

and His Apostles said not a word against the powers and institutions

of that evil world. Their attitude toward them was that of deep

spiritual hostility, and of entire political submission."

Notice that there is hostility and yet submission. This is the very

role Christians must play today under totalitarian governments. To

be spiritually and morally opposed to them and yet submissive to the

law of the land is a challenge. Evil must be overcome with good and

not more evil. Christianity did not defeat slavery by stirring up a

revolution to abolish it, but by introducing into history a new race

and a new relationship. It did not abolish the master-slave

relationship, but it introduced the brothers in Christ relationship.

This was its unique way of overcoming the injustices. This was

Paul's method with Philemon and Onessimus.

Both the Bible and history support the truth that the best way

to overcome evil is not by violence, but by good. The Christian

response to injustice is not to be retaliation. Neither as an individual

or as a corporate body can Christians approve of violence as a just

method of dealing with injustice. The exception, of course, is when

the injustice is a violation of a law of the land, and justice demands

that the power of the state be used to punish the violator. The state

has powers that the church does not have to suppress evil. Peter is

writing to slaves who had few if any civil rights. They had only the

choice of submission or rebellion. Today most Christians have a

third choice, and that is due process of law. This gets us into an

entirely different area of thinking, and we must limit ourselves to

situations where we have only two alternatives. In this setting the

Christian must choose submission.

Another clarification is also needed lest we confuse non-violent

submission with non-violent resistance. Peter in urging Christians

to submit to injustice did not mean that the Christian is not to resist

an unjust law when it is in conflict with God's law. He resisted the

authorities when they tried to forbid him to preach, but he

submitted to the punishment for doing so without rebellion. It was

unjust treatment, but Peter did not fight it at all. He and the others

submitted and counted it all joy to suffer for Christ. They did

continue to refuse to obey the unjust demand that they stop

preaching Christ. In order then to avoid many questions on related

subjects we need to keep in mind that we are dealing here, like

Peter, with the injustice inflicted upon us in which the law of the

state, or of God, do not play a part. The principle carries over into

other realms also, but not as an absolute, and so now we are limiting

ourselves to the suffering of unjust pain, for we can't begin to cover

all the rest.

In verse 19 Peter tells them that it is approved of by God to

endure grief by suffering wrongfully, or unjustly. God thanks the

person who will so submit for His glory. Notice the condition,

however. It must be done with a conscientiousness that it is God's

will. One must be mindful of God as He submits to injustice, even as

Jesus, who said, "Not my will but thine be done." To submit out of

fear or lethargy is a natural cause, and it is not thankworthy. The

Christian must submit fully aware that he does so because God wills

him to do so. The Christian is no mere stoic who bears trial as a

matter of philosophy. He does so in obedience to God. We are not

looking for thanks from men, but we are to simply do what we know

is pleasing to God.

To remain submissive when unjustly made to suffer takes

moral courage and spiritual strength that cannot help but impress

the unbeliever. Andrew Murray said, "There is nothing harder to

bear than injustice from our fellowmen." This is taking up the cross

and following Christ, for in bearing His cross He literally did just

what Peter urges Christians to do here. He submitted to unjust

suffering because it was God's will. A good test of Christian

maturity is how much unjust suffering can you take without

retaliation? If you cannot take a great deal without hate and a

violent response, you are not yet prepared to walk with Jesus all the


In order to avoid another misunderstanding that could arise,

Peter goes on in verse 20 to make clear that it is only patient

endurance of unjust suffering that counts as a witness for Christ.

Often a criminal goes to the place of execution with silent dignity,

but this is no credit to him before God, nor is it a witness for Christ,

for he may repudiated Christ. If a man suffers for his sin or crime

and takes it patiently, it is no more than is to be expected. For those,

for example, who break a just law of the land and are thrown in jail

for it, it is no virtue that they submit to the penalty without violence.

It is just what they must do without adding sin to their crime. If the

law is unjust, however, and they take it patiently, that is good.

If those persons in civil rights marches fulfill the first condition

of being conscious of obedience to God, and they submit to acts of

violence without retaliation, and they break no law, then such have

the approval of God. If all those in civil rights were of this mind,

they could sing with the certainty of God's promise, "We shall

overcome." In verse 21 Peter says Christians are called for the

purpose of suffering injustice patiently. Jesus suffered as an

example of what we are to do in the world. This has profound

implications, which we cannot consider now, but this verse makes it

clear that we are literally follow Jesus and submit to injustice

without violence. In doing so we not only obey God and please Him,

but we become the only hope of winning the world to Christ that is

filled with violence and injustice.