Summary: Christian employees are to respect and obey their employers. The apostle issued his command as both 1) a mandate and 2) a motive for submission.
A report released by UNICEF entitled The State of the World’s Children says millions of children every year end up disappearing. Many, it says, end up forced into work domestic labour. "A vast but unknown number of children are exploited as domestic servants in private homes." The births of many of the world’s children up to 50 million are never registered, the UN notes. As a result, many end up either forgotten or invisible.
In Canada and around the world, much discussion and focus goes to workers rights. Extreme abuses of workers have lead to the development of the Labour union movement. Unfortunately this has led to a widespread idea in culture to the extreme where No one any longer speaks of sacrifice or privilege—only rights.
If people do not receive what they think personal freedom should give them, they express their grievances in the form of walkouts, strikes, boycotts, and political rebellions. Such protesters are usually motivated by the belief that everyone is equal in every way and entitled to exactly the same things as everyone else.
In the workplace, employees voice their grievances over a lack of “rights” through work slowdowns, “sick-outs,” protests, or all-out strikes that prevent management from conducting business. Management sometimes responds with lockouts or even termination of the striking employees. Job actions on occasion do result in salary increases and improved benefits for employees, or perhaps a compromise agreement that benefits both sides in the long run.
However, the focus on “rights” in the workplace, whatever the results, is incongruous with the Christian life. Believers are to be concerned instead with obedience and submission to God’s will. When they obey and submit to their superiors, as He commands, they prove that their real hope is in the world to come.
The apostle Paul more specifically articulated the divine principle of granting respect and not seeking retaliation:
Romans 12:17-19 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." (ESV)
cf. Luke 6:32–35; 1 Cor. 7:20–21, 24).
Neither Peter, Paul, nor any of the New Testament writers ever advocated that subordinates should rise up against their superiors.
How do you stand in your opinion on workers rights? Are you an unqualified union supporter in demanding the rights of workers at all cost?
Do you see as separation between your job and your faith? Do you feel that you have no choice in going along with your union on everything because you are a member of the union?
In 1 Pt 2:18-20, Peter moves from politics to work and commands believers who are servants or slaves to submit to their masters. In broader terms, that means Christian employees are to respect and obey their employers. The apostle issued his command as both 1) a mandate and 2) a motive for submission.
1) THE MANDATE FOR SUBMISSION 1 PETER 2:18
1 Peter 2:18 Servants (Slaves) , be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. (ESV)
The workforce in the Roman world consisted of slaves, and the way they were treated was wide-ranging. Some masters loved their slaves as trusted members of the household and treated them like family.
Arthur A. Rupprecht presents a lucid description of the life and status of a slave in the Roman Empire:
The living conditions of many slaves were better than those of free men who often slept in the streets of the city or lived in very cheap rooms. There is considerable evidence to suggest that the slave lived within the confines of their master’s house (was well dressed and cared for). (Kistemaker, Simon J. Baker New Testament Commentary: 2004. p. 104)
But many Masters did not treat their slaves well, because there were scant protections—and virtually no rights—for slaves, who were considered property rather than persons.
Quote: For instance, the influential Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, “A slave is a living tool, and a tool is an inanimate slave” (Ethics, 1161b).
Writing about agriculture, the Roman nobleman Varro asserted that the only thing distinguishing a slave from a beast or a cart was that the slave could talk.
Slaves owned little or nothing and had no legal recourse to which they could appeal when mistreated.
-Somewhere from one-third to half of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves (Radmacher, Earl D. ; Allen, Ronald Barclay ; House, H. Wayne: Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary. Nashville : T. Nelson Publishers, 1999, S. 1 Pe 2:18)
-It has been estimated that there were over 60 000 000 slaves in the Roman Empire: employed in every occupation from Doctors, teachers to manual workers. They were often paid for their services and could eventually buy their freedom. (Bentley, Michael: Living for Christ: Evangelical Press. 1990. P.92)