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,
I. WHAT IS THE CHRISTIANS RESPONSE TO INJUSTICE?
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