The Ambassador’s Submission as a Suffering Servant (1 Peter 2:18-20)
The theme of 1 Peter from 2:13-3:7 is submission. We have seen that submission is a smaller mission (a sub-mission) that God has given to His ambassadors to willingly put themselves under others to bring the gospel to the lives of people above them. He talked about our relationship to those in authority above us, namely the government. Peter now moves from politics to the workplace and then he will move to home life to illustrate what he means by submission.
You may have noticed that he is addressing servants and masters in 1 Pet. 2:18. I need to make a couple of observations about this to preface this message. First of all, when we read this: 1) We must not think of slavery in America. Slavery in the Greco-Roman Empire was a lot different from slavery in America prior to the Civil War. William Barclay estimates that there were 60 million slaves during that time. You became a slave by either of three ways. One commentator notes that, “People became slaves by being captured in wars, kidnapped, or born into a slave household. Those facing economic hardships might choose to sell themselves into slavery in order to survive. Many slaves lived miserably, particularly those who served in the mines. Other slaves, however, served as doctors, teachers, managers, musicians, artisans, and could even own other slaves. It would not be unusual for a slave to be better educated than the master.” Many slaves also could pay off their debt and their master would set them free. So the idea of being a slave due to your skin color would be foreign concept to them.
Yet slaves did not have any rights either. Though some masters loved their slaves and treated them like family, others were brutal and harsh. These masters considered slaves to be property and the saying was that “the only thing distinguishing a slave from a beast or a cart was that the slave could talk.” Secondly, 2) The Bible does not condone slavery, but neither does it condemn it. Notice that Peter does not say anything about God creating the institution of slavery as He does with human government and marriage. The New Testament believers or leaders never tried to overthrow the government or try to be social revolutionaries, but their focus was not on the transformation of circumstances, but of believers in how they related to them. The biblical approach was to exhort slave owners to treat their slaves with dignity and fairness. They were even to view them as brothers and sisters in the faith (e.g., Philemon). And slaves were exhorted to be good, submissive workers. Paul says that if they had an opportunity to gain their freedom, to do so (1 Cor. 7:21). Otherwise, they were to be good slaves, in submission to their owners.
So Peter here is not endorsing or denouncing the institution of slavery. His focus is on being an ambassador of the gospel where you are despite whatever position the world has put you in, whether government leader, master or servant.
The reason for him to address the servants here is because when they became believers, an issue came up. If they were free in Christ and all men were equal in God’s eyes, why do I have to have a master in the first place? And especially a cruel master at that? Some of these slaves were leaders in the church and struggled with working for their masters. So what does this passage have to do with us then? This passage relates to our attitude towards those we work for, especially when they are unfair and/or harsh and we can learn also how to respond when we have been hurt by those above us who have abused their position and took advantage of us.
This theology of suffering is something you do not often hear about. What happens when you do what is right and you are criticized for it? You have obeyed. You did what you said you would do. You showed up on time for work. You worked hard. Yet you are the one who lost their job and missed the promotion. You did what was right to raise your children and your child rebels. You pray hard for your spouse and lovingly serve him/her, but he/she leaves you. And you wonder, “Is this how you reward your faithful children God? You know that prosperity teachers offer a better deal. You know that the world says run from you because you are unfair. And a lot of people fall away from the Lord because they start suffering. Sometimes you also have an urge to get even and vindicate yourself. “I have rights too don’t I?” you start thinking and then start plotting ways to get back at people because no one wants to appear to have taken advantage of. Now these are the things the believers of Peter’s day were struggling with and we struggle with too. How should we respond when serving God still brings suffering in our lives?
Let’s start with this thought:
I. God calls me to submit even if it brings suffering (1 Pet. 2:18)
What? Is that the good news? Aren’t you glad you came to church today? This point will not be a great title for a book to win best book of the year. I am sure no one will ever buy it. This is because in North America, Christianity is about how to use God to make me feel more comfortable, while biblical Christianity is about how God uses circumstances and people to make us conformable. We are more likely to conform to Christ from our critics than from our flatters. This is God’s plan and agenda for us and the tool He uses often is the tool of suffering. Peter begins with “Servants.” He is talking to believing servants with unsaved masters. They were suffering. He uses the word that describes household servants and not the usual word for slaves. These were those who generally held closer relations to the family than other slaves. As a result, they most likely “served in a home or under an estate owner with duties from being farmers who plowed the owner’s field to doctors who cared for his family’s medical needs.” Again, they probably struggled with balancing freedom in Christ spiritually with their social position of being a slave.
These servants were to “be subject” to, which is the same word used in 1 Pet. 2:13: to submit to. Again, this word means to “line under” or to willingly put yourself under someone else. How do we submit to those around us, even when we might suffer for following God’s principles? Jot this down. It starts with:
a) Walking with a continual fear of God
The words “be subject to” is in the present imperative sense, meaning continually or habitually submit. Notice the attitude of submission: “with all respect,” which literally means “with all fear.” In Peter’s theology, there is only one person you are supposed to fear: God (1 Pet. 2:17; 1:17). In other words, serve those above you first as a servant of God. Not grudgingly or with bitterness, but working for the Lord as your boss. What does it mean to serve God with a fear of God. It is not being afraid that God is going to hurt you if you do wrong, but that choosing sinful actions hurt God.
Let’s look at a parallel passage in Col. 3:22-25. How do I live in fear of God in my workplace or with people above you, especially when they may be harsh or unreasonable? It means God is interested in the quality of your work than what kind of work you have. We want to know where should I work God? What profession should I get into? But God is more concerned about what kind of person you are becoming with this job. Notice all of the focus on character here. Work thoroughly (in everything). Work habitually (not just when the boss is looking). Work honestly (you are not taking long lunch breaks, stealing company time by being on the internet, etc.). Work heartily (not hardly), but everything you have into it. You take care of your character, what will God take care of? He will take care of your reputation. He will be your rewarder. He will be your vindicator. It starts by saying, “God, you are my boss. You are the one I serve. You are the one who is watching. You are the one who is just.” Secondly, what does it mean to submit even when I suffer?
b) Learning to respond instead of react
This truth is true for all relationships, but especially oppressive and difficult ones. Jesus never reacted to people, but He always responded. Notice Peter says, “not only to the good and gentle, but also to the unjust.” “Good” here means “one who is upright, beneficial, and satisfactory for another’s need.” Gentle refers to “one who is considerate, reasonable, and fair.” Therefore good and gentle describes a magnanimous, kind, and gracious person, the kind of master to whom it is easy to submit. It is easy to submit to them, but the “unjust” or other translations say, “unreasonable” is the Greek word “scolios” where we get the word “scoliosis,” which is curvature of the spine. It means twisted and bent.
So in relationships you will often have people who are good at “twisting” and “bending” and manipulating you or situations. Peter is reminding us that we cannot control our circumstances or people. And don’t let circumstances or people control you. It is easier to react than to respond. Reacting is often triggered by the flesh, but responding is triggered by the Spirit. When the Spirit is fueling us, we have the supernatural ability to take responsibility for our role in the situation. John Ford adds that when we respond, “we are in tune with what we are feeling and why, and our thoughts, words and behaviors are conscious of the bigger picture. By contrast, when we react, we shift responsibility for the situation to the other through blame; we assume the victim role and are ‘justifiably’ carried away by powerful feelings like anger, fear and grief. We use an unconscious template for reaction that seeks acknowledgement, justice, restoration, and even revenge.”
Are you a responder or reactor? I remember when I was first told that they are eliminating my position as semester coordinator at Moody Graduate School and that I had two months left. Initially I remember going from sadness to then being angry and wanting to retaliate by not doing my job well. “Well, if that’s how they are going to treat me after all that I did for them, then let them serve these students!” And God had to do a lot of work in my heart through friends and the Word, until I finally submitted to the hand of God. I was such a reactor. Later, I decided to put together a job description manual for my position so that nothing will be left undone when I left. This is nothing compared to suffering some people have gone through, but let us learn to respond to circumstances and situations and people instead of reacting. This is where we will experience freedom and power.
Dr. Howard Hendricks tells the story of being on an airliner that was delayed on the ground. Passengers grew increasingly impatient. One obnoxious man kept venting his frustrations on the stewardess. But she responded graciously and courteously in spite of his abuse. After they finally got airborne and things calmed down, Dr. Hendricks called the woman aside and said, “I want to get your name so that I can write a letter of commendation to your employer.” He was surprised when she responded, “Thank you, sir, but I don’t work for American Airlines.” He sputtered, “You don’t?” “No,” she explained, “I work for my Lord Jesus Christ.” She went on to explain that before each flight, she and her husband would pray together that she would be a good representative of Christ on her job. She sought to please God first. That is a true ambassador of Christ.
Remember Tim Keller’s quote that walking with God is a moment-by-moment awareness of God’s awareness of you. As you grow in your awareness and nearness of God in your life and walk in fear of Him, God will help you grow to be a responder than a reactor to suffering situations.
Now here you might be wondering. Okay, I should be controlled by the Spirit and not my circumstances or how harsh or unreasonable the people in authority over me are. I get there by walking in the fear of God and doing what is in front of me for the Lord. But what about me? Who’s going to take care of me? What about what I need? Jot this last point down:
II. God meets me in my suffering when I submit (1 Pet. 2:19-20)
Notice “this is a gracious thing” in 1 Pet. 2:19 and at the end of verse 20. Literally, this is translated, “this is a grace.” Other translations say “this is commendable.” I like the word “grace” as it shows that the believer who trusts God in the midst of his/her suffering and continues to be faithful, will experience God’s grace.
Let me be clear here. Peter is not telling us not to take advantage of the law if you are in a situation where you are beaten or taken advantage of or exploited or treated harshly. Slaves then had no rights. Submission does not mean silence or not doing anything. You may remember Paul when he was arrested at one point and said, “You can’t do this to a Roman citizen!” He appealed to the law. So if you need to file a restraining order you do so. But if in doing all you can do, you are still suffering, then you trust God with the rest.
I think Peter’s point in these two verses is that God is their rewarder and vindicator as long as they submit and embrace the suffering instead of resisting and denying it. How does God meet us when we submit under suffering. Now he does make a note here that deserved suffering is not what pleases God. When you ring up your credit card and say you are suffering, we are not going to have a praise party for that. If you are lazy at work and taking long lunch breaks and playing on the computer and you get in trouble, this message is not for you.
How does God meet you in your suffering when you submit? Notice the phrase “mindful of God.” First:
a) His presence
Paul says, I want to know Christ in Phil. 3. How will he get to know Christ? He says by the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings. We want to know Christ by Him displaying the power of His resurrection, but often we get to know Him by fellowshipping with Him in his sufferings. Peter is going there next so we will talk about that next time. God loves to instead of getting you out of a storm, ride the storm with you. Look at Isaiah 43:2. The key word in that verse is “through.” God takes us through, and notice it does not say “go down.”
b) His perspective
Being mindful of God or as he says later, “in the sight of God” reminds us that in our sight we may see a tangled mess, but in God’s eyes it is a beautiful tapestry. I have received a gift once from a friend. It was a handmade stitching of what my friend said was of an angel. I opened it and could not see the angel. I looked at it and looked at it, but to no avail. I put it in the light and turned it in every direction. Finally the friend called and I said, “Hey, I’m sorry, but I don’t see it.” After talking a while, I realized I was looking at the back of it the whole time. We see the underside of life a lot of times. We need His perspective and God will meet us there to lift our eyes away from our circumstances to see from His perspective.
I have shared many times that one of the definitions of grace is power and motivation to do His will. Notice the word “endure” mentioned twice in these two verses. It means to “bear under,” and keep going. We want to throw in the towel and give up. I think we are in a job situation where it is really difficult, three things can happen. Sometimes God opens the door and gets you a new job. Other times God opens the door and gets you a new boss. Other times God enlarges your capacity to persevere despite the job and the boss. I know, I know, we want door #1 or door #2, but again God cares a lot more about conforming you to the image of Christ than where you are working.
Will you allow Him to meet you in your suffering? Will you allow Him to free you from true slavery, which is dependence on self and reliance on self and independence? Pastor Ray Pritchard says that when you combine the idea of His presence, His perspective and His perseverance, you think this way in your suffering:
·I am where I am right now by God’s appointment.
·When God wants me somewhere else, I’ll be somewhere else.
·Because God is good, it must be for my good to be where I am right now.
·The fact that I can’t see any good in my present situation doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It just means I can’t see it right now.
·I don’t have to understand the big picture in order to believe there is a big picture.
·God’s promises cover the details of my life even when the details seem random and out of control.
·God sometimes allows things to happen to me that seem unfair and even harsh.
·I won’t understand those things while I am going through them.
·The one thing I can do is endure them patiently, because I believe God is right there with me every moment of every day.
Which of these do you need grace to believe in today? When we do not allow God to meet us there and decide to wallow and fall into self-pity, despair will set in, joy will be sapped, false humility (which is really pride) is elevated, the flesh is fed, your witness is lost, you blame others and the name of Christ is disgraced. Notice answers to why the suffering is happening are not provided in this text, but the fact that God meets us there in the midst of it is. Maybe not that is not all that we want in our suffering, but ultimately that is really all we need in it.
I once read something from former pastor Warren Wiersbe of Moody Church. Ps. 25:17 says, “the troubles of my heart are enlarged.” Ps. 4:1 in KJV says, “You have enlarged me when I was in distress.” Enlarged troubles when submitted under God can produce enlarged saints! Then he says in Ps. 18:19, “He brought me to a large place.” God uses enlarged troubles to make enlarged saints to place them in enlarged places. He said there is one more step.Psalm 18:36: “You have enlarged my steps under me that my feet did not slip.” So enlarged troubles made enlarged saints to fit in enlarged places so that the enlarged saints can take larger steps of faith! Do we walk in the fear of God when we are working? Or do we consider the fear of God when we are suffering? Are we a reactor or responder? In other words, God is interested in taking us to deeper places so we can follow Him closer and love Him deeper. Let’s God is committed to us. He will one day right the wrongs done in our lives. Until then, He works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
Barclay, William. The letters of James and Peter. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (208). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.
Schreiner, T. R. (135).
MacArthur, J. (158).
MacArthur, J. (159).
MacArthur, J. (159).
 Ford, John. “From Reaction to Response: Conflict as a choice,” in http://johnford.blogs.com/ei4cr/2009/02/from-reaction-to-response-conflict-as-a-choice.html accessed 16 July 2010.
 As quoted in Cole, Stephen, “What to do when your boss isn’t fair” http://www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/090692m.pdf accessed 16 July 2010.
Pritchard, Ray. “When doing right gets you into trouble.” http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/2004-12-12-When-Doing-Right-Gets-You-in-Trouble/ accessed 17 July 2010.