1 Peter - Part 16 - 2:18-20 -
Obedient and Gracious Living
Obedient and Gracious Living
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
Last time in in we were told a little bit about how we are to live among the pagans, how we are to honor everyone - that doesn’t mean celebrate, extol, or condone everyone’s actions - that means show every single human being not only the dignity that they inherently possess as a creature made in the image of God, but to also respect people who occupy positions of authority in a way that is Christ honoring and fitting of their role. Peter continues building on this teaching by talking about submission which we already as rebellious human beings have a problem with, but now he makes it even more uncomfortable for our modern ears by speaking about submission to people who in his immediate context are slaves. Now before we go any further we have got to do everything in our power here not to think of slavery as most Americans do. When we think of slavery we think of the atrocities committed in our own country by various persons both black and white who “owned” black slaves and treated them as property. We can’t help but immediately think of that. Slavery is a big part of American history. But that type of slavery is not what we should think of when thinking of slavery within the Roman Empire. Slavery was not necessarily racial though there certainly were multiple races represented among slaves. There were many laws regarding slavery and the fair treatment of slaves including but not limited to laws that ensured slaves were seen in almost every respect as freemen, they had many of the same legal rights and responsibilities. The law also put limits on time of service. We’re not absolutely sure how long a slave was expected to serve but Cicero in his writing indicates that a worthy slave could expect to be freed in 7 years. Not only that but usually when a slave was freed the former master established the newly freed man in a business of some sort which he had been trained in by his master. The master would be a shareholder of sorts and contribute to as well as benefit from the business. Slaves could also buy their freedom from their master by the wages they earned from working in their master’s business, though often the master would grant freedom to the slave who worked hard. Many slaves in this fashion rose to positions of great influence moving on from being merchants to become knights and even magistrates. This is actually why so many English translations choose to use servant instead of slave because our modern conception of slave is nowhere close to this ancient Roman image. So keep that in mind as Peter talks about slaves.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there are those who do not want to believe the Bible is God’s word who will often try to attack it based upon texts like this that don’t seem to outright condemn slavery. But here’s what you need to know. There are some battles that you will never win by attacking your enemy head on. Instead you have to out think, out maneuver, or outlast you opponent to win the final victory. The issue of slavery was a battle that would not be won in the first century by fighting it head on. Can you imagine the bloodshed that could have taken place if Peter said servants rebel against your masters! Take up arms and cut their throats! It would have made for a very dramatic battle to be sure, but not a very effective one. No Peter gives instructions to fight in the most fiendishly clever of ways - obedience. He says don’t disobey your masters, instead obey them. Act so honorably, so obedient, so righteously, so justly that your masters want to free you and glorify God in heaven because of you. You want to talk about subverting the system - this does it in a massive way. So yes the Bible does not state that slavery is unacceptable, rather it lays the groundwork for ensuring the demise of slavery. And we see the evidence of this today. Everywhere that the Word of God has spread and become deeply valued, every place where Christianity has become the dominant religion has today done away with slavery formally. There still is certainly slavery - make no mistake, but there are many people actively fighting to bring it to an end because we are NOW in the position to fight the war head on. So keep these things in mind as we look at this text.
So Peter says to Christians who are slaves obey your masters. Respect them, even when they don’t deserve it. It’s easy to respect a good and gentle master, but Peter says don’t respect the just ones only, respect the unjust ones as well. Why? Why in the world would Peter tell people to respect and be subject to unjust masters? Because behaving graciously even when you are mistreated is a powerful display of God’s power and grace in you and when others see it, the Holy Spirit moves either softening or hardening people’s hearts. Peter also makes clear in this that the servants should not be confused that when they sin and rebel they are beaten and punished - that’s kind of to be expected even from a good master. In fact righteous governments punish sinful behavior as one of their right functions. Peter says don’t be surprised if you sin and then receive the wages of sin, in fact don’t be indignant about it because when you sin and receive the wages of it, you’re getting exactly what you earned. Peter says however that if after doing the right thing you are still mistreated that enduring your unjust treatment with honor and grace is itself a gracious action that can function evangelistically.
So what does this mean for us today? We’re not slaves, so is this totally irrelevant to our lives today? Absolutely not, in fact the big ideas that Peter are talking about transcend social or economic class - what Peter’s saying here goes back to what he was saying earlier that our behavior should be holy, right, just, honorable, ethical, and moral so that by our behavior we glorify Christ Jesus and that others may see our good behavior and do the same. But Peter here goes even deeper with this concept teaching us that even if we don’t get rewarded, even if we don’t get recognized, even if we don’t get honored for doing the right thing we still do the right thing. Not just that but Peter says even if you get punished for doing the right thing, you keep doing the right thing - always! You keep honoring and obeying God - no matter what! And this is so very counter-culture from the spirit of the age that says if you’re not going to get rewarded for doing something than why do it? As Christians we are to have a totally different worldview - we are to do right, do good, and behave honorably to glorify God.
A few weeks ago I heard a preacher, ask an interesting question, in which I think he was paraphrasing or quoting John Piper. I had never heard this question asked before and it legitimately made me pause and think. He asked - “If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?” And man did that hit me hard. We do all these things as Christians. We read, we study, we train, we do events of all kinds, we serve, we preach, we teach and it all of it we always speak of doing it for our heavenly reward. But I have to ask what does any of it matter if it’s not glorifying to God? What does any of it matter if He isn’t pleased? What does any of it matter if I can’t walk with Him and be in His presence? What does any of it matter if all I’m doing it for is praise from my peers and heavenly treasure if I don’t get the greatest treasure of all - Christ himself. What does it matter, any of it if by my actions He is not magnified? That’s what Peter’s saying - you don’t obey because of reward. You obey to glorify God. And this is one area where I think we’ve gotten so twisted up in the church - we think we obey to get our salvation from Jesus, not because we are saved by Jesus we get to obey. It is a privilege and honor, not a burden. And we have so denigrated our duties to obey in the church that we have several generations of “believers” who care more about the rewards, the benefits, the whats-in-it-for-mes of Christianity that I have to ask myself how many of them are actually Christ’s sheep? How many really? I think it’s a legitimate question even though it’s a hard one, because Jesus himself says in
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
The true believers, the sheep of His pasture are the ones who as he says in listen to his voice and follow him.
So my question is are you obedient? Do you obey because you desire greatly to glorify God and magnify His name in every possible way or do you obey hopping to earn a reward? Are you one of His sheep or does he not know you at all? My prayer is that you are one of his sheep and to that end let’s pray together now
If you have never come before Christ in humility confessing your sin, asking forgiveness, and trusting in Jesus to forgive you then this morning we’re going to have a time for you to do that as we sing another song of praise to our great and glorious maker. If you are making that confession and profession of faith then come down front and find me - won’t you do that as we stand and sing together?