When You Suffer For Doing Right, Stay True to God
Section 3.3 of 1 Peter (1 Peter 2:18-20)
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.
For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.
For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience?
But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.
Transitioning to his next example regarding how to live as God’s people, Peter goes into the subject of servants or slaves. In our ‘modern’ world, we have developed in our minds a very bitter view of slavery. This is due to the horrors of what is called “chattel slavery” that existed in many areas of the world, but most freshly in our minds is when it existed in the United States. It is important for us to separate that image of slavery from the context that is being described here.
Slavery during the Roman times and among the Roman people occurred as a status that citizens would find themselves in for different reasons. The use of slavery as a means to economic production and meeting the needs of merchants and the like was a regular way of life. When Peter references slavery or servanthood, it is within this cultural context, where many slaves existed out of choice or position, and where slaves had rights and where masters were obligated to treat their slaves appropriately (Meager, David).
It is also important to take this passage within its literal context, considering what has already been said by Peter. “Keep your conduct among the gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:12 ESV) is one example to this point. Also, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” (1 Peter 2:15 ESV) is another. In order to end the persecution against these congregation that is being brought about by the rumors and slander of those among whom these Christians lived, Peter is giving this guidance so that their behavior demonstrates these rumors and slanderous accusations to be false.
As Peter continues, he makes it a point to give example as to the significance of the suffering endured by those under harsh masters. “…not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.” Peter is attempting to put things into perspective at this point. This third sub-section of the third section of the First Letter of Peter serves as a second example of how to “behave honorably” but is also a build-up to understanding the significance of Christian suffering in light of the suffering of Christ (to be discussed in the next sub-section). The following sentences provide this build up through a pattern of reasoning to make a point clear.
Why should we behave with all respect to a harsh master? “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.” Peter points out that if you are behaving not to satisfy the ideas of men, but instead behave according to keeping your conscience clear in reference toward God, this finds favor. Even if you are being made to suffer unjustly, other men might look down upon you if you do not stand up and cry out against such an injustice. But we are not to behave in order to satisfy the pride of men. We are concerned about living according to God’s Word, living in obedience to Him alone. So, when we do not respond with disrespect, indignity, and vanity to mistreatment by our masters, we are obeying God. But how can this be? Peter continues.
“For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience?” Here we see Peter putting things into context in order to bring out the meaning of his words. If a person sins and is treated harshly because of it, if you endure that treatment with patience, what does that really say? Nothing, really. What credit do you really give to someone who takes punishment for their own sin? So, what does that have to do with anything? “But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.” Ah, now we can begin to see where Peter is attempting to relate his guidance here. When we are wronged, and we respond in an effort to wrong in return, are we behaving justly or are we sinning against God? We are to “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:17 NASB) then to not honor or respect our master, even when he treats us unjustly, we are acting against God’s will.
It is expected of the worldly person to act in defiance to such maltreatment by their masters. We can all think in our own minds that we might stand against someone who is doing wrong against us within the context of our times. However, in the ancient world, you were expected to continue to obey your master even when you are wronged by him. In an environment where the nature of Christian life-style is being publically called into question and there is much slander against it, we can come to comprehend two things. The first is that Peter is calling these Christians to act in a manner of behavior that shows greater moral fortitude and self-control than the behavior of those non-believers around them. The second is that for Christians to endure such unjust punishment, and respond with love and respect in spite of it, finds favor in the eyes of God. It is God that we seek to please, not our masters, not other people, not our peers.
At this point, there will likely be those out there who would absolutely refuse to accept this. The first point being our dislike of slavery, and rightfully so. Thanks to Capitalism, we have finally found a way to provide for the needs of all without the need of slavery to maintain an economy. It was upon Judeo-Christian principles of moral behavior that our economic system was developed. The next point would be the matter of not jumping up and rebelling against a harsh master. We all feel a natural hatred to those who treat others poorly, especially when that treatment falls on us. We would reject this passage and say that it would be right to act out against the harsh master for treating us poorly. There is no moral wrong in acting out against a harsh master we might argue. To those who have this bouncing around in their mind as they read this article, let me tell you, I was there myself. I have always been a proud American, proud of our defeat of slavery, proud of our economic system that has lifted millions out of true poverty and changed the world, and also proud of our individualism and freedom and history of going after the tyrant and taking them down.
Please know that you must consider the context of this passage. Peter is writing to a people who are being slandered among the public by rumors of devious behavior. He is attempting to provide them with guidance in how to behave in order to represent Christ honorably and to remove the stain of these rumors. He is instructing them to behave in ways that honor God, not man. The context of slavery in this time was different than what we know of it today, and that plays a role as well. You must be able to step back, release your personal views built into you our culture and your personal history. You have to accept the teaching of this passage within its proper place. So, what is that exactly? It will be made clearer as we move into the next sub-section where Peter expands upon this idea, however, I identified this as its own sub-section separate from the next for a reason.
This passage conveys a very deep truth that we must all come to terms with in order to break through many barriers to true freedom that our culture and society has built into us. The concept of being given reparations by those descendants of the individuals who have done wrong in the past has filled us with an inability to appreciate this truth. How are we to accept being forgiven if we are not able to forgive others ourselves? Do we believe we exist in a vacuum? Even when we are wronged, we must not do wrong in return. As much as we may feel the desire to act out against a boss who is cruel to us, we shouldn’t. There will be those around us who are just in their hearts who will witness this foul treatment. If we endure this foul treatment among those whose hearts are just, then the wrong of the act will be witnessed, and will not be required of us to take action. Instead, we will not be viewed as a people who seek to subvert and cause upheaval, but we will be seen as a strong people, able to endure hardship with love and compassion. People will see this courage and be strengthened by it.
When we set this example for others, we are being the light in the lives of others. Through our experiences, and our proper responses to them, God may be glorified. People should know that it is God to whom our conscience bears its responsibility. When we stand true to our role and responsibilities in life, and we endure hardship with patience and conviction, it is because we desire only to please God through such an experience. Those who know this is who we are will see it, and through it others may come to be saved by it. When we do not allow the wicked ways of others taken against us to cause us to do wrong, we bring honor to God, and we bring God to others. We are to be the light of God to the lost. This passage pre-dates the massive persecution of the Christian people, and is within the context of those Christians who have already been martyred. We live in the world produced by those who lived this passage out. We honor their memory as well when we stay true to Jesus. It is in our experience of such situations that we truly model the acts of Jesus. It is this subject that Peter moves to in the next sub-section.
Meager, David (2006). Slavery In Bible Times. Cross Way. Autumn 2006 No. 102. Retrieved from http://archive.churchsociety.org/crossway/documents/Cway_102_Slavery1.pdf August 20, 2017.