Unjustly Treated but Wonderfully Protected!
Joël C. Meyer, Christian community Church, Luxembourg, asbl
1 Peter 2:18-25
Audio at www.christian-community-church.net
16 November 2014
This epistle has a wonderful and powerful introduction that some of us are memorizing in order to remember the wonderful promises of God. It speaks about our glorious salvation based upon the amazing grace of God. The people in Asia Minor desperately needed to hear repeatedly that God had not only saved them but that He was also protecting them, as they had to endure persecution. As we progress in our reading of this epistle, we understand that their privileges in Christ had repercussions for their lives. Although Peter reassured them about their future inheritance, he also explained that suffering was part of the Christian life. The suffering Peter was talking about in our paragraph has to do with suffering inflicted upon Christians for their faith.
This whole section is politically incorrect because Peter exhorts us to submit to every human institution for the Lord’s sake. Submission is a word that our modern world abhors. Modern philosophy teaches us that we are all free and equal. The roles of authority that God has instituted in family relationships and in government are challenged. Public opinion agrees that equality means uniformity; equality means interchangeability; freedom means, “I can do what I want, when I want, where I want”. There is still a general agreement that some authority is necessary to maintain a certain form of order, but this authority is very fragile. The trend is to move away from God-ordained principles to create a new social order that is emerging but is not yet entirely defined.
Christians in the first century had a different environment. Many of them were slaves and had very little freedom at all. When they turned to Christ, they realized that Christ had redeemed them. Their new freedom allowed them to come into the presence of God—and it allows us to do the same. It allows us to call God our Father. It enables us to say “no” to temptation. It enables us to know and do the will of God. This freedom enables us to live God’s way. In the context of our text of this morning, it means that our freedom leads us to submit to the authorities placed over us. It seems contradictory! Yet as Christians, we are free to obey God and no longer live enslaved to sin and to the lies of Satan. We no longer have to fight for our freedom. We are made free in Christ to live lives for the glory of God. We no longer have to fight for our rights, because Christ is our righteousness. We no longer have to fight to be rewarded, because our inheritance is reserved for us in heaven. We no longer have to fight to prove to ourselves or to the world that we are important, because God has already proved to us that we are precious in His sight when He saved us. We do not even have to fight for our security because we are protected by the power of God.
Our text this morning describes the mandate for submission, the motive for submission and the perfect example of submission. As we read those verses, we understand that this submission will bring unjust suffering, but Peter also points to Jesus who protects the souls of His children. As Christians, we will undoubtedly suffer unjustly but Jesus also wonderfully protects us!
1. The mandate for submission (2:18)
It is noteworthy that Peter and other New Testament writers address slaves directly. In the first century, slaves often had nothing to say and did not get much consideration from their masters. Of course, some masters really loved their slaves and even treated them like family members. In many cases, though, slaves were considered property. Aristotle wrote, ”A slave is a living tool, and a tool is an inanimate slave”. But in the church slaves and masters enjoyed the same privileges! Despite their different social status, they had become brothers in Christ. Both had to live their lives for the glory of God, whether masters or slaves. There is much teaching to slaves in the New Testament, probably because they were numerous in the churches. The word “servants” in our English translations comes from the word oiketai, which refers to a household servant. Although many of us are not household servants, this text still applies to us because it deals with submission to those directly over us.
Peter asked his readers to submit to their masters with complete respect. This attitude of respect we must display regardless of the master’s actions or character. Peter is not saying that there are no limits to our submission, but that whatever the situation, we should always respect the authority over us. The apostle Peter had to make a difficult choice when he was arrested for healing a lame man. The Jewish authorities commanded Him and John not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. The apostles decided to disobey because they could not stop talking about what they had seen and heard. They obeyed Jesus rather than the priests. When you read this story in Acts 4, you clearly see that despite their refusal to do what they were commanded, they still remained respectful and addressed the
priests as rulers and elders of the people. Later they will be arrested again and will be flogged for not obeying the commands of the rulers. Yet we see no sign of disrespect in their attitude. They were not trying to escape! They submitted to their rulers.
We easily submit to masters, teachers, parents or other authorities when we feel they are good and gentle. It is easy to respect a person who is patient and humble. However, our text teaches us that we should be respectful even to those who are unreasonable. The Greek word rendered by unreasonable can also mean perverse or dishonest. Is the Lord really expecting us to submit to and respect perverse and dishonest authorities? Are we not in the twenty-first century? Am I to submit to an unreasonable teacher at school? Should I respect a teacher who obviously has favorites in the class? Am I to submit and respect an abusive boss? To treat someone with respect does not mean that we do everything that person wants. There are times when we need to say no. However, even a “no” can be said with respect. We can explain calmly and lovingly why there are some things we cannot do. If we let bitterness lead our words and actions, we will become disrespectful. If we only focus on the bad side of a person, we will become disrespectful. If we speak badly about someone, we do not respect him or her.
Young people, if you want to obey God’s instruction, do not participate when others rebel against a teacher. Do not partake when they slander him. Do not complain to others about your teacher. Do not answer back as so may do! Instead, do you your homework faithfully. Do your very best to listen and learn from that professor. Be disciplined and remain respectful, remembering always that you are the student and he or she is the professor. He deserves your respect, because he is the professor! There are no other reasons needed.
The same is true for all of us at the workplace. Some managers are hard to respect because they put us under much pressure and often do not reward us as we deserve (or think we deserve!). We then have several options: we can despise them either openly or secretly; we can threaten to resign; we can take a long sick leave; we can try to ruin their reputation, etc. Or we can decide to obey God’s Word and submit respectfully for God’s sake.
Why would we do such a thing? Why would we submit to a harsh master? Why should we respect a crooked boss? These questions lead us to the second part of our paragraph that deals with the motive for submission.
2. The motive for submission (2:19-21a)
In verse 19, Peter gives a clear reason for submitting to those in authority over us. He explains that this attitude finds favor with God. God is pleased with His children when they submit respectfully. God is pleased when Christians endure pain and persevere even when they are treated unjustly. He immediately added that God is not glorified when we are harshly treated as a result of bad behavior. If the slave was caught for stealing something, he deserved a punishment from his master. However, if he had to suffer unjustly for doing what is right, then God was pleased. Some of these slaves endured painful and unjust beating. Their master could force them to work long hours. They could not file a lawsuit against their masters. All they could do was to endure. They did so for the glory and the honor of God.
In our modern world, such a teaching is not acceptable. If you are treated unjustly, you contact your trade union or you go to court to obtain justice. We are being told all day long that our well-being and our personal rights are more important than anything else is. We are at the center of the world. Our desires and emotions are far more important than the principles taught by God. Our culture is a culture of rebellion and resistance and demonstrations. Music, films, advertisements, and books often carry a revolutionary message. A famous song issued some decades ago claimed, “We don’t need no education”. The big idea is to deconstruct all biblical principles. This touches all areas of society. Marriage should no longer be the lifelong love/submission relationship as God created it. It should be replaced by a contract between two individuals who feel attracted to each other. It should last as long as they wish. In the classroom, students no longer fear the teachers, but often teachers are afraid of their students. There are probably many other examples in the society. Unfortunately, the same trend can even be observed in Christian churches. People want to worship God as they choose without submitting to the Word of God.
Humanly speaking, Christians in the first century and under the reign of Nero would have had reasons to rebel against the emperor and against their masters. Their sufferings were not only psychological. Often they had to undergo physical violence from those in authority over them. Yet Peter does not call them to rebellion. He does not call for a political revolution. He tells them to persevere in their submission despite the unjust treatment because this attitude finds favor with God. Let’s be sure here not to misunderstand--Peter did not tell his readers intentionally to provoke a situation where they would have to suffer for their faith. He told them to do what is right and live with the consequences without being disrespectful even to the one who was persecuting them. They would behave in this way for the sake of conscience before God. They were, after all, not living for themselves, but for the glory of God. They were not living as if God did not see them or as if He were absent. They realized that God was with them, that He was
watching them; and that He would reward them. They were to apply what Paul wrote to the Romans chapter 12 verses 19 to 21, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
The question for us is to know whether we want to find favor with God. Often we want to find favor with ourselves. We want justice now! We want our reward now! We want to be treated as humans! We want our rights to be respected now! We must understand that as Christians our life is no longer about ourselves but about the glory of God. As we have seen in the previous texts of this epistle, God has provided everything for us so that we proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us from darkness into His marvelous light. Peter insists that we should keep our behavior excellent. As Christians, we do not have to be concerned about our lives and rights. God has provided the very best for us. As Christians, we display a way of life that is in conformity with God’s will. As Christians, we are to serve others and not ourselves.
When we decide to live this way, we understand that God is with us and sees us. He is not only at church on Sunday morning or during other church meetings. He sees us in the school class, in our office, in our homes. He sees when we refuse to submit and he sees when we abuse our authority. He also notices when we do what is right, and this finds favor with Him. We can pretend to live the Christian life and fool men, but God sees.
Peter goes even a step further. Not only does this attitude of enduring unjust treatment find favor with God, but also he says that we have been called for this purpose. Suffering for our faith is part of our calling as Christians. Again, he is not saying that we should seek suffering. However, suffering for Christ should not surprise us. In 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul wrote, “And Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
The only recourse the Christians in Asia Minor had was to turn to the Lord. They had no other protection! They had to live by faith! God is honored when we do what is right trusting that He is able to protect us and defend us. He is able to use the most desperate situation to glorify His name. He is able to use the worst and most unjust circumstances in our lives to help us grow in Him.
At this point most of us think that there is no way that they can endure all of that! Let us remember what we read earlier in the service in Matthew 16: 24, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.’” In the remainder of our text of this morning, Peter presents Jesus as the perfect example of submission and as the our enabler and source of strength when we suffer.
3. The perfect example of submission (2:21b-23)
Disciples should not be surprised at their sufferings, because Jesus Himself suffered for them. We know from the account of the Gospels and many other texts of the Bible that Jesus was perfectly submitted to His Father. He accomplished God’s will at all times and in all circumstances. He was tempted like we are in all things, but He did not sin. This perfect submission led Him to the cross! He willingly submitted Himself to the His Father! We also know that He submitted to human authorities. He paid taxes, for example. He submitted to the Jewish authorities when they arrested Him. He could have called angels to defend Him. He even submitted to Pilate, a Roman official, who condemned Him to death. If ever anyone was treated unjustly, it was Jesus, the Son of God. He never complained nor took vengeance!
The recipients of this epistle probably thought they had good reasons to complain and to seek vengeance. Many others in Church history had to suffer persecution, imprisonment and many other hardships for their faith. However, none of their sufferings and temptations could ever be compared with what Jesus had to endure. He did not only have to face the injustices of men but He had to face the wrath of God, although He had done nothing to offend Him. There can be no greater judgment than to face the wrath of God. Jesus cried at the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” To be abandoned and forsaken by God is the worst thing that can happen to anyone! Jesus suffered unjustly, but His Father was glorified. Jesus did it God’s way! We are called to be His followers!
Let me read to you the text of the Old Testament that Peter had in mind when he wrote about the unjust sufferings of Christ (Isaiah 53:1-10).
Peter gave a few examples of Jesus’ attitude toward unjust sufferings that his readers could adopt in their own situation:
While being reviled, He did not revile in return. When Jesus was arrested and tried, He was verbally attacked by the Jews and the soldiers. The crowd shouted, “crucify Him”. The chief priests and the scribes were accusing Him vehemently. Herod was treating Him with contempt. The soldiers mocked Him. The criminals around him mocked Him. Yet He did not revile in return. Jesus had the power to shut their mouths, but He did not. Peter explained that Jesus set an example for his readers to follow.
When we are doing what is right, we may sometimes have to face false accusations. The Jews wanted to get rid of Jesus, because they refused to believe in Him. The priests saw Him as a threat to their own authority. Pilate accepted to have Him crucified to maintain peace in his province. They all found good reasons to have Jesus killed. To reach their goal they invented all kinds of false accusations against Him, and even hired false witnesses.
When we proclaim the Gospel and live lives that glorify God, we sometimes make other people feel uneasy. They do not want to be confronted with the light. They prefer their darkness. They do not want to hear that they are sinners and need repentance. They may try to do whatever they can to keep us silent. There are many Christians who have lived under the communist regime who have been killed or imprisoned to keep them from talking about God. They were accused of being liars, manipulators, enemies to the state, etc.
When reviled, Jesus did not retaliate and remained silent for most of the time. He is our example.
While suffering, He uttered no threats. He could have threatened them to send them to hell. He could have threatened to ask His Father to destroy them and their families. However, He did not. Instead He prayed to His Father, asking Him to forgive those who abused Him. In the midst of our suffering, we must never forget that those who persecute us do not know the Lord. God wants us to intercede for them. We have been saved by grace and are no better than our persecutors. We need to be gracious even with them.
He kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. He knew that God was always doing what is right. He knew His Father so well that He could still have faith in Him when His circumstances seemed to indicate that evil had won. We, too, can entrust ourselves to God. He will have the last word. His Word is trustworthy even if our experiences seem to tell us that God is no longer in control. He is our righteousness.
Jesus set an example for us so that we know how to act when we suffer unjustly! But Jesus did more than that. He was not only an example, He also made it possible for us to follow Him and His example. As we close this morning, I would like us to have a look at the last two verses of our text.
Jesus died for us and bore our sins so that we can live righteous lives. His sufferings and His death were much more than a mere example for us to follow. They were the means by which God saved us and changed us so that we could indeed follow Christ. No one can submit, as Peter requires from His readers, if he is not first cleansed from all his sins. No one would want to accept unjust suffering to find favor with God, if he were not first made righteous. The wounds Jesus had to suffer were far greater than anything we will ever have to suffer. His wounds healed us from the consequences of sin. We can face all injustices and persecution because we know that we have eternal life in Christ. He was made a slave and treated like a slave so that we could become children of God. He perfectly exemplified what it means to live for God on this earth. He also became the perfect sacrifice so that we could glorify His Father and ours as we live on this earth.
If we had not turned to Him, we would be like our persecutors. We would be lost and in darkness with no hope trying to survive. Now we have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls. Jesus is the good Shepherd. No one can steal us from His flock. He promised that no one could snatch us out of His hands, nor of His Father’s hands. We may have to face persecution, abuse or any other unjust treatment. We may even be killed, but our souls are guarded by our Savior.
Let us take this seriously! We must submit because this is God’s will for us. We want to submit even to unjust masters because we want to find God’s favor. We trust Jesus is able to strengthen us to follow His perfect example.
Unjustly treated but powerfully protected!