1 Peter 2:18-20, “18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 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.”
There are a number of verses in our Bible that, if we were to be completely honest, we might wish that they were not there. The text for this article could be considered one of them. On the one hand, the idea of slavery is the context for these verses, and in the modern world, slavery has been an ugly chapter in human history. Even if we can demonstrate that slaves in the first century were utterly different than in more modern times, it is still an uncomfortable backdrop upon which to consider these verses. Most modern translations use the word “servant” rather than “slave,” perhaps to better reflect what an ancient slave was, but perhaps also to avoid using the word “slave” in their translation. But, more than this, these verses point out to us that in working relationships, we are not always repaid for the good that we do. The scenario is common enough: the worker who does a good job is faithful and dependable, gets passed over for the promotion in place of someone who knows the right people. It does not seem right, because, in reality, it is not right. Yet, the worker continues to do a good job, serve faithfully, and endures the challenge. Peter writes to a group of people who are experiencing great trials and is on the lower end of the societal scale. How are they to live out their faith in a hostile world? Through a variety of relationships, Peter instructs them to keep their conduct honorable so that God will be glorified. In this short section, Peter addresses the servant and his relationship to his master.
Servants be subject with all respect. This is the main command of these verses. The verses that follow expand out on the reasons and the results, but this is the command that servants are to follow. It is a word that causes some of us to break out into hives, but the word is submission, with the idea that we are to obey. This is the second in a series of contexts in which we are to live honorably for God. First, Peter addresses our interactions with the governmental authorities, but here he addresses workplace authorities. In both cases, we are to submit to those who have authority.
Now the uncomfortable part of this is that servants are to submit “not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” We remember that Peter is writing this to a people who have been scattered, who have been on the receiving end of persecution. In addition to this, they have been placed in service to masters who may or may not have their best interest in mind. In our minds, it would make sense to say that they are to submit to their master, but if their master is spewing evil and pain towards them, they can be free from this command. However, Peter instructs them that they are to live in humble submission no matter what their master does. This unjust suffering is not, however, an isolated experience, but rather it follows in the footsteps of our Savior, Jesus Christ. If any of us get to feeling like we are suffering even though we have done what is right, we simply need to look to Jesus for our encouragement and our example. It also is a wonderful reminder of the gospel right in the midst of the workplace relationship, as is seen in the following verses.
Not only is submission commanded by God, but it is also commanded by God as well. It is a gracious thing when one endures suffering unjustly, meaning that you suffer even though you have not done something to deserve it. Peter draws out the distinction that we should expect to suffer when we do wrong, and that is not commendable. However, when we have carried out our duties well and yet are still on the receiving end of the attacks, it is a gracious thing in the sight of God. God is pleased with us when we endure suffering when we faithfully serve our masters despite the opposition. That is the goal of our lives lived out in the workplace. We do not fear our master, but rather God
Before we leave this text, we ought to make mention of the phrase, “mindful of God.” In this section, Peter is giving instructions on purposeful living as exiles of Christ. This shows up in a variety of relationships, including the work of relationships being discussed here. While we are to respect the authorities in our lives, whether that be the government as discussed in the previous article, or here in the workplace. There is a certain level of fear that can be had as it relates to the master. We work differently when the master passes by. We endure the whims and sometimes even the whips of the master. However, Peter reminds us again of the place of the believer: we serve God first and foremost. So, as you do your work, remember that while you work for a human master, you ultimately serve God. Being mindful of God, including the unjust suffering of Jesus, will help us serve faithfully, despite the opposition.