21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:21-25 ESV
You have been called to suffer. It doesn’t take much imagination to consider how that thought must have come across to Peter’s audience. And he was quite specific about the kind of suffering he has in mind.
…if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. – 1 Peter 2:20 ESV
Peter had been addressing those within the local congregation who were slaves. The Greek word Peter used is oiketēs, which most often referred to a household servant. Another common reference to slaves was the Greek word doulos, which means “one who is subservient to, and entirely at the disposal of, his master; a slave.” It is estimated that, during the 1st-Century, as much as one-third of the Roman population were slaves. As a result, slaves were a ubiquitous part of society, with many of them coming to faith in Christ and becoming members of local congregations throughout the Roman empire. Some of these people had been taken as captives of war. Others were born into slavery. But there was another class of individuals who had been required to enter into indentured servitude out of necessity. If someone owed a debt he could not pay, he could agree to work off the unpaid balance by becoming a bondservant. This was a situation that was covered under the Mosaic Law and was essentially a form of welfare. The Law even made provision for an individual to remain a slave out of gratitude to his master.
“But the slave may declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I don’t want to go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door or doorpost and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will serve his master for life.” – Exodus 21:5-6 NLT
Yet, it is difficult to understand how the New Testament authors seem to have remained silent about the injustice of slavery. In our day, when slavery has been deservedly castigated and virtually eradicated, we find it strange that Jesus and His followers had little to say about it.
“The church never addressed the institution of slavery in society, for it was outside its province—society in that day did not claim to be representative, and certainly not representative of Christians, concepts that arrived with the Enlightenment—but it did address the situation in the church, where no social distinctions were to be allowed, for all were brothers and sisters (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11; Phile. 16), however shocking that was to society at large.” – Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter
Their silence on the matter should not be taken as a form of validation or justification. But as was pointed out in yesterday’s point, Peter and the other apostles were not out to redeem the culture of their day. They had a God-given mandate to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God and make disciples of all the nations. Any impact they were to make on the culture would come through the reconciliation of individual men and women to God. And their efforts were bearing fruit. The church was growing and its presence was beginning to be felt all throughout the Roman Empire. It was within the body of Christ that individuals from all walks of life could gather together in an atmosphere marked by unity and equity. The apostle Paul repeatedly emphasized the equalizing nature of the gospel.
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 NLT
Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:13 NLT
And Peter took the time to address the slaves within the local fellowship to whom he wrote. He wanted to use them as an example of what it meant to suffer for the sake of Christ. These individuals, while free in Christ, still found themselves living as literal slaves to men. Considered to be little more than personal property, they had no rights. For Peter, the hopeless and helpless circumstance of a slave provided the perfect illustration of his earlier point.
For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. – 1 Peter 2:16 NLT
This message had been addressed to the entire congregation, but now Peter was applying it to the life of a slave. He knew that many of these enslaved brothers and sisters in Christ were suffering unjustly at the hands of their masters. It is quite possible that some of them were actually enduring increased hostilities for their profession of faith. So, Peter reminds them that “God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment” (1 Peter 2:19 NLT).
And because Peter knew that this call would be difficult to hear, let alone obey, he turned their attention to Jesus. Peter could recall the teachings of Jesus and knew that His life had been the consummate illustration of humble servanthood and willing submission to doing good, no matter what the cost. The words of Jesus still rang in Peter’s ear.
“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28 NLT
Jesus had been called by God to serve, suffer, and sacrifice His life, so His followers should not expect their calling to be any different.
For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21 NLT
With the prophetic words of Isaiah in mind, Peter paints a vivid picture of Jesus, the suffering servant.
He never sinned,
nor ever deceived anyone.
He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
who always judges fairly.
He personally carried our sins
in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
and live for what is right.
By his wounds
you are healed.
Once you were like sheep
who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
the Guardian of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:22-25 NLT
Jesus provided an incomparable example of selfless, sacrificial servanthood. He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and yet He willingly allowed Himself to be rejected and ridiculed by those whom He had made. The Creator placed Himself at the mercy of His creation. Peter’s words echo the sentiment of Paul, expressed in his letter to the believers in Philippi.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 NLT
Peter understood the formidable nature of his admonition. He was asking his readers to do the impossible. Yet, at the same time, Peter knew from personal experience that this kind of selfless life could be accomplished through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. In fact, in a second letter he wrote, Peter introduced himself as “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1 NLT). He considered himself to be a slave of Jesus and wanted his readers to understand that they not only shared his identity but were equipped with the same source of power to live it out in everyday life.
May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. – 2 Peter 1:2-3 NLT
There was nothing they would face for which they were not already equipped. There was no suffering they might undergo that Jesus Himself had not endured and overcome. Even enslavement could not prevent their successful emulation of Jesus. No circumstance they could face in life would be able to stand against the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of God. They had been called to do good, and even if suffering were part of God’s divine plan, they would find themselves fully capable of following in the footsteps of Jesus.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.