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- 1 Peter 2:18 - 25
What would you pay for fresh vision in your life? Maybe you have it right now already: You know who you are, Who God made you to be, how you are to live and what you should spend your time doing. If that is you, you may be in the minority of people, even Christians. Fresh vision and clarity of mind is not a given even in Christian circles. But it is necessary and it is priceless.
Thankfully, we don’t need to buy vision. We are given it freely through the Scriptures. The vision and goal of our life is to live out all the good instructions of God as clearly taught in His Holy Word. And He has direction for each of us no matter what kind of situation we are in. The Word really does 2 things: it defines us and it directs us. So then none of us should live in the dark, live in confusion, live without vision. We have access to it right now.
This week Peter will be giving instruction to people in situations that they did not ask to be in and that they cannot get out of out. The message is to household servants or slaves but it goes beyond that to people right now who are in situations that they don’t want to be in: Unhappy work environment, struggles in the home, getting the stink eye from your neighbor, etc. So as we walk through this instruction, vision, direction for slaves, let’s put ourselves into the conversation. Because we will all end up at times in situations that appear hopeless, directionless and out of God’s control. You might be in one right now. And that is when we need fresh vision from God for us right now.
A look at slavery
So here we go. Verse 18, “Servants be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” This verse is jarring and shocking for the modern reader and perhaps it should be. It would be unthinkable to give this instruction now in 2017 modern day America where slavery has been eradicated and race relations are often in center view of what needs improving in America. At first it sounds like Peter is accepting slavery as a norm or perhaps even condoning it. But that is not what is happening.
Shepherding a people group
Peter is shepherding a people group that made up about ¼ of the population in the Roman Empire. And he along with other New Testament writers are setting the stage for the eradication of slavery in the world forever which will come mainly through the spreading of the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
What they were like
People became slaves or household servants for a variety of reasons. Either they were defeated in war and became the victor’s property, or they were born into slavery, or they sold themselves into slavery to pay back a debt. Some servants were highly educated; some were doctors, teachers or skilled workers. Some were able to buy their freedom. Some could not. Unlike American slavery, this kind of slavery was not based on race. It was based on other factors. It was perhaps a bit less severe than the slavery in Abraham’s Lincoln’s time but it was not a good thing.
Not in creation
People owning other people has never been part of God’s created order. It is a product and devastating affect of the fall. Cain killed Abel in just the second generation of humanity. It should be no surprise that people still want to control other people today.
And the way that God sets out to make it right is by forming a new humanity that is not based on race, gender, height, social status or education. But a new humanity based on the grace of God in Christ. In Christ, there is no Jew, Gentile, slave or free, rich and poor. And this message when taken into the realm of politics and culture will change governments and change societies. And it already has.
Equal members in God’s family
Servants in these times were not considered real citizens or real persons. Here Peter is saying the opposite. In the culture, you may be a nobody. In the church, the redeemed community of God, you are an equal member with all the benefits of being joined to Christ and His body. This is Peter’s message. It would have done no good for Peter to write a letter to the church and rail against the government. This would have made servants perhaps more angry, more frustrated, feeling more stuck. Instead, Peter is giving them vision for how to live in this present state. Servants are told to be subject to their masters, not just the good ones but the bad ones to.
Respecting a good master may come a bit more easily but respecting a crooked, unjust one, seems unthinkable. The word for unjust is skolios which means crooked or bent or warped. The imagery is that of a master who is not upright and just and good. A servant is to be subject to and respect that kind of master. Verse 19 answers the questions of why and how. “For this is a gracious thing, when mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” So why respect this unjust master and endure unjust suffering? Because it is a gracious thing. And how does a person do this? By being mindful of God or conscience of God.
2 kinds of suffering
So let’s look at the first question: why do we respect unjust people and endure unjust suffering? Peter identifies 2 forms of suffering. Just suffering and unjust suffering. Verse 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.” Just suffering is Tom Petters being sentenced to 50 year of jail time for perhaps the biggest Ponzi Scheme of all time. No one would applaud him for serving jail time. That is not heroic. This is justice.
As if we had done bad
However, Peter is saying that Christians will do good and suffer unjustly for it, as if they had done bad. And we may even be prone to think that we have done something bad and that is why we are suffering this injustice. And Peter is saying the opposite. You, Christian, may do everything right to the best of your ability and still be maligned and mistreated. And when you endure that, it is pleasing to God.
Called to this experience
In fact, Peter goes one step further and says that we have been called to this or invited into these experiences. “For to this, you have been called,” He says. The “this” is a life of at least occasional mistreatment and injustice even though you have done nothing to deserve it. If you have ever said, “I’m outta here. I don’t deserve this. This isn’t fair,” the next thing you should think is to remember your calling. The occasional unjust treatment is a part of the salvation package and it is meant to make you become a little bit more like Jesus and test your obedience to Jesus. In other words, it is not accidental. It is not a detour in your life. It is a leg in the journey.
How do we know the difference?
How do we know when we are suffering unjustly? It is very easy to feel like you did something wrong and you are being afflicted or punished for it. Imagine the life of a slave. There was probably allot of shame that went along with that status. It may have been easy to just say, “you know what surely I deserve this”. But Peter is saying, no, you don’t deserve this. Don’t fall into that self-condemning trap.
Be defined by God
I think we know that we are suffering unjustly when we are brought into a situation that we did not ask to be brought into. We did not sign up for. We did not initiate or create. Often times those kind of scenarios are blurry, foggy, confusing and cloudy. And this confusion can lead to feeling condemned, not just wronged but wrong. You can start to be defined by the cruel masters in your life that you are having a hard time getting away from.
And Peter is saying, no. It is possible to suffer even though you did nothing wrong. The cruel master, neighbor, boss does not define you. God does. And when you endure suffering while being obedient to God, He is pleased. That is the why we endure unjust treatment. Because it is gracious and pleasing to God.
How do we do this
Now to the how: How do we endure unjust treatment? It is not by putting a brave face on and acting tough. We endure unjust treatment by being mindful of God and remembering the example of Jesus Christ. To be mindful of God is to be conscious of God at all times. To think thoughts of God, to have your mind filled with all that God is. This is not always natural or normal. When we are mistreated, we usually think of revenge, getting back at people, escaping, running away or retaliating. Our minds are filled with not so good things.
Mindful of God
But Peter says to be mindful of God. God is with you. God is just. God loves you. God is in control. God is not confused. God is not thrown off of His A game. He is bigger than this thing or person that feels so big. David says in Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” This is not an occasional thing for the Christian. We set the Lord or put God in our minds all the time. He is our Strength, our Shelter, our Confidence.
When it’s difficult
And we can easily set other things before us instead of the Lord. And we can easily be conscience of other people much more than conscience of God. This is true especially when there is an important doctor’s appointment or a difficult meeting or a major decision to make or you are looking for someone’s approval. We set the Lord before us especially when we feel compelled to put before us someone or something else.
Remembering the example of the Christ
Being mindful of God includes remembering the example of Jesus Christ. Christ understands bad and unjust treatment. Verse 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.” Christ is the tangible, actual, historical example for how we are to live. We learn about Him yes but we also seek to imitate Him. We are to follow in his steps. Steps are imprints, a path, grooves He left behind. We are not cutting a new trail here or reinventing the wheel. We are following His lead, His example. Jesus laid down a path. His followers follow that same path.
It was a path of incredible living met with incredible suffering. “Jesus committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” And still, He suffered. This eliminates the idea that all suffering is self-induced. Jesus committed no sin and was killed. So then it very possible that you will commit no sin and be scolded, bad-mouthed or insulted for being a Christ-follower.
When I was in my Senior year in College, I wrote a report about a controversial topic. I gave my opinion on it based on what I could see in the Scriptures. Not long after I gave the report in class, I got a really nasty email from one of the students. It was a personal attack on me for my views that I think were and still are biblically faithful. This a comparatively mild experience to what Jesus suffered but it helps to make the point. You being you, you being faithful to Jesus to the best of your ability will bring suffering and hostility. It happened to Jesus in a big way. It will happen to us in comparatively small ways. It should not be a surprise.
When not if that happens, we are not to return the favor and retaliate. “When He was reviled. He did not revile in return. When He suffered He did not threaten…” It was very common back then and it is still common for people to defend themselves in court of law. So a person hires a defense attorney or takes the stand himself to make his case. In personal matters, an argument breaks out and its one person’s word against the other person’s word. Jesus did not argue His case. He was silent before his accusers like a lamb before his shearers.
He did not make threats like, “Do you have any idea what you have coming? Do you know that I could flip this whole thing around and judge, sentence and condemn all of you? Do you know that I will return with a sword in my mouth, as a lion and a ruling lamb?” He did not do that. Why? Because He did not come to inflict the hammer blow of judgment and justice. Jesus came to endure the hammer blow of judgment so that you and I will never need to endure it. The just died for the unjust so that we could be brought to God.
Jesus through His suffering and mistreatment continued entrusting Himself to Him Who judges justly. The “Himself” here in the ESV is not actually there in the original Greek. The idea is bigger than just entrusting Himself. Jesus was entrusting everything to God. He entrusted His enemies, His trial and crucifixion, His agony, and Himself to God.
This is the example He laid out for us. We entrust or give over all things to God. He is the Judge of all situations and He will act justly and fairly. And we may end up in situations that we have tried to fix, maintain, control and we have not been able to do any of those things. What do we do? We entrust it to God. He is in control of the things that we do not have control over.
God’s love and control
Amazingly enough, God was in total control at the cross of Jesus. Isaiah 53:10, “It was the will of the Lord to crush Him.” Acts 2:23, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” And this was all done underneath the umbrella of Matthew 17:5, “This is my beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased.” And so God being in control and God being pleased with the Son did not eliminate the sufferings of the Son. It rather undergirded and gave the sufferings of the Son a solid foundation. Knowledge of God’s sovereign power and love will get us through the hardest times.
What it accomplished
What did all this suffering and unjust treatment accomplish? This is what Jesus was doing: Verse 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.” This answers Jesus’ question in the garden: is there some other way to save people than the cross? The answer is no. The just must die for the unjust. The sinless must die for the sinner. The Lamb needs to be slain. Only that act will break the curse, stop the disease, heal the wounded. This was the plan from before the foundation of the world. So when we endure suffering and unjust treatment in a variety of ways, it is in part meant to remind us of the great injustice Jesus endured at the cross so that we will praise Him for it.
We “were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Jesus’ suffering brought lost sheep back to the Shepherd. What God does through our suffering is in His hands. However, we know the final result. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” May Christ and His example be our vision now and always. Let’s pray.