Gracious Suffering - 1 Peter 2:18-25

When you paint in broad strokes, Peter’s instructions in this section of his epistle seem to match up with the common teaching of Roman household codes: everyone, obey the emperor; slaves, submit to your masters; wives, submit to your husbands; husbands, honor your wives. On all of these points, Peter fits right in line with Plato, Plutarch, and Seneca.

But this raises two questions: first, if this way of life isn’t very different from Roman life, why is Peter so worried about suffering and persecution? Second, if Peter and Plutarch are saying the same thing, is there anything specifically Christian about what Peter says? The answers to those questions are pretty blurry at this level of focus, and so to answer the first question, we need to zoom out, and to answer the second question we need to zoom in.

As we zoom out, we need to realize that a Roman household code set the rules for within a Roman house, but Christians are part of a spiritual house that has Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. The problem Rome had was not how the household was ordered; her problem was with who owned the house. Everything Christians do is for Jesus’ sake, not Rome’s, and that’s what makes us aliens and strangers. Our central loyalty in life is different from that of unbelievers, and that’s what leads to persecution, despite any number of similarities in other areas of life.

And so a Christian slave in a Roman house threatened to divide the house, even if he were a hardworking, honest slave. Rather than encouraging rebellion and disruption, Peter instructs slaves to respectfully submit to their masters as a free act of devotion to God, so that the only possible reason for a master to be upset with a Christian slave is the slave’s commitment to following Christ. If your master hates you for being a Christian, and not simply because you are a bad slave, then Peter says that the suffering you endure at his hands is a gracious thing in the sight of God, that is, behavior that God appreciates and approves of.

Our second question concerned whether or not there is anything specifically Christian about Peter’s instructions. Peter says: “Obey your master, and don’t do anything to make him upset.” Couldn’t what Peter says here just be a pragmatic path to avoiding pain, a spiritual-sounding way of saying “keep your head down.”?

And so as we zoom in to answer the question, we see that the reason why Petercalls Christian suffering “gracious” is because such suffering is what following Jesus is all about. In Christ, there is neither slave nor free. There is complete equality before the cross. And yet, it is a gracious and Christlike thing to willingly take on the role of a servant and endure abuse and scorn.

Peter uses the backdrop of Isaiah 53 to highlight Christ’s example of patient endurance as the Suffering Servant. When Christ suffered, He did not respond with sin, deceit, revilings, or threats, but instead put His trust entirely in God. When God looks on a Christian who endures suffering with God in mind and in the way Jesus endured, He sees someone living out the gospel, and that is a gracious thing in God’s sight!

Verses 22-23 give us Christ’s example to follow, and verse 24 reminds us of how we were set free so that we would even be able follow. Even though you are not a “slave” in the literal sense, there are still situations in which you have a “master” who tells you what to do and has the authority to bring consequences to bear. And in those situations where your master hates your faith, despite the fact that you are a good and faithful servant, you are called to respond to mistreatment like Jesus responded: No sin. No reviling in return. Submit, with all respect.

Try reading backwards from verse 25: you were straying like sheep. You had left the path, and gotten captured by sin. Even if you did know the way back, you couldn’t get there. But Jesus Christ bore your sins in his body on the tree so that you could stop sinning and start walking in the way of righteousness. And in your newfound blood-bought freedom, God calls you to freely submit even to those who make you suffer, which is to say, He calls you to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Christ became a slave so that slaves could become little Christs. Because of this, when you follow Jesus through sorrow and suffering, God sees Christ in you, and this is a gracious thing in His sight.

Posted on Wednesday, August 24, 2016 by CJ Bowen