April 10, 2005

1 Peter 2:18-20 Sermon Notes

Category: Bible - NT - 1 Peter :: Permalink

1 Peter 2:18-20
(April 10, 2005, Sermon Notes)

It’s tempting to skip a passage like this one. Slavery was common in Peter’s day, but it isn’t in ours. We might think these verses aren’t relevant to us, but Paul tells us that all Scripture is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16) and that includes 1 Peter 2:18-20. Peter is applying the gospel here, teaching to live out our relationships in the light of the cross, as people who have been redeemed, who have died to sins in order to live for righteousness. With that goal in mind, he tells us that God calls His servants to submit to their earthly masters.


Peter has told the whole church to “submit … to every human creature for the Lord’s sake” (2:13). We are all to submit to our rulers (2:13-17). Now Peter speaks directly to the slaves in the church and tells them to submit to their masters with all fear (a term which, in Peter’s letters, normally refers to fear of God, though it may also imply reverence for the master), not only if the master is good and considerate but also if he is harsh or crooked. Slaves are to submit, Peter says, even to masters who beat them without cause.

What are we supposed to do with a summons like this one? Sometimes people say that what the Bible say to slaves we can apply to employees, but that isn’t true. Employees have options slaves don’t have. They can quit. If the boss beats them, they can file charges. Employees aren’t locked in the way slaves are.

In applying this passage, it helps to distinguish between saying that the Bible is time-conditioned and saying that it is time-bound. The Bible is indeed time-conditioned: Peter is writing to people in a particular situation. But what he says is not bound to that situation. Even in our different circumstances, what he is saying still applies to us.

In spite of the differences between slaves and employees, employees can still learn from this passage that, so long as they are working for a particular boss, they are to submit to him, whether they like him or not. Badmouthing him isn’t an option.

But there are other situations which are even closer to the original, situations where people are locked in in ways that employees aren’t. Students need to submit to unfair teachers, children are to submit to their parents even when the parents aren’t being just, and church members are to treat their elders with respect instead of rebelling even when those elders are wrong.

The conduct of those in authority over us doesn’t take away from our calling toward them. We are to submit whether they are cruel or kind, crooked or fair, considerate or harsh.


Peter is giving us a hard calling. The biggest problem we have with this passage isn’t that we don’t understand it; it’s that we don’t like it. The only way to carry out this calling is by having the right focus — not on ourselves and our suffering, not on our masters and their behaviour, but on God.

Peter tells slaves (and all of us) that it is “commendable” before God if we endure unjust suffering because we are conscious of God. In the midst of our suffering, we are to stay focused on God’s plans and purposes, on what God calls us to do, on the rewards He promises us. We are to entrust ourselves to God as the just Judge who will punish harsh masters (2:21ff.).

In Christ, God has set us free from our old evil desires which war against our souls (2:10). He’s redeemed us from the empty way of life we inherited from our forefathers and the world around. He’s rescued us from putting ourselves first so that we can put Him and others ahead of ourselves. Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree so that we could die to sin and live to righteousness.

We endure suffering by being conscious of God, of what He has done and what He will do for us. But sometimes we endure suffering because we are conscious of God. Just as Joseph’s awareness of God led to his being accused of rape and thrown into jail, so our desire to serve God may lead to suffering. But as Yahweh was with Joseph, He will be with us, too — and that awareness is the key to enduring suffering.

Our endurance is “commendable” (2:20) to God. No one else may appreciate our behaviour. Our friends may think we’ve become doormats. People in authority may take advantage of our submission. But God values our submission and in the end only His judgment matters. We can keep doing what’s right knowing that if we suffer for it and endure, He approves that endurance. He will reward us and He will punish those who oppress us.

God has set us free from our evil desires so that we can serve Him. He calls us as His free servants to submit to human masters and to submit impartially — to the kind and the cruel — because we’re focused on Him and we’re waiting patiently for Him to say “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Posted by John Barach @ 9:03 am | Discuss (0)

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