Monday, February 1, 2010

Undermining Slavery with True Freedom

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
“Who committed no sin,
Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;
who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:18-25)
In his letters to the Ephesian and Colossian believers, the apostle Paul addresses the relationship between slaves and masters (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-4:1), and between husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19). Likewise, Peter deals with those same issues here in his letter to scattered believers. In the previous section, he said to honor all people. This is how we experience the true freedom we have in Jesus the Messiah, by loving God and serving others. He also discussed the believer’s relationship to governing authorities. Now he turns to the issue of slavery.

Slavery was a reality of Roman culture, but Peter voices neither approval nor disapproval for it. Instead, he undermines it. The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, Jesus said (Matthew 13:33), and that is how Peter appears to approach the matter of slavery. Writing to household servants, the class of slaves most likely to have access to this letter, he says, “Servants, submit to your masters with all due respect.” Not only to those masters who are good and gentle but even to those who are harsh, and especially when treated unjustly.

It is commendable — praiseworthy, thankworthy, finds favor — if, because of being conscious or mindful of God, one puts up with being wrongfully penalized. What Peter may have in mind is servants being persecuted because of their faith in God, the same faith that, as it turns out, enables them to endure unjust treatment. Of course, nobody gets praise for submitting to penalties that are deserved. But when one patiently endures punishment they have received although they do not deserve it but have actually been “doing good” (there’s that Greek word agathapoieo again, the giving of self that blesses others), that is the kind of response that finds favor with God. It may also win respect with masters and cause them to think more favorably about faith in Jesus the Messiah. As Paul’s letter to Philemon shows concerning the runaway slave, Onesimus, a master who believes in Jesus can no longer think the same way about slavery, especially when the slave is his brother in the Lord. The institution must eventually yield to the love of God.

Peter then gives the supreme example of suffering while doing good, and how that turns to redemption. He draws from Isaiah 53, the prophet’s portrayal of Messiah as the “Suffering Servant.” Peter had witnessed firsthand how this was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus, who was persecuted and punished by men even though He was without sin or deceit. Yet, though shamefully abused, He did not respond in kind or threaten any vengeance. Rather, His words from the cross were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Consider what the suffering of Jesus has done for us.
  • He bore our sins in our place. In Him, we are now dead to sin and have the ability to do what is right before God. Paul says, “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:11).
  • He took the stripes, the scourging we rightfully deserved, and we are now healed.
  • We once were like sheep gone astray; now we are restored to the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls.
In a similar way, by submitting to those who have authority over us and doing good, it may cause them to turn to God through faith in Jesus the Messiah.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

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