Submit Because of God not man
I don't know how much you remember of your maths lessons as a child. Perhaps they're memories you want to keep far away from the forefront of your mind, but can you recall what two negatives make in multiplication or division? Minus two times minus five makes plus ten. In maths two negatives can make a positive. Amazing isn't it. It can be true in maths but can it be true in ethics? Can two wrongs make a right? Well we'll find out from our Bible passage this evening where some Christians are being told whether two wrongs can make a right.
Please do turn with me to p860 where we'll find 1 Peter ch 2. Now Peter, one of Jesus's closest disciples, had written this letter to some of the Christians scattered round what is now Northern Turkey. And he's begun his letter by reminding them that they are chosen by God but are strangers here in this world. And he tells them how to live holy lives amongst unbelievers in an unholy world. And we're looking at the middle of a section where he addresses three groups of people who are vulnerable to injustice; vulnerable to those with power or authority over them. We see three situations in society where Christians should submit but are tempted not to: those under an unbelieving government, unbelieving masters, and unbelieving spouses. This evening we look at what he says to slaves under the authority of masters. I don't think any of us are in that situation, but that is not to say there is nothing here for us to learn, as we'll see shortly.
It's worth saying that the slavery at the time Peter wrote this was not quite the same as the 19th Century slave trade that we know more about. It's also worth saying that the Bible does not agree with slavery. Here we see instructions how to live in a society where there was slavery and as we read we see a command to follow and three reasons to follow it.
Peter tells the Christians to Submit because of God not man.
He says in v18 To those living as servants - submit to masters, even evil ones.
This is counter intuitive to the world, indeed it is counter intuitive full stop. It's called grace. Peter is telling Christians to be gracious. Here he addresses not all slaves but just one type of slave; domestic slaves, household ones. Possibly the sort of servants or slaves who were in their master's presence a lot – where there would be the most friction; those who had to put up with direct contact from cantankerous old men or just plain nasty masters.
v18 Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
This respect is actually respect to God. I can go into more detail after but the word for respect is actually 'fear'. Literally "House Slaves, with all fear, submit to your Maters." This fear is fear of the Lord. Throughout his letter Peter tells us to fear God and not to fear man, and as we saw last week we honour everyman whether he's the emperor or not. Literally v17 "Honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor." As Dim pointed out last week we respect the office not always the office holder. Peter is not asking the house slaves to respect the evil masters. God is NOT asking us to respect unrespectable people. He IS asking us to submit to them. Why? We'll see as we go on. You see the servants are to obey their earthly masters, unless of course the masters ask them to sin, even those masters who are harsh; literally 'crooked'. These are masters who are bent, perverse, corrupt and mistreat their servants and probably don't pay properly or provide proper working conditions. But the motive for obeying an earthly master has NOTHING to do with the master or their behaviour or their deservedness. It is to do with God and fear of him.
Peter gives us three reasons why, but before we look at them, before we go any further we must see how this relates to us. Why does Peter's address to servants apply to us? As I mentioned earlier he address three situations in society where we should submit but where we are tempted not to. We are strangers, and we are free, even if we are slaves, but those over us might not be Christians and what's more they get things wrong and they mistreat us, but we should still submit. We can apply these verses to us in situations like school or the work place. Now that's not at all, not at all because of the relationship being the same. The slaves were owned, however some of them, may after a while, have been able to buy their freedom and the Roman emperors in years to come began to give more rights to slaves such as the possibility of taking an unfair master to court. But it's not directly the same for us; we are not owned. But there are principles that should be followed.
Employees are not the same as slaves. Some bosses think they can order their staff around but no employers pay employees to do something. There is a contract which has been negotiated and agreement has been reached. However we also need to recognise that many people aren't that free to negotiate, renegotiate or move job. Some people are trapped. Some of you may know what it's like to feel trapped in a job you hate with an unfair boss and unfair working conditions and you carry on in order to put food on the table for the family. What do you do when you're trapped and there's no way out? Do you take the law into your own hands? Do you wrong your boss because he wronged you? Do you actually turn to what you know is wrong in order to get what you know is right; to get justice? Does the end justify the means?
When a teacher at your school gets it wrong and delivers injustice do you turn to guerrilla warfare? Do you rebel? No. You submit. However you should tell whoever's in authority over the teacher. And those of us who work can and should go to tribunals if the need is there. The point is we shouldn't turn to get what we deserve i.e. justice, through unjust, unfair or manipulative means, such as breaking the law, or not working as we're contracted to do or by flirting or trickery.
Let's have a look at Peter's three reasons:
Submit because of God not man - For it is Commendable before God, having God's favour.
"For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God."
This seems to be getting at the fact that when we show favour to others; when we are gracious then we'll be blessed by God. God looks on us with favour. He will be pleased with us. It will be commendable before God. "It is commendable", is translated in other bibles as "a gracious thing". What does God see as commendable? It is us being gracious; when we are gracious to others. If we put up with injustice we are being like God; being holy as God is holy.
And the slaves are to do this when the master is unjust – you can probably think of some recent examples of your boss or teacher being in a bad mood or making impossible demands on you. Peter tells the slaves to do this not because it is fair but because they are conscious of God i.e. the slave knows that this is what GOD wants; that is God's will for him, that this is what God has CALLED him to do. He is conscious that God has called him to be gracious! And this gets God's commendation; his favour.
Brothers and sisters we WILL face unjust treatment. We will face injustice in this life. How will you bear up under it? Will you be tempted to resort to sin. Do two wrongs make a right? If you retaliate, if your master sins and then you sin back or you try to get justice through your own sinful way and you get beaten for it how is that commendable? You get what you deserve. Do you expect a pat on the back for it? What is commendable is when you're mistreated and you don't hit back, instead you are gracious. Now that is commendable. That's worth a pat on back. And who is that a pat on the back from? From God. Do we not want a pat on the back from God?
I remember when I got caned at school. I was a naughty boy and I deserved it. At the time I happened to get a bit of street cred from the other boys, but who do I want a pat on the back from? All the cowards at school who were too afraid to take risks and break the rules or from the other naughty boys and rule-breakers who themselves were heading for trouble? No I don't want a pat on the back from them. I don't want street cred or reputation from them. I want my loving God's favour. I want to do right in his eyes. I want to do right because of God not man.
Do you want a pat on the back from your family or work colleagues or school friends who say, "It's only right that you steal from work. After all he made you work longer hours without pay or recognition. You deserve it." Or "He's on his way out anyway, he won't be here much longer." Or "It doesn't matter it's a failing business anyway, one extra won't make a difference." It makes all the difference to God. God says don't take the law into your own hands, don't treat your bosses as they deserve, treat your boss graciously. Be gracious to them as I am gracious. And for that we might suffer. For being gracious and kind and good we might suffer. This isn't necessarily suffering for being a Christian directly, as in persecution FOR BEING a Christian. No. This is suffering for doing GOOD, indirectly for being a Christian. This doesn't mean don't be an activist for human rights. We must stand up for justice and against injustice, but two wrongs don't make a right. That's the pain we have to bear up under whist we are strangers and aliens in this world under the authority of unbelievers. We are to bless rather than curse. We are to repay evil with good as we'll see in 1Peter 3v8 onwards in 3 weeks time. Can you do that? Can you treat people as they don't deserve, when they're crooked and mistreating you? No. We need the grace of God. We need Christ. And thank God Peter gives us what we need in the next 2 reasons as we read on.
And if there are any doubts that bearing up under unjust suffering can't be applied to us because we're not house slaves then the following verses provide us with no excuse:
Reason 2: v21-24
Submit because of God not man - For you are called to copy Christ who died for you, trusting God.
"For To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."
There are disagreements amongst Christians' use over the word 'calling' and what we are called to. Here it is clear what we are called to, and the example itself makes it clear it isn't just to slaves as it can be applied to all Christians; we are called to suffer injustice. Now some people who call themselves Christians would agree that Jesus was an example for us to follow, sadly some would say he is only and example and nothing more, but what sort of example? And this is very important. It is a very different example if substitutionary atonement isn't in view. We obviously can't atone for other people's sins but we are called to be gracious like Jesus was and if Jesus wasn't paying the price for our sins on the cross then he wasn't being very gracious and who knows what on earth he was doing there on the cross and how that can be an example to anyone; how achieving nothing whilst hanging on a cross can be example to anyone beats me!
We can't be left with the idea that the kind of example Jesus left was general one, "Oh be good like Jesus was good." Peter goes on to talk about his death and what he achieved when he died for us. What's more the word for example here isn't of a general example. It is more specific. It means COPY him. Trace him.
So let's look at his example, that we might produce an exact copy of him as best we can.
In v22-23 Peter shows two things he didn't do and one thing he did do.
"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth."
Here he's quoting the Isaiah passage we read earlier of the Suffering Servant. Jesus was perfect, sinless. Jesus didn't sin. We shouldn't either. He didn't even use deceitful means to get justice and was happy to be mistreated rather than fight his cause through sinful means.
"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.
He didn't retaliate. He didn't fight back.... Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly."
So, in order to get justice he wasn't deceitful. In order to get justice he didn't retaliate What did he do? In order to get justice he entrusted himself to the Father. So, is this a principle we apply to other situations i.e. non slaves and where any of us are treated unjustly? Yes. We should want justice. But the means don't justify the end. Jesus submitted himself to the authorities at the time who wanted to treat him unjustly. Why? Because he submitted to the Father. Are we going to do the same? Are we going to submit to Mr Nasty because we submit to the Father? To the father who does judge with justly. In chapter 1 we read that we are to be holy because God is holy. We called to be like God. This is what he is like; submissive. He submitted himself as the suffering servant, as the quotes from Isaiah 53 show, and this is what we are called to be like.
And now we turn to what he was achieving on the cross. Now all bible verses are amazing but this has to be one of the most glorious verses you could commit to memory so here it is v24
"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed."
Just as in v19 and 20 the servants were to bear up and endure; Jesus bore our sins on the tree – that is the cross. He endured the penalty for our sins. On the Cross he was bearing the curse that we deserved. How kind. He didn't deserve it. He was being punished for someone else's sins – ours! He was being punished unjustly in a sense and he didn't moan about it. And notice how rich this verse is – What else does it say? He endured our punishment when he didn't deserve it, and why? He paid the price not just so that we are saved and that's that and nothing more but so that we are saved and will go on to live Godly lives . It is not a case of we are saved by the cross at conversion (when we first become Christians) and then we 'leave the cross behind'. No. When we think of the cross; we don't just think of substitutionary atonement, but we think of his substitutionary atonement which should make us think of living lives of righteousness that
"we might die to sins and live for righteousness"
consider ourselves dead to sin so that sin has no part in us. That we might be holy as God is holy and aim for his high standard of godliness, this submitting to masters EVEN when they are crooked, this counter intuitive standard, this standard of grace.
And perhaps it's useful particularly to slaves to know that Jesus's wounds healed them particularly when they may have received plenty of wounds from the unjust harsh treatment of their crooked masters. His physical wounds have brought spiritual healing. They have given us eternal life!
Very briefly and finally Reason 3: v25
Submit because of God not man -For Christ is living and active now, for you.
"For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."
Notice that it's "were", not like the "are" of Isaiah. You were straying but not any more. We have been brought back. We have returned. You weren't a people, now you are a people as we saw earlier in Chapter 2. And notice that Peter has been talking about what Jesus has done on the cross; of his death and now Peter moves us on to consider a wonderful and comforting truth of his resurrection. He refers to Jesus being alive now, not only that he died on a cross but is risen and reigning and active now! This is great news for slaves particularly for those who are mistreated. So why Shepherd? You follow shepherds. You let them guide you. And this Shepherd is the one you can follow forever, who will always lead us in the right way, who will always protect us and never mistreat us. He is also our Overseer. He watches over us. Take comfort in this. We don't need a guardian angel. We have Christ himself! But also be warned; he is watching. We should be mindful of what we do. He is wanting a righteous life from us. So when you're feeling trapped at work remember you have a servant God who died for you and calls you to follow him in gracious righteousness and a great shepherd who oversees you.
Even if we have unjust masters or unreasonable bosses we should submit to them. We should submit because of God not man: for it is commendable before God, having God's favour, for you are called to Copy Christ who died for you, trusting God, and For Christ is living and active now, for you.