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Freedom in Christ to Submit
Peter has labored for his readers to know their identity as the people of God––his chosen elect, his holy children, his redeemed people, his free servants. So how do you live as God’s people in a world hostile to God and to his people? But Peter says to Christian citizens, “Submit to your government” and to Christian slaves, “Submit to your masters” in order to advance Christ’s mission in the world. Peter begs us to realize that we are all engaged in a war––a war for our souls and a war for the world. And our secret weapon in the fight is godly suffering. God uses our submission to subvert the enemies of the gospel, and even to save them. And if you don’t believe this, Peter points at Jesus Christ who is our example of our suffering Savior.
The Submission on Household Servants (vs. 18)
Peter begins by admonishing “Servants, be submissive to your masters” (vs. 18). The word for “servant” is “oiketes” which means household or domestic servants. Two oiketes make a very important appearance in the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10. The link between Cornelius’ vision from the angel and Peter’s vision and Peter’s Spirit-anointed sermon was the simple obedience of two household servants, Cornelius’ oiketes. Of course, the providence of God orchestrated the events and outcome, but God used and blessed their submission to their master. Their obedience to Cornelius was used to advance God’s mission in the world that Gentiles may glorify God (2:12).
To the Good and to the Harsh (vs. 18)
Peter, knowing what the Lord has done and plans to do, commands, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh” (vs. 18). To be submissive is to put yourself under the authority of another, to obey. A servant is to treat his master like he would treat God, with all fear. But this is not because of who the master is, but because of who God is.
Already anticipating some “But Peters” he says you are to submit, not only to the good and gentle masters, but also to the harsh, surly, unfair, wicked masters. Even when the master abuses his power, you submit. Even when the master is unworthy of your obedience, you “salute the uniform” and submit.
Do Good and Suffer Patiently (vs. 19-20)
God sees those servants who, even though they do good in their duties, still suffer unjustly. But just because you’re suffering, does not mean you’re innocent. “For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently?” (vs. 20). If you broke into your master’s wine cellar and got whipped for it, don’t cry “Persecution.”
“But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God” (vs. 20). When you are not at fault and still suffer patiently, this pleases God. This should encourage you, especially if you question whether your diligence, faithfulness, obedience is worth it. Be like Peter and John who did good by preaching the gospel, and were arrested, beaten, thrown in jail, delivered from jail by an angel, preached the next day in the Temple, were arrested and beaten again and went away rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. (Acts. 5:41).
Christ our Suffering Example (vs. 21-23)
“For to this you were called because Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps.” You are called by God to do good and to suffer patiently just like Jesus Christ who did good and suffered patiently and left us an example. The word for “example” literally means “under-writing.” Hypo-grammos was a training method of copying for children to learn the alphabet. There would be a faint lettering or dashes for the child to trace over and eventually learn to write on their own. Doing good and suffering patiently are the ABCs of Christianity. Jesus has learned them and now He hands all his students a dashed outline of the cross, “Here you go, now you can practice.”
Gospel Suffering (vs. 24-25)
Jesus is not only our example in suffering, He is our Savior because of his suffering. And so His suffering is good news, our Gospel. Jesus “himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree, by whose stripes we are healed” (vs. 24). Jesus Christ suffered, was crucified, and died in order to remove your sin, your foulness, your grossness, your offense to God. This is the Gospel that you are saved by Christ’s suffering. And this Gospel has an effect.
“That we having died to sins, might live for righteousness.” Because Jesus lives, you live like Jesus––for righteousness. And guess what? What does righteousness, goodness, doing right stir up? Suffering and persecution, just like it did for Jesus. And we can get into the same kind of trouble that his righteousness caused. And so submit yourself patiently, humbly, joyfully, just like Jesus. Peter says, “Look what God accomplishes through Jesus, your example!”