In this passage Peter again takes up the topic of suffering as a believer. This seems to be his primary theme in the letter. Writing to encourage suffering believers to continue to be faithful.
Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.1 Peter 2:18 NIV
This passage was addressed to slaves, and it might be tempting to pass over it since few of us who might be reading this are slaves. But that would be a mistake. Peter has much to say to all of us in this admonition to slaves
But first, what are slaves? In the Roman world they came from one of two sources. They might be captured people from a war; the spoils of war. Or, more likely, they had sold themselves to another person because of financial difficulties. But whichever the case, they were considered as property of their master. Slaves had few, if any, rights and were expected to do what their master told them to do. It is tempting to compare it to employment today, but there is a significant difference. Today I can find another job, unless I am enlisted in the military. For slaves that was not an option.
A slave might find themselves serving a kind and reasonable master. But they might also find themselves serving a master that doesn’t really care about them and is harsh and unforgiving. And they might suffer, even if they have done no wrong. But whichever type of master you had, Peter’s instruction was to submit to them. And to do so out of reverence for God. Peter goes on to explain why in the remainder of this chapter.
For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 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.1 Peter 2:19-20 NIV
Suffering is a major theme of 1 Peter and is addressed multiple times throughout this letter. Peter is specifically addressing slaves in this passage, and the suffering they might experience at the hands of unjust masters. But the response he advocates to suffering is applicable to all believers. Suffering, as a slave or as a believer, was not just a theoretical possibility. It was a present day reality for them. And it was not just a matter of the culture disagreeing with their faith in Christ. Their suffering was real and physical. I suspect their condition was similar to what is expressed in Hebrews 10:32-34.
While suffering is not pleasant, it is something that, as believers, we should expect. In 2 TImothy 3:12 Pauls tells Timothy that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Suffering for Christ is a part of being his follower (John 15:19-20). And suffering actually is beneficial for us as believers. As Peter previously said in 1 Peter 1:6-7, suffering acts as a purifying fire that proves the genuineness of our faith.
To be clear, Peter is not just talking about any kind of suffering. He is referring to suffering that a believer might experience because of their faith in Christ; suffering as a disciple of Jesus. Suffering for Christ is commended. But suffering for our wrong is just what should be expected.
The Example of Jesus
Peter’s challenge to suffering believers is tightly tied to Jesus’ suffering.
Called To Suffer
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.1 Peter 2:21 NIV
Christ suffered on our behalf, dying on the cross for our sin. And in doing so he set an example for us. We are not called to simply accept Christ’s atonement on our behalf and then continue on as if nothing has changed. Instead, we are called to follow his example, take up our cross, and follow in his steps (Matt. 10:38).
And following that example is going to involve suffering. We are not called to be happy in this life and have all of our desires fulfilled. Instead we are called to follow Jesus. And following Jesus means participating in his suffering. We will not all suffer in the same ways. But we should expect to suffer, and we should embrace it. If I do not suffer for Christ, something is wrong with my walk with him.
The Suffering Servant
Peter quotes from Isaiah 53 a couple of times in the remainder of this passage. This “Suffering Servant” song of Isaiah clearly looks to the suffering of Jesus on behalf on his people. While the thrust of the song is on the substitutionary sacrifice of the servant, Jesus; his response to suffering is clear. And that is what Peter focuses on here.
“He committed no sin,1 Peter 2:22 NIV
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
Jesus suffered. But it was not because of his own sin. Jesus was righteous in all of his words, actions and thoughts. And that is why he suffered. He suffered because he was not like the world. He suffered because he was faithful to the one who had called him.
In the same way, our suffering should not be because of wrongdoing in our own lives. We should seek to live godly lives in the midst of an ungodly world. Regardless of the cost.
Responding To Suffering
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.1 Peter 2:23 NIV
How do you respond to suffering? Most of us probably throw a bit of a pity party. And we will likely complain and fight back. Or do something else that will cause the suffering to stop. But is that the right approach?
Peter continues with his admonition to follow Jesus’ example. When suffering, Jesus did not retaliate or threaten. Instead he suffered in silence, entrusting himself to God. The suffering he went through was essential for our salvation. And while my suffering does not have that same impact, his example is still appropriate for me.
When I face suffering as a believer, rather than complain and fight back, I should rejoice that I am counted worthy to suffer for my Lord (Acts 5:41). Follow the example of Jesus; of his apostles; and countless others through history who have suffered for the sake of their faith in God. Don’t be surprised by the suffering. Embrace it.
He Bore Our Sins
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”1 Peter 2:24 NIV
What did Jesus’ suffering on the cross accomplish? He took my sin to the cross with him, paying the penalty that I would otherwise have had to pay myself. His death enabled me to die to sin and now to live for righteousness. Jesus death was sufficient for everyone in the history of the world. But it is only by faith, by choosing to follow him, that his sacrifice is actually applied to me.
A Shepherd and Overseer
For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.1 Peter 2:25 NIV
Along with the quote from Isaiah 53:6, Peter seems to recall the parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15:3-7. Domesticated sheep are dumb, or so I am told. They will put their head down to eat and slowly graze their way into being lost. And we were like that. We had gone off, leaving the good shepherd behind, doing what seemed good to us. We were lost. separated from God.
But Christ has sought and found us, bringing back to the Father all who would follow him. We have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. Shepherd can be translated as pastor, and overseer as bishop. Most churches have people who hold one or both of these titles. But while the primary human leader of the church I belong to is called pastor, Jesus is the true Pastor of my soul. The Lord is my Shepherd . . . (Psalm 23).
And that is what qualifies him to be my example for suffering.
Call To Action
We should expect to suffer for Christ if we are being faithful to him. Don’t be surprised when it happens. And don’t fight back against it. Rather, follow Jesus’ example. He did not complain or bemoan his fate. Instead he trusted himself to God who judges justly. Suffering is not pleasant, but we can, and should, trust that God will take care of us and use that suffering to purify us. Be faithful, in spite of suffering. Don’t let suffering for Christ cause you to retreat from your faith
- Why should Christians expect to suffer as believers?
- What if I am not suffering for my faith?
- What example did Jesus set for me when he suffered?
- Can I rejoice while suffering?
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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