Subjection in 1 Peter 2. 11 to 5. 11 – Part 3


The second sphere in which Peter enjoins submission is working life, 2. 18-25. The relationship between master and servant is normal in human life, and it might be called an “ordinance of man”, 2. 13. However, in these Epistles by Peter there is no word to masters, and this probably implies the lowly status and condition of his readers. The exhortations in this passage are to servants engaged in a form of service apparently less severe than slavery. The word by which they are addressed is oiketai (household servants), while the word used in associated passages, Eph. 6. 5; Col. 3. 22; 1 Tim 6. 1; Titus 2. 9, is douloi (bondsmen). Oiketai would normally have, I suspect, some degree of freedom of action, but, on the other hand, as though to ensure that the harsh conditions of their service were not overlooked, Peter calls their masters des-potai, conveying a harsher idea than the more normal kurioi. Against this background we think of

The Manner of Subjection, vv. 15-20. The believer should serve Without despising, v.18, “Be subject to your master with all fear”. Jehovah equates the lack of fear in His service with contempt for His Name in Malachi 1. 6, “if I be a master, where is my fear … you … that despise my name”. This very Epistle warns against unhealthy fear, 3. 6, 14, yet this phrase is unspecific. Certainly, the fear of the believer in these conditions is based on the fear of God, but the idea here is comprehensive and includes, presumably, fear of the master. It is not simply fear of punishment, nor fear that doing other than the master’s will might make life difficult, but it should be a reverential fear. His service should be “as unto Christ, … (as bondmen of Christ), doing the will of God from the heart”, Eph. 6. 5-6; “fearing God … whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord”, Col. 3. 22-23; “that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed”, 1 Tim. 6. 1; “that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things”, Titus 2. 10. Said someone, it is “not with surly defiance, not with sullen acquiescence, not with stolid indifference, but with uncomplaining cheerful obedience”. The believer should submit Without discriminating v. 18 “not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward”. The character of the master should not make any difference to the believing servant’s attitude. Those masters who act in a perverse manner must be served in the same way as those who are “kind and gentle”. Masters do differ in their attitudes, and Scripture has much to say as to their behaviour, but that does not allow for differing behaviour in the servant if his master is not such as God wishes him to be. Masters are bombarded today with theories of motivation—to involve their subordinates in the processes of decision-making, to make work more varied and interesting, and so on, to replace, with new incentives the old, outmoded ideas of authority and obedience. While no one would disagree with the attractiveness of these notions, the believer should need no other motivation than what he has in the Word of God and in his affection for the Lord Jesus. He may thus have to suffer.

Without deserving, vv. 19-20. There are three ideas to be developed in these verses. They speak of:

What bespeaks piety, v.19, “For this is thankworthy (lit. grace), if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully”. “Grace” is a word we should normally use of God’s actions toward us, v.20, but there are two other possible ways of interpreting the word here.

The apostle may be using it to describe the believer’s action, and may be anticipating his description of the Saviour’s behaviour under suffering, vv. 21-25. To behave thus is to imitate Him, and such behaviour is deserving of the word “grace”. As the paragraph heading suggests, the writer favours this interpretation.

The other idea is that such behaviour deserves the favourable notice of men, and is consistent with Peter’s general theme that good behaviour now is deserving of recognition when the “day of visitation” comes. But that is not the motivating idea. The believer in such circumstances acts out of “conscience toward God”, out of a sense of his relationship to God, and he is expected to emulate the Lord Jesus in his actions and reactions.

What befits punishment, v.20, “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently?” Clearly, not all sufferings are “the sufferings of Christ”. For example, when we deserve, when we complain, when we resent, these sufferings become our own. Peter sets deserved sufferings against “suffering wrongfully”, and examines the matter of our reaction to them. Even if we “take it patiently”, that is simply a matter of a reasonable response, and no glory attaches to such a reaction—it is simply binding upon us by every right and authority.

What begets praise, v.20, “but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable {lit. grace) with God”. The words translated “thankworthy” in verse 19 and “acceptable” in verse 20 are the same. In the latter it is said to be “grace with God”. It is, above all, satisfying to God when a believer behaves thus in the face of provocation to behave otherwise. He sees in such a copy of the behaviour of His own blessed Son, vv. 21-25. We are thus introduced to

The Model of Subjection, vv. 21-25, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered”. The great Christological passages of the New Testament are, in general, written against the background of everyday problems, and are intended to counter difficulties or to guide and support believers in them. In this passage, the primary object is the encouragement of servants who suffer for doing right, while, at the same time, exceedingly precious truths are taught about the sufferings of the Lord Jesus. To suffer patiently for doing well is a matter to which believers are called, for “Christ also suffered” thus in similar circumstances. It is not merely a matter of gritting our teeth and enduring, but of following in His steps. We often sing

“Thy foes might hate, despise, revile,
Thy friends unfaithful prove,
Unwearied in forgiveness still, Thy heart could only love.
One with Thyself, may every eye, In us Thy brethren see
That gentleness and grace that spring from union, Lord, with Thee”

Because it was thus with Him, so should it be with us.

His sufferings were undeserved and in that context the passage is written as an example to Peter’s readers in a similar situation. They were:

Selfless sufferings, v.21, “Christ also suffered for you” (marg.). That is a strongly supported and more contextually suitable translation than our A.V. The emphasis is still on the actions and attitudes of divine Persons toward believers, 1. 4, 10, 20, in contrast with the injustices done to them in their relationships with men. “Even Christ pleased not himself’ we are told, Rom. 15. 3, in an exhortation to believers to consider the interests of others. That great step into poverty was taken, the Corinthians were told, “for your sakes”, 2 Cor. 8. 9, that is, for their enrichment. In those last days of His sojourn, He was conscious that “for their sakes” He sanctified Himself, John 17. 19. But if consideration for others marked Him, it has to guide us. We are bidden to regulate our conduct not seeking our own, but another’s well-being; it is “for his sake that showed it … conscience … not thine own, but of the other” 1 Cor. 10. 28-29. Throughout 1 Peter, the same note of consideration for others is struck, 3. 9; 4. 9, and, while it is not specifically mentioned here, such behaviour as is enjoined would be a testimony to master and fellowservants, and more widely as well.

Sinless sufferings, v.22, “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth”. This word is often quoted out of context as describing the character of the Lord Jesus generally. We have no quarrel with the use of the Scripture in that way, but the context links the word, quoted from Isaiah 53. 9, with the sufferings imposed on Him in defiance of all the principles of justice, and contrary to all that His holy life deserved. We know that character is tested by reactions rather than by actions, and that is what the passage presents. No matter how great the provocation, He neither threatened nor dissembled. What a contrast with the description of Satan, “transformed into an angel of light”, 2 Cor. 11. 14, and of his servants, they “smite you”, 11. 20. Peter himself was in the secret. He had used violence; he “smote the high priest’s servant”, John 18. 10. He had lied; he “denied again”, 18. 27. We can picture his feelings as he wrote of his Master’s meekness and truthfulness, while he thought of his own failures.

Three Old Testament examples will illustrate the point.

  1. We may well reckon that Simeon and Levi had right on their side when they took vengeance and used violence on the Shechemites for the wrong done to their sister, Gen. 34, but the incident resounds to their discredit for ever.
  2. An old brother whom I knew used to say that Joseph’s bow abode in strength because it was not used, and there is, indeed, in the narrative a picture of non-retaliation, Gen. 49. 24, very much to Joseph’s credit.
  3. Abraham found himself in a difficulty when he went down to Egypt, and he agreed with his wife to tell a story which he thought would deceive the Egyptians. What they said was true in a sense, but it was not all the truth and was intended to deceive. We might have argued that it was only a white lie, but the concealing of the relevant facts simply resulted in shame on both of them.

Submissive sufferings, v.23, “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously”. I believe that these words describe the reactions of the Lord Jesus to His mock trials and to His visible sufferings on the cross. At such a time and in such circumstances, He “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth”. How easy for anyone other than the Lord to reply, but in patient silence He endured the false witness of the Jews, Matt. 26. 61-63, the railing of the passers-by, the mocking of the chief priests and others, and the reproaches of His companions in crucifixion, 27. 39-44. It is, for us, a matter of constant amazement that, with such meekness. He allowed the officer to strike Him, John 18. 22, without threatening—unlike even His great servant Paul, Acts 23. 3. He knew and was content that His cause was in the hands of “him that judgeth righteously”. How often have God’s servants, how often have we as His people, taken matters into our own hands—and out of His? Someone once said, “We often wonder why God does not act in our defence. Maybe it is because we don’t leave room for Him”. But this Man, “suffering wrongfully”, committed Himself to Him that “judgeth righteously”.

The remaining verses of the chapter speak of

Motives to Subjection. As motivating power in this context, His sufferings were Sin-bearing, v.24, “who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live into righteousness”. The bearing of this statement is not primarily doctrinal, but it is a good example of the way in which a truth, put to believers to help them over difficulties, becomes to us an important statement of doctrine; nor should its doctrinal accuracy be neglected. Without the confusion of variant readings and adopting the normal guides, “en” means “in”, and “epi” “upon”, and the author accepts the A.V. reading of the passage as textually and doctrinally sound. He bare our sins “in” His … body “on” the tree. But as to its practical and contextual implications, the statement speaks of

Personal concern. Some of the readers of this paragraph might well have complained of always being picked on unfairly. Says Peter, referring to the momentous matter of sin-bearing, “who his own self’. Without a trace or a hint of personal liability, the Lord Jesus undertook the onerous task of bearing our sins, and in doing so set an example to any who might be tempted to complain about unfair discrimination against himself.

Penal consequences: “bare our sins”. Someone might have complained about always being given the heavy work. Peter refers to the heaviest burden ever carried—the overwhelming weight of human guilt necessitating the unsparing wrath of God—laid upon the Lord Jesus. How light are the heaviest of burdens we may be asked to carry when compared with the load which He bore?

Painful conditions: “in his own body”. For some it may have been difficult and even painful. But so it was for the sin-Bearer. All that men did to Him is important for our affections, but there is infinitely more here. He “bare our sins” and we are faced with impenetrable darkness which hid His deeper sufferings at the hands of a holy God. Surely our insignificant sufferings are in perspective here.

Popular calumny: it was “on the tree”. We can well imagine that some might have found such service degrading. But not without purpose does Peter use the word “tree” instead of “cross”. He does so as to imply shame; “he that is hanged is accursed of God”, Deut. 21. 23, speaking of the tree; “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” is the New Testament equivalent, Gal. 3. 13. To be hanged on a tree was the ultimate in degradation for a Jew, and by the use of this expression attention is drawn to the shame of the punishment of the Lord Jesus. His sacrifice is intended to have

Practical consequences: “that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness”. What Peter has been asking in the passage may be thought to be impossible. However, without becoming involved in its doctrinal sense, the practical implication of the word is clear. Relieved of the burden of his sins, free, therefore, to live to righteousness, the believer may well agree that Peter’s exhortations to submission to masters are not so onerous after all. Yet His sufferings were:

Saving, v.24, “by whose stripes ye were healed”. Quoted from Isaiah 53. 5, the word is obviously a metonomy in which an emotive word is used of the work by which we are healed. Stripes may have been part of the unjust punishment of which the passage speaks—and the word “buffeted” conveys that impression—but Peter reminds his readers of the prophet’s reference to the stripes borne by the Lord Jesus and of the consequences, “ye were healed”. On the one hand, their stripes as servants might be physically harmful, but, on the other, the effect of His stripes is spiritual healing. They should thus be neither morally infirm nor spiritually impotent, because of the healing work of the Lord Jesus. His work is also

Shepherding, v.25, “Ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls”. The apostle goes back to Isaiah 53 to remind them that what they thought of as days of security (the old days) were really days of straying, without guide or overseer. Now they may know something of overseers if not of shepherds; of overseers whose only care was their ability to absorb hardship. “But”, says Peter, ye “are now returned” to the Shepherd who “gave His life for the sheep” and “to the … Bishop” who watches “for your souls”. While they knew something of overseers whose concern was for their physical capacity for work, they are really the property of the One whose concern is for their life and well-being. What blessed shelter, what happy security, what loving sympathy for those who knew so much of the harshness in the conditions of their service of uncaring men.