1 Peter – 1 Peter 2:13-25 – Glorifying God when Suffering Unjustly – 6 of 18
All of us have been swindled at some point. I once bought a computer at a price that seemed too good to be true. (It was!) Rip-offs like this happen all the time, and they’re frustrating, but they’re easily recovered from. But when the suffering is more personal, when you are wrongly accused or when someone slanders your reputation or mistreats you without cause or threatens your livelihood, it’s much more difficult to process. When we are treated unfairly we tend to have one of three common reactions: Some people get angry, others throw a pity party, sometimes we just passively refuse to feel anything. First Peter 2:13 tells us to submit for the Lord’s sake to every human institution—what in their context was the wicked Nero! Nero used Christians as human torches to light the streets.
God didn’t place us here to overthrow human government. He placed us here to establish in our hearts a kingdom not of this world. And as long as the government doesn’t require us to sin against God, the Bible instructs us to submit to the governing authorities, whether we like it or not. By submitting to them we honor God by obeying his Word. The Bible teaches that we are to submit to the governing authorities unless we are commanded to do something the Bible forbids, or forbidden to do something that the Bible commands. The broad purpose for which God ordains human government is to promote societal good and to thwart societal evil (v. 14). But even when government fails to live up to God’s purpose for it, still we are to obey it, unless it commands us to violate God’s will. Why? Because Christians have been set free from Satan’s tyranny (v. 15-16). Peter says, “Don’t use your freedom to sin, but to refrain from sinning!”
Peter summarizes four social obligations in verse 17:  honor all people,  love the brotherhood,  fear God, and  honor the king. We honor (show respect to) all people because they too are God’s image bearers. We love the Christian family by anticipating their needs and seeking to meet them if we possibly can. Our primary responsibility to God is to fear him, to revere him. I suspect that Peter added this fourth obligation because he knew that his readers were finding it very difficult to honor someone as evil as King Nero. So Peter says, “Yes, you are to honor him too, by treating him with respect.” This is immensely practical: whether we like Trump or loathe him, God’s Word is clear—we are to honor our “king” (which is the equivalent of our President.) We don’t have to respect the President, but as a Christian we have an obligation to treat him with respect. Respecting someone, and treating them with respect, are two different things. Honoring others is our responsibility; earning our respect is their responsibility.
Peter is talking about our obligations towards those who are in authority over us, and v 18-20 specify how we are to relate to them. Slavery in the Roman empire was somewhat different from American slavery. It wasn’t just menial, loathsome tasks which were performed by slaves; all the work of Rome was done by slaves. Doctors, teachers, musicians, and secretaries (to name a few) were slaves. Since Rome conquered the known world, their attitude was that there was no point in being rulers of the world and doing one’s own work! Let the slaves do that, and let the citizens live in pampered idleness. Yes, many slaves were treated cruelly, but some were loved and trusted members of the family. But one great inescapable fact dominated the whole situation: in Roman law, a slave was not a person but a thing, and had absolutely no legal rights whatsoever. For that reason, there could be no such thing as justice where a slave was concerned. It would have been easy for slaves who became Christians to think that their faith in Christ gave them the freedom to break from their masters. But that wasn’t the case. As Christianity gradually gained a foothold it overcame slavery, but it took longer than just the first century to accomplish this. The Scriptures didn’t call for the immediate overthrow of Roman social order. They were concerned with a more important priority—changing the human heart. When you change the hearts of enough people, you will change society!
Some of Peter’s readers were also being persecuted for their faith, and the natural tendency of the human heart is to fight back, but God has not given us the right to seek revenge. (And we certainly don’t get any credit for bearing up under deserved discipline! See v. 18-20). But suffering unjustly is part of our calling as “resident aliens”. Because of our identification with Jesus, we should expect to be treated unjustly (John 15:20; 1 Peter 2:21-24). Jesus is our example of how to respond to unjustified suffering (v. 22 quotes Isaiah 53:9). In the midst of Jesus’ intense suffering, Jesus, the innocent one, remained calm, refused revenge, and entrusted himself to God. Jesus shows us how to suffer, without sinning. We wonder: “Why should this innocent man endure such unjust suffering? Why should we? Why shouldn’t we resist the false accusations, the snide remarks about our faith? Why should we submit to the cross of unjust suffering?” Why? Because it causes us to return to the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls for strength and protection (v. 25). Are you feeling the shock of unjust suffering? If so, don’t fight back; find your way back to the Good Shepherd who endured the cross and laid down his life… for you! Pour out your heart to Him. He knows how it feels to suffer unjustly, and he has modeled for us, how we are to respond.
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- Don’t be surprised when you are the victim of unjust suffering.
- When you suffer unjustly, don’t seek vengeance, don’t throw a pity party, and don’t pretend like it doesn’t bother you.
- Always submit to those in authority over you, unless they ask you to disobey God. In such cases you must obey God rather than man.
TAKE ONE STEP
Each week, write down one doable concrete step of obedience, small or large that you will put into practice this week. (James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”)