I’ve never really met a true hermit. You know, one of those folks who just don’t want to be around other folks. I guess it would be hard to meet a true hermit because they would not want to be met. A historian, writing of the first settlers to come into Kentucky, stated that it was not unusual for some of those early pioneers to get an itch to move deeper into the wilderness when, at night, they could see the light of a neighbor’s cabin. Keep in mind some of those lights were three ridges and a hard day’s hike away.
The majority of the people encountered on a daily basis are not like our ancestors who settled into Appalachia 240 years ago. Instead our neighbors, people we bump into at the store, or sit across from at work value relationships. Could it be humanity is hardwired for such? When God created the first couple He told them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. It appears that God has made us a communal lot. In other words, we like people.
It is to this that Peter continues in his first letter. The text of this study is found in 1 Peter 2:18-25. In this passage, Peter talks of our relationships with the people we work for.
Before looking into the passage, there is need for a disclaimer. In this part of his letter, Peter is speaking specifically to slaves. He lived in a world where two out of every three people who called the Roman Empire home fell into that category of existence. And, just because Peter shares how Christian slaves should act, does not mean that he or Jesus Christ condoned the buying and selling of people. The truth of the matter is slavery came as a result of man’s sinfulness not God’s blessing. Why didn’t the apostle preach against the owning of slaves and encourage those who were slaves to rebel? Simply put, doing so would have put Peter at the pointy end of a sword or the noosed end of a rope. Roman did not tolerate anyone who attempted to get two-thirds of its population to cast off the chains of their owners.
Now back to the passage. Since our part of the world no longer practices legalized slavery, we have to look for another way to apply this passage. The answer: employee/employer relationships. I know that that is not the same as slave to slave owner but some of the dynamic is still there. Such being the case, what would God have His people understand about that bond?
First he writes, “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.” (v.18) Upon this exhortation the rest of the lesson is built.
Again, rather than slaves let’s look at employees. Here Peter states that out of reverent fear of God we must willingly serve those we work for; whether they are good bosses or not. A worker might retort something about Peter not knowing the man or woman or company that they work for. True, but Peter says we serve well because of our reverence, respect and fear of the Lord not the merit of our employers.
The word translated fear does not point to that life-stifling fear that some people experience. Rather this is a fear that reminds the person of the difference between themself and Almighty God. This is the motivation for serving one’s employer well. It is not because they are worthy to be served, it’s because God is.
Christians this is an easy command to understand and with understanding comes responsibility. According to what is written, there is no acceptable reason for willful slacking or showing disrespect toward the boss.
Peter goes on to write that God notices when one is suffering undeservingly. Again, in his day there were Christian slaves serving ruthless masters. They were mistreated because of their owner’s mean, sadistic spirits. Those who would bear up under such, remaining faithful to God, were praised by Him. But to those who were punished because of doing wrong Peter writes, “But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it” (v.20).
There are some bosses that boarder on the unbearable. At the same time the believer needs the job. Jesus would remind that person to respond in a way that honors God and not in a way that would get them fired. The right response is noted by and commendable to the Lord.
Peter then takes his readers back thirty-five years to the days he walked with the Lord. He tells of the abuse that Jesus took and how, through it all, He did not verbally lash out at his abusers (vv.21-22). In this Jesus teaches His people how to respond when they are being mistreated. “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.” (v.23)
There can be no doubt that what we might go through at work, even with the most spiteful, unfeeling boss, pales in comparison with what Jesus went through during His days of ministry; especially during those last few hours that ended in His crucifixion. If Jesus could go through all that and not lash out, surely we can graciously put up with an unreasonable superior. Jesus willingly “’bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (v.24). This life-change must be seen in how we respond to workplace inequity.
So might it be time to quit whining and thank God for providing that job? Conduct yourself at work in such a way that your cantankerous supervisor will wonder what you’re up to. When he or she asks, simply tell him or her that you are working to please the Lord and honor them.
Next, Peter addresses married couples. He gets direct with that relationship too.