“You who are slaves must submit to your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you.”
Read within the lens of American history, this passage is especially difficult to swallow. The Bible was misused by slaveholders to defend slavery in the American Civil War era, just as the Bible has been misused to oppress women or condemn inter-racial marriage. As we read the Bible, we need to travel back in time to understand the cultural and historical context in which it was written.
Being a slave in the Roman Empire was still slavery. We don’t need to dress it up or pretend it was something different. In the midst of that, it was not mass enslavement of an entire ethnic group by capture and torture. Some slaves in the days of the early church may have been captured as prisoners of war. Others sold themselves into slavery to pay a debt (perhaps the earliest form of slavery to the “credit card”). If slaves became Christians, then their demonstration of their faith was submission. We recall the words of Jesus, “Love your enemies.”
Here’s your freedom for today: God notices when you are oppressed. If you are doing the right thing and get treated badly anyway, God sees. He doesn’t overlook or forget a faithful servant. Patient endurance in the midst of being treated badly for doing what is right is an honorable position in the kingdom of God. (Keeping in mind that in the case of slavery ending the abusive relationship is not physically possible, while other types of relationships do enable us to leave an abuser.) All of us become slaves to Jesus when we sign our lives over to him. Our earthly position matters far less than this eternal one.
“For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right. It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.”
To put this passage in perspective, it is important to remember that Peter is believed to have died by upside-down crucifixion under the rule of the emperor Nero. Context matters, and to Peter’s readers submitting to human authority was an extremely dangerous and spiritual act. Submission to martyrdom was considered the highest honor and calling. In doing so, early Christians were following the example of Jesus who was silent during his trial.
There are all kinds of examples in the Bible of people doing the right thing by not following human authorities. Rahab lied to messengers of the king; Daniel did not stop praying even when the law changed; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not bow to the king. In more modern times, those who opposed the Nazis or participated in the Underground Railroad were not submitting to human authorities. Even today, it is right to non-violently oppose racism and other forms of oppression. But for Peter’s audience, there was only one choice in facing an emperor who was bent on killing any Christian he could: submit. Be willing to face death. In doing so, Christians would become known as those who never gave up on their faith but also were obviously persecuted for no human fault of their own.
Here’s your freedom for today: you are free to live a life of higher purpose. This highest of callings requires humility and selflessness. The moment you use your freedom to be obnoxious or downright evil, you’ve lost the whole mission. Fear God. Know that he is working it out when you faithfully and humbly do the right thing. Surrender, to God and to those who persecute you for your faith. Too often in our American society, Christians play the victim card and complain about people “persecuting” them (because they won’t say “Merry Christmas” or some other ridiculous scenario). Let’s be willing, like Peter, to never say a bad word about anyone no matter what they do to us. Let’s stop making excuses and never give anyone a reason to say a bad word about us as the church again.
“Dear friends, I warn you as ‘temporary residents and foreigners’ to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.”
Have you ever met a person that you just couldn’t say anything bad about? Even if you wanted to accuse them of something, it would be so obviously a lie that no one would ever believe you. A person’s character goes a long way, and here Peter is talking about what it means to carry the character of Christ with you for all to see. And he’s reminding us just how life-or-death this spiritual war is.
We are foreigners in the kingdom of Satan here on earth. He is called the “god of this world,” and he is an authority to whom we will not bow. Our citizenship is in heaven, with Jesus as the true King. Those kingdoms will divide sharply when Satan’s kingdom is destroyed. Your spiritual passport will matter at the end of the war.
Here’s your freedom for today: you can rise above this world. You don’t have to get pulled into the mud, dragged down by the things that surround you and make your life complicated. You don’t have to give in to the lies Satan has told you throughout your life. You, as a citizen of heaven, can appeal to a higher authority and say “no” to whatever appetizer or entree the enemy is trying to feed you today. You can rise above because you can run to the presence of God at any time. He’s the safe place, the shelter in the storm. Hide in him today to stay protected from the tricks and schemes of the enemy.
“But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. ‘Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.'”
Have you ever had someone remind you who you really are? Perhaps you have forgotten your worth or value, but a friend speaks into that place and shows you just how loved you are. In today’s passage, Peter is reminding the Jewish Christians that they have always been God’s chosen people. They have always belonged to God. Even though that is not enough to make a person right with God, it is a reminder of how much he loves his people.
Peter references Hosea 1-2, a small book in the Old Testament from the prophet Hosea. He had a strange assignment, as most of the prophets did: marry a prostitute. God was revealing through Hosea that he would continually fight for his people and reconcile them into right relationship with himself. They had been unfaithful and forgotten God, but he would never forget them. Peter is reminding his readers of this lesson once again in the midst of Jesus dramatically shifting their perspectives on salvation.
Here’s your freedom for today: God will never give up on you. Peter’s message was continually about the ways that Jesus fulfilled God’s promises. Jesus was not replacing anything that the Jewish people had received from God in the past. Rather, Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and rescue plan was everything God had always promised his people. He never gave up on them no matter how many times they complained or turned away from him. If you are feeling far from God today, hold on to the truth that he will never, ever give up on you. You are loved.
Take a moment to read 1 Peter 2:4-8 along with Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:19-29 before reading the devotional below.
Peter is referencing a lot of the Old Testament scriptures well known to his Jewish audience. The writings of Isaiah, a major prophet of Israel, and the Psalms written by the famous King David were central texts in the life of a Jewish person. Connecting Jesus with these scriptures was a critical element of the development of the early church, and it created sharp dividing lines between those who believed Jesus was the promised Messiah and those who did not.
Jewish people who had understood the Scriptures very literally were having their entire worldview shaken in thinking about the law, grace, and the role of Jesus in salvation. The building blocks of the Temple were literal rocks, and the construction and later destruction of the Temple building were major Jewish historical events. Peter is urging a different view here as he says, “You are the living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.” What a message! “You are the dwelling place of God, not a building. Jesus is the cornerstone, not a piece of limestone!” Peter warns that those who reject Jesus will fall apart.
Here’s your freedom for today: God has built his home in you. You line the walls of God’s house. You are a brick in an eternal structure that will never rot or come tumbling down. You are a part of a place much bigger than yourself. Jesus is the spiritual cornerstone on which everything else rests. If he is removed from the equation, the dwelling place of God no longer stands.