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Enduring Unjust Difficulty Pleases God
You are a slave at work–1 Peter 2:18-20
Let’s be honest, sometimes we suffer hardship because we do something dumb, or we make a mistake or we sin–right? We bring a lot of pain and hurt on ourselves–do you agree? You have a massive stomach ache, gas, indigestion because you ate too much, or ate the food you weren’t supposed to have–that four-patty In-N-Out “monster style” with chili-fries . . . you did that to yourself.
You play with the barbecue and get burned–you did that. You break a bone or dent the car while messing around–you did that. You publicly criticize a certain animal you don’t enjoy, so all the meow lovers let you know what a horrible person you are–I did that to myself. (You know, even cat lovers tell me when their cat is like a dog, they like it better–so why not just get a dog? Be quiet Chris!) You steal some stuff at work . . . you lie to your parents . . . you cheat on a test . . . you gossip about others and are found out . . . you did that to yourself.
You say to your wife, “Did you gain some weight in your thighs?” “Honey, your hair looks like an explosion in a steel wool factory.” “Hey, that dress is just like the one my old girlfriend used to wear.” “Please stop talking so I can watch the game.” “I planned my hunting trip with the boys over our anniversary, okay?” You did that to yourself–you invited suffering. You said to hardship, “Come on in and make yourself at home!”
But there is another kind of suffering hardship even more painful, and more difficult to deal with. What is it? It is the unjust suffering that comes from life, or others. It’s suffering hardship for things that had nothing to do with you. You didn’t cause it, you can’t prevent it, nor can you stop it. There are cutbacks at work, you are a hard worker, have been faithful on the job, but you are the one laid-off. Your boss doesn’t like you, rides you constantly, and gives you the dirty jobs that no one wants to do at work.
You are taxed for things that you were never taxed for before. You are mocked by your friends at work for being a Christian. You are not accepted at school because of your faith in Christ. You get cancer, have a stroke, or have to have heart surgery or worse, get a mystery disease that the doctors can’t diagnosis. You’re not perfect, but you are faithful in your ministry, you love the Lord, you love people, but you are slandered, ripped on, trashed, lied about and rejected. One particular teacher gives you D’s when everyone else gets B’s for the same quality work.
You see, one kind of suffering is the result of your bad choices and your own sinfulness, and the other kind of suffering is not. Both are allowed or directly caused by the sovereignty of God. Both kinds are to be endured by Christians, but the suffering you cause has little power to point to Christ . . . the suffering you endure that was not caused by your sin has great power to point to Christ and please God Himself.
This is what Peter describes as he talks to Christian slaves in the churches all over Asia Minor in 1 Peter 2:18-20. Slavery in the New Testament is not like the slavery that was a part of American history. Both were inhumane and horrific, but American slavery was based on race and sickening. I just finished reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave, a great man who was used to open the eyes of the American public to the horrors of our history, and man’s cruelty to man through slavery.
The slavery in the New Testament was on the basis of an empire fighting the known world and enslaving its conquered people. And slavery was so much a part of the social structure that many free men sold themselves into slavery in order to provide for their families. To immediately do away with slavery in one day back then would have caused the economy of the entire world to collapse, since two-thirds of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves.
Many slaves did manual labor, but many also fulfilled tasks of great responsibility, such as teachers, bookkeepers, doctors, running businesses and farms, and being stewards over vast households. Many slaves were highly-educated and cultured, and in many cases were better-educated than their owners. Often they stayed together as families attached to one family. Many Christian masters gave their slaves their freedom. Many fallen masters were nice, but some were mean and immoral, and our passage today will remind us that many slaves were treated well, but some were treated cruelly.
Open your Bibles to 1 Peter 2:18-20, and be prepared to be challenged in the area of work, suffering unjustly and enduring. There are parallels in these verses comparing a slave’s relationship to his master with your relationship to your employer. There are strong lessons as to God’s desire for His children to suffer–not because you brought the suffering on yourself, but to be a strong witness for Christ by enduring all unjust suffering which comes from another source other than you.
Today you’ll discover if you’re a God-pleasing employee or not. And you’re gonna’ learn how to respond to an unjust authority in your life, whether that is a teacher, employer, elder, parent or husband. When someone over you causes you hardship or hurt, God will make it really clear today how He wants you to respond.
God didn’t command for slavery to be destroyed in the New Testament, but He did put in place the process for its ultimate demise. Instead of commanding the social structure to externally change and do away with slavery, Christ put in place the most powerful internal change process, whereby people are transformed from the inside out, and therefore could not tolerate slavery anymore.
Today people say–to stop murder, control the guns . . . an external answer. Jesus said–to stop slavery, transform the human heart so that it will love God and loves people so much it cannot tolerate slavery. When you see yourself as a sinful person, corrupt and evil from the core of your being, not merely that you do bad things, like lie, cheat and lust–but you understand that even your good religious actions are tainted with sin, you are sick with sin. Then when God in His grace draws you to Himself, causing you to see your desperate need for Christ to have died on the cross for your sin, taking the punishment for sin that you deserved, rising from the dead and giving you a new heart and eternal life–then you will not only love God, but you will love people with a genuine willingness to sacrifice yourself for others by following the commands of Scripture. When true salvation occurs, then the idea of enslaving another human being will sicken you. Over a period of time, this unique approach practically eliminated slavery from the New Testament culture.
When masters treated their slaves as brothers in Christ, and when slaves served their masters as if they were serving the Lord, it was impossible to continue the old system. Slavery eventually disintegrated because people’s hearts were changed by Christ. Nowhere in Scripture is rebellion or revolution justified in order to gain freedom, opportunity, or economic, social, or political rights. The emphasis of the New Testament is to demonstrate the transforming power of God through your life, by living and sharing the Gospel of grace.
So in 1 Peter 2:18-20, Peter focuses on household slaves. And because there is a direct application to employment, all of you who feel like slaves at work or at home need to ask, what does God expect of me at my job? Homemakers, what does God expect? Policemen, teachers, salesmen, developers, lawyers, money managers, skilled workers–what do Christians do at work, and what are God’s expectations of you toward your authorities?
Look at this passage again, and underline some words with me. “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.”
Notice: you just underlined two favors, two sufferings, and three strong verbs which are endurances under the main theme in this broader context which is submission. So Peter is telling slaves under their masters, and us today, employees under employers, or all of us under our authorities–humbly enduring unjust difficulty pleases God. Remaining under unreasonable suffering finds favor with God.
Do you think the way God thinks about suffering, trials, hurts, injustice, pains, and unfair authorities in your life? Let’s find out . . .
#1 God’s crazy expectation of you toward your authorities—submit
Students, when Mrs Carbunkle gives you a D, on a B paper . . . wives, when your husband just won’t listen . . . Christians, when your elders don’t live up to your expectations . . . believers, when your government turns socialistic . . . men, when your boss expects you to do what you know is dumb. Our God wants you to submit–willingly and continually be subordinate to your authorities. Like a soldier, say, “Yes, sir,”–you can humbly suggest a different path.
The Christian slave was to do what his master told him to do, and Christians in general are to do what their authorities tell them to do. Verse 18 starts with, “Servants, be submissive to your masters.” Submit is to rank yourself under another, an authority over you. It is submit to them as if you’re a private, and they’re your sergeant. Submissive is a military term with an on-going, continual emphasis–willingly subordinate yourself to your authorities continually.
For the slave in the first century, they’re to submit to their (v.18) master–which is the Greek word despotes, where we get our English word despot. The first century master had complete authority over their slave, which is not the case with an employee today, in that an employee can quit, but the slave could not. But God says to slaves submit, not because a slave is inferior, but because God is the one who gave the slave His own master.
Many of the slaves in the first century had no choice of who would be their master, but a Christian slave did know for certain that it was God who gave him his master. But our submission to authority is not merely a willing continual subordination, where we do what authorities tell us to do–our hearts are to be submissive too, trusting God is in control.
At school, some students will do what the teacher asks, but will assassinate them verbally later to others. I have heard so-called Christian wives, with sweetness verbally destroy their husband in the midst of a prayer request. I’ve watched church members who didn’t get their way seriously damage their church by their complaints and issues. I’ve seen children come under their parents authority, but then undermine everything their parent is trying to do.
At work, employees often comply with their boss’s requests, but when the boss is not around, they complain and rip on them. This is why Peter says to Christian slaves in verse 18, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect.” Respect is the Greek word for fear–it is the same root word used in verse 17, commanding us to fear God. We are to have the same respectful fear towards our authorities as we do toward God. Why? Because God is the one who put our authorities in place
Peter says, “with all respect”–and the Greek word for all is profound–it means all respect, all the time, in all ways, in everything. Our submission is to be when they are looking and when they are not. Our submission is expressed when they’re present or absent. Our submission is action and attitude–no bitterness or negativity allowed. Submission is not merely heeding, it includes a humble heart. And we should fear not continually respecting, because when we don’t, we are actually attacking the sovereignty of God.
Paul said it just as strongly–just after he described the sovereignty of God in verse 13, he said to the Philippian church, in Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” And let me exposit this verse for you–do all, everything, all the time, 24/7, every relationship, every authority, every person, every event, without grumbling and disputing.
Wanna’ ruin your family, your workplace, your church, your school, your sports team, or your group of friends? Then violate that verse and excuse yourself, so you can grumble about others. “Yeah but my boss . . . my parents . . . my elders . . . my husband . . . my teacher . . . my master are not very nice–in fact, they’re hurtful.”
Peter anticipated that when he says, submit with respect in verse 18–not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. This is Peter’s way of saying, submit to those who are easy to submit to, and those who are really difficult to submit to. Good and gentle describe the magnanimous, kind, and gracious authority that we all love to work for, live with, and serve under. And unreasonable refers to the perverse and dishonest authority who is a trauma to work for, live with, or serve under.
Unreasonable is the Greek word skoliois. Sound familiar? It’s where we get the medical term scoliosis, meaning crooked or curved spine. (The Greek means bent, warped, wicked.) Now don’t misunderstand, you are to submit to a perverse boss–don’t submit to perversion. Submit to a crooked boss, not doing crooked things. Most bosses are not totally crooked criminally, or completely perverse morally, but we’re to submit to them anyway.
Why should I? Answer–because God is in charge, and God put them over you for you to grow to be more like Christ. The kind, gracious, loving authorities who make life easy, and the difficult, unreasonable, push-you-around authorities who make life hard are both God’s tools, placed there by Him to grow you to be more like Christ. Remember Romans 13:1-2, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God.”
Therefore Peter says in verse 18, respectfully and continually submit to authorities–good ones and unreasonable ones. Think about submission in light of the cross–we were hateful and rebellious, assaulting God with our “leave us alone to do our own thing” mentality. Yet Christ still submitted to and endured the cross, and the unjust punishment and the outpouring of God’s wrath upon Himself for our sin. If He could submit to that, can’t we, like Him, submit to authorities in our lives, even the unjust ones?
Again, the only exception is when they command you to sin–then you must do what the apostles did in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” Yet even then, we’re to refuse to obey those in authority with a heart of respect and honor, and still submit as far as we can–which was vital for a slave, and for us toward our leaders.
In the workplace, employees are to submit to employers as if they were serving Christ Himself. And true Biblical submissiveness precludes all rebellions, protests, mutinies, strikes, slander or workplace disobedience of every kind, even if the employer is unreasonable. Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” God the Holy Spirit is pressing you into a box canyon, friends. He wants you to submit to His appointed authority with a good attitude, not merely obedient actions, and with a humble heart, not merely heeding in your head. But what if this leads to greater difficulty and suffering?
#2 God is pleased when you experience unjust suffering, even as you submit, if you endure
If you want to know how mature you are as a Christian, ask yourself, “how do I live when no one is looking?” or “how do I behave when no one knows exactly how much I hurt?” Do you actually live as someone under God’s sovereignty, trusting in His wisdom and relying on His love? Or is God’s sovereignty to you only a head truth or heart treasure, but His providence really never makes its way out in your lifestyle?
People who live before a sovereign God fear ever being critical of others, especially their leaders, because God made them leaders. People who embrace God’s sovereignty work harder and do additional work not being asked of them at their jobs, because they’re working for God–not their boss and not their paycheck. People who live under God’s control pick up the trash when they miss the can, because they know God is watching.
This is why Peter says submission is so good in verse 19, “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.” The “for” of verse 18 is connected to submission of verse 19. Peter says submission finds favor–submission is the cause of joy, pleasure and benefit. Finds favor literally means, this is a grace–God is blessed, and you are graced when you do your work in a humble, submissive way for your superiors.
Whether it was a slave in Peter’s day patiently enduring brutal treatment, or whether it is a modern-day employee not retaliating against an unkind and unjust supervisor, God is pleased. “Consider it all joy when you experience various trials”–trials that even come from Christians who are in authority over you.
Look at how Peter describes it in verse 19—“For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.” Conscience toward God means being aware of God’s actual presence–working, living for, and serving others as if you were working, living for and serving God Himself, in His presence.
One of the keys to becoming a great witness, and growing into a mature Christian, is to work at your job, consciously aware that you are working for Christ–to say I am doing this for you Lord. Then doing your best work cleaning toilets . . . serving tables. Or as you submit to your parents or husband or teacher or boss, you are consciously submitting to Christ at that moment with joy, because it’s Christ who died for you, that you’re submitting to.
And what will make others really notice your witness is when some of you, a person, a believer who is afflicted with misfortune bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. Sorrows can come from authorities (and here sorrow means sadness, pain, mental and physical hunger, insult and outrage)–this results from suffering unjustly, being wronged or treated stupidly.
There is nothing wrong with carefully and humbly suggesting another course of action at work, which will make money and honor the boss, but if the authority says, “Just do it my way and shut up,” you are to submit. And Peter adds, “bear up under sorrows”–which means to endure, to be steadfast and unmovable, meaning don’t let your pain or emotion change your submissive actions or submissive attitude. Don’t sin, submit. Don’t trash, trust. Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Many 1st century believers endured painful and unjust beatings as slaves. Their masters deprived them of food, forced them to work unreasonably long hours, or punished them unfairly, even with physical beatings–sometimes simply because the Christian slave would not worship the household idols, which a secular master viewed as bringing a curse upon the house.
Unlike modern-day employees in industrialized countries, those slaves had no one to turn to for grievances–there were no union reps or government boards to settle disputes, and no way to file civil lawsuits. They just endured whatever painful circumstances their masters imposed on them–and did so to the glory of God. “To obey is better than sacrifice.” But there is a good way and a bad way to submit to authorities.
#3 The danger and blessing for Christians when authorities are unfair–sinning or pleasing God
The danger for us is sinning, and the blessing is pleasing God. Peter asks a negative rhetorical question, then follows it up with a positive affirmation in Verse 20, “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience?” The assumed answer is, there is no credit, literally, no credit means no fame–the root word for credit is report or rumor.
So if you are harshly treated, which describes someone who is being knocked about, roughed up, beaten and physically abused, and you remain under it and try not to escape it. But in the process you outwardly sin with your mouth, actions, or attitude, then you are a poor witness.
Don’t miss this–by our submission to authorities, even under unjust suffering, there is a report, a rumor, a powerful testimony given about Christians and especially about Christ. But if that report is mixed with a sinful attitude . . . complaining, resisting, undermining, putting down, causing others to question authority–then there is no credit, no fame given to Christ, no good report made about the power of salvation in Christ.
Peter then makes a strong, positive contrast in verse 20b, “But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.” Even when some believing slaves submitted from the heart, they were still punished for it, some even physically beaten or worse. Sometimes because their master was unreasonable, other times because as Christians they would not worship house idols.
Regardless, when they continued to do good to others, doing good works, submitting with a soft heart, yet still suffering regardless, and remaining under it without complaint, God says they were blessed. Peter says this finds favor with God–this is a grace, a blessing from God, and a joy to God your Father. You are suffering, yet God is smiling, and you are being blessed. It always pleases God to see believers faithfully accept and endure with any adversity. Literally, there is a thrill of delight in the heart of God. At the moment of the suffering you are patiently enduring, God stoops from His throne in heaven and says, “Thank you . . . thank you for doing what my Son would have done.”
Just like Peter says in 3:14, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled.” And 4:14, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” And Jesus made it really clear, didn’t He, in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 ‘Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’” As a result . . .
1 Choose to be rejoicing and not into complaining
Complaining destroys homes, workplaces, teams, churches, marriages and friendships. God commands us to rejoice, and commands us not to complain or grumble. Rejoicing expresses faith, and complaining expresses flesh. God killed thousands of Israelites just for complaining as a lesson for us–are you getting the message, or still listening to or participating in complaining?
You always have a good idea who is filled with the Spirit and who is in the flesh, because Ephesians 5:19-21 tell us that those who are filled are thankful and submissive–are you?
2 Determine to be submitting and not into subverting
Christ is submitting and Satan is subverting. Those who follow Christ are trusting, and those who follow Satan are always questioning. When it comes to authority, the only response that honors God is submission from a humble heart of faith in God.
3 Resolve to be working for Christ and not for others
Speaking to slaves, Paul says in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. Resolve today to work for Christ when no one is looking, and decide now this week to do something additional for Christ at work, just for Him–learn to work hard.
4 Embrace being weak so that Christ’s strength will shine
Some of you may say, “I can’t do it, I can’t submit.” Yes you can. Second Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
5 Compare your suffering to the cross of Christ
Under the authority of unjust religious leaders and cruel Roman leaders, Jesus Christ remained under authority and died for our sins. The cross is what has encouraged martyrs for 2,000 years to rejoice when forfeiting their lives. The future resurrection was the truth which gave them hope.
Today, will you allow the cross of Christ to change the way you deal with unfair authority? Today, I have asked our lay elders to come up front and answer some questions before we go to prayer:
1. What keeps Christians from living out the principles of submission, honor and obedience at work?
2. Who is it harder to work for: a compromising Christian employer or a worldly non-Christian employer and why?
3. Why is it Christians often forget they are really serving Christ at work?
4. What Biblical behavior (of being well-pleasing, honest, hardworking and reliable) do you believe is most violated by Christians at work, and what can they do about it?
5. What steps can I take tomorrow at work to be Biblically motivated and radically different for Christ?
6. How do you not only show Christ, but share the Gospel of Christ at work?
1 Peter 2:18, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.”
1 Peter 2:19, “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.”
1 Peter 2:20, “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.”
6 To follow the example of Christ
First Peter 2:21 says, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” I hope this doesn’t shock you, but God has not called you to a life of pleasure, comfort or convenience. God says in I Peter 2:21, He has called you to a life of suffering. “But,” you say, “Peter is talking to slaves.” Yes, but this call to suffer is not because they are slaves (verse 21), but because they’re Christians–therefore suffering holds true for all Christians.
God seeks to motivate us to be submissive to our employers, even when suffering at work, because Christ suffered for you and me personally. He didn’t send someone else, but shielded us from eternal suffering in hell by suffering for us–and Christ did it without complaint, bitterness or self-pity. Look at what I Peter 2:21 says again–Jesus is our example. The word example is an unusual Greek word meaning underwriting.
Do you remember when you were learning to write, and at the top of the page was the example sentence you were to copy, letter-for-letter, and line-for-line? Jesus is the example we are to copy, letter-for-letter, and line-for-line. We’re to react to suffering just like He did.
Plus, verse 21 adds–when we suffer unjustly at work, or labor under great stress at our jobs, we are to follow the direction Christ’s life took, to follow His footsteps, to seek to be like Him who did everything for us. Our motivation at work is to be like Christ. Verse 22-23 say, “Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”
Like a soldier in battle who is inspired by the courage of His commander leading the charge while under fire, a Christian is motivated to work in a submissive, eager-to-please, honest, hard-working, reliable manner at our jobs by following the example of our courageous commander, the Lord Jesus Christ. But God also wants us to be motivated to work His way for one primary reason stated in the book of Titus.