June 26, 2016
The reality of life is that we all have to work. Sometimes we complain about our job. We don’t like the way they run things at the hospital or the factory. We find our co-worker to be annoying. We are not paid enough. Or maybe we love our job and it is a wonderful source of meaning and purpose and income.
Now in one sense how we feel about our work is immaterial because we have to work to live. But as Christians our work is actually a great opportunity. Peter speaks about this. You see, Christians view employment as an opportunity to imitate Christ.
I. GRACIOUSLY SERVE YOUR EMPLOYER. 2:18-20
Obviously Peter is not talking about general employment. He is talking specifically to slaves. And it is important to understand something about slavery in world history. I have read multiple sources in which the authors have pointed out that the form of slavery existing during the 1st century was far different from the slavery that took place in our country.
In Peter’s day it is estimated that as much as one third of the urban populations were comprised of slaves. What is more, slavery was not based on racism. In fact, many of these slaves were doctors, teachers, writers, accountants, agents, bailiffs, secretaries, and overseers. Slaves could own property and even their own slaves. Many people volunteered to become slaves because it was a means of bettering oneself, saving up money and even gaining Roman citizenship. This is not to say that slavery was easy or that all slave owners were good. Many slaves were mistreated.
However, the form of slavery known in our country and elsewhere was despicable. It was rooted in racism and slaves from Africa were considered to be subhuman. Our country is still paying the price. And what is really sad is that slave owners, who professed to be Christians, even used passages like 1Pt.2 to justify slavery.
Is there a biblical justification for slavery? Why would Peter encourage Christian slaves to be subject to their masters and even endure undeserved suffering? Let me share two thoughts. First there are hints in the New Testament that suggest slavery is in many cases immoral. In 1Tim.1:9-10 Paul is listing various sins and he includes enslavers. Then in 1Cor.7:21, Paul writes, “Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)” Clearly slavery was not encouraged in the New Testament. And I believe the abolishing of slavery is exactly in keeping with God and his ways.
At the same time, given the fact that slavery was often a chosen way of life for many, clearly we cannot condemn outright those who chose to voluntarily become slaves as a means of bettering their lives. In addition to this, given the fact that much of the economy was based upon this kind of slavery, Peter and Paul did not want to give any impression that Christians were trying to disrupt the economy by overthrowing slavery. If the gospel was going to gain a foothold in society the overthrow of slavery would have to be put on hold.
And so Peter tells Christian slaves to be subject to their masters. Because many slaves were compensated for their work, there is an application for us today. All of us who work for someone else, need to heed the teaching of Peter in these verses. Our general posture at work is to be subject to those who are over us. We are to respect our supervisors and managers even if they are not respectable in the way they treat us. As Christians we want to be conscientious in our work, doing our best to have a good attitude.
Of course the reality for many employees is that their supervisors and managers mistreat them in any number of ways ranging from saying unkind things to refusing to grant a deserved raise or promotion. Peter is quick to say that as Christians we should certainly not be guilty of any wrongdoing that would merit disapproval. But at the same time he says that when unjust suffering comes on the job, it is a gracious thing in the sight of God to endure it. Wow!
Now let’s think about this. In Peter’s day, the master held all the cards. The master owned the slave. So the slave had no real recourse. In Paul’s letter to Philemon, we learn that Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who ran away from Philemon after perhaps having stolen something. While in Rome, Onesimus turned to Christ. Paul was urging Philemon to receive Onesimus back now as a brother in Christ. It was Philemon’s decision. He held the cards.
Today, employees have legal rights especially in regard to any kind of discrimination. Based upon what Peter writes here, would it be appropriate for a Christian to take his or her employer to court because of discrimination? Would it be right for a Christian to blow the whistle on an employer who was breaking the law? I would say, “Yes.” I say yes because these are important legal rights for the wellbeing of everyone in the United States.
Having said that I would quickly add that our motivation should never be to get revenge and it would also seem to me that one should try to follow in house procedures for registering a complaint. We want to be respectful and seek the wellbeing of everyone involved. Why? So that we can promote Christ and the good news of life in Christ. After all, everything we do as Christians is for the glory of God
In Col.3:22-23 Paul writes, “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” And in Col.4:1, Paul writes, “Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” Whichever side we are on in the workplace, as Christians we represent Christ and that shapes how we work.
II. CONSIDER THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS. 2:21-23
What Peter writes here is not easy. It is not easy to suffer at the hands of someone else, especially when that suffering is undeserved. At least for us, if we really cannot bear to work at a place, we can quit. Slaves could not quit. But not everyone can quit. Sometimes our work situations are such that we cannot quit and so we must endure. How can we do that? Peter tells us to consider the example of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ did nothing wrong. He never sinned. He only did what was good and right. And yet, Jesus experienced more suffering than any of us ever will because he bore the guilt of all our sin when he died on the cross. While living on this earth Peter reminds us that Jesus was reviled but he did not respond in kind. He did not threaten anyone, instead he entrusted his life into the care of God, who will judge all people. What is more, Jesus did this for us, so that we may receive the forgiveness of sin and eternal living in the kingdom of God. Peter says that Jesus is an example for us. In other words there are going to be times in our life when we will be mistreated and may suffer in some way unjustly. In those times, we are to look to Jesus.
Generally, our initial reaction to such suffering is to become angry. We feel justified in our anger because we have done nothing to deserve the suffering. It’s not right. And it isn’t right. But we are Christians. And as Christians our eyes are on Jesus Christ. In Heb.12:3 we read, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Now I don’t want to prolong this point except to say that one of the good things about following Christ is that by keeping Christ before our minds, we are encouraged to be like him. In Christ we are free to be gracious when treated unjustly because that is how Jesus was. And our lives are safe in his care.
Sometimes our patterns of negative thinking are so deep that all we can think about is how unjustly we are being treated. Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus kept thinking about how good God is to care for him. Jesus kept thinking about the joy set before him. What we think about does make a difference. The more our minds are filled with Christ, the better able we will be to follow in his steps when it comes to graciously enduring suffering.
This is challenging for every believer because there is very little in our world that helps us keep Jesus in the forefront of our minds. There is simply no way to do this without being intentional about it. I’m not talking about some legalistic quiet time. I’m talking about personally seeing the value of keeping Christ before your mind and creatively taking steps to do that. Whether you want to memorize scripture, or read through the gospels, one way or another our minds need to be set on Jesus and his goodness.
III. LIVE THE LIFE OF JESUS. 2:24-25
Having Jesus as our example is wonderful. There is no better example than Jesus. But Jesus is more than just an example. Jesus is the Savior, Lord and King of heaven and earth. In dying on the cross and rising from the grave Jesus provided the only means by which our sins can be forgiven and we can receive a brand new way of living that is eternal. By putting our trust in Jesus and committing ourselves to follow him, we enter into a life changing relationship with Jesus. Our sins are forgiven and we receive new eternal living that transforms our lives. We become a new creation in Christ. The Holy Spirit of God comes to live in us.
Someone asks, “Well how do I actually come to Him? We come to him by faith because we cannot see him. We take Jesus at his word when he says that he came that we might have eternal life. We acknowledge him as our only Savior, Lord and King. And then we live the life he gives to us. We become followers of Jesus.
Peter says Jesus bore our sins in order that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. When Jesus comes to live in us, he changes us, not against our will, of course. But as we put our trust in Jesus and begin to follow in his way with our heart, mind, and soul, our lives begin to change. So often we have reduced this process to a onetime event. We might say, “O right, when I was 7 years old I asked Jesus to be my Savior. I got baptized. So yeah, I put my trust into Jesus then and was saved.” But men and women, putting our trust in Jesus is a daily, ongoing journey. I didn’t just put my trust in Angie on our wedding day. I put my trust in her every day.
Because Jesus is living and dwells in us, we have the strength or power to actually follow in his steps by the Holy Spirit. In fact, as Peter tells us, we die to sin and we live to righteousness. We die to sin as we resist disobedient, prideful, self-centered ways. And we live to righteousness as we fix our eyes of the virtues of Jesus as seek to be like him. As we surrender our lives to Jesus, the Holy Spirit transforms our lives so that we begin to display his fruit which is, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are not just things we talk about. These are virtues we seek to embody and practice. These are things about which we apologize to others when we fail to practice them.
These are the virtues we want to display when we are working. Why? Because we are doing our work to the glory of God and Jesus. Jesus is the most important person in our lives and so in the work place where we spend so much or our time, we seek to imitate Jesus. In imitating Jesus, we are promoting his goodness and love. And God will use us to point people to life in Christ.
Now some of you may have jobs that are very unsatisfying. You are not appreciated and work is wearying. Some of you work for a Christian organization and you may be disappointed at how unchristian, Christians can be. Every job has its challenges. As Christians our primary goal is to show up every day seeking to display the virtues of Jesus as we do our work to the glory of God. Amen.