1 Peter 2:18-25 - The Cross-Shaped Life

October 20, 2013 Speaker: Series: 1 Peter

Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: 1 Peter 2:18–2:25

[Text: 1 Peter 2:18-25] “The Cross-Shaped Life”

Few things can be as infuriating as injustice, especially the kind when one suffers for doing right. So, what are we supposed to do when that kind of unjust suffering comes to us and there’s nothing we can do about it?

[Read 1 Peter 2:18-25 and Pray – Father, in your Son you have given us treasure but we carry it around in these jars of clay. Because of him we may say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed….” (2 Cor. 4:9) Grant us the gift of hearing this morning. Illumine our hearts by the work of your Spirit to hear and believe that suffering for your sake is a grace from you. And help us take up our cross to follow our Lord – to know him in his sufferings and to know him in the power of his resurrection. In the name of our Christ Jesus we pray. Amen.]

What are the events in your life that make you say, “I don’t deserve this!”? Maybe it was when you got spanked for your brother’s crime – he stole the cooling cookies but you suffered the wrath of Mom. Maybe you said it when the boss laid another project on you (instead of your coworkers) for the simple reason that you do good work. Now, your coworkers are coasting to the weekend while your workload just doubled – even though you were already drowning. Whether it’s the slanderous accusations of an ex-friend or the wrath of an aging parent who, for their own good, had to be taken from their home, how do you handle that kind of suffering?

Now, there are plenty of different kinds for suffering. Peter clearly rules one of those out in this passage. In v. 20, he says enduring while suffering the consequences of our own wrongdoing isn’t really commendable (although it is necessary). So, we’re not talking about the suffering we’ve brought on ourselves. And we’re also not talking about suffering abuse when there are lawful recourses. The abused wife is not bound to submit to an abusive husband. What we’re talking about is unjust suffering when there’s nothing you can do about it.

That was the situation in which the servants (of v. 18) found themselves. These were the “house-servants” (oiketai, rather than doulos, or common “slaves”) of Rome. Usually better off than common slaves, these were the servants who lived in the house with their masters, serving in close proximity to him. Some did menial tasks around the house. Others had vital jobs, serving as doctors, teachers, craftsmen and all sorts of skilled positions. Many were more educated than their masters. But still, they were slaves. Their part was to serve the will of their master, quickly, unreservedly, fully.

Of course, some served good and kind masters. Some were honored and respected and even had some upward mobility in society. Some could even earn their freedom and, to those who could, the Apostles urged them to do it and be free (1 Corinthians 7:21). But the majority of slaves would never be freed. They could never do anything about their situation. And if their master was unjust, like the one mentioned in v. 18 (literally, crooked), then each day could be a dark procession from one sorrow to another.

Peter Chrysologus, an early Christian pastor, summed up the state of every slave: “Whatever a master does to a slave, undeservedly, in anger, willingly, unwillingly, in forgetfulness, after careful thought, knowingly, unknowingly, is judgment, justice and law.”[1] The suffering slave had no legal rights, no recourse when wronged. To run away would have meant crucifixion. So, if they suffered unjustly, what were they supposed to do? And we have to ask ourselves the same question. When we suffer helplessly, how are we supposed to respond?

We have to ask ourselves that question because Peter isn’t just writing to servants. In v. 21, Peter says this is an issue of believers following the call of their Lord, so this is an issue for us today. Haven’t you seen people suffer for whistle-blowing in the face of corruption, sued for breaking ribs while performing CPR. Haven’t you seen employees berated or fired for the boss’s failures? So, what are we supposed to do when we suffer unjustly and there’s nothing we can do to stop it?

Are we really supposed to respond the way you and I often respond in those “I don’t deserve this!” moments? With burning anger? Do we give in to the strong desire to bite back with sharp words spoken in self-justification? Retaliate in the form of passive-aggressive behavior – half-hearted work done to make their boss/master look bad? Should sufferers take revenge or murder the crooked master in their hearts? Sometimes we respond to injustice very actively but sometimes we descend into dark doubt, believing that God had forgotten us in our suffering. Since we can’t change our situations, such unjust suffering can drive us – like them – to bitter anger or self-pity, each a downward spiral of unbelief.

But as Peter applies the Gospel into the believer’s everyday life, he shows another way of living is possible – a new way for every believer who suffers unjustly. It’s important to hear that Peter does not negate the suffering. (It’s also important to hear that Peter does not support the system in which the slaves suffered, although that’s a larger discussion for another time.) Instead, to the believer struggling with anger at the injustice of it all, Peter urges patience. To the believer doubting God’s goodness, Peter urges quiet endurance. He helps us to see that Christ has opened up another way of life and leads us to follow in his steps. We must do good while enduring suffering because God has called us to that very thing – from the Roman slave to you and me today – as he conforms our lives to the shape of Jesus’ life.

So, as we look at this text we’ll consider three things: (1) the call to faithful submission, (2) the call to faithful suffering, and (3) the call to the cross-shaped life. And we need to hear this because unjust suffering is unavoidable for the believer, but it doesn’t have to lead to sin or despair.

So, first, the call to faithful submission. In v. 18 Peter tells the servants to “be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” Remember, these slaves had no control over who became their master. But Peter says it doesn’t matter who’s in control – whether the master is good and gentle or crooked as the day is long, the servant is supposed to submit themselves and serve “with all respect.” For every believer in a place of service, as an employee or in any position where we answer to someone else, we are called to submit ourselves to the good and the crooked with all respect.

You might be thinking, “But how can I respect my boss? You haven’t seen how he treats people. How can I respect someone who isn’t worthy of any respect?” That’s a hard question. But that isn’t what the text is telling us to do. Because when the text says, “be subject…with all respect,” the respect isn’t first directed toward any human being. The respect is directed toward God.

The word “respect” here is a good translation, but it doesn’t make it clear where that respect is directed. The literal translation here is “be subject…with all fear (from the root, phobos).” And fear is 1st Peter is always a God-ward oriented fear (1:17; 2:17). We aren’t called to be subject because the boss is worthy of respect. We are called to submit to them, whether good or bad, because we fear God and look to him in faith.

Please don’t misunderstand, in the call to be subject to those in authority over us, we need to show respect – that’s included in submission. But we don’t respect because of the worthiness of the man, we respect because of the worthiness of our God who calls us into situations that are beyond our control.

These believers were chosen and called by God as slaves, to live a life serving others. But in their service of others, they did not ultimately belong to that master, whether good or bad – they belonged to the Living God who called them as His chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession (2:9). Though they were slaves they were free men in Christ. And as they were free men in Christ, they had become slaves of God (2:16). And so, with faith in God and in the service of God, He called them to be faithful where He had put them.

This means their submission as a slave was faithful, worshipful service to God, just as your painting and selling washers and raising children and healing bodies and managing households and baking bread is a sacred calling to be fulfilled in the worship and fear and service of God. So, when you struggle in your vocation, in the work God has called you to do, when you struggle with a crooked boss or his crooked ways and there is nothing you can do about it, submission with your fear and hope in God is what faithfulness looks like.

Of course, there will be times when because of your fear of God you will not be able to submit to those in authority. When asked to sin we must submit to God rather than man. But Peter understands that either kind submission, whether to man or to God, does not always end in promotions and raises. Even though it is pleasing to God, faithfulness sometimes brings suffering. Worshipful obedience to God, in His providence, can produce pain today. And so Peter calls these servants – and calls us – to faithful suffering.

“For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”

We know that enduring suffering because we’ve reacted poorly (sinfully) to others isn’t any credit to us. How can blowing up at a boss be a good thing? If I did a terrible job fixing a car and the customer chews me out, how would enduring that patiently be a credit to me?

But Peter goes back to the issue of unjust suffering for the sake of doing good. If we endure while being “mindful of God,” that is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

So, what does it mean to be mindful of God? To be mindful of God in the face of unjust suffering isn’t just remembering that God exists. It is the mindfulness of faith in him, the quiet patience of one who believes that the love and grace of God belongs to us because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Being mindful of God while enduring suffering is to “set (our) hope fully on the grace that will be brought to (us) at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1:13). To be mindful of God while enduring suffering is to remember that these grievous trials today test the genuineness of our faith in God and will be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:7). To be mindful of God while enduring suffering is to believe that God is the God who sees (Genesis 16:13) and has made promises to take care of the lambs Jesus has bought by his own blood (1:18-19).

C.S. Lewis said, “When pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”[2] When you and I hear and believe what Peter has already written – embracing His promised love in the midst of unjust suffering – we can endure, knowing that such faith in Him is a thing of grace in the sight of God, fully pleasing to him.

It is pleasing because yes, we are called to faithful submission. And, yes, we are called to faithful suffering. But these things are simply a part of the larger calling, which Peter shows so clearly in v. 21. We submit and we endure unjust suffering with our faith in God because we have been called to follow the example of Christ – it is the call to the cross-shaped life.

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”

When Peter says Jesus left us an example to follow, he uses a word that everyone student would understand. It’s a word referring to what you see on the front of your bulletin. The “pattern” was the first letter on those three-lined papers we used in the first grade – the letter we traced over and over again, trying to learn how to write by copying an example again and again.

You and I have been called to trace the shape of Jesus’ life. And to help us understand what that shape looks like, Peter shows us the suffering Savior and he takes us back to the cross.

Vv.22-23 - “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found is his mouth. When he reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

Never did anyone suffer more unjustly than Jesus; sinless and pure in speech. And never did anyone endure with faith more perfectly than Jesus; he entrusted himself to God in the face of unjust suffering.

The patient faith of Jesus is what we are called to imitate. As God allows these sufferings to come – truly unjust and yet grace-filled trials allowed by our loving Father – we, like Jesus, are called to endure with our faith in the God who judges justly.

When the boss wrongly blames you for the project’s failure; if full-blown, unjust persecution of Christians returns to this land; in whatever unjust suffering comes into your life, we are called to continue believing that God will judge with righteous judgment. And although we may do this falteringly at times – our child-like attempts of following the pattern looking more like a slanted “plus” sign than a cross – even so, the pattern of the life of His Son will be recognizable to the Father and pleasing in His sight. And we have hope that through a life of enduring faith, we will follow that pattern more and more closely, maturing in Christ and imaging the Savior more and more in front of a watching world. Do not discount the attractive power of faithful suffering. Many have come to faith by watching suffering Christians follow the pattern of Christ’s life.

But if we recognize the pattern in someone or in ourselves, we can’t give any praise to the tracing, no matter how good it is. We must give all praise to the original whom we imitate in our patient endurance, but could never imitate in his sinless perfection and atoning sacrifice!

That’s what Peter emphasizes in the last part of this text. Absolutely, we follow Christ in his patience. But our hope in Christ comes from what he did that we can never imitate.

In vv. 24-25, Peter reminds us that although we may experience unjust suffering, the reality is that our sin had earned for us all the miseries of this life and death and the pains of hell forever. Our rebellion against God by going after life on our terms meant that we deserved anything this broken world can throw at us.

And yet out of His love for us, in order to claim a people for God, Jesus took our sins upon himself on the cross. And pay attention to the language that follows. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” The death of Christ on the cross that satisfied the justice of God is your death to sin. And having died with Christ to sin, he is the one who conforms you to the pattern of his own life – by faith in Christ you are like him in his death and like him in his righteousness.

He is the promised Servant of God from Isaiah 53 we read earlier:

“Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.”

He is the Servant of God who brought forgiveness and restoration to God’s people through his own suffering; “By his wounds you have been healed.”

Although you and I were wandering from God like straying sheep, Jesus came and suffered and died to win us back to God. Do you believe it? If you do, then you can take hope that your suffering precious in the sight of God. It is seen by Him and will be repaid by Him. And none of it is beyond His control and all of it is for your good, Christian, because God is conforming you to the image of His Son, taking care of you as the “Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

So, as the blood-bought flock of God we can be “unthreatened by evil…and can overcome evil with good, and in the midst of suffering show mercy to those who would show no mercy toward [us].”[3] That is powerful Christ-likeness! It is a “radical trust”[4] which spills out into radical love for brothers and sisters and enemies alike. It is that radical love which silences the “ignorance of foolish people” (2:15) and shows the world the beauty of Christ. People are drawn to that kind of love. Francis Schaeffer knew this when he called love the “final apologetic.” When unbelievers see a Christian wronged and see them respond with threats and anger, how can they see the difference between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world? But when they see love returned for injustice and patient endurance in the face of unjust suffering they see a glimpse of the wounds of Christ by which the world is healed. Ultimately, our call to endure unjust suffering is a call to show the worth of God but it is also to call the lost to follow us as we follow the pattern and the footprints of our crucified Lord.

So after you say, “I don’t deserve this,” say, too, “…but neither did Jesus. He endured entrusting himself to his faithful God. And with my hope in Christ I can do the same. God has made promises to me of forgiveness and righteousness by the blood of His Son and more promises of life in him. So, if he calls me to take up my cross, I will. And though I die on it, I have the hope of the resurrection because of Jesus. In him I will see my Shepherd face to face on the day when suffering gives way to glory.”

[Pray – Almighty God, suffering scares us. When it is unjust we get angry or we doubt your goodness. Forgive us, Lord, for our unbelief. And help us in our weakness to believe that even suffering can only serve our salvation because of the blood of Christ that was poured out for us on the cross. Grant us the gift of enduring faith, Father, by the power of your Holy Spirit, so that we might submit to those you call us to submit. Grant us enduring faith to suffer with eyes looking to you, to the God who sees and will vindicate us. Grant us the gift of enduring faith so that we might take up our cross and follow in the footsteps of Christ, although it leads to our own Golgotha, rejoicing in our hope in Christ. Because of him and because you are conforming us to the image of your Son, suffering must give way to glory. Humiliation will give way to exaltation. For this we praise you, O Christ, our once crucified and now risen Lord. To you be all the glory as we follow where you lead. Only use our suffering for your purposes and glory. We ask if for the sake of Christ, our Lord. Amen.]

[Benediction, from 1 Peter 5:10-11]

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”



[1] William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976. The Daily Study Bible Series, pp. 210-211.

[2] From The Problem of Pain

[3] John R.W. Stott, ed., The Bible Speaks Today, The Message of 1 Peter by Edmund Clowney (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 113.

[4] Mary H Schertz., “Radical Trust in the Just Judge: the Easter Texts of 1 Peter.” Word and World 24 no 4 (Fall 2004), 434.

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