Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 9

Originally posted November 10, 2017, at Women of Purpose.

In our lesson this week we continued to dig into Peter’s admonition to us as beloved sojourners who are to do good and bring glory to God, this time in the context of our relationships in the workplace. Well, I say, “in the workplace,” but Peter is addressing slaves, for which we have no direct modern-day category. There are applications to employees in what he teaches, but there are also implications for everyone who finds themselves in a dependent or even helpless situation. We have all at one time or another been (or will be) recipients of injustice, whether in words or actions, at work or in other contexts. In our passage we find unjust suffering and endurance in entrusting ourselves to God to be prominent themes. These are themes which are necessary for us to understand as Christians, whether we meet them in the workplace or in other relationships.

Peter is addressing “servants,” or, “slaves.” Before we begin, we need to be clear that the circumstances of a 1st century slave were manifestly different from the slavery of the American South, which may more prominently shape how we think when we read what Peter is teaching. Picturing the lifestyle and limitations of the slaves to whom Peter wrote may take some effort. In his commentary on 1 Peter, Simon Kistemaker quotes another author to give us better insight:

“The living conditions of many slaves were better than those of free men who often slept in the streets of the city or lived in very cheap rooms. . . . The slave was not inferior to the free men of similar skills in regard to food and clothing. . . . most slaves in Rome were as well dressed as free men.”[1]

This is a different picture than first arises for us, and yet, these slaves, or servants, were still not their own masters. They answered to another who had final say over much in their lives. To be in service to a good and gentle master was preferable to an unjust master. There were limitations to their choices and freedoms, and potential for abuse and oppression.

A quick survey through the first two chapters of 1 Peter, however, shows us the true identity of every believer, whether slave or free: chosen, born again, guarded by God’s power, heir, possessing a faith more precious than gold, child of God, holy, ransomed, having purified souls and hearts, growing up into salvation, living stones, holy priesthood, chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, people for God’s own possession, recipients of mercy, beloved sojourners who are to do good and bring glory to God. Regardless of social status, every believer in Christ shares the same dignity and worth before God’s throne.

“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” (2:18)

In verse 18, Peter commands slaves to be subject to their masters with attitudes of respect. This attitude is to come from our respectful fear of the Lord, in the knowledge that we have been ransomed from the attitudes and passions of the flesh which would influence us otherwise. Step into the situation yourself now, and set aside the title of “slave.” Peter is speaking to anyone who is powerless—at least in the moment—in circumstances of conflict or influence. When working with an unreasonable boss, or when blindsided by someone who is in a senior position or holds more authority than yourself, how do you respond? How would your old passions of the flesh react? Does that old self come clawing back up out of your heart to attack?

We are given a list of Scripture passages to read through to examine how it is possible to respond respectfully to harsh treatment.

“put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” 1 Peter 2:1

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:9

“in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” 1 Peter 3:15

“let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” 1 Peter 4:19

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6, 7

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23, 24

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[a] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17-21

“Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” Titus 2:9, 10

Note that neither Peter nor Paul are telling us that we must agree with those who are dealing out harsh words or treatment against us. We may have our own opinions about matters. But when it comes to how we respond, we are to put away the bitter vices of our hearts and tongues, not responding naturally, but supernaturally. Regarding Christ as holy and entrusting ourselves to him we are freed to do our work well, and so to serve Jesus and adorn the gospel by our words and actions. (Also notice how many of the above passages are in our epistle. Clearly, Peter has much to teach us about this. Could it be because it’s a hard lesson to learn?)

“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.” (19, 20)

In verses 19 and 20 Peter discusses two different types of suffering: just and unjust. We can all agree that if someone has done wrong, their suffering because of that wrongdoing is justified. Peter is telling us that we shouldn’t be doing wrong, and if we do, we are getting what we deserve when we get into trouble for it.

But if we haven’t done anything wrong, rather, if we do good, and suffer unjustly for our good deeds, then God is pleased with us. Peter says twice that our endurance under unjust suffering is “a gracious thing.” This isn’t the grace which is defined as “unmerited favor,” rather, this grace is “that which pleases God.” God takes each instance of our undeserved suffering, and as we endure it with Christlike humility, he bathes it with his grace. In this way we are imitating our Savior.

Peter uses terms like “bearing up” and “enduring” suffering for the simple reason that suffering is difficult. Pain hurts. Grief is real. When we suffer we are nowhere commanded in Scripture to pretend that it isn’t happening, that it doesn’t have a real effect on our hearts and minds. As Christians we aren’t called to denial or stoicism, but to Christlikeness. There is an indisputable reality in suffering which we are to face with humility, patience, and faith.

Enduring suffering with faith requires, as Peter writes, being “mindful of God.” Kistemaker explains what it means to be mindful of God: “Because of his awareness of God, the Christian is able to endure the pain of unjust suffering. He has insight into the realities of life, especially when he knows that he is suffering unjustly.”[2] We are again given a list of Scripture passages to help us better understand.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” Psalm 46:1-3

“And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Luke 22:39-44

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

“So, we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

To be conscious of God is to KNOW that he is our refuge and strength, our very present help in time of trouble; to pray earnestly, seeking his strength for the trials we face; to know that the trials and suffering will be worked out to be good for us; and to realize that any affliction we suffer in this life is slight and momentary compared to the eternality of the glory which will be ours in heaven. Paul isn’t minimizing our trials in the 2 Corinthians passage, but putting them in perspective. He sets the temporary, the trifling, and the afflictions next to the eternal, the weighty, and the glorious, and there is no comparison. Our earthly trials pale in comparison to heavenly realities.

Peter suggests that we shouldn’t be surprised when we suffer for doing good. His reasoning is found in the next verse:

“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.” (21)

We shouldn’t be surprised because we follow a crucified do-gooder! Our Lord suffered unjustly for doing good, and if we follow him, so will we. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said as much: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11, 12). Furthermore, “Peter tells us that we have been called by God to the situation in which we endure suffering, so we must realize both that God knows the injustice which we patiently endure and that he has called us to face injustice.”[3]

So, we are called to follow our Savior, which will inevitably lead us into trials, because that’s where he walked. This verse, by the way, was the inspiration for the book, In His Steps,[4] that launched the WWJD movement back in the late 90’s, early 00s. First published at the turn of the 20th century, it presented an optimistic view of the ability of individual Christians and the Church to bring positive change to their own culture and the world. While the WWJD movement was criticized in some circles for pursuing works over gospel, the idea behind it which traces to this verse is solidly biblical. We are to follow Jesus’ example, doing good and bringing glory to God in word and deed before a watching world, even if it means that we suffer for it. As Peter will later write, we are to “turn away from evil and do good; …seek peace and pursue it” (3:11).

After all, Jesus’ trial and crucifixion are the ultimate example of unjust suffering, and, as Daniel Doriani says, “Jesus is the supreme example of the man who suffered patiently because of his confidence in God.”[5] Even Pontius Pilate couldn’t justify killing Jesus (Matt. 27:22-24). Kistemaker expands on this in his commentary on verses 21 and 22:

“Jesus personifies sinlessness and innocence. Because of his innocence, his suffering is completely unjust. The contrast between Jesus and his followers is, therefore, so much the greater; no one can rightly object to suffering when he looks at the example Jesus has set.”[6]

Isaiah foretold the innocence, and therefore the injustice of our Savior’s suffering.

“By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:8, 9)

Jesus’ response as he endured the suffering—and, thus, our example—was to patiently endure the shame.

“But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.” Matt. 27:12-14

This, also, was foretold by Isaiah:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his  mouth.” (Isaiah 53:4-7)

Do you hear the echoes of Isaiah in what Peter is writing to us? Is it dawning on you that when the world treats us shamefully, and we patiently endure, the Lord sees us as gracious and beautiful? The attitude of Jesus’ heart, as shown brilliantly forth in his words and actions, was humble trust in his Father, knowing who he was—the Son of God—and knowing his mission—to do good and bring glory to the Father—and so he carried on even under the shameful injustice heaped on him by those whom he came to save.

Now, I want to make a distinction here. When Scripture teaches that God is pleased when we endure unjust suffering, it is NOT saying that he is pleased THAT we are suffering, but he is pleased by our ENDURANCE of the suffering. Do you see the difference? When, in our mindfulness of him, we patiently endure suffering, and in so doing, imitate our Savior, God is pleased with us. Our patience and endurance are offered up to him as we present our bodies as living sacrifices to him (Rom. 12:1). However: God is just, and, whether in this life or the next, all acts of injustice will be dealt with at his holy bar of justice. God has reserved his wrath to punish those who do evil, and they will receive perfect justice for their crimes against God’s chosen ones, crimes which are ultimately against him.

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

Though he was silent and outwardly passive, as he suffered, Jesus was actively trusting his Father. As verse 23 makes clear, he knew that his Father was a just judge, and was worthy of his trust. Jesus submitted himself to the foreordained plan to complete the rescue mission of God’s chosen people. Commenting on verse 23, Kistemaker writes:

“Jesus did not invoke God’s wrath upon his persecutors and demand retaliation. Jesus knew that his suffering was divinely ordained. He had to take upon himself the curse that was resting on the human race in consequence of man’s sin. Jesus was fully aware of God’s righteous judgement against sin (see 2 Cor. 5:21). For this reason, Jesus entrusted himself and his cause to God, the righteous judge.”[7]

How easy is it to forget that what we suffer—everything we experience—is divinely ordained? If we only remembered that our loving Father sends trials our way for a purpose—a good, wise, and holy purpose—might we endure them more patiently? Daniel Doriani writes that, “Jesus’ example teaches us that it can be best to absorb a blow.”[8] Think about that. We aren’t called to be “doormats” for no purpose, but imitators of Christ for a higher purpose. Doing good, even if we suffer for it, and then keeping on doing good. For this higher purpose, and more, Jesus went to the cross.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (24)

In this brief verse we find the gospel. Once again, Peter includes himself in his use of the personal pronouns when he proclaims the good news of the Great Exchange of the cross. Paul does the same when he writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

This is the part which we cannot imitate. When we ponder what Jesus would do in a given circumstance, we can and must seek to conform our hearts, minds, and actions to his. But only he could carry our sins and bear them away, giving us in their place his own holy and perfect righteousness. Kistemaker writes about this verse that:

“Peter implies that Jesus endured God’s curse when he suffered and died on the cross. He teaches that Christ gave his body as a sacrifice for our sins. That is, Jesus, the sinless One became a substitute for us who are burdened by sin. Voluntarily he took upon himself the curse that was pronounced upon us and by his death removed it. . . . By his death, Jesus has set us free from the bondage of sin, so that we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. . . . the word healed has a figurative meaning, for it denotes the restoration of divine fellowship through the forgiveness of sins, and all the saving benefits which accompany it.”[9]

We the unrighteous, are now declared righteous because he, the righteous One, took our sins upon himself, and gave us his righteousness. Because of this exchange, we can have fellowship with God.

Now that we are free from our bondage to sin, we are servants of God (16), and are to live our lives to righteousness (24). No longer do we serve the harsh taskmaster which desires only our destruction, but we serve a loving, and wise God who desires our good. As Paul explained in detail in his letter to the Roman church:

“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. . . . I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:6, 7; 17-23)

We are free, and our freedom allows us to pursue the fruit of holiness which leads to eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. And it’s all a gift! Christ purchased this gift for us at great cost to himself, but gives it freely to all who believe. In our freedom let us gladly serve him, following in his steps. “For,” as our final verse gently reminds us, “you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (25). Jesus is our Shepherd, as Isaiah prophesied:

“Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11, 10)

Psalm 23 is inescapable when we consider our Shepherd Lord:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

And Jesus applied the prophecies of the shepherd to himself when told us, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15)

If reading these passages about our Lord Jesus as our Shepherd brings you comfort, it should. In these we see that he is not only powerful, but he is gentle, wise, and good. When we encounter suffering, trials, and unjust treatment, let us meditate on these passages and remember that our Lord is at work in our hearts and in the circumstances. We are beloved sojourners, wandering far from home, sent to do good and to bring glory to our Father, until the day he calls us home, where we will dwell in the presence of the Lord forever.

Amen, and amen.

[1] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 1 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1986/1987), 104.

[2] Ibid., 105.

[3] Ibid., 108.

[4] By Charles Monroe Shelton, first published in 1896. I’m not endorsing the book, just its biblical origin.

[5] Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary, 1 Peter, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2014), 109.

[6] Kistemaker, 110.

[7] Kistemaker, 110.

[8] Doriani, 105.

[9] Kistemaker, 111-112.

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