1 Peter #8 1 Peter 2:18-25 (MSG) Slaves: Living An Exemplary Life In An Unjust World
1 Peter #8 1 Peter 2:18-25 (MSG) Slaves: Living An Exemplary Life In An Unjust World
Peter has called all believers to be holy and that being holy is to live an exemplary life. This devout and holy life has both public and private implications. We’ve learned that Christians were not well received. Converting to being a Christ follower created problems with public relations. Peter urges us to overcome prejudice and bigotry by being good citizens and treating everyone with dignity and respect. Peter is now going to delve into the implications of living an exemplary life in the private sector, and what is expected when it comes to being holy at home.
Today we are going to explore the issue of slavery. “Slavery is a system in which one person is legally owned by another and is forced to work for them without pay. Slaves are considered property and have no rights or freedoms, and are often treated as mere [personal possession to be done with as one wished]” (ChatGPT, Jan 23, 2023).
Slavery has existed throughout human history. Even today it exists. One of the forms in which it exists right here in California is sex trafficking. In 2020 76 adults and 11 children were rescued from this form of slavery. [518 arrested in California operation targeting human traffickers – Daily News and About Human Trafficking - United States Department of State /] You may be astonished that in some countries slavery is perfectly legal or if officially illegal, never prosecuted. Iran, Cambodia, Pakistan, South Sudan, Mauritania, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Burundi, Eritrea, and North Korea where 105 people every 1000 are enslaved. [Slavery Today: Countries With the Highest Prevalence of Modern Slaves - WorldAtlas]
Slavery in the Roman Empire was different than the type of slavery that occurred in the United States. “Racial factors played no role; education was greatly encouraged (some slaves were better educated than their owners) and enhanced a slaves value; many slaves carried out sensitive and highly responsible social functions; slaves could own property (including other slaves!); their religious and cultural traditions were the same as those of the freeborn; no laws prohibited public assembly of slaves; and the majority of …domestic slaves could legitimately anticipate being emancipated by the age of 30.” (Powers p. 96)
When we look at the Roman Empire during the first century, when Peter wrote this letter, slavery was an accepted part of society. Scholars suggest that 10 to 20 percent of the population was enslaved. In the major cities, some scholars suggest up to 50% of the population were slaves (Powers, p. 96). At this time no one would even conceive of a free society. Slavery was a fact of life.
Walk through the streets of the Roman Empire and you would see Domestic slaves, who worked in households and were responsible for tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare. If you looked out in the fields you would see agricultural slaves, who worked on farms and were responsible for tasks such as planting, harvesting, and caring for animals. Mines were worked by slaves. Need some specialty work done and you would discover that the shops had skilled slaves, working as blacksmiths, carpenters, or doctors. You might own a slave who was in charge of educating your children. Public slaves worked in government roles such as clerks, tax collectors, and astonishingly as soldiers, bodyguards, and what we would call the police. A father could sell his children into slavery. An abandoned baby would become a slave to the person taking care of it. Slavery was a fact of life.
A good slave owner would house, feed, and clothe his slaves. A good slave owner treated his slaves as economic commodities. The better off the slave was the more productive they were, making life better for their master. We find an amazing regulation in Exodus concerning slaves.
Exodus 21:2-6 (MSG)
"When you buy a Hebrew slave, he will serve six years. The seventh year he goes free, for nothing. If he came in single he leaves single. If he came in married he leaves with his wife. If the master gives him a wife and she gave him sons and daughters, the wife and children stay with the master and he leaves by himself. But suppose the slave should say, 'I love my master and my wife and children—I don't want my freedom,' then his master is to bring him before God and to a door or doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl, a sign that he is a slave for life.
You have got to be a good slave owner for a slave to say “I love my master.” Then of course there is the opposite end of the spectrum. Gladiators fought to the death, hard labor worked slaves to death. There were no laws requiring an owner to supply food, housing, or clothing for his slaves. Working conditions could be inhumane but that was ok, a slave dies, just buy another. If you didn’t like the way a slave looked at you, or didn’t serve you to perfection, it was perfectly legal to have that slave executed. The Bible does not condone slavery, the bible writers treat slavery as a fact of life. The Bible requires slave owners to be good masters.
Colossians 4:1 (MSG)
And masters, treat your servants considerately. Be fair with them. Don't forget for a minute that you, too, serve a Master—God in heaven.
Slaves are on the lowest level of private life. Peter starts here in his teaching concerning living a devout and holy life within the family unit.
1 Peter 2:18-25 (MSG)
18 You who are servants, be good servants to your masters—not just to good masters, but also to bad ones. What counts is that you put up with it for God's sake when you're treated badly for no good reason. There's no particular virtue in accepting punishment that you well deserve. But if you're treated badly for good behavior and continue in spite of it to be a good servant, that is what counts with God.
21 This is the kind of life you've been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.
22 He never did one thing wrong, Not once said anything amiss.
23 They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you're named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.
The translators, those scholars who take Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic and attempt to communicate what is written into English, seem to always translate the Greek word “doulos” [δούλος] as the word “servant.” But actually what Peter wrote is: “ You who are slaves…” Peter is writing to Christians, we could read what is written as “you Christians who are slaves.” Christian, you are free in Christ, but still enslaved by the conventions of this world. All of a sudden what Peter wrote in verse 16 takes on a whole new meaning: “Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules.” Christians who are enslaved are to lead exemplary lives. It is not a far stretch to think that Peter wrote this letter to congregations that were composed mostly of enslaved believers.
There is a principle that we can extract from what Peter has written concerning unjust suffering. Life in this world is full of undeserved suffering. You can do good and be punished for it. So many crazy things happen that you begin to wonder if the world operates under the axiom “No good deed goes unpunished.” When you do what is right and are rewarded with suffering rely on the Holy Spirit to give you the power to endure it. Here’s the principle: Righteously suffering for doing good meets with God’s approval. Give the emotions, give the situation of unjust suffering to God, trusting that God will eventually set things right.
The way Jesus endured suffering is the model His disciples are to follow. “He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done…” (1 Peter 2:21 (MSG). Devotion to God, living out the Yes, and carrying out the determination to be obedient, overrides personal comfort (Powers, p. 98). Peter writes: “He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right” (1 Peter 2:23 (MSG). The brothers and sisters that Peter was writing to were experiencing persecution because of their testimony. They were suffering for righteousness' sake. When you do so, God rewards you amid your suffering by noting your behavior as commendable. Feeling God’s approval gives you inner fortitude to keep on keeping on in the face of all opposition. You may not even know exactly how your suffering for loving others will affect the future. Peter reminds us that the sufferings of Christ brought about our salvation. Jesus’ wounds, His suffering, made it possible for your sins to be forgiven and set you free to live a devout and holy life becoming the person God always intended for you to be. When you suffer insult and injury with uncomplaining steadfastness and unfailing love, you shine such an exemplary life that will lead others to God (Barclay's Daily Study Bible).
To commit yourself to be a follower of Jesus means a commitment to be willing to suffer for doing the will of God. If the world hated Jesus, the world will hate you too (John 15:18). Those who pitch Christianity make it seem that once you decide it’s a good deal and you magnanimously “accept Jesus” everything in your life is going to be blessed following what the world considers blessings. Kingdom blessings will be yours, not necessarily the fulfillment of the American Dream. When the world doles out an insult, injustice, and injury because of your faithfulness in fulling God’s mission for your life, receive it as a badge of honor. Commending the situation to God unleashes an unstoppable power within you to keep on keeping on doing deeds of love for an ungrateful world.
Peter writes that Jesus’s suffering has brought healing. Peter is not speaking of bodily healing. Salvation is our healing. Before, the old life is compared to being a lost sheep, wandering alone in the wilderness, defenseless against the dangers of the world, and the foolishness of your egoism. When you become a follower of Jesus you are named (Revelation 2:17), before you were nameless. Not to know your name is to not know who you are. Not knowing who you are is to leave yourself open to being swept away by the currents of culture and you go with the flow. Your new name is who you are meant to be, your new name comes with purpose and meaning, and along with that new name, there is the invitation to join in the sufferings of Jesus, being punished by the world for doing good, for your obedience to God.
When times are tough remember that Jesus is the Shepherd of our souls. The picture that Shepherd brings to mind is guardian, protector, guide, and provider. For everything you need to thrive spiritually, Jesus is your Shepherd. For everything you need to do, Jesus is your example. Jesus will get you through the things you are suffering for His sake.
The recipients of this letter from Peter were most likely enslaved, they were owned by good and bad people. Peter does not condone slavery but deals with it as an unchangeable fact of life. Salves are on the lowest level of the private sector, the lowest level of family relationships. Being holy permeates every level of family life. Even if you are a slave on the lowest end of the social scale, you are to live an exemplary life. You are empowered to do so. Live the Yes.