Peter has been teaching his readers that believers are aliens and strangers in the world. And we’re aliens and strangers in the world because we’re living far away from our true home. Our true home is in heaven, with the Lord Jesus Christ, because whenever we first believed, we were raised with Christ to the heavenly realms and we became citizens of heaven; and we’re now waiting for the Saviour to come again, because when he comes again, he’ll gather his people together and bring us to our true home, where we’ll live with him and with our Heavenly Father for ever and for ever. Our true home is in heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ; and while we go on living on the earth, we’re living as aliens and strangers, because we don’t really belong here anymore.
However, even though we’re aliens and strangers in the world, even though our citizenship is in heaven, we’re to be the best citizens possible of whatever nation we find ourselves in. That’s what Peter has been explaining to his readers. Back in verse 11 of chapter 2, he said: I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul. Don’t give in to those sinful desires which cause people to do sinful and wicked things. Instead: Live such good lives among the pagans [your unbelieving neighbours] that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God….
Instead of giving in to your old, sinful desires, live good lives, doing good deeds. And though your unbelieving neighbours complain and criticise you for what you believe, they’ll see the quality of your life and the good deeds you perform; and who knows? Who knows? They too might come to believe and give thanks to God for his salvation.
So, we’re aliens and strangers in the world because we’re citizens of heaven. But we’re to be the best citizens we can be of whatever nation we find ourselves in while we go on living on the earth.
And then from chapter 2 and verse 13 onwards, Peter refers to three areas of our life; and he writes about how we’re to live and behave and how we’re to conduct ourselves in these three areas. So, there’s the public square and our attitude and behaviour to the governing authorities. Then there’s the workplace and our attitude and behaviour towards our employer. And thirdly, there’s the home and how husbands and wives ought to treat one another. And as we go about in these three areas of our life, the world is watching us. It’s watching us to see what we’re like and whether being a Christian makes a difference in how we live and how we treat other people. The world is watching us. And so, we’re to be the best citizens possible; we’re to live good lives, full of good deeds, so that those who accuse us of wrongdoing will be silenced; they’ll be silenced by the sheer goodness of our lives.
We’ve already dealt with verses 13 to 17 and with what Peter has said about how we should behave in the public square. Do you remember what he said? He said we’re to submit ourselves to the ruling authorities: to kings and queens, and presidents and prime ministers, and to all those who have authority over us, whoever they might be. Others might resent their authority, and resist it and disobey them; but Christians are not to be like that. We’re to submit to them, because that is God’s will for us. Today, we’re moving on to consider verses 18 to 25 and to another area of our lives. And this time, it’s the workplace. In verse 18 Peter says to his readers:
Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect….
Now right away, you might want to interrupt me and say: ‘Hang on, Colin! Peter is addressing slaves. But we’re not slaves. This doesn’t apply to us.’ If you’re thinking that, let me try to bridge the gap between slavery in the ancient world and employment in the modern world.
You see, it’s important to understand that slaves in the ancient world were often treated well and did important work. When we think of slavery, we sometimes think of slavery in the United States, when slaves were sent out to work in the fields where they picked cotton in the deep south all day long. It was hard labour and it was relentless. And they were often treated brutally, because they had no rights and were treated as less than human. Now, slaves in the ancient world could also be treated brutally and their lives could also be miserable and the work could also be hard. But others were treated well and they were given important and skilled work to do. The historians tell us that slaves could serve as doctors and teachers and managers. So, when you were ill, the GP was someone’s slave. When you went to school, the teacher was someone’s slave. Or think of Joseph from the Old Testament: he was sold into slavery by his wicked brothers; And he became Potiphar’s slave in Egypt. But do you remember? Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household and entrusted to Joseph’s care everything he owned. Joseph was a slave; but he ran the household; he was a manager.
Many of the slaves in the ancient world were doing the same kind of work that we do. And often they were treated well; and like us, they had time off from their duties and they could enjoy time with their family. So, the distance between slavery in the ancient world and employment in the modern world is not as great as we might first imagine.
And, of course, if you think about how much time we spend at work — and some of us have to spend more time at work than we do with our family and friends — if you think about how much time we spend at work, you’ll understand that though we’re not slaves, nevertheless we have in common with ancient slaves the need to work long hours. And just like them, we have to work long hours. There’s no way round it: we have to work and we have to work long hours.
Of course, there’s one massive difference. If you were a slave and you didn’t like your master, there was nothing you could do about it. You couldn’t leave and hire yourself out to another master. You had to stay put where you were if you were a slave; whereas, in theory — if not always in practice — but in theory if we don’t like our boss, or if we don’t get along with our colleagues, we can leave and find another place to work. We have that freedom. And we’re given certain rights by law, so if we’re treated unfairly by an employer, we can do something about it. So, there’s that difference. But until we’re able to leave and find another job, what should our attitude be to our employer? How should Christians — citizens of heaven — behave in the workplace?
Listen again to Peter. He says to us: ‘submit yourselves to your masters [or to your employers]….’ So, do you see what he’s saying? Not only should we be the best citizens possible, submitting ourselves to the governing authorities, but we should also be the best workers possible, submitting ourselves to the person who has authority over us in the workplace.
And notice, of course, that we’re to submit to both kinds of boss: the good and considerate as well as to the harsh.
Now again: if you have a harsh and difficult boss, and if you have the chance to leave, then you should leave. We can do that, because we’re not slaves who have no choice in the matter. So, if we can leave, then leave: look for a better job in a better place. But until you’re able to leave — and sometimes for various reasons, we’re not able to find another job — so until you’re able to leave, this should be your attitude: submit to your boss. Do what he says; do what she says, no matter what they’re like.
Some bosses are tough and difficult and they pile on the work and expect you to work long hours. And often we resent them and complain about them. And something inside us makes us want to stand up to them and say ‘no!’ because we don’t like being told what to do. But Peter says: No, submit to that kind of boss.
Other bosses are good and considerate. Or the word translated ‘considerate’ by the NIV can also be translated as ‘gentle’. Some bosses are gentle with us. They’re kind and generous; if we need time off, they’re happy to give it, no questions asked. But when you have a boss like that, it’s very easy to take advantage of them, isn’t it? If your boss is kind and gentle and easy-going, and doesn’t get annoyed, it’s very easy to get away with doing very little; you come in late; you take longer for lunch than you should; you leave early at the end of the day; and you’re idle during the day. It’s easy to get away with that kind of thing if your boss is gentle and doesn’t get annoyed. But Peter says: No, submit to that kind of boss.
So, whatever kind of boss you have, submit yourselves to them. Do what they ask and carry out your duties so that you’re the best employee possible. That how Christians should behave; that’s what our attitude should be. We’re citizens of heaven; that’s where we belong; but while we go on living on the earth, our life here should reflect the glory and the perfection of heaven. So while we go on living on the earth, we’re to be the best employees we can possibly be.
But why? Why should we submit to our boss? And why should we submit to both kinds of boss: the good and considerate boss and the harsh boss? Why? Well, Peter explains why. And the first part of his explanation is in verse 18, although it’s not immediately obvious. Peter says:
submit yourselves to your masters with all respect….
Now, the word translated ‘respect’ should actually be ‘fear’. So, Peter says:
submit yourselves to your masters with all fear….
But who are we meant to fear? We might assume that Peter is referring to our boss: so, since we’re afraid our boss might fire us, we’d better submit to him or her. But, go back to verse 17 for a moment; there Peter tells us that we’re to fear God. We’re to fear God. So, the reason we’re to submit to our boss is out of fear, or out of reverence, for God.
You see, we believe that the Lord rules over all things; he arranges all things according to his most perfect will. And when we go into work, we need to remember that the Lord — who arranges all things according to his most perfect will — has placed us under this person’s authority; the Lord has so ordered our lives that this person, our boss, has been given authority over us by God. And since the Lord has put this person over us, then it’s our duty as believers to submit to this person whom God has placed over us. And since we fear God, since we don’t want to offend our loving heavenly Father, since we don’t want to resist his will for us, then we ought to submit ourselves to this person he has placed over us. So, out of reverent fear for the Lord — who arranges all things according to his most perfect will — then we ought to submit.
So, that’s the first part of Peter’s explanation. We’re to submit out of reverent fear for the Lord who has placed this person over us.
But Peter continues his explanation in verses 19 and 20. And this time he explains that submitting ourselves to a difficult and harsh boss is a commendable thing. In other words, this is something that pleases the Lord. Look at verse 19:
For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.
Do you see what he’s saying? Here you are at work; and the boss is being difficult and harsh with you, for no good reason. And that little detail is important: there’s no good reason for why the boss is treating you like this. Peter goes on in verse 20 to write about being beaten for doing wrong. You know, if a slave was being lazy, or if a slave did something wrong, and his master became angry, well, the slave has no one to blame but himself. In the same way, if you’re a poor worker, if you do a bad job, if you’re lazy and come in late, and go home early, and spend all day playing on your phone instead of doing your work, and get reprimanded for it, you have no one to blame but yourself. And if you’re overlooked for a promotion, or if you’re disciplined and lose your job, you can’t say your boss was persecuting you. The fact is, if you’re not a good employee, you deserve whatever you get. But if the boss has no good reason for being harsh with you, if your boss is just in a bad mood and is taking it out on you, and you put up with it, and you put up with it because you want to please your Father in heaven, then that’s a commendable thing in the sight of God. That’s a commendable thing in his sight. And later, at the end of verse 20, Peter refers to suffering for doing good. And this time we’re to imagine the situation where your boss has asked you to do something wrong. You know, some bosses can be corrupt; they can be crooked; they can be dishonest; and they might ask you to do something wrong. And so, if you suffer because you refused to do what you know is wrong, then that too is a commendable thing in the sight of God. That is something that pleases him. That is something that causes him to smile. You might think to yourself: What’s the point? What’s the point in putting up with this? I’d like to give my boss a piece of my mind and tell him to what I really think of him. I don’t know why I’ve stuck this for so long. But here’s the point; here’s why you ought to put up with it: because it pleases your Father in heaven.
So, we’re to submit out of reverence for the Lord who has placed this person over us. And we’re to put up with a harsh boss because to do so is commendable in the sight of God. Of course, remember what I said earlier: if we have the opportunity to leave and work somewhere else, we should take it. But if we can’t leave, then we should try to bear up under it, because that pleases the Lord.
And then in verses 21 to 23 Peter reminds us of the example of the Lord Jesus. Look at verse 21 where Peter says:
To this you were called….
Perhaps I should repeat that, because it’s so startling. Peter wrote:
To this you were called….
Do you see what he’s saying? He’s saying that when we were called to come to Christ and to put our faith in him in order to receive the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life, we were also called to a life of suffering for doing good. Did you realise that? Suffering for doing good is part and parcel of what it means to be a believer.
And the reason that’s true is because our life here on earth is about following the pattern which Christ set. When the children were small and learning to write, they would use these books which displayed each letter of the alphabet in rows. And the children were to trace the outline of the letters with their pencil, going over the letters, again and again and again, to learn how to write each letter. Well, our life here on earth is to match the pattern which Christ has set for us. We’re to follow the outline of Christ’s life which was a life of suffering for doing good.
And so, in verses 22 and 23, Peter describes the pattern of the Lord’s life which we’re to follow. First of all, he quotes from Isaiah 53 to remind us that the Lord committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth. So, even when he was suffering at the hands of those who hated him, even when he was being abused and mistreated, he always did what was right and he refused to sin against his Father in heaven.
And when people hurled insults at him, he didn’t retaliate. That’s what we’re tempted to do: when someone insults us, we’re tempted to insult them back. But the Lord left us a different example to follow. And when he suffered, he made no threats. That’s what we’re tempted to do: when someone hurts us, we make all kinds of threats. We say: Just you wait. I’m going to get even with you. But the Lord left us a different example to follow.
So, he didn’t retaliate; and he didn’t make any threats. What did he do? Look at the end of verse 23: he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. In other words, he left it in the hands of his Father in heaven. And he was right to do so, because after he suffered on the cross to pay for our sins, and after his body was laid in the grave, God the Father did not abandon him, but raised him from the dead on the third day, and lifted him up to the glory of heaven. He suffered and died, trusting his Father to do what was right.
And that’s what we’re to do as well: we’re to believe that our Heavenly Father will work together all things for our good; and we’re to trust him to do what’s best.
Well, our time is almost over and so I’ll leave verses 24 and 25 to the next time. But before we finish, let’s think for a moment how we’re able to do these things. Maybe you’re thinking that you can’t do this. You’re thinking of your boss right now. How can you submit to him? How can you submit to her? Colin, if you knew this person, you’d know how hard it is for me to submit. And, Colin, if you knew how miserable this person makes me, you’d know how hard it is for me to put up with it. I can’t take it any more. Well, it is hard. It is hard. But when we first believed in Christ, he put his Spirit in us; and his Spirit is working in us continually to renew us in the image of Christ so that we become more and more willing and able to do God’s will. More and more willing to do these things; more and more able to do these things. The Holy Spirit is able to help us to say ‘no’ to what we know is wrong; and he’s able to help us to do what’s right. And so, we’re to pray to the Lord to forgive our sins and our shortcomings, because, of course, every day we’ll let him down. And we’re to pray to him to make us more like Christ so that in the workplace we’ll be the best workers possible, because, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we’re able to submit ourselves to our boss; and we’re able to bear up under the pain of unjust suffering; and we’re able to behave in such a way so that our lives in the workplace will reflect the glory and perfection of heaven, which is where we really belong. And a watching world will see the way we live; and they’ll come to see that Christianity is real, that it makes a difference in our lives. And who knows? Who knows? Some of those who see how we behave in the workplace might themselves come to believe in the Saviour who loved us and who gave up his life for us and who enables us to live on the earth as those who belong in heaven.