Suffering Injustice From Authority
Topic: Suffering Passage: 1 Peter 2:18–2:25
Injustice is hard for us to swallow. Very few things in life are harder for us to tolerate. Just before my junior year in high school, my dad was fired from his job at an evangelical retirement home. When we got home from a family vacation to California, there was a letter taped to our front door from the President of the Board, notifying my dad they had terminated his employment. The board president, who was a local pastor, fired my dad, and made his son-in-law the new administrator. My dad was stung by the injustice of it, and struggled with it for years.
There is a lot of injustice and mistreatment in this life. One of the first phrases kids learn to say is “That's not fair”. And it's hard for us to get beyond that response no matter how old we get. Injustice can prompt sinful attitudes and responses quicker than just about anything else. Our tendency is to fight back, protest, rant and rave, and tell everyone just how unfairly we have been treated.
In this passage Peter deals specifically with INJUSTICE FROM THOSE IN AUTHORITY. Just in itself, submission to those in authority is hard enough for us to deal with. But when you add injustice into the relationship, it is only human to rebel, or simmer with hatred and resentment or live in a depressed hopelessness. Yet Peter's unmistakable message to us is that we are to respectfully submit, EVEN when there is injustice. And to do so with patient endurance.
In the previous verses Peter exhorted us to have an attitude of respectful submission. “Show proper respect to everyone” and “Submit for the Lord's sake to every human institution”. Biblical submission means to voluntarily place yourself under someone else for the Lord's sake, or out of reverence for the Lord. Paul said we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. This respectful submission is the jewel of Christian behavior, it is the pinnacle of excellent behavior. This attitude marks you as a follower of Jesus, perhaps more than anything, other than loving one another. It is a quality of Jesus Christ, worked into us by the Holy Spirit.
As I already said, submission is not always easy for us. Submission to another person, to their will, their choice, their schedule, their goals, is hard. The call to submit to anyone or anything strikes at the root of self, like no other thing God asks us to do. Human nature says, I am my own god, I bow to no one, I want to be free as a bird, accountable to no one, submitting to no one.
Many Christians seem to be doing quite well in many areas of life, and may appear to be quite spiritual. But if they are put in a situation that requires submission to another person, then suddenly they don't look or act so spiritual. There are missionaries who give up the comforts of the USA, they are willing to go to distant lands, but when they are asked to submit to another missionary, or someone in their mission agency, the sparks fly, conflict erupts! Hudson Taylor with the China Inland Mission had a worker who caused him great grief in his work in China. Here was a man who was seemingly quite spiritual, (he was a missionary in China!) yet he never had learned to work under others in a respectful submissive manner.
It is relatively easy to do many spiritual activities and think we have really advanced but when called on to submit, especially if we feel there is ANY injustice in what we are asked to do, or how we are treated, can show us how how much we have to grow. BUT through the miracle of being born of God, the Holy Spirit works into each one of us a submissive heart. This is NOW who we are in Christ. We are no longer, enslaved to rebellion and resistance and resentment to those over us.
Peter's exhortation to submission in this passage is for slaves. Verse 18, “Servants be subject to your masters will all respect”. But his words apply to all Christians who ever find themselves living or working under the authority of others, whether to bosses, administrators, teachers, or government authorities.
In the Roman Empire it has been estimated that half the population were slaves. Some have estimated that 60 million people were slaves. We can assume that a vast number of Christians were slaves. We know from scripture that many were slaves because of passages like this from 1 Peter. Most were household servants, who did all the work of the home for their master. They had no legal rights. Their masters had great power over every aspect of their lives. Their treatment was subject to the moods and the character of their owner. Some were nice some were not.
The question that came up in the first century was: How should those slaves, who became Christians, respond to their masters? The answer is very direct: “Slaves, submit to your masters with all respect” or submit to them with all respect.
But there is a second question that arises with that command. Some would say, “I can understand that we should submit to a good and kind master, but what about those who are harsh and unjust?” We might say, “I could submit to certain people I've worked for, to those who complimented me, took my personal problems into consideration, who really seemed to care about me. But what about the one who gives me more than my fair share of work, who is cranky, and who falsely blames me for things I did not do?”. What about those who are harsh? So Peter answers...
“Servants be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle but also to those who are unreasonable” That's NASB. NIV says harsh, ESV says the unjust). God is telling us that submission is not dependent upon the attitude or behavior of those over us! We are called to submit with respect, if those over us are kind and considerate...and if they are unreasonable.
Thank God for good employers, considerate bosses, for good teachers, but we are to shine forth the Christ-like quality of respectful submission whether or not those in authority are kind and considerate!
If we were to consider these first century Christian slaves we might be ashamed at how we often take offense over such small things, and nurse hurt feelings, over some comment someone made. Here are people who are asked to submit with respect to those very masters who are harsh and who cause them to suffer unjustly! In almost every instance we find ourselves in better conditions than these people! We are in situations in which submission to those over us is MUCH easier than it was for them.
Now I think it would be wrong to draw a conclusion that a Christian should ALWAYS allow himself or herself to be abused. Or to even to submit in every case without exception. Some situations require the leading of conscience and the Holy Spirit to know what to do. We all know of Peter's bold statement to the Jewish authorities, “We must obey God rather than man”. Paul endured an illegal beating in Acts 16 but in Acts 22 when the Roman commander ordered Paul to be flogged, he protested, saying, “Is it lawful for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?” And based on his protest he was not beaten.
Yet even in these cases the authorities were spoken to with the utmost respect and in that sense showed a spirit of submission.
In our culture, in most cases, you have freedom to leave a job that you feel is unfair. And that is fine. Paul said “Were you called (to Christ) while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able to to become free, rather do that”. If they had a harsh master and could become free, Paul said, “Do that.” But in most cases they could not. And even in our culture, in most cases, if you must provide for a family it is very tough to leave an employer.
And even if you can leave, it is just possible that would not be the best thing for you, OR for the cause of Christ. It may be that God wants you to learn the very lessons that Peter is talking about in these verses. It may be that God wants you to bear up under an unfair and unpleasant situation and reflect the character of Christ.
Regardless of these exceptions, we must embrace this truth: We are called to suffer like our Lord and we should submit ourselves to those in authority, even when they are harsh and unreasonable. This is the default position of a Christian.
Peter goes on to explain that he is NOT talking about suffering for doing something sinful. He is talking about doing good and STILL being harshly treated. Verse 20 “For what credit is there is there, if when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? BUT if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this finds favor with God” NIV says “this is commendable before God”.
This is a great promise that will enable you to bear up under injustice: Your good behavior, in a very difficult situation, is seen by God and he approves of that, or it finds favor with him. God values that behavior in you. He commends it. Blessing comes to you from enduring difficult people under whom you work and live!
Nothing seems like a greater waste, a more meaningless exercise, nothing is harder to tolerate, more frustrating than to suffer harsh treatment when you don't deserve it. BUT when we look to God and see that he commends us for it, it takes away the bitterness of submitting in these situations. To find favor in God's eyes means everything!!
The key is in who we are looking to. Many people can see ONLY the injustice. That is their focus. That is all they talk about. And they become blinded to our call to follow in Christ steps. They cannot see any value in God's favor! It means nothing to them. All they can see is how unfairly they have been treated. This is a dangerous frame of mind that all of us must guard against.
Also in verse 20 Peter makes in clear that the idea is NOT just that you, go through the injustice with griping and cursing and bitterness, but that you bear up with patience. You go through it and keep a godly composure.
The pattern for us is Jesus. Verse 21 “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps”. Christ showed us how to suffer. And specifically how to suffer injustice, how to suffer under unkind or harsh treatment. He is our example in this. We are to “follow in his steps”, meaning, we are to respond to injustice, and mistreatment the way Jesus did. Verse 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth”.
Look at what he went through in Matthew 27:28-31 says, “Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”. And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him”.
That's only a small part of what he suffered yet in it all, he was blameless. He kept himself from sinful responses. As a man, he felt the same pain of hurt and anger that you and I would, but he did not give into the temptation to retaliate.
Verse 23 “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. INSTEAD he entrusted himself to him who judges justly”. He entrusted his case to God. Jesus trusted that the Father would take care of him. And he trusted that the justice of God would prevail - even if he had to wait for it. And God did judge justly! He exalted him to the highest place and give him a name above all names.
INSTEAD of fighting back, and ranting and raving, and making threats, we are to entrust ourselves to God. We are to entrust our case to God. We are to trust God IN the in justice because God judges all situations justly. Jeremiah, was beaten and put in stocks. He suffered with his body in this torturous position while the people laughed at him and mocked him. Yet he said. “The Lord is with me like a mighty warrior, so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.....Lord Almighty, to you I have committed my cause”. Do you have a cause, case of unfair treatment, that you need to commit to God this morning? You can trust God to take care of you.
Verse 24 “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness”. Christ bore our sins – God transferred our sins to Jesus Christ. But his goal was not ONLY your forgiveness. He died for us SO THAT we might become people who respond righteously to injustice!! He died SO THAT we might die to sins, such as anger and hatred, resentment, seeking revenge and retaliation. He died for us SO THAT even under the most trying conditions we would live out a righteous response.
Peter was telling these Christians an amazing thing: BECAUSE the power of sin in their lives was broken at the cross, slaves could now deal with their harsh masters with the SAME attitude Jesus Christ had toward his abusers. Because the power of sin was broken in YOUR life you can now deal with those who treat you harshly or unkindly, with the same attitude Jesus Christ had toward those who hurled insults at him.
Verse 24 continues, for “by his wounds you have been healed”. There is physical healing in the prophecies in Isaiah 53 as we know from Matthew 8:17. Matthew wrote that “(Jesus) healed all who were sick...to fulfill what was written by Isaiah the prophet, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases”. Yet in this context Peter is talking about being healed from the sickness of sin and brought in to the health of righteousness. By Christ's wounds you were healed of bitterness, resentment, anger and hatred and rebellion, as well as all other kinds of sinful passions. By HIS wounds you have been made whole and healthy. You were healed of those sinful responses, and sinful emotions, and sinful reactions to life and people! You live now in the health of righteous thinking, righteous living, righteous attitudes.
This is a truth you can stand on, when facing the temptation to sin and sinful responses to those who mistreat you. “By his wounds I was healed!” I no longer have to live in depression over being mistreated. I no longer have to live in anger and bitterness! I no longer have to rant and rave. I no longer have to be trapped in self pity over the injustice of life. Christ's own body was bruised and bloodied, his flesh was cut open in stripes to heal my soul of these things.
Verse 25 “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”. Like sheep going astray, you responded to life, to circumstances, to injustice, just like everybody else. You were like a lost sheep. You had no Shepherd to show you any better.
But now you have a Shepherd and Overseer of your soul....to guide you into the right way of living. He is the Good Shepherd who loves you and laid down his life for you. You can trust him through the difficult and sometimes painful pathways of life, even those times when you are mistreated, or dealt with unjustly. He has been there himself and will show you how to respond. Follow what he commands you to do, because he is watching over your soul for good.
Remember that Peter has just warned us that sinful passions wage war against your soul. Sinful responses to unjust treatment: anger, resentment, rebellion, fear, hate and despair, will wage war against your soul. But if you follow in the footsteps of Christ, suffer with patience, your soul will prosper and be healthy and whole.