Well do please take a copy of God’s Word in your hands once again and turn this time to 1 Peter chapter 2. We’ve been working our way steadily through 1 Peter on Sunday mornings here at First Church and we’re in a section of the letter that deals with the practical implications of the Gospel message. Peter is focusing on our responsibilities within the two main components of society in the ancient, Greco-Roman world. There is the civil government, the sphere of civil government, and we dealt with that last time - we were in chapter 2 verses 13 through 17. And then beginning in our passage today and really running all the way through verse 7 of chapter 3, he talks about the other major sphere of ancient society - the Christian household, the home, the family. So the civil government and the realm of the family. And we’re going to be thinking, beginning to think about that today in verses 18 through 25 of 1 Peter chapter 2.
We need to be sure as we consider his message here that we understand some of the priorities that are informing Peter’s discussion throughout. He is driven, as he talks about the Christian household, by an acute, apologetic, and evangelistic concern. He wants to help his readers live on mission together in a difficult set of circumstances. He wants to help us defy expectations so that those around us who may oppose the Gospel might be put to silence, in fact even by our witness perhaps even brought to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ for themselves. That is Peter’s agenda. And it’s important to notice at the very heart of his apologetic, of his way of helping believers present the difference the Gospel makes to the world, is his understanding of suffering and how we should respond to opposition. He’s mentioned the possibility of suffering a couple of times already in the letter. Back in chapter 1 verse 6, he spoke about being “grieved by various kinds of trials.” In chapter 2 verse 12, he reminded us that we are likely to be spoken against as “evildoers” if we follow Jesus faithfully.
But beginning in our passage this morning, chapter 2, 18 through 25 and continuing on really to the end of the letter, his focus on suffering for Christ’s sake becomes much more pronounced. Peter really is saying to us if we are faithful in living for Jesus, living on mission together as His people, then those around us are likely not going to respond well. They’re not going to like it. Expect negative reactions to Christian faithfulness. He’s saying don’t be surprised when they call you narrow-minded and they dismiss you as bigoted and hateful. To follow Jesus, we’ve been seeing over and again in this first letter of the apostle Peter, to follow Jesus is to stand apart from the moral chaos, to embrace convictions about God and sin and salvation, about ourselves and one another, about our duty to God and to neighbor that runs contrary to the main stream of pop culture. It really goes against the flow.
And all kinds of pressure will be brought to bear upon us as we seek to follow Jesus. All kinds of pressure to tone it down and to back off and to lighten up. Some of it quite subtle - quiet, social expectations that actually can be incredibly hard to resist; pushing you, you know, just to dial it back a few clicks. Or sometimes not so subtle pressure - economic pressure, legal pressure, political pressure; consequences that come if we do not embrace and advocate for the majority report in our culture today. And so 1 Peter is designed in part to be a kind of handbook for suffering well for Jesus Christ in hostile territory. A handbook for suffering well for Jesus Christ as we live for Him in hostile, cultural territory.
And this morning, Peter begins his discussion of the ancient Christian household and life within it by addressing Christians who have come to faith in Jesus as household servants, mostly slaves. Not all of them were slaves but they were mostly slaves, many of whom were highly educated professionals - doctors, teachers, accountants and so on - charged with the management and order of these ancient estates. And yet the fact remains that given the minority position of the church in society at that time, there really was very little immediate prospect of the kind of social change that would be necessary to bring an end to the institution of slavery in those days. And so these are people who are sort of stuck. They really can’t get out from under, or at least not easily get out from under, the bondage in which they find themselves. And so the question, now that they have become Christians, the question naturally arose, “How shall we live for Christ as slaves in a pagan household? How does following Jesus inform the way I behave, even in the oftentimes intolerable conditions that are imposed upon me?”
And I want us to think through Peter’s answer under three headings. He essentially says three things about how to live for Christ in difficult circumstances. He says first we need to learn to live under the gaze of God. We need to learn to live coram Deo, “before the face of God,” to live for His smile and His blessing and not the approval or good opinion of any earthly human being. That’s verses 18 through 20 - live under the gaze of God; verses 18 through 20. Then secondly he says we also must learn to live in imitation of Christ. The servant is not greater than the master. “If they persecuted Me,” Jesus said, “they will persecute you also, so take up your cross and follow Me.” This is the path of the ordinary Christian life - obedience in the context of suffering. And so we must learn to live in imitation of Christ, verses 21 through 23. And finally we must learn to live in light of the cross. Obedience to God in the context of suffering is not only His command, but it is His promise for which Christ died to supply us the grace we need in order to do it. And so live under the gaze of God, live in imitation of Christ, and live in light of the cross.
Before we read the text and consider those themes, let’s pause once again and pray and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray.
Our Father, please now send us the same Spirit who inspired the apostle Peter who breathed out these words on the page before us. Send Him to us anew to illuminate our understanding, applying the truth to our hearts and lives, strengthening us in our circumstances to live for the glory and honor of Jesus, for we ask it in His name. Amen.
1 Peter chapter 2 at the eighteenth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God. First Peter 2 at verse 18:
“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 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. 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. 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. 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. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
Live Under the Gaze of God
So Peter begins, notice, by calling servants to be subject to their masters, both to the good and gentle, and to the unjust, verse 18. In fact, he calls them to do good even if they are beaten for it. If you are beaten for some transgression, verse 20, what credit is that? “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” He’s saying, “Now that you follow Jesus you will likely find yourself on a collision course with your masters.” Masters in those days typically expected slaves and everyone else in their households to worship the same gods they did. It was a normal part of how social cohesion was maintained - that everyone in the same household should worship the same gods. So now that these slaves are following Jesus and cannot submit to the idolatry of their masters, they are set, aren’t they, on a collision course with them. And yet Peter says precisely because you follow Jesus you should resolve to do good whenever and wherever you can, even if you are beaten and made to suffer in consequence of your faith along the way.
And notice carefully in verse 18 how he qualifies the command to submit to their masters. He says you are to submit to them, verse 18, “with all respect,” or maybe better, “in all fear.” The word here, translated “respect,” is the noun form of the same word that is found in its verbal form back in the previous verse, verse 17, to describe the fear of God. The fear of God. “Fear God,” Peter says, “and submit to your masters in all fear.” The fear there probably is still a reference to the fear of God. Not just out of respect for your earthly masters, which is a respect he assumes, but out of reverence and fear before God - the fear of the Lord being the beginning of wisdom. He wants us to live not just for the approval of any earthly master, but for the smile of our Heavenly Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who is now the Lord of our consciences.
And then look down at verse 19. He reinforces the point with an unusual phrase for the New Testament. He says when you suffer like that, when you respond to suffering with kindness and godliness for God’s sake out of fear of God, he says “this is a gracious thing.” Verse 20 repeats the phrase. “This is a gracious thing,” he says, “in the sight of God.” In other words, God responds to obedience in the context of suffering for God’s own sake with grace. He delights in it. He approves it. He rewards it with grace. There’s a blessedness, an endowment of grace we can only know when we do what we are called to do, even if doing it is costly. This is a gracious thing in the sight of God. He responds to it with grace. He lavishes His grace upon you as you follow Him in these costly ways.
And so he says we are to suffer, verse 19, “mindful of God,” or better, “out of conscience before God.” Do you see how he says, “I want you to frame your life in a Godward direction. The key factor for you is not your earthly master, but your Heavenly Father. I want you to learn to live coram Deo, before the face of God.” How do you learn to suffer well for Jesus, being obedient when obedience is costly? You begin to grasp the idea that you are always under the gaze of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Some wag somewhere once joked that Queen Elizabeth thinks the world smells like fresh paint. You know, because everywhere she goes people are there ahead of her in anticipation of her arrival, you know, tarting the place up, giving it a fresh lick of paint. So she thinks the whole world smells like fresh paint! They want to please her. They want the place to look beautiful. In a way, Peter is saying to his first hearers who are struggling to know how to respond to injustice, to unjust suffering while they seek to be obedient to Jesus, he’s saying to them, “I can’t want you to do that. I want you to live in the expectation of the appearance of the great King, to live under His gaze, to make your life beautiful. Make it smell of fresh paint. Make it beautiful by your obedience to Him in these difficult circumstances.”
It would be the easiest thing in the world, wouldn’t it, to begin to hate those in authority over you, especially when they hurt you, to speak ill of them to colleagues in the workplace, to drag your feet in tasks entrusted to you, to undermine them every chance you get, to find petty little ways to cause trouble. But Peter is saying you are a child of God by grace now and you must learn to live not with an eye to the approval of your earthly master, but for the “Well done, good and faithful servant,” of the living God. Peter really wants to cut the chains that bind us in bondage to the approval of others. How do you do that? Well part of Peter’s answer is to learn to live for the approval above all others of the living God, so that you learn to live not as eye servants and man pleasers, but you live out of conscience before God in every circumstance for His smile, His favor, and for the grace He promises to bestow. You live before the face of God.
I think that’s a particularly important lesson for our teenagers to learn in these days. Don’t you? If you’re a teenager, you can feel an enormous burden of pressure to perform, to look the part, to be an achiever, to excel in academics and in sport and be popular and please your parents and on and on and on. And the demand to live up to expectations that press down upon you can be brutal. Well how do you live in a manner that pleases God and is free from the bondage and slavery of living for the praise and expectations of others? Peter says there’s really only one person’s opinion that matters above all others. Learn to live with an audience of one. You live under the gaze of God. Live to please Him. Live to please Him, and you’ll serve others even when they don’t recognize it. You will be godly even when godliness isn’t welcome. You will do all you can and work at everything with all of your might, as unto the Lord, not because others expect it of you but because you want to bring honor and glory to your God and Savior. So first he says learn to live under the gaze of God.
Live in Imitation of Christ
Then secondly, how shall we continue to be obedient and faithful when obedience and faithfulness hurts? Secondly he says we need to learn to live in imitation of Christ and then thirdly he’ll tell us we need to learn to live in light of the cross. And I mention both of those two points together because they are summed up in verse 21. Look at verse 21. First of all he says Christ suffered “for you” and then he says Christ suffered for you “leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps.” You see the two parts of that? There’s Christ on your behalf, acting in your place, your substitute and representative, purchasing with His blood grace to help you. And then there’s Christ the model and example of the righteous sufferer. And he brings both of those together in verse 21 and then expounds them in a bit more detail in 22 through 25, beginning in 22 and 23 with Christ our example.
Look there please, verses 22 and 23. We must learn to live under the gaze of God, first, and secondly we must learn to live in imitation of Christ. Jesus, after all, is the one into whose image and likeness we are to be transformed. He is our great pattern. Peter says He is our example. The word he uses was originally used of a template you would trace; you would trace out the lettering so that you could reproduce it carefully. Christ is the template that we are to trace, in every detail, in every angle as it were, that describes His character is to be carefully replicated in the handwriting of our own moral constitution. If you were going to paint a fresco or a freeze on a wall, one way you could do it is to take a drawing or even a photograph and project it onto the wall and then trace with a pencil or a marker the details onto the wall so that you get on the wall an exact replica of the original image. That’s what Peter is saying we are to do. Christ is the original. Our lives are to trace the details of His character, precisely and exactly, so that the world looking at us seems some echo, however dim and pale of our Savior Himself.
And he even models for us a little bit of how to do that, how to make that tracing. Where does he turn to consider the character of Christ into the likeness of which we are to be conformed? Does he pluck at his W.W.J.D. bracelet? You remember those things? “What Would Jesus Do?” and then apply some sanctified imagination and put Himself in this scenario and try to imagine and invent what it is that Jesus might do were He in my shoes! No, he doesn’t. What does he do in verses 21 through 25? He meditates on Isaiah 53. That’s where he gets this vocabulary from. It’s lifted from Isaiah 53, the great song of the suffering servant, that speaks to eloquently and precisely of the sufferings of the crucified Christ. And he says, “Okay, so what do we do in the context of suffering where my obedience to Jesus only seems to create more suffering? How do I learn to live for Him in these difficult contexts?” I open the Book and I meditate on His character, I make Him my great study, and I cry to God, “Oh, make me like this. Make me like Him. I want to be like Jesus.”
It’s fascinating to me that most believers I know say - and I believe them - they want to be more like Jesus. And yet how rarely we give ourselves to the study of Christ Himself as we find Him in the pages of holy Scripture. You really don’t get much like Jesus binge-watching Netflix. You’ll get more like Jesus by attending to the Scriptures, to the way they constantly drive you to consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, who endured the cross and scorned its shame and sat down at the right hand of God. Consider Him so that you too may run your race with perseverance, even though the race marked out for you will be costly and hard and sore. And so we need to follow Peter’s example as he encourages us to follow the example of Christ by meditating on the Scriptural picture of Jesus. We need to trace the contours of His character that we might learn to imitate them.
Well in verse 22 he quotes Isaiah 53:9 - “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth.” He’s probably got in mind that the arrest and trial of our Savior, the accusations and insults hurled at Him, His interrogation by Pontius Pilate, the beatings that He endured at the hands of Roman guards, the mockery of the crowds, the entire ghastly ordeal of His unjust suffering from Gethsemane to Golgotha. And throughout all of it, He never once spoke in impatience or frustration. Did He? There was never a note of anger or resentment. Not a word of spite or retaliation. “When He was reviled,” Peter says, “He did not revile in return. When He suffered He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to the One who judges justly.”
Now, just in the interest of clarity, by holding up for us Christ’s example of quiet endurance in the face of terrible suffering like this, Peter is not suggesting that those of us who are suffering unjust treatment should simply endure it quietly, and that’s all. He doesn’t intend to say to victims of injustice that it is wrong to pursue redress. The people to whom he was writing had no earthly recourse. They were stuck. And so these are words of counsel to them. But often we have recourse and we may legitimately make use of them, but we must even in doing so reflect the character and meekness and gentleness of Jesus Christ. So we must never use this passage - abusers can’t use this passage, those who gives abusers cover can’t use this passage, as a way to keep the abused in silence, meekly receiving the abuse. That would be a dreadful distortion of the teaching of the apostle Peter. He’s writing for a people in a time and place where there was really no redress available to them, no option, no way of escape. And he wants to help them endure and put Christ first in the midst of the crucible of their sufferings.
And now let’s be clear. While there often are paths to earthly redress and justice available to us that we can and should make use of, there are also many circumstances, some of them egregious and extreme but some very familiar and commonplace, where we too still have no way to bring about justice this side of the new creation. You might feel the low grade relentless hostility of coworkers because of our faith and there’s little any superior can do. You may not even feel particularly free to use official channels anyway, and you can’t afford to lose your job and so you’re stuck. What do you do? Your spouse thinks your faith in Jesus is stupid and their growing impatience with your church attendance and your commitment to integrity and purity is a constant irritant. You still love each other deeply, but your spouse’s responses are a daily wound. What do you do? Your classmates like to make fun of you because they saw you give thanks for your lunch one day and you won’t join them, they’ve noticed, in the cruel jokes they make about other people online, and now you’re the one they’re making up stories about and laughing at behind your back in the school yard. Teachers, at least so far as you can tell, don’t seem to be interested and you’re not sure who you can trust. What do you do?
Your superiors in the office require you to show a client a good time but your commitment to following Jesus means you simply won’t go to the places others would go and you won’t indulge in the things others indulge in, and so now you’re marked as someone who is not a team player and you’re being passed over for a promotion and you’re given all the nightmare jobs nobody else wants to take. What do you do? What do you do? Peter says you remember the example of Jesus Christ in whose steps you are now being called to walk. Like Him, you must entrust yourself to God who judges justly and when you are reviled, you do not revile in return. You don’t give as good as you get. You love in reply to mockery. You serve in response to injustice. You show kindness when others show you only hostility. And you do it because you live under the gaze of God, you want to please Him, and you do it because that’s what Jesus did and you want to be like Him. The servant isn’t greater than the master. He called you to take up your cross and follow Him and this is what He had in mind. This is what obedience to Jesus looks like.
Live in Light of the Cross
So we must learn to live under the gaze of God, we must learn to live in imitation of Christ, but then finally and gloriously we must learn to live in light of the cross. You remember Augustine’s prayer - we’ve quoted it often - “O Lord, command what You will and give what You command.” God calls us to the imitation of Christ and He supplies the grace we need that we may grow in the imitation of Christ, and He does it by means of the cross. Where are the resources you need to be found? Not in yourself, not in a technique, not even in the web of encouraging and nurturing relationships, as precious and vital as they are, they’re found, they’re sourced, they flow out from the cross of Jesus Christ and we have to learn to live in light of the cross.
Look at verse 24. “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. For you were straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and overseer of your soul.” Sometimes I think we view the cross far too negatively. Jesus died to deal with our guilt, securing our forgiveness. Praise God that He did. But He did more than that. Not only to deal with our sin and guilt before the bar of heaven’s justice, He died to renovate your heart and make you a new creature. He died that you might die to sin and live to righteousness. He died not just for your forgiveness but for your holiness, not just for our justification but our sanctification too. Not just that justice might be satisfied in the court of heaven, but that your heart might be made over, made new, transformed from glory into glory into His likeness. So we can sing, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Praise God that we can sing it. But we need to go on to sing, “Now by this I’ll overcome, nothing but the blood of Jesus. Now by this I’ll reach my home.” Nothing can stand in my way. Nothing can stop my arrival there. No suffering, no opposition, no trial, not even the remnants of sin in my own heart - because of the blood of Jesus. “Now by this I’ll reach my home.”
How do we suffer well for Christ? Learn to live under the gaze of God. Live for an audience of one. Live for the, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” of your Master, not as eye servants and man pleasers, not for the approval of peers, but for the praise of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. How do we learn to suffer well for Jesus? Learn to live under the gaze of God. Learn to live in imitation of Christ. This is what Jesus is like. When others wounded Him, He loved and served them, and to that you also are called. And learn to live in light of the cross, to cling to Christ and Him crucified, to cry to God to give you what the Savior’s blood purchased for you. He will not refuse you when you cry to Him, “Lord, it hurts. Keep me! Strengthen me! Help me to respond as my Savior responded when they slander me, not to give as good as I get but to love them and pray for them. Help me!” He will. He will. Cry out to Christ who was crucified and who now lives and reigns for you. There’s grace for you in Jesus. He will bear you up and He will bring you home. Let’s pray together.
Abba Father, forgive us when instead of not repaying evil for evil but rather good, instead of that, when we’ve joined in, the slander and the mockery and the cruel jokes and we’ve wounded others so that we can fit in as part of the gang and we’ve gone with the flow, forgive us for being like the world because we know if we stand apart from the world it’s going to cost us. Forgive us for being more concerned about the good opinion of our peers than the “Well done, good and faithful servant” of our Master. Help us now to see what Christ has done, how He suffered and bled and died for us, and seeing it, help us to resolve anew to live for Your praise, by the grace His cross has purchased, that we may learn to be servants who put others in mind of the great Servant, the Lord Jesus. Would You do that amongst us, in us? Start with my heart. For Jesus’ sake, amen.
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