18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”[e]
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. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,”[f] but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
There are a couple of problems reading this text. One is that it seems to advocate slavery. The other is that it is difficult to apply to today’s context. Of course, it is documented by the UN and others that there are more slaves today than ever before in history. This does not mean more per capita, it means more numerically. Does this passage advocate that they should just submit to their masters and continue in their hellish conditions. Slavery in the west in ancient times was quite different than it is today. Today, if you are a slave, you have no freedoms and we imagine that you will never be free. In ancient times someone often became a slave temporarily and to pay off debt. Slaves could have high honour and could own slaves. It was nothing like the subjugation of the black race as seen in movies like roots. So when we imagine Peter telling a black slave to subject himself to the lashes of a white master, we imagine quite the wrong thing.
So if our views of slavery are completely out of sync with the slavery of the ancient world, how do we apply principles from the text? The principles are to maintain order and respect in the hierarchy of the economic world. The common attempts to apply this passage to present situations of employment are well founded. When we find ourselves in a power structure that is essential for the economic fabric of the nation, we should carry out our responsibilities with diligence. The overarching principle is that more than asserting our own rights, we should be focused on living in such a way that it brings most glory to God.
As a note, God shows the eternal perspective on slavery (as we would understand it) when he frees his people from oppression in Egypt.
Father, let us work in such a way that our co-workers respect us and our bosses trust us. Let us not be shy in the work-place about Jesus, your Son. Let all that I do in my job glorify you.
- What must slaves do because of their new, salvation identity?
- How were slaves in ancient Turkey different from the slaves of the last 200 years?
- Who might be won over by watching a diligent slave?
- How might this passage be applied to the workplace?
- How might a modern slave caught in sex-trafficking view this passage?