Strangers And Aliens (12a): Servants Imitating The Suffering Savior (1 Peter 2:18–25)

servant_pouring_milkThere is a thread running through the book of Isaiah, which some have called the Gospel of Isaiah. It is that of the servant. The prophet himself is described as the servant (עבד) of Yahweh (Isa 20:3). David is also Yahweh’s servant (37:55) as is Israel (41:8, 9). There is, however, an anonymous servant upon whom Yahweh will put his Spirit, in whom Yahweh delights, who will bring forth judgment (מִשְׁפָּ֖ט) to the nations. Beginning in Isaiah 52:13, the prophet sings the song of servant again. In this song, the servant is paradoxically “lifted up” and also marred beyond recognition (52:14). He is “oppressed and afflicted,” like a lamb led to the slaughter (53:7). It is Yahweh’s will to “crush him” and to make him a guilt offering (53:10) but as a result of this horrible suffering the righteous, suffering servant shall make many righteous by bearing their sins (53:11). Nevertheless, the servant who was crushed as substitutionary, propitiatory (wrath-turning), offering lives and makes intercession for us (53:12). The song ends where it begins, with the exaltation of the suffering servant.

The New Testament tells us explicitly the identity of that suffering servant. His name is Jesus. Philip heard the Ethiopian eunuch reading (out loud) this very servant song from Isaiah. Like many interpreters then and now the Ethiopian was puzzling over the identity of the servant in this song. Under the inspiration of the Spirit, Philip “beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). We know from Hebrews 7:25 that it is Jesus who “always lives to make intercession for” his people.

In this passage, the Apostle Peter connects the daily work of Christians to Jesus’ suffering as God’s servant.

1 Peter 2:18–25

18Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20For 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. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23When 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. 24He 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. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (ESV). 18Οἱ οἰκέται ὑποτασσόμενοι ἐν παντὶ φόβῳ τοῖς δεσπόταις, οὐ μόνον τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς καὶ ἐπιεικέσιν ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῖς σκολιοῖς. 19τοῦτο γὰρ χάρις εἰ διὰ συνείδησιν θεοῦ ὑποφέρει τις λύπας πάσχων ἀδίκως. 20ποῖον γὰρ κλέος εἰ ἁμαρτάνοντες καὶ κολαφιζόμενοι ὑπομενεῖτε; ἀλλ᾿ εἰ ἀγαθοποιοῦντες καὶ πάσχοντες ὑπομενεῖτε, τοῦτο χάρις παρὰ θεῷ. 21εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ ἐκλήθητε, ὅτι καὶ Χριστὸς ἔπαθεν ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν ὑμῖν ὑπολιμπάνων ὑπογραμμὸν ἵνα ἐπακολουθήσητε τοῖς ἴχνεσιν αὐτοῦ, 22ὃς ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἐποίησεν οὐδὲ εὑρέθη δόλος ἐν τῷ στόματι αὐτοῦ, 23ὃς λοιδορούμενος οὐκ ἀντελοιδόρει, πάσχων οὐκ ἠπείλει, παρεδίδου δὲ τῷ κρίνοντι δικαίως· 24ὃς τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν αὐτὸς ἀνήνεγκεν ἐν τῷ σώματι αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τὸ ξύλον, ἵνα ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ἀπογενόμενοι τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ ζήσωμεν, οὗ τῷ μώλωπι ἰάθητε. 25ἦτε γὰρ ὡς πρόβατα πλανώμενοι, ἀλλὰ ἐπεστράφητε νῦν ἐπὶ τὸν ποιμένα καὶ ἐπίσκοπον τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμῶν.

vv. 18–20: Suffering For The Lord’s Sake
Peter addresses servants (οἰκέται) about how they ought to relate to their masters. The noun here is used generically of servants (e.g., Rom 14:4; Luke 16:13) but in this passage, as in Acts 10:7, it refers to household (domestic) servants. It shares the same root as the noun for “household.” This tells us a little about who some of the first-century Christians were in Asia Minor and the rest of what we know today as Turkey. At least some of the members of the congregations were drawn from from among household servants. The typical pattern was for Christians to remain where they were, in life, when they were brought to faith (1 Cor 7:20–24). What changes is to so much our station (e.g., leaving all and withdrawing to a monastery) but how we relate to those around us. Peter would have us be marked by a spirit of submission to our masters (δεσπόταις). WE are to be subject “with all fear” to them. “Respect” seems like a fair translation. We are to show appropriate deference and respect not only to those who are good and gentle to us but even to those who are “crooked” (σκολιοῖς; Luke 3:5; Acts 2:40; Phil 2:15). Anyone who has worked for others has probably experienced some degree of unjust treatment. Perhaps wages are not paid timely or correctly or, in some cases, at all. Perhaps a master plays favorites. The list of potential injustices is great. The question before Christians is how to think about them and how respond.

Remarkably, Peter says literally, “this is a grace (or a gift) if, for the sake of the understanding of God, one bears some pains of suffering unjustly.” First, it is clear that Peter assumes that Christian servants will suffer unjustly and, when we do, it is a gift (χάρις) from God. This is perhaps a hard teaching to receive in a radically egalitarian age. In our age, the spirit is more like that of the French Revolution than it is like the Apostle Peter’s. When we are treated unjustly, our first reaction is to think, “Who are you to treat me that way?” We focus on persons and station and justice. Peter, however, thinks first of God’s providence and of our sanctification.

It is less clear what he means by “the understanding of God.” Were Christian servants being singled out for unjust treatment? Perhaps. We know that Christians suffered informal types of persecution in these areas, in this period. It was in this period that Christians were being made scapegoats in Rome for Nero’s wickedness.  Are Christians here called to bear with unjust treatment in light of what they know about God, in Christ, because of the gospel? In context, this might be more likely.

Further, the noun (λύπας) used is translated as “sorrow” or “anguish ”in the ESV. v. 20, however, makes it clear that what is in view here is unjust corporal (bodily) punishment—beatings (κολαφιζόμενοι). In this case, these punishments are unjust and, as such, they produce emotional or psychological anguish.

How could such unjust sufferings be a gift from God? Most would be tempted to interpret such things as evidence that God had abandoned them but Peter teaches us to interpret them the exact opposite way. That we are enduring such things is actually evidence that we are being identified with Jesus the Suffering Servant.

To be sure, this identification is only true when we are suffering unjustly. Should it be that we are beaten because of some sin or disobedience, that is no cause for a “good report” (κλέος). No, the gift is that we suffer unjustly even though we have been doing good (ἀγαθοποιοῦντες).

In the next installment we will see how we are identified with Christ in such unjust suffering.

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