I suppose one of the groups of people that had the hardest time submitting to authority were the slaves in Peter’s time.
One of the things that had to attract them to the teaching of Christ was the idea that “there is neither…slave nor free…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
And yet, they were still stuck in a situation where that didn’t seem true. They were slaves of another. Some had masters that were good and kind. But others had masters that were far from either. And sometimes these slaves were beaten for no good reason. It would be easy in that situation for the slaves to feel like running away or rebelling.
But Peter told them,
Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 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 endure it, this is commendable before God. (18-20)
In short, continue to treat your masters with respect, even if you feel that they don’t deserve it. In doing this, you prove yourself to be a true servant of God and he will commend you for it.
None of us, I’m sure, have to endure this kind of thing. Even people who have “slave-drivers” for bosses have the option to leave. Slaves in Peter’s day didn’t.
But there are those of us who are ill-treated by others for no reason. Even worse, someone who has authority over you may be treating you this way, and it may not be easy for you to get out of the situation. It may be a parent. It may be a teacher. Or it may indeed be a boss in a job that you absolutely have to have. But whatever the case, you’re feeling beat down and can see no way out.
And it would be easy in those situations to show disrespect back to those who disrespect you. To abuse those who abuse you. But to be a servant of Christ means to follow his example in the face of suffering. Or as Peter puts it, to “follow in Christ’s steps.” (21)
Christ, of course, was spat upon, slandered, beaten, and ultimately crucified. But in the midst of it all,
He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. 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. (22-23)
Why did he do all this? For us.
And he did this not so that we would continue to walking in sin, living for ourselves. But rather that we might, “die to sin and live for righteousness,” living as his servants and ambassadors. (24)
Once we had been going our own way, far from God, and making a wreck of our lives. But through Christ, he has healed our wounds, and we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. (24-25)
So let us not go back to our old ways, inflicting wounds on those around us, even when they seem intent on inflicting wounds upon us.
Rather let us live as God’s servants, following the example Christ gave us, and being his representatives of light, even to those who abuse us.
Am I saying then that if your health or life is in danger to stay in that situation? Not at all. Get out of there. Protect yourself.
But in all your dealings with those who abuse you, treat them as Christ treated those who abused him.
And God will ultimately reward and bless you for it.