DAILY DEVOTION - MAY 22
Listen to excerpts from today's daily devotion on this video.
This Daily Devotion is from A Living Hope, by Sarah Viggiano Wright, published by Bible Study Media, and made available to us through Presbyterian Women.
“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.”
1 Peter 2:18–20
You’ve probably heard the saying, “A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.” If breakage happens at the most vulnerable point in a group or institution, then it’s in everyone’s best interest to make each link as strong as possible.
This principle applies directly to Peter’s audience. Many of his readers felt powerless at work or at home. They felt “weak” in the world’s eyes, especially the servants whom Peter addresses first. But Peter’s encouragement is that Christ empowers us with the ability to submit to people and institutions and to endure rigorous trials—even suffering for doing good. God gives power to the powerless (Isaiah 40:29). Peter wants to remind his hearers of this promise as he gives direction to the entire household.
If you recall from yesterday’s reading, the group Peter is addressing in today’s verses are household servants. These might be teachers, cooks, doctors, businesspeople, agrarians, and those of other professions. Some were like members of the family. Some had agreed to temporary servanthood as a means of paying off a debt. However, it was still not a condition many would have chosen—they were not free; they were under the control of the master of the household.
Addressing households publicly was common in Greco-Roman culture. Philosophers often stood in open arenas and offered various household codes to the public. As dull as this activity may sound to modern ears, these philosophers recognized the incredible significance of the household as a civic unit. Plato, Plutarch, and Aristotle considered the wellbeing of the home vital to the wellbeing of society. If the households were in order, so too would be the society (and also the Church; see 1 Timothy 3:5).
When a philosopher publicly addressed households, it was the heads of the house (usually the husbands) who would hear these addresses and carry home the norms and enforce them—wives, children, and household servants were expected to go along. Everyone was to play his or her part for the good of the overall structure.
So, if the heads of the households were responsible for enforcing social codes, why would Peter address the servants—the weakest and most non-influential members of the household—first?
First, though servants were considered the lowest and least significant members of the house, Peter knew that by strengthening these members, he would be strengthening entire households—and society at large would be strengthened as a result. Remember the opening proverb: “A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.” The lowest common denominator in Greco-Roman households (the servant) was key to the health of the larger society.
Second, by addressing the lowest members of society first, Peter was revealing their dignity before God. God sees and loves the lowly. In discussing the mundane, everyday work of a servant, Peter was honoring their labor; the work of serving is significant and valuable. Also keep in mind that it was completely counter-cultural for servants to be addressed at all, let alone first! Peter’s lengthiest address of any is to the servants.
Third, the role of a servant is vital to Peter’s primary message to his readers. Peter uses the position of servanthood to illustrate a beautifully bewildering aspect of Jesus’ gift to us. Though Christ is our King, Ruler, and Head of our House, there is something about the ministry of Jesus and the hope he offers that is best described and illustrated in servanthood (which we will explore further in tomorrow’s reading, vv. 21–25).
Even though Peter begins his address talking to servants and speaking of their role in the house, he still intends every member of the household to listen to his instructions—God’s principles are for everyone.
If you’ve been to a Christian wedding, you’re aware that somewhere in the middle of the ceremony is a homily or “charge” to the couple about the promises they’re making. You may hear statements like, “Groom, you are the servant leader, and must sacrifice for your bride as Christ did for his Church.... Bride, you are to honor your husband and use your talents and gifts in service of your marriage...” The wedding homily is for the couple—it’s their address. The message is to them. They need to listen up! But, as guests, listening in on the vows this couple is making and the charge to them, we can be blessed. The words remind us what to look for in a spouse or how to love our own spouses. The message, though not directed to us, still has application for us. The couple listens up, and the guests listen in!
So, what is the message we’re listening in on in today’s passage? What is the general lesson Peter is teaching? Everyone is in some sort of subordinate relationship. Everyone is called to submit, everyone. There’s an important phrase that must be considered along with this submission: “with all respect.” We are to submit to our authorities not with resentment or bitterness, but with respect.
So, is Peter asking people to respect and obey unjust masters?
Verse 2:17, along with 1:17, gives us clues as to whom we should respect, or literally “fear” above all others: God and God alone (see Week Two, Day 3). So, though Peter does ask us to respectfully submit to those in authority—even those we find difficult or unlikeable—his injunction here is the same as in the passage about governing authorities: if there comes a point when the command of the earthly master is in opposition to God’s law, we obey God.
These servants were carrying out household duties, often in public arenas. If a master asked a servant to deal underhandedly—to cut a corner, cheat the tax collector, betray a customer, inflate rates, or tell a lie—and the servant did not comply because God calls them to something better, they potentially faced a woeful beating. This was a horrible reality. However, Peter urges them to “endure sorrow while suffering unjustly,” remembering why they are doing it—because they are “mindful of God.”
Suffering for the sake of doing what is right is a sign that God’s grace is active in your life (vv. 19–20). Though you have not obtained favor with your earthly master, you are respecting and honoring your Heavenly One, and your good deeds are “commendable” and “a gracious thing” in his sight (v. 20, NIV, ESV). Though insignificant, vulnerable, and powerless in society, servants are significant to God!
Peter’s words are encouragement for anyone suffering unjustly. However, the levels of suffering are not the same. It rings hollow to say that a grueling boss is equal to an abusive taskmaster. Yet, a boss who penalizes an employee for their faith in Jesus or refusal to follow unethical directions, is a source of a believer’s suffering for what is good.
What would God have us do in response to the injustice around us? We can regard injustice as an entry point for empathy and for action. We can fight for people who are currently enslaved, be sensitive to those whose ancestors were enslaved, and continue the conversation by acknowledging such suffering. We can gear our conversations towards accurate remembering, somber grieving, and rehabilitative restitution.
We can be faithful to God in the midst of unfairness even as we fight against it.
We can also live out goodness, justice, and reconciliation with the expectant hope that Christ will one day himself right all injustice.