Theology of Suffering - Masters
In our study on the theology of suffering we note that we no longer have slaves in America, and that is certainly a good thing, but in Peter's day nearly half the population was slaves. Slaves were common in the ancient world. Our word “slave” came from the people found in what we call the Slavic countries. These were the areas in which the Romans "harvested the population" from time to time to re-stock their supply of Slavics or as they are now called -- slaves.
There were few machines. The difficult work had to be done with human labor. Slaves were used extensively to work in the mines and fields, to work in shops and factories, to do the dirty work in and around the house. That is the focus of this passage and the context of our theology of suffering.
How to Suffer for Doing Good 3
Many of these slaves had become Christians. For this reason, Peter is explaining to them how God's "freemen" are to live in such a condition. He is teaching them a theology of suffering
Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to 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 you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps. (I Peter 2:18-21, NIV)
Notice that not only were the Christian slaves to submit willingly, but they were to do it "with all respect.” Now you may say, "That's outrageous." Not only have they been enslaved by an evil nation, to make matters worse they are to submit to this indignity "with all respect." But you miss the point.
Let's Look Inside
The fear or respect mentioned here is not of the master, but is of God. Either way, in a theology of suffering you must demonstrate fear first to God and next to the the master. Peter recognized something many people miss today. God directs the very details of all the affairs of humanity. You are in the position you occupy because it is God's sovereign purpose for you in this world, He meant for you to be there. This is "the race marked out" for you by God (Hebrews 12:1-2). Because it is God's place for you, you must be content with it. You must make the best out of this place and you must be the best Christian you can be, the whole time you are here. This being the case, you must treat your heavenly master and your worldly master "with all respect."
Let us continue with this theology of suffering. As I said, we no longer have slavery in America, but we do have a relationship that, by analogy, could be compared with it. I am, of course, suggesting you apply this passage to the employer-employee relationship. If you are to show respect to a slave owner, certainly you must respect an employer who pays you wages for working for him. Many people, even Christians, do not do that. They are resentful of the authority management exercises over them. They do not like to be talked to in a manner they consider demeaning. They resent the money the company is making. As a result they gossip, slander, gripe, and carp about the company and bosses at their place of work. This is absolutely wrong. Here also, God requires you to "suffer for doing good,” not simply to suffer, but to "suffer for doing good.” While others may do evil, you must "do good" at your place of work.
And notice that you are told, "...not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh" (I Peter 2:18, NIV). Why I suppose if it were the good and considerate only that you were subject to, then this passage never would have been written. No, it is the harsh that makes it difficult for us. And this is the very group that God wants you to "submit to with all respect". Is doing this really important? Well, in this theology of suffering, you answer that question by considering Peter's next comment.
For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. (I Peter 2:19, NIV)
Do you want to be commended by God? Yes? Well, what have you done that is commendable in recent weeks? Perhaps you have done very little, perhaps nothing. One thing that you can do every day that is commendable before God is to "bear up under the pain of unjust suffering," and to do so because of your Christian conscience.
Now, let us make one thing abundantly clear before we go on. You may, indeed, be "bearing up" under suffering at work. But you may be doing so because you deserve the suffering you are receiving. Peter makes that point clear, "But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it” (I Peter 2:20, NIV)? There is no credit for that. Therefore don't go around with a martyr's complex whining and telling people what a great Christian you are and how you are suffering for Jesus, when the truth is you are irresponsible, mean spirited, self righteous and deserve all the misery you are receiving and more. Griping Christians should take note: this is not to be tolerated. You must examine your heart, your thinking, and your attitudes. Something is seriously wrong. This is not a Biblical theology of suffering!
"But," Peter goes on to say, "…if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God” (I Peter 2:20, NIV). Make sure it is for "doing good" that you suffer, and not for your own ugly attitude and conduct. When suffering for "doing good", your actions are "commendable before God". Do something this week that is commendable before God. When you suffer for doing good, remember, "To this you were called...” (I Peter 2:21, NIV). YOU were called to suffer for doing good. Called, the Bible says. Yes, you were called by God to do this very thing. Many Christians go around lamenting that they can never seem to find "God's will" for their life. Well, go no further. You have found it! It is God's will that if you suffer; then do so for doing good! "To this you were called." Therefore, fulfill your calling; do it well.
Christ fulfilled His calling in suffering for doing good, and He "…suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (I Peter 2:21, NIV). This word example is used of a schoolboy following a model of someone's handwriting. He copies over it and thereby learns to write correctly. If you copy Christ's example of suffering, you also will learn correctly how God wants you to suffer for doing good. Follow his example. Pattern your life after His. That is where you will find God's will for your life. Walk in those steps. To follow a man's footprints is to go in the direction he is going. That is what Peter is saying. Follow Christ. Go in the direction He went. Do good even if you suffer for doing so. He did and in so doing His theology of suffering will become yours.
Do you find your work situation difficult or maybe even downright hard? It certainly was for Christ as He went about His Father's business. "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” (I Peter 2:23, NIV). No, it is not that hard at your workplace! Christ has left you His own example of suffering for doing good. Follow in His steps. Do the same thing. "To this you were called."
Now that is a theology of suffering!