Intro: Following along with the series of messages I am preaching through 1 Peter, as Peter writes to the dispersed and persecuted church in exile throughout Asia Minor, he encourages them by writing, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:11-12). In chapter 2 verse 13 through chapter 3 verse 8 he gives us three specific ways that we are able to have “honorable conduct”, even while living in an environment that is hostile to God and the gospel. Those three ways all involve submission to authority in different realms of our daily interactions. We are to be (1) submissive citizens, (2) submissive servants, and (3) submissive spouses.
As we look at these three focal points for submission, I’ve titled this devotional series “Our Mission is Submission – 1 Peter 2:13-3:8.”
Today we will look at harsh masters in this passage:
(2) Submissive Servants – 1 Peter 2:18-25
Masters (vs. 18)
Peter tells us to be submissive to our masters in fear, but what we might miss, what we find in a hidden Bible code here deep in the text, is that Peter is actually telling us that we only need be submissive to masters, to managers, to bosses, to other people who are nice to us, agreeable, and easy to get along with. No. That actually contradicts what he says so specifically here. He says, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.”
It gets even better, because we find here that the word for master is not kurious, but despotes. Yes, it sounds just like what it means. The English term we usually would use here would be “despot.” What is a despot? He’s that little stubby guy over in North Korea, right? Well……the term refers to rulers or masters, and originally it did not even refer to a bad ruler or a wicked leader. It simply referred to an authority. But because we all love authority so much and because we find it so easy and natural to submit, yield, surrender, and serve others, the word began to have a negative connotation. In our desire for independence, as we forget that liberty brings with it responsibility, not the right to do as we want, but as we ought, we have it ingrained in our national DNA to despise authority. So a despot is someone difficult to serve because we have decided that they either do not deserve to be served, or that it is beneath us to bow our wishes and wants to someone who we know by the very nature of their character to be unworthy.
And while some masters might be bad and harsh and others good and gentle, we are told to submit to them with all fear. The word for fear here refers to reverence, to a humble, respectful attitude. We are to submit to and to obey those we serve with the right heart attitude no matter how they act or what kind of service we believe they deserve.
This is not merely honoring the position and not the person – if we have had those who were not honorable, who in our estimation do not deserve honor and respect, we’ve been told in those situations to honor the position and the authority even if we cannot honor the person. But that is not what Scripture teaches. You see, for us, as followers of Jesus Christ, we must see that the honor that we give is the honor that is deserved not because of a person’s character, but because of their creation in the image of God. We honor the person because God has put them in a position over us, whether we see them as fit for that respect and honor or not. Otherwise, to honor the position but not the person is like worshipping God as God but having our lips and heart disengaged from one another. God made us who we are. He put us where we are. And that is true for those He has put over us also.
That doesn’t mean we can’t look for or yearn for a new job, better provision, including better bosses. But it does mean that while God has us where He has us, we honor and respect and serve those He has put over us, no matter their disposition toward us.
If you listen to gossip in the workplace, what is the top thing most employees gripe about? They complain about their manager, about their boss. And the solution to every complaint seems to be if we just made the complainer a boss and put them in charge everything would be better, right? This cycle of discontentment is born out of an unwillingness to submit ourselves to those in authority over us who we are called to serve.
Interestingly, the term for a harsh master here in the word skolios. Isn’t it great that Peter is using Greek words in this passage that we don’t even need to translate to know what he means? So we can go to work tomorrow and tell our boss that the Bible calls him a despot with scoliosis! Crooked! The term harsh means twisted, perverted, not straight and true. In the usage here it refers to unfairness, not shooting straight, not being fair. Have you ever worked for a boss that was not fair? Well. Life is not fair and God is not fair (Praise God!), so why should work be fair? We live in a fallen world but it is a world under the care and governance of a gracious and good God so when we find ourselves serving under a harsh master, we submit in fear with a right heart attitude.
Tomorrow we will learn about being submissive for our conscience sake.