1 Peter 2:18-20

“Household slaves, submit to your masters with all reverence not only to the good and gentle ones but also to the cruel. For it brings favor if, because of a consciousness of God, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if when you do wrong and are beaten, you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God.”

So far in this part of the letter, Peter has challenged the behavior of the believers. First, in verses 11 and 12, he challenges them as strangers and exiles to conduct themselves honorably. Then, in verses 13 through 17, he addresses them as citizens. In these next verses, he addresses the household slaves. According to Edmund Clowney in The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross, “Slavery was widespread in Peter’s world; it included many who would today be regarded as professionals: managers of estates, physicians, teachers, and tutors.”

When we hear the word slave today, we picture slavery in the antebellum South. We think slavery has only existed in America. But slavery has existed in every nation, in every country on earth. It has always existed. It still exists today. I listened to a podcast where Alisa Childers interviewed Dr. H.C. Felder (The Alisa Childers Podcast #158 June 19, 2022 “Does the Bible Condone Slavery and Other Moral Evils?). He had some excellent points. He said that God did something in the Old Testament and in Israel that no other nation did. He put parameters around what slavery was and what people could and could not do. A person’s dignity was always maintained. A slave had to be freed after six years. He could only become a slave for life if he requested it. A slave could run away from his master and if he was caught, he could decide where he wanted to go. A slave could inherit- he was like an extension of the family.

This was a way that God provided for the poorest in society because there was no welfare system in place. If a person was very poor, they could become an indentured servant, but they had to be freed after six years. Mike winger did a video on his YouTube channel on these verses called “Slavery in the Bible” (Nov. 16, 2015). He had some good comparisons between what New World slavery and the protections God had in place in the Old Testament. The first is kidnapping. That is how New World slavery existed. But in Exodus 21:16, we read “Whoever kidnaps a person must be put to death, whether he sells him or the person is found in his possession.” Winger says, “This one law alone would make New World slavery impossible.” In New World slavery, runaway slaves could be killed, but Deuteronomy 23:15-16 says, “Do not return a slave to his master when he has escaped from his master to you. Let him live among you wherever he wants within your city gates. Do not mistreat him.”  In the New World, slaves were abused and killed. This was forbidden in the Old Testament. Exodus 21:26-27 says, “When a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave and destroys it, he must let the slave go free in compensation for his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his male or female slave, he must let the slave go free in compensation for his tooth.” These are just some of the differences.

Dr. H.C. Felder on the Alyssa Childer’s podcast makes this point. We look back on slavery now and we judge it differently. Slavery was always condoned because that is the way the world operated. Now, we know slavery is wrong because of the Christian worldview. We are doing it through the lens of man being made in God’s image. The Abolitionist movement in Britain was sparked by this idea- man being made in the image of God. Men such as William Wilberforce, a member of the British parliament, led the movement of the abolition of slavery. He did this because of his Christian beliefs. Slavery was abolished in the western world because of Christianity.

Let’s get back to the passage. When Peter is referring to household slaves, let’s remember to look at it through the cultural lens of that time. These were far different than what we think of when we think of the word slave. They were people who were paid for their services and who could possibly eventually purchase their freedom. Wayne Grudem writes, “So a word stronger than ‘servant’ but weaker than ‘slave’ is needed- something meaning ‘semi-permanent employee without legal or economic freedom’. Although ‘servant’ comes the closest, no single English word is adequate- perhaps because no comparable institution exists in western society.” What is surprising here at all, possibly to many, is that Peter is addressing this group at all. This was considered the lowest class of citizens, yet Peter spends more time addressing this group than any other in the letter. In the upside-down Kingdom of God, there is no favoritism! In Colossians 3:11 we read, “In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.”

Peter writes that the household slave is to submit to their masters with all reverence. They are to do this not only to the gentle ones but to the cruel ones also. He goes on in verse 20 to say, “For what credit is there if when you do wrong and are beaten, you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God.” This reminded me of the passage in Luke where Jesus is giving the sermon about loving your enemies. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil” (Luke 6:32-35). Peter makes the same point here. If the slave is being punished for a fault of theirs, they should expect such punishment, and their suffering does not have value. But if they are punished for no reason and they endure it, this brings favor with God. Clowney writes, “Such treatment offers a golden opportunity to show the uniqueness of Christian service. By patiently enduring unmerited abuse they show the opposite of a servile attitude. They show their freedom.”

The middle verse, 19, gives the reason. “For it brings favor if, because of a consciousness of God, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly.” This is a recurring theme. As Christians, we are to be conscious of God. We will suffer unjustly, but we know that God is just. We read it in the Psalms. “The Lord is just; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him” (92:15). In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” We are to do our best to live at peace with everyone and not to seek vengeance. We know that God is a just God and he loves us. He is a God of both love and justice.

So how does this translate into today’s world? We may not be household slaves serving a master, but many of us are employees working for an employer. “Employees, submit to your bosses with all reverence, not only to the good and gentle ones but also to the cruel.” Are we doing that? Are we being respectful when our bosses are not being respectful to us? Or do we use that as an excuse to talk back, get sarcastic, etc. Our co-workers are watching us. They know (or I hope they know!) we are Christians. This is a golden opportunity to show the people around us that we are different. “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).

Grace be with you!


Posted in:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: