4. Submitting and Suffering Like Jesus (1 Peter 2:13-23)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (20:25)

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), 'Jesus Washing Peter's Feet' (1508-1509), The Small Passion series, small woodcut, 12.7 x 10 cm., British Museum, London.
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), 'Jesus Washing Peter's Feet' (1508-1509), The Small Passion series, small woodcut, 12.7 x 10 cm., British Museum, London. Larger image.

Peter has just reminded his readers of who they are: a chosen people, a royal nation, a holy priesthood, living stones built into a spiritual temple, citizens of the Kingdom of God, who for a little while are living in exile in a foreign land. We have been exhorted to live such good lives among the pagans that they will glorify God because of our good deeds. Now Peter begins to flesh out just what kinds of lives we are called to live in this world. In a word, lives of humble submission in an unjust world, following the pattern of Christ himself.

Submission to Civil Government (2:13-14)

"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right." (2:13-14)

Christians are called upon to submit to the constituted civil authorities on earth. "Submit yourselves" (NIV, KJV) or "accept the authority of" (NRSV) is the Greek verb hypotassō, which in the middle voice, means "to subject oneself, to be subservient, to submit voluntarily."[84] Grudem notes that the verb includes the idea of "be submissive to an authority," and that this usually implies obedience to that authority.[85]

"Authority" (NIV), "ordinance" (KJV), or "institution" (NRSV) is the Greek noun ktisis, "the act of creation," then "that which is created." Sometimes this is translated "system of established authority that is the result of some founding action, governance system, authority system."[86]

Why should we submit? Peter now points to the theological basis of our submission: "For the Lord's sake" uses the Greek preposition dia, here, "the reason why something happens, results, exists: because of, for the sake of."[87] Why is the Lord interested in our submission? For two reasons:

  1. He has set in place civil institutions to govern and order society. God has placed people in authority to punish wrong behavior and encourage right behavior, that is, to set up just societies. See more about this in Romans 13:1-6.
  2. How we act as Christians reflects directly upon Jesus and his reputation.

If all Christians had been rebels, Christianity would soon have been crushed as against society. If it became known that Christian slaves were unreliable and unusable, it would reflect upon Christ himself.

Now Peter outlines the power hierarchy: "Supreme" is the Greek verb hyperechō, "to be in a controlling position, have power over, be in authority (over), be highly placed"[88] First there was the emperor, then the Roman governor.

"King" (NIV, KJV) or "emperor" (NRSV) is the Greek noun basileus, "king," used of the Roman emperor among others. The Roman emperor at the time Peter wrote was Nero (reigned AD 54-68), so sometimes we are called upon to submit to human authorities who are neither believers nor upright.[89] "Governors" is the Greek noun hēgemōn, "imperial governors in the provinces."[90] 

Do Good as Servants of God (2:15-16)

Christians were often a misunderstood group in the first century Roman empire. Sometimes they were confused with Jews, who had acquired certain rights. But sometimes they were despised as atheists, because they refused to acknowledge or worship the Roman deities -- including the emperor. People who refused to worship the state's gods could be viewed as either scum, subversive, or even against the state. Ignorant talk about Christians abounded in some quarters. When Rome caught fire in 65 AD, Emperor Nero blamed the Christians, since he thought the populace would believe it. Christians had a long ways to go in earning a reputation for right living. So Peter commands:

"For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God." (2:15-16)

"Doing good" (NIV) or "well doing" (KJV) is the Greek verb agathopoieō, "to meet a high level of exemplary conduct, do what is right, be a good citizen."[91] The particular well-doing Peter had in mind was living quiet lives of submission to the civil authorities.

But in the next breath Peter talks about freedom, lest we think that submission would be repressively restrictive. We are free people, but we choose voluntarily to obey God. We are free from sin's oppression[92] and penalty. Free from guilt.[93] Free from a hopeless quest to live such perfect lives that we might somehow achieve righteousness on our own.[94] "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36).

There are always some Christians who misinterpret Christian freedom as license to do whatever they like, an excuse to live any old way. Peter warns against using Christian freedom as a "cover-up" (NIV), "cloak" (KJV), or "pretext" (NRSV).[95]

But the way to experience this freedom is not through independence of Jesus, but obedience to Jesus and trust in him, Peter reminds us. We are "servants of God." "Servants" is the Greek noun doulos, "slave," denoting compulsory service.[96]

Q1. (2:15-16) In what way is God's glory dependent upon us living submissive, obedient lives? How is God hurt when we get rebellious?

Show Proper Respect to All (2:17)

Next is a brief guide to submission:

"Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king." (2:17)

There seems to be a kind of order here:

  • God. "Fear" (NIV) is the Greek verb phobeō, "have reverence, respect for God, fear him in the sense of reverence."[97]
  • Fellow Christians. "Love" is the Greek verb agapaō, self-giving love, that we looked at in an earlier lesson. "Brotherhood" (NIV, KJV) or "family of believers" (NRSV) is the Greek noun adelphotēs, "group of fellow-believers, a fellowship."[98]
  • All people, the emperor. "Show proper respect" (NIV) or "honor" (KJV, NRSV) is the Greek verb timaō, "to show high regard for, honor, revere someone."[99]

Christians would have noticed that the emperor did not deserve the reverence due God, but the level of honor and respect that they were to show to all people -- Christians had nothing to do with emperor worship that was common in the empire.

Submission to Masters (2:18)

Now Peter discusses how this submission works itself out in the less-than-ideal circumstances in which most of us find ourselves.

"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." (2:18)

Many Christians in the first century were slaves. Here Peter refers specifically to house slaves (Greek oiketēs), literally, "member of the household," then specifically, "house slave, domestic, and slave generally."[100] "Masters" is the Greek noun despotēs, from which we get our word "despot" -- "one who has legal control and authority over persons, such as subjects or slaves, lord, master."[101]

In the first century, slavery was very common. While people weren't as often being taken into slavery in war and conquest, many had been born to slave parents. This meant that they were tied economically to their owners. They would be paid something, but were not free to leave unless they could purchase their full manumission or papers proving their freedom at one time. Many slaves were well-educated and served their masters in highly responsible trades and professions.

To American minds, the word "slave" reminds us of the horrible conditions suffered by African slaves in America, which is probably the wrong picture. For the most part, slaves were well treated in the Roman Empire, and laws protected them. Perhaps "servant" carries the appropriate level of meaning.

Most of Peter's comments are applicable to the relationship between employer and employee.

Peter commands respect. "Respect" (NIV), "fear" (KJV), "deference" (NRSV) is the Greek noun phobos, "reverence, respect" toward God. Toward men, respect that is due officials, and a slave to his master.[102]

Q2. (2:18) If we are to submit to our employers and respect them, what is that saying about God's expectation that we do a good job? In what sense do we dishonor God when we don't give our full effort to our jobs?

Submission to Unjust Employers (2:18-20)

Things are pretty easy when your boss is wise and honest. But what about the fool, the incompetent, and the morally bankrupt? Have you ever worked for one of them?

 "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." (2:18-20)

"Harsh" (NIV, NRSV) or "froward" (KJV) is the Greek adjective skolios, which literally means "crooked." Figuratively it means "pertaining to being morally bent or twisted, crooked, unscrupulous, dishonest."[103] I don't think Peter is talking especially about physically violent bosses, though he mentions a beating in verse 20. I think he is talking about those who are cruel, unfair, who don't appreciate your hard work. Bosses who promote their favorites and pass over others. Bosses who take advantage of their authority to intimidate and bombast their workers. Bosses who don't pay fairly. Crooked, morally corrupt bosses.

Peter makes it very clear here that the standard for our attitude and behavior is God's pleasure. We work for God's delight! "Commendable" (NIV), "thankworthy" (KJV), "a credit to you" (NRSV) is the Greek charis, here signifying "response to generosity or beneficence, thanks, gratitude."[104] Christians aren't to just react to their corrupt bosses in kind, but rather their behavior and attitude is "conscious of God." "Conscious" (NIV), "aware of (NRSV), "conscience" (KJV) are the Greek noun syneidēsis, here signifying "consciousness, spiritual awareness of God."[105]

Can we cheat, steal, and lie for our bosses? No. We are to submit to them in those things for which they rightfully direct our actions. But when they ask us to go against our conscience, against God's commands, their authority to command ends. We must humbly decline, no matter what the consequences. We live our lives "conscious of God."

With that spiritual awareness of God's presence with us, we can live as children of God in a dark place. We can continue on in spite of the pressure. "Bear up under" (NIV) or "endure" (KJV, NRSV) in verse 19 is the Greek noun hypopherō, "bear up under trouble, difficulty, submit to, endure something."[106] "Endure" in verse 20 is hypomenō, "to maintain a belief or course of action in the face of opposition, stand one's ground, hold out, endure."[107]

Q3. (2:18-20) How does being an employee "conscious of God" affect the way we act and react to injustice in the workplace? Can a conscientious Christian be a complainer? Why or why not? How do you usually react to prolonged, unfair treatment at your work?

There is something in us that rebels at St. Peter's commands to Christians to endure suffering and earn God's commendation. We bristle that we can do what we please. We have rights, after all. Yes, we have rights, but we have responsibilities to live as Christ would in the situation. And Christ's example is held up before us to consider.

Christ's Example of Suffering (2:21-23)

"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
      'He committed no sin,
      and no deceit was found in his mouth.' (quoting Isaiah 53:9)
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." (2:21-23)

The next lesson we'll devote to verses 24 and 25 that discuss Jesus' atonement for our sins. But here, let's consider him as our example in suffering for a cause greater than ourselves. "Example" is the Greek noun hypogrammos, literally, "a model, pattern to be copied in writing or drawing," then "model of behavior, example."[108] We are to look at him and then follow in his footprints, his steps. "Steps" is the Greek noun ichnos, "footprint," figuratively, "follow in someone's footsteps."[109]

They reviled him and abused him. "Hurled their insults" (NIV), "reviled" (KJV), "abused" (NRSV) is the Greek verb loidoreō, "revile, abuse someone."[110] Exactly what did Jesus do when under the pressure of unjust rulers and soldiers, Pharisees and other religious enemies? What he didn't do is remarkable:

  1. He didn't sin with his words. That is so incredibly hard to achieve when evil people are badgering us!
  2. He didn't deceive his enemies. In self defense sometimes we resort to half-truths. Not Jesus. He was open and honest under pressure, even though he knew his words would be twisted by his enemies.
  3. He didn't retaliate. "Retaliate" (NIV) is the Greek verb antiloidoreō, "revile in return."[111] The saying, "turn about is fair play," doesn't come from the Bible, but from the book of human weakness. There's a great satisfaction in telling someone off. Jesus resisted the temptation.
  4. He didn't threaten. "Threaten" (KJV, NRSV) is the Greek verb apeileō, "threaten, warn someone."[112] I can hear Christians railing after their persecutors -- "God is going to send you to hell for this!" That isn't the Spirit of God, but a spirit of hatred. If we really understand hell, we'll only mention it with tears and sorrow for those who will go there, not gloating. We aren't to threaten, for it brings great disrepute upon the name of Christ!
  5. He did trust his Father. "Entrusted" (NIV, NRSV) or "committed" (KJV) is the Greek verb paradidōmi, "to entrust for care or preservation, give over, commend, commit."[113] Jesus was at peace under pressure, persecution, and suffering because he trusted his Father to right all wrongs, to take care of his spirit, and to bring about the Father's perfect will for all mankind. We must claim that peace that comes only through trust.

Q4. (2:21-23) How does Christ's example speak to your situation? How is your behavior going to be different because of what you see in Jesus' character in this passage?

The Apostle Paul wrote,

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13, NRSV)

"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)

1 Peter: Discipleship Lessons from the Fisherman, by Ralph F. Wilson
In book form as PDF, Kindle, and paperback

There is only one way to face the pressure of life, of ungodly friends and unfair bosses. It is to trust God to work in the situation. Pure. Simple. Trust. The words to an old Gospel hymn ring in my mind:

"But we never can prove the delights of his love
Until all on the altar we lay.
For the favor He shows and the joy he bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

   Trust and obey, for there's no other way
   To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."[114]


Father, so much of the time fuss and bluster fill my life when I'm hassled. Pain -- not peace. Bad thoughts -- not love. Please forgive me. Teach me to suffer unjustly with a Christ-like spirit. Show me how to do that. Give me opportunities to learn that, so that I might be like Jesus really lived, not just my convenient caricature of him. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."
     '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." (1 Peter 2:21-23)

End Notes

[84] Gerhard Delling, tassō, ktl., TDNT 8:40.

[85] Grudem (p. 118) traces the use of hypotassō in Luke 2:51; 10:17; Romans 13:1; 1 Corinthians 15:28; Ephesians 5:24; Titus 2:9; James 4:7; 1 Peter 2:18; 3:1, 5, 22. God's people occasionally have had to disobey a human government when commanded to sin -- that is the exception. Exodus 1:17; Daniel 3:13-18; 6:10-24; Acts 4:18-20; 5:27-29; Hebrews 11:23.

[86] Ktsis, BDAG 573. Ktisis was often used in extrabiblical literature to refer to the act of creating a governmental body or founding a city. "Institution, establishment of authority" (Grudem, p. 119).

[87] Dia, BDAG 225, 2a.

[88] Hyperechō, BDAG 1033, 2.

[89] Grudem, p. 120.

[90] Hēgemōn, BDAG 433, 2.

[91] Agathopoieō, BDAG 3, 2.

[92] Romans 6:6-7, 14, 17-18, 20-23; John 8:31-36.

[93] Galatians 3:13; Revelation 1:5b.

[94] Galatians 5:1-14; Acts 13:39; Romans 6:23.

[95] Epikalymma, "a stratagem for concealing something, cover, veil" (BDAG 373).

[96] Karl Heinrich Rengstorf, doulos, TDNT 2:261-280.

[97] Phobeō, BDAG 1061, 2bα.

[98] Adelphotēs, BDAG 19, 1.

[99] Timaō, BDAG 1004, 2.

[100] Oiketēs, BDAG 694.

[101] Despotēs, BDAG 220, 1.

[102] Phobos, BDAG 1062, 2bβ.

[103] Skolios, BDAG 930, 2.

[104] Charis, BDAG 1080, 5.

[105] Syneidēsis, BDAG 968, 1.

[106] Hypopherō, BDAG 1042, 1.

[107] Hypomenō, BDAG 1039, 2.

[108] Hypogrammos, BDAG 1036.

[109] Ichnos, BDAG 485, 1.

[110] Loidoreō, BDAG 602.

[111] Antiloidoreō, BDAG 89.

[112] Apeileō, BDAG 100.

[113] Paradidōmi, BDAG 763, 2.

[114] Hymn: "Trust and Obey," words by John H. Sammis (1887).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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