1 Peter 2:19-25
This book includes a number of references to trials, harsh treatment, and suffering that recipients of this letter are experiencing (1:6-7; 2:18-20; 3:13-17; 4:1-4, 12-19; 5:10). Peter encourages them with a vision of “an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that doesn’t fade away, reserved in Heaven for you” (1:4)—and calls them to live holy lives (1:15; 2:9). He holds up the prospect of rewards that they will experience in the future (1:8; 4:13ff)—and encourages them to stand fast in their faith in the midst of adversity.
He says that, as “children of obedience,” Christians must not allow their former lusts to rule their lives, but instead must pattern their lives after God’s holiness: “Just as he who called you is holy, you yourselves also be holy in all of your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy; for I am holy'” (1:15-16; quoting Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7; 20:26).
As part of his emphasis on personal holiness, Peter instructs them with regard to their relationships with other people—”Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Honor the king” (2:17). Those instructions continue through 3:12, where he tells wives how to relate to their husbands (3:1-6) and husbands how to relate to their wives (3:7)—as well as giving more general instruction to “be like-minded, compassionate,” etc. (3:8-12).
Instructions of this sort are called household codes. Other examples of such codes are found at Ephesians 5:21-6:9; Colossians 3:18-4:1; 1 Timothy 5:1-6:2; Titus 2:1-10). These codes most likely had their roots in Greek philosophy, which Christian authors adapted to fit their situation and theology.
The immediate context for our text is 2:18, where Peter says, “Servants (Greek: oiketes), be in subjection to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the wicked.”
Some translations (including the NRSV) translate oiketes as slaves, but that is unfortunate for two reasons:
• The word slave has such negative connotations that most people today are likely to respond with anger and revulsion—and to disregard anything we say after we say slaves.
• The word oiketes refers to a household servant (oikos is the Greek word for house). This word is also found at Luke 16:13; Acts 10:7 and Romans 14:4. As a servant, the oiketes would be subject to orders and discipline—and would almost certainly not have the right to quit and look for a different job. However, the Greek word for slave is doulos. Being an oiketes (household servant) would clearly be better than being a doulos (slave). The apostles often referred to themselves as douloi (slaves) of Christ (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1)—by which they meant that they had given themselves completely to Christ, and accepted his authority over every dimension of their lives.
Peter also calls these Christians to submit to kings and governors, “that by well-doing you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (2:15). Paul also called Christians to subject themselves to civil authorities (Romans 13:1).
1 PETER 2:19-20. IT IS COMMENDABLE IF SOMEONE ENDURES PAIN
19 For it is commendable if someone endures pain, suffering unjustly, because of conscience toward God. 20 For what glory is it if, when you sin, you patiently endure beating? But if, when you do well, you patiently endure suffering, this is commendable with God.
“For it is commendable (Greek: charis—grace) if someone endures pain (Greek: lupes—grief or sorrow), suffering unjustly, because of conscience toward God“ (v. 19). Peter tells these Christians that it is commendable to endure unjust suffering “because of conscience toward God.” A more literal translation would be, “For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly.” The idea is that God will confer grace on those who suffer willingly for God’s sake.
Jesus stated this principle on two occasions:
• “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever will lose his life for my sake and the sake of the Good News will save it” (Mark 8:35).
• “Most certainly I tell you, there is no one who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or land, for my sake, and for the sake of the Good News, but he will receive one hundred times more now in this time, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land, with persecutions; and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).
Note the phrase “for my sake and the sake of the Good News” in both of these statements. The principle is that God will honor those who willingly make sacrifices for God’s sake. People so honored can anticipate “an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that doesn’t fade away, reserved in Heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).
“For what glory is it if, when you sin, you patiently endure beating? But if, when you do well, you patiently endure suffering, this is commendable (Greek: charis) with God“ (v. 20). No reward awaits those who receive punishment for their sins. They have earned their punishment. The blessing of God’s charis (grace) is reserved for those who patiently endure undeserved punishment.
1 PETER 2:21-24. CHRIST ALSO SUFFERED FOR US
21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps, 22 who did not sin, “neither was deceit found in his mouth.” 23 Who, when he was cursed, didn’t curse back. When he suffered, didn’t threaten, but committed himself to him who judges righteously; 24 who his own self bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live to righteousness; by whose stripes you were healed.
“For to this you were called” (Greek: kaleo) (v. 21a). The word “called” (kaleo) is plural in this verse, so Peter is telling these Christians that, as a community of faith as well as individuals, they have been called—called by God—to follow Christ’s example in their suffering.
From the beginning, God called his people to be holy, because the God whom they serve is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7; 20:26; see 1 Peter 1:15-16).
This sort of call is “a holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9)—holy in the sense that such a call sets us apart for God’s purposes—holy in the sense that God calls us to sinless and upright lives—lives worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 2:13-14).
We are called by God’s grace (Galatians 1:15) for salvation—that we might obtain “the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).
“because Christ also suffered for us“ (v. 21b). We know well the suffering that Christ suffered on the cross for us (Matthew 27:32ff; Mark 9:12; 15:21ff; Luke 23:26ff; John 19:16ff; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Romans 5:6; 8:34; 14:9, 15), but he suffered for us in other ways as well. His suffering began when he “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, (and was) made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). He not only suffered the pain associated with the birth process, but lived life as a man with a physical body—suffering hunger and thirst in his desert temptation (Matthew 4:1ff)—enduring the physical discomforts of life in a primitive world—and sweating drops of blood on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:44).
But Christ’s suffering wasn’t random or masochistic. It had a purpose. Christ suffered “for us”—on our behalf—in our place. The sin was ours, so the suffering should have been ours. But, in keeping with the sacrificial code prescribed by Torah law, Jesus became “the Lamb who has been killed” (Revelation 5:12)—”the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)—”Christ, our Passover, …sacrificed in our place” (1 Corinthians 5:7)—the “faultless and pure lamb” whose precious blood redeemed us (1 Peter 1:18-19).
“leaving you an example (Greek: hupogrammos), that you should follow his steps“ (v. 21c). The word hupogrammos combines hupo (under, beneath) with grammos (to write). Plato used this word to speak of an elementary school teacher drawing lines for children to emulate. This word is used to mean a copy, a pattern, or an example.
Christ came not only to redeem us, but also to set an example—to show us how to live. Therefore, like the child in school, we need to do our best to emulate our teacher—Christ.
This brings to mind Paul’s instruction to the Philippian Christians, “Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7).
I can remember my painful inadequacy as an elementary student trying to make my lines look like the perfect lines that were printed in my copybook. My lines and circles looked amateurish—childish—by comparison. I found it painful to fail so badly and so regularly.
My experience as a Christian is like that. Try as I might, I fail every day to emulate Christ. However, my hope is founded on the promise that, though my “sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). In other words, it isn’t my perfection, but Christ’s, that establishes my standing with God.
“who did not sin“ (v. 22a). The sinlessness of Jesus was key to his redemptive ministry (Hebrews 4:15). Just as innocent lambs were sacrificed in behalf of the Israelites to atone for their sins (Leviticus 4:20; Ezekiel 45:17), so also the sinless Jesus died on the cross to effect the salvation of the world (John 3:16).
Jesus was the perfect Lamb of God (see the comments on v. 21b above). The Apostle Paul wrote extensively on the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice in our behalf. He said:
• We have been “justified freely by (God’s) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:24-25a).
• “God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we will be saved from God’s wrath through him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we will be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:8-11).
• Sin no longer has dominion over us, because we “are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
“neither was deceit found in his mouth“ (v. 22b). Peter quotes from Isaiah 53:9, which talked about the suffering servant. In its original context, this reaffirmed the servant’s innocence and the perversion of justice that led to his death. This verse applies that suffering servant verse to Jesus.
“Who, when he was cursed, didn’t curse back. When he suffered, didn’t threaten“ (v. 23a). This is an allusion to Isaiah 53:7, which says, “He was oppressed, yet when he was afflicted he didn’t open his mouth. As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is mute, so he didn’t open his mouth.”
When Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered only, “So you say.” When accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. When Pilate said, “Don’t you hear how many things they testify against you?” Jesus “gave him no answer, not even one word, so that the governor marveled greatly” (Matthew 27:11-14; see also Mark 14:61; 15:5; Luke 23:9).
This was in keeping with Jesus instruction to his disciples, “But I tell you, don’t resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39)—and “But I tell you who hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28)—and “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil” (Luke 6:35)
On the cross, Jesus put this principle into action, praying, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Other New Testament scriptures addressing this issue include the following:
• “Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, ‘Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.’ Therefore, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21)
• “See that no one returns evil for evil to anyone, but always follow after that which is good, for one another, and for all” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
• “You have condemned, you have murdered the righteous one. He doesn’t resist you” (James 5:6).
“but committed himself to him who judges righteously“ (v. 23b). Instead of protesting the unrighteous judgment imposed on him by wicked men, Jesus entrusted himself to the judgment of the Father, who sees all, knows all, and can be depended on to judge righteously.
“who his own self bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live to righteousness; by whose stripes you were healed“ (v. 24). This includes allusions to several suffering servant passages in Isaiah:
• “He has borne our sickness” (Isaiah 53:4).
• “By his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
• “He will bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11).
• “He bore the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:12).
Peter’s point is that it is that, by virtue of Jesus’ death on the cross, it has become possible for us to die to sins and “live to righteousness.”
1 PETER 2:25. YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE SHEPHERD
25 For you were going astray like sheep; but now have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
“For you were going astray like sheep“ (v. 25a). This is an allusion to Isaiah 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray. Everyone has turned to his own way; and Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” In its original context, the Israelites were the strayed sheep. Now Peter applies the metaphor to all of us. We are all sinners. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).
“but now have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer (Greek: episkopos) of your souls“ (v. 25b). Sheep were not very smart and, absent good leadership, were inclined to wander away on their own. They were defenseless against predators such as lions or bears. They needed a shepherd to lead them to water and pasture—and to guard them against a host of dangers.
Because of the care that shepherds took with their sheep, they became a metaphor for other leaders (Psalm 78:71; Isaiah 44:28), including God (Psalm 23; Psalm 78:52; 80:1).
In the New Testament, Jesus referred to himself as “the good shepherd (who) lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:2). The author of the book of Hebrews referred to Jesus as “the great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). Now Peter refers to Jesus as “the Shepherd and Overseer (episkopos) of your souls.”
In public life, an episkopos would be someone entrusted with oversight of public works or cities. The church adopted this word for those officials (bishops and elders) having oversight responsibilities for the church.
The Greek word episkopos is usually translated as bishop—although in Acts 20, while addressing elders (presbyterous, v. 17), Paul says, “Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (episkopos). Later, Paul outlined the qualifications for an episkopos(1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:7-9). In the New Testament church, there wasn’t a clear distinction between elders (presbyterous) and bishops (episkopos).
But, before there were elders or bishops, there was Jesus—the great shepherd—the all-seeing overseer—the ultimate guardian of our souls.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan