One of my first jobs outside of the family farm was laboring for a landscape contractor. It was a summer job between my Junior and Senior year of High School. Someone warned me that the boss could be difficult but that it was a good job. I would call it both enjoyable and difficult. He never yelled or anything but could wield a biting tongue if something was done wrong or we moved too slow. I was often on the receiving end of his worries about speed and was given the nickname turtle. I honestly didn’t think I was slower than my co-workers, it’s just the way he saw it.
Welcome to the 13th installment of our Walk Through 1st Peter. We’re over half way through our journey and well into the meat of Peter’s instructions to his readers. Which also means that we’re delving deeply into things that touch our everyday lives which may challenge us. Peter writes, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.” (1 Peter 2:18–20, NASB95)
At first glance, it would seem that we could just run past these verses since they deal with the relationship between a slave and their master. But that would be a mistake. There is a wonderful truth in Peter’s words that reveal something marvelous about God’s grace.
Few if any of us would consider ourselves to be slaves or servants to a master. Our imaginations turn toward the degrading slavery of the southern United States before the end of the Civil War. These verses were even wrongly used by some to justify holding slaves and treating them poorly. Slavery in the time of Jesus and Peter is considered less harsh by most historians. But it was slavery nonetheless.
So what does this have to do with us? What if you consider your job, your foreman, and boss in the light of Peter’s words? Perhaps your current boss is kind, or perhaps unfair, or maybe even harsh. Let’s apply Peter’s instruction to our workday relationships.
Taking a Beating?
Our modern English translations soften several of the words in this verse. For instance “favor” is really “grace,” but more on that in a minute. The NASB calmly says “harshly treated.” The original language really means be beaten or punched with a fist. It’s the same word used to describe the beating Jesus received at the hands of his guards.
Today if a boss tries to physically punish a worker a lawsuit is sure to follow. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to make someone’s job, well, like hell. Harsh words, humiliation, stealing credit, unfair work hours, unjust criticism, and negative peer pressure can all be used to get their point across. No, it’s not fun, pleasant, or even productive but it does happen.
A Different Perspective
Peter’s point isn’t that we should treat our bosses a certain way to gain their favor or change the situation. Peter is instead looking at this through the lens of what makes God smile, what invites His favor and grace. This challenges our sensibilities. God knows that people are sinners and many don’t treat others with compassion, understanding, kindness, and patience. This applies to bosses as well.
God isn’t smiling because of our unjust treatment. (I must add, in case my boss reads this, that I’m not talking about him.) God is instead smiling because we acted like Jesus in the midst of a terrible situation. We endured the “beating” even though it was unjust. I’m not advocating for anyone to stay in an abusive situation. Peter’s point isn’t about how we are treated but our attitude in dealing with it. Does it make us angry, bitter, and wanting retribution? Do we passively respond by stealing time, critically murmuring to others, or develop a habit of rebellion?
Peter is explicit. Suffering for suffering sake doesn’t find God’s grace. But bearing up under unjust actions for doing right does light up God’s grace.
Work as Worship
So often we get a mixed-up idea of what it means to live for Christ. Timothy Keller quoting Dorthy Sayers wrote, “The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him to not be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.” (“Every Good Endeavor,” page 67)
We often don’t think of our employment as a place of worship. But it is. What we do with our hands and our minds can bless God. Paul wrote, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17, NASB95)
Our job is more than just a way to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. It is a place to honor God. It is a place to care about others. It is a way to bless God by representing Jesus to all we interact with, even if it is simply doing our job well.
Our attitudes towards our work, our bosses, our co-workers, and our customers really does matter to God. With the possible exception of a hermit living by growing their own food, I can’t think of a single job that doesn’t require some degree of interaction with others. Some of those interactions are going to be pleasant, some of them difficult, some of them may even be abusive. Remember, “when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.”