Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 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. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:18-21
The young man sat in my office pouring out his heart to me. “I just can’t understand how God could let my grandmother suffer so. She was the most godly person I ever knew.” He told me that she had a hand-written Bible that she had copied herself. She had raised him and shown him the most love anyone had ever shown him.
She got very ill in her last years and suffered so terribly that he was traumatized by the ordeal he saw unfold before him. So severe was that trauma that when we first began to talk it was difficult for him to acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth really ever existed. Through much prayer and grace-filled conversation God brought him back to faith. I consider it one of the most significant spiritual wins of my ministry.
When we experience unfair treatment, or great suffering through no fault of our own, we can despair of God’s grace. We can be led to wonder, “Where is God in all this? Why has he turned his back on me?”
Peter urges those most likely to be unfairly treated to do a remarkable thing: he urges slaves to submit to their masters. This is a concept we find difficult to grasp in the first place. But he goes even farther: they are to submit to their masters whether they are good or evil. Then he relates the why: For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.
This is a radical application of the Christian faith. Casual and even committed followers of Jesus will gladly confess their sins, seek his grace, call upon him in prayer, praise him and worship him. Dedicated followers of Jesus will even seek to share the message of the gospel with others. We put those witnesses at the top of our list of godly examples of righteousness; there’s nothing more impressive than a dedicated Christian witness, evangelist, or missionary.
Peter, however, says that it is commendable when we suffer unjustly because we are conscious of God. He then says that Christ set such an example for us. This is not everyone’s calling. Some may be chosen for such a profound witness. But we all experience injustice of one sort or another. God calls us to look to Christ and seek his help in such times that when we do suffer in that way, we are experiencing the deepest possible fellowship with Jesus.