Having identified his readers as elect sojourners, temporary dwellers here on earth while traveling on their way to their heavenly home, Peter begins a series of applications as to how to impact the culture around them by their conduct and behavior. Last time we saw that through their godly conduct and submission to civil authorities, they would silence those who falsely accused them of being evildoers and would predispose some to believe in Christ through their godly life and witness (2:11-17).
In verses 18-20, Peter addresses another human authority structure where Christians have a chance to demonstrate the power of Christ in their lives, that of a servant-master relationship.
Some of these household servants (domestic workers) were treated unjustly. They were physically and verbally abused for no fault of their own. Peter, in keeping with our Lord’s teaching on loving one’s enemies (Luke 6:27-29), exhorts them to submit to their unjust masters and to show them respect. Now living in a democratic society with labor laws to protect workers against unjust and unfair treatment, we have a hard time relating to this situation, and we can be thankful for that; but sadly, that is not the case for many of our brethren who live in countries where such laws are either non-existent or are bent to favor those of the majority religion.
Peter then goes on to set before the believers the ultimate experience of unjust suffering, that of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was tried at the judgment seat of both Pilate and Herod, and neither could find any fault in Him that was worthy of death. Yet, He was unjustly beaten, mocked, and condemned to die as a criminal; how did Jesus respond to all of this? It tells us in Isaiah 53:7: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” Not only did He not seek physical revenge, he did not allow hatred to form in His heart against those who mistreated him. Instead of reviling and cursing, he blessed by asking God to forgive them, and committed His soul to Him who judges righteously. This He did, leaving us an example that we might follow in His steps; Christ, as the shepherd and overseer of our souls, has not only gone before us, but keeps us and comforts us in the midst of our afflictions.