Submission to Employers

Text: I Peter 2:18-25

Study Questions:

  1. Are we only asked to submit to employers we enjoy working for?
  2. Why does God find it favorable when we submit to unjust employers?
  3. What if we are being treated poorly because we did something wrong?
  4. For what purpose were we called?
  5. What wrong did Jesus do?
  6. Did Jesus lash out at his persecutors?
  7. Why was it necessary for Jesus to suffer and die on the cross?

Submission to Masters - I Peter 2:18-20

During biblical times, people were self-employed, contract laborers, or servants obligated to long-term service. A contract laborer is seen in the parable of the field hands, who were hired to harvest grapes (Matthew 20:1-16). Servitude or slavery was generally entered through some obligation: a person might have incurred too much debt and had to sell his services to meet his obligation, he might have been on the wrong side of a battle and was captured, he might be learning a trade as an apprentice, or he might be earning something that he could not normally afford, such as Jacob's fourteen years of service to Laban for the right to marry Rachel (Genesis 29:15-30). The length of service lasted until the obligation was fulfilled. It could last a few years or could be a lifetime of service.

Most of the Bible's comments on employment focuses on servants or slaves. Outside of self-employment, it was the most common form of labor; and it was the main form of labor that kept the employer (the master) tied to his employees (servants). A master had to supply his servants with the basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter. Servants became a part of the master's household. Now, as you might suspect, when men are involved there were a wide variety of masters; some took good care of their servants, but many did not.

In I Peter 2:18, the word for servant is oikeios in Greek. It refers to someone employed in the operation and care of a house (a domestic) and generally lives in the same home as the master. A household servant typically had a closer relationship with the master than a regular servant (doulos).
While the circumstances of employment are not exactly the same today, we still can learn from the instructions given. We tend to favor contract employees -- people who are paid in return for service. Our contracts are often open-ended, allowing an employee to work for a company as long the employer and the employee desire to continue the relationship. In this, we have it much easier than the servant. A servant was stuck with his master until his obligation was fulfilled. We don't have to stay with an employer we don't like. We always have the option to walk out on a bad boss.

Masters / Bosses / Employers

"Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven" (Colossians 4:1). Those in charge are to treat those in their care justly and fairly. As you would like God to treat you, so should you treat those under you. "Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth" (James 5:4). Those hired deserve their pay. When bosses mistreat their employees, such as not paying what is owed, God promises to hold the masters accountable. "And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness ... against those who exploit wage earners" (Malachi 3:5). Hence, God required masters under the Old Law to pay their employees in a timely manner. "The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning" (Leviticus 19:13).

In addition, masters are not allowed to threaten their servants. "And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him" (Ephesians 6:9). Again the basic principle remains: as a master treats those under him, so will God treat the master. But unlike human masters, God will always be just. He does not give special treatment to masters over their slaves.

Servants / Slaves / Employees

"Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality" (Colossians 3:22-25). A similar principle is applied to the servant that was applied to the master. A servant is to work for his master just as if he was working for God directly. Since God is all-knowing, a Christian worker will give honest labor throughout the day -- not just when he knows the boss is looking. They are not seeking favor from their bosses, such as getting in good with the boss so as to get a promotion. Instead, they give full effort because they are working for God -- knowing that this service will likely please earthly bosses as well. A Christian's effort is to be sincerely given.

"Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free" (Ephesians 6:5-8). How many employees truly respect their bosses? Yet, most of us choose our bosses in a limited fashion; at least, if you don't like a boss, you always have the choice of walking out the door. But in a society where few could choose their masters, Paul tells servants to treat their bosses with respect.

Respect is especially due when your boss is also a Christian. "Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed. And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. Teach and exhort these things" (I Timothy 6:1-2). Why does Paul give extra emphasis to giving respect to a Christian master? Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt. Because a person knows his boss both inside and outside the workplace, he treats his master with too much familiarity and not enough honor.

"Exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things" (Titus 2:9-10). Here we find details of how an employee should treat his employer. An employee should be striving to please his boss. Talking back and stealing behind the boss's back show a lack of respect and a lack of ethics.

Now, in case you think that these rules only apply to good bosses: "Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps" ( I Peter 2:18-21). Respect (or as it is sometimes translated "fear") is even given to bad bosses. The word “harsh” translates the Greek word skoliois, which refers to someone who is crooked, perverse, wicked, or unjust.
Putting up with bad bosses is something that God takes note of and He commends the attitude.

“Because of conscience toward God” means that we deal with hardships because of our respect for God and a desire to please Him. Thus, one way to deal with an unjust boss is to focus on the fact that we are in this world to serve God. If this is what God wants me to handle, then this is what I will deal with.

Peter urges us to look to Christ as our example. Christ did not retaliate when he was mistreated and neither should we strike back even when we are being badly used. Punishment is expected when a person does wrong. Even if he deals with the punishment quietly, it isn’t something exceptional. But when a person is punished unjustly and he takes it quietly and in a dignified manner, this is noteworthy because most people would not act that way. In particular, God takes note and commends those who do this.

Peter was writing to people who usually didn't have a choice in their masters. At least we can leave when we encounter poor working conditions. Yet it still behooves us to be polite and respectful to those who gave us employment.

For discussion:

  1. Should a Christian strike?
  2. If you are a salaried employee and your boss is demanding that you work extra hours without additional pay, what should you do?

Jesus, Our Example - I Peter 2:21-25

The world is full of bullies. There will always be people who prey on the weak and those who are different. "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12). However, Jesus isn’t asking us to love the worldliness in people. "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-19). Rather we are told, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (I John 2:15).

It is not our job to make people like us. We will always find that some people will like us and others won't. Just make sure the reason is that we are a follower of Christ. "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps" (I Peter 2:21). When we became Christians, we were told that life would not always be good (Matthew 5:10-12; I Thessalonians 3:4). Our Lord suffered for us, so it is a small matter if we must endure some suffering as well (Acts 5:40-41). In Christ’s sufferings, he left us a sample to copy, as in what a drawing master gives to his students.

As an example of unjust treatment, Jesus stands out. He committed no sin nor did he deceive anyone with his words, yet he was beaten and crucified. While we are not sinless, the point is that if we suffer cruelty at work, it should not be because we deserved punishment for the sins we had committed. Though Christ was treated unjustly, he did not return like for like. Instead, Jesus left justice in the hands of God (Psalms 37:5-6).

Jesus went through all of this so that we might be able to change be healed of the wounds we inflicted on ourselves by our own sins. The implication is that we should behave like our Savior because we owe him so much.

God teaches us to treat all people, especially our enemies, with kindness and respect. "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:18-21). You don't have to particularly like a person to be nice to them. That is what makes Christians different from the rest of the world. They are only nice to people who treat them well. "But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:32-36).

What should come across is that you love people. You might not like what they do. You might oppose what they stand for. But no one should doubt that you have the best interests of other people always in your heart.

For discussion:

  1. Does I Peter 2:24 mean that Jesus became sinful?
  2. Compare I Peter 2:21-25 with Isaiah 53:1-12. How many quotes or allusions to Isaiah 53 does Peter make in this passage?
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