Suffering Under Injustice - Bible Study

by Tom Bulick and Stephanie Thomas on

Bible Studies 1 document
1 Peter 2:18–25

  • Suffering Under Injustice | The Scrolls | March 24, 2024

    Copyright Central Bible Church

The Scrolls is a weekly Bible study written by pastors and other leaders at Central Bible Church, based on that week’s sermon topic. Use The Scrolls as a personal Bible study tool, for family devotions, and for small group discussions. You can read part of it below. The downloadable PDF also includes discussion questions, more in-depth commentary, end notes, and a kids’ page designed for families to study the topic together. This lesson goes with the sermon "Suffering Under Injustice."

In 1 Peter 2:18 without using the word, the apostle Peter instructs his readers, who are slaves, that is, household servants, to act kindly toward their masters, “not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (v. 18). As one commentator writes: “It goes without saying that it is easy to work for masters who are kind, beneficent, and generous, but it is hard to have the same disposition to those who are nasty, irascible, and capricious” (Scot McKnight, The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Peter, 164). In order to understand what Peter means, let alone to do what he says, we need to understand what slavery was like in a first-century Roman world, for it was nothing like the New World slavery institutionalized in the United States (see S. S. Bartchy, “Slavery (Greco-Roman),” ABD, 6:65-73). For example: race played no role in first-century slavery; education was greatly encouraged (some slaves being better educated than their masters); slaves could own property and even have other slaves; their religious and cultural traditions were the same as those of free persons; and the majority of urban and domestic slaves could legitimately anticipate being emancipated by age 30.

The following description of first-century slavery is worth quoting: “Slavery was a diverse institution in the ancient world, altering itself from one culture to another. Yet the Roman and Greek world anchored their economic system in this institution. Some have estimated that one-third of the population in urban areas was slave population. In both worlds, especially the Roman world, slavery was not usually a permanent condition of life. Rather, it was a temporary condition on the path toward freedom. Many ancient people voluntarily chose to be slave of a Roman citizen so that, upon being granted manumission as a result either of good behavior or adequate savings, they could become full Roman citizens. In fact, it is entirely possible that one reason Peter (and Paul) urged Christian slaves to be submissive and obedient was that by living obediently, they could be set free (if the slaves even wanted freedom; cf. 1 Cor. 7:21).

“To be a slave was not to be assigned to a specific, especially low-class, station in life. Slaves had the status and power that was connected with their masters; if their master was powerful, they indirectly inherited that power too. Thus, it was desirable at times to be a slave. While most slaves of the New Testament documents were born that way (because their mothers were slaves), many chose slavery over the vagabond existence of finding odd jobs. The tasks characterizing slavery were immensely diverse, and we must avoid the notion that all slaves were manual labor servants. ‘Doctors, teachers, writers, accountants, agents, bailiffs, overseers, secretaries, and sea-captains’ all comprised the slave population.

“If it is true that slavery was the central labor force of the Roman economy, it follows that if Christians became known for opposing the institution, the Roman authorities would immediately, and perhaps even irreparably, damage the movement. Put differently, it was important to the survival of Christianity for its slaves to be good slaves. Since this was the case, one motive for Peter’s exhortation would have been the desire to survive as a movement” (McKnight, 166-67).

All this lends itself to the inference that while slavery as practiced in the New World was immoral in itself, slavery as it was practiced in the Roman world was not necessarily so. Given the differences between the institution of slavery in the ancient world and the institution of slavery in the modern world, as well as the fact that the former doesn’t exist in the modern world, how are Peter’s instructions to be applied today? While significant differences between then and now remain, “it is customary to find in this passage ‘advice for the employed’. . . Whatever we think of the ancient institution of slavery, slaves were in some kind of employment relationship with their master. This was how they ‘made a living’” (McKnight, 172-73).

Central Message of the Text: 

Follow Jesus’ example of suffering for doing good by being workers willing to accept unfair workplace practices when without recourse, for doing so is commendable before God. 

Family Talk:

When I was young, my older brother would mess with me to the point where I would erupt like Mt. Vesuvius. He would just laugh and tease me even more, saying I looked like the cartoon Tasmanian Devil coming at him with tornado arms. That would make me even more angry and frustrated and I would add crying to the yelling and swinging. He would laugh even harder until eventually my mom would bust up the fight. And who do you think got in trouble? Yep, me. Even though he provoked me and he started the fight nearly every single time, I was punished because of my reaction. It was the worst injustice for a kid! Isn’t it true that living with siblings is perfect practice for living in the real world? I had to learn how to take a pause and not only handle my anger appropriately, but also temper my reaction to my brother and the unjust punishment that ensued. Can you imagine what would have happened if I carried that volatile anger into the workplace or adult relationships? That’s why we do the hard work now with our kids. They’re in our home and under our careful instruction, learning how to handle life when they’re provoked, how to deal with the injustices that come their way and how to have a proper respect for authority. How are you teaching your kids to turn the other cheek? How are you teaching them to accept and submit to authority? How are you educating your kids in the appropriate time and place to fight for injustice? We’re praying for you!