The Servant of Servants


In this passage, Peter continues his admonitions to Christians to live submissively within the sphere of their present calling. A call to submission does not mean, necessarily, that the sphere of labor or relationship is ideal, or even just, but that a Christian can live with godly integrity and can conduct himself as a follower of Christ under stress as well as in happy situations. This idea becomes especially poignant when we realize that the example given is that of Christ’s patience and submission in the most unjust action ever done in human history.


Peter’s address to servants first

Does Peter’s address to slaves give warrant to slavery as a human institution? Passages such as these were frequently used in defenses of slavery. The assumption was that the regulation of an existing institution was tantamount to God’s approval of the institution. He regulated slavery, and did not issue a mandate against it; the institution of slavery, therefore, is ordained of God and we must not insist on its abolition but only seek to remove any abuses from it. Though arguments on this issue from a biblical standpoint can be complicated at times, The general principle of Scripture is that personal freedom is superior to slavery, thus if a slave could obtain his freedom, he was urged to do so [1 Corinthians 7:21] The foundation of slavery, man-stealing, is strictly seen as a violation of divine law [1 Timothy 1:10], and Christian Masters were to be aware that they themselves had a Master in heaven and that they should consider their Christian slave as Brothers (Paul even states in the case of Onesimus and Philemon “No longer as a slave but as a beloved brother.”] Over and above the importance of this particular ethical issue, Peter is concerned that all Christians conduct themselves with integrity, personal purity, and loving deference in the inequities of a fallen world.

Unjust suffering borne patiently is pleasing to God—19, 20. Peter looks at the condition from the standpoint of the dominance of sin in all human relationships. In a pagan society the regard that a Master would have for his slave would normally involve a peculiarly egregious violation of the second Great commandment, “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.”

Disobedience to the commandments rules in the hearts of all men, so a Christian should not be surprised when the world, especially someone in a place of power, shows no regard for God or man.. Peter gives the admonition to slaves with the assumption that their true Christian character will shine most brilliantly when they are called on to respond to injustice. Responding positively to the benevolent and gentle does not draw upon the reserves of grace but is no more than natural men would do. If we love those that love us, how does that let grace prove itself. Even the unbelievers would be show respect to those that treated them with favor. [cf. Matthew 5:43-48]

In addition, patience under just suffering, a warranted punishment, is not a distinct demonstration of Christian character but an expected attitude thoroughly consistent with a deserved chastening. To receive punishment with resignation and patience when it is due for disobedience shows no extraordinary strength of character; to resist it and resent it, in fact, would only aggravate one’s guilt.

The manifestation of grace for the Christian slave occurs when he/she does all that the Master requires [which according to Christ should not raise the spirit of expectation in the slave for gratitude from the master (Luke 17:10)] and yet on pure whim or from arrogant malice receives rough, ill treatment from the Master. This shows that one, no matter what his earthly condition is or who is his earthly authority, views the Lord as his true master. Such submission is “a gracious thing,” that is a manifestation of grace. The Christian has focus on the love, mercy, faithfulness, and grace of God and desires to pleas Him, knowing that whatever we do we do “as unto the Lord.” We should implant in our hearts and test our actions each day by Paul’s question to the Galatians, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please Man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” [Galatians 1:10].

This gives rise to the servant theme of Isaiah 52:13ff – What more powerful impulse to bear with patience unjust suffering than the events that constitute our eternal freedom from a deserved wrath of unimaginable proportions. Seeing that the Christian’s status of favor with God was purchase by the death of the spotless, innocent Lamb of God, he concludes that to just such  treatment we are called. “For to this you have been called.”

Christ’s example of suffering from his immediate tormentors

This kind of suffering is our example [21]. If we look for some model as to how one that is pure-minded and desires to honor God with his conduct should respond when falsely ridiculed, dishonored, abused, maligned, and condemned we look to Christ. One of the immediate applications of our knowledge that Christ died for us is the willingness to receive false accusations and unjust treatment so that we might manifest the life of Christ in this world [cf. Matthew 5:11, 12; Luke 6:22, 23]. We are not left to guess in this matter; Christ has both instructed us and exemplified the God-honoring response.

His example is not for our redemption but as a demonstration of trust in the Father in the present providence as well as for the demonstration of future justice and glory. This is a pertinent application of the suffering of Christ, but is not the explanation of the reason that the just one suffered unjustly at the hands of men.

He did not retaliate in kind 22, 23. Peter invokes the language of Isaiah 53:7-9 to show the infinite patience of our sinless Lord under the malicious hands of sinful men. This was God in the hands of angry sinners, when as a matter of pure justice untempered by mercy we should have seen sinners in the hands of an angry God.

He had ultimate trust in the justice of God: He did this in two ways.

1. cf. Romans 12:17-21. The Christian lives in this life with the knowledge that he is not responsible for the avenging of wrongs done to him. God is the perfect judge of all wrongs and He will render to every man his just treatment in eternity for it is His alone to judge and to take vengeance.

2. Christ knew also, that his treatment was a part of the exact justice that his Father was inflicting on Him as the substitute and representative of the people that the Father had given Him in eternity past. Though it was not just as coming from the hands of men, this passion event was perfectly consistent with justice as it came from the eternal purpose and the immediate hand of his Father. He knew that at the level of eternity, his suffering would indeed accomplish justice and he would not suffer beyond what was exactly just for the redemption of the people. He would pay the utmost farthing, endure the wages of sin, and buy us with his precious blood.

3. Now Peter explains why this is so.

His substitutionary suffering is the ultimate example of injustice serving the cause of justice

  The Event

Bore our sins – the true cause of his suffering – Isaiah 53:4—Peter used an intensive pronoun to show that Christ Himself and no other shouldered the full burden of sin and He himself and no other paid the full price of our pardon. The idea of bearing our sins means that he undertook before God to absorb the debt of the full account of wrath due for the sins of those that he shouldered. He bore “our griefs” and carried “our sorrows” and was “wounded for our transgressions” and the chastisement that came upon him was designed to give us peace.

In his own body – This was a more severe trial to his body than the buffeting of the soldiers. One would be villainous ever to underestimate the exquisite amount of pain that racked the body of Christ when the inventive cruelty of malicious and power-hungry sinners trained to be brutal and merciless exhibited their sinister skill of torture on a body doomed soon to expire. It was truly unimaginable. The true pain, however, and that that brought forth the cry of the Lord’s mouth was the wrath of the sword of divine justice that pierced his heart in full payment for those sins that his elect had committed or ever will commit. The soldier’s spear entered a heart already burst open through the intense experience of infinite wrath. Body and soul suffered at the hand of God more than it could ever have suffered from the puny attempts of men to exhibit their wrath. It is nothing when placed beside the anger of the self-existent infinitely mighty, infinitely holy God. Look at Luke 12:4-7.

On the tree – everything preliminary, as trying and traumatic as it was nothing compared to the time on the cross in full contact with the unsparing retributive justice of God for our sins. We do not discern the various ways in which the sin of the world troubled the soul of Jesus. In Luke 12:49, 50 he said, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” In Gethsemane Jesus told his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even unto death” [Matthew 26:38]. His probing the possibility of the cup passing from him indicates that he was already in the foretaste of the deep anguish looming before him, soon to be accomplished on the “tree.” Jesus was in the throes of an increasing perception in his humanity of the depths and heights and width and breadth of the wrath of God, and it is not impossible that certain elements of divine wrath already were accompanying these physical and mental struggles leading up to the cross. But none can fathom the wrath unleashed during the hours of darkness on the cursed tree. “Well might the sun in darkness hide and shut his glories in, when Christ the mighty Maker died for man, the creature’s, sin.”

The purpose

That we might die to sin: consequences and corruption

Sin holds its sway over us in that we are under its curse of condemnation. Jesus’ death was indeed the “Death of death.” “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

One of the immediate punitive aspects of Adam’s sin was the corruption of soul that separated him from his primordial love of God and subjected him to the deceit of Satan, the passions of the flesh that continually waged war against his soul. Now Christ’s death has brought forgiveness and consequently the indwelling of the Spirit to mortify the flesh, break the bonds of Satanic deceit, and produce real holiness. “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” [Romans 6:22].

Live to righteousness:  by looking to Christ alone and by presenting your members as slaves to righteousness Romans 6:19

The righteousness we formerly perceived was a self-righteousness, which was no righteousness at all. Now the believer that has been brought to the cross of Christ does not look to his own righteousness but only to the righteousness of Christ. He has become righteousness to us [2 Corinthians 5:21 and 1 Corinthians 1:30]. Like Paul, now we yearn for and relish to be found only in the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ [Philippians 3:9].

Now that we know true righteousness, we seek to pursue it and as formerly we were slaves to sin, now we are slaves to righteousness (“having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

His wounds are effectual for this Isaiah 53:5 – “By his wounds, you have been healed”–This is, of course, literally true but also a literary irony. How can the wounds inflicted on one person heal another person? We are reminded of the great hymn by Charles Wesley, “Arise my soul arise,” in which Wesley poignantly observed,

Five bleeding wounds He bears; Received  on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

His wounds were not inadvertent, accidental, or without purpose, but, as Wesley reminds us, were effectual for the forgiveness of sins and constitute Christ as the great high priest who has offered the final sacrifice, once and for all rendering perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justly aroused wrath of God.

The restraining reason

Straying – Isaiah 53:6  Peter applies the prophecy of Isaiah 53 specifically to the Christians of the dispersion—sojourners,  aliens and pilgrims; Their pilgrimage now is purposeful and will end in a home that is glorious and incorruptible. Their pilgrimage formerly was an aimless and dangerous journey, going astray like sheep into a bottomless gulf of divine retribution, but now having been brought back.

Return – Their return was not of their own initiative or cunning or strength, but was initiated by the Good Shepherd who sought them and bought them with His redeeming blood.  John 10:1-18

As the Door of the sheepfold, none can enter except through Him. 7, 9

As Good shepherd He lays down His life; knows all the sheep, has purchased sheep that presently are in other folds and will without fail bring them also.


Our aim should be not to get even with the world, but to please God.

We must learn not to point to the sins of others, but to mourn for our own

Embrace and enjoy all that Christ is as our Shepherd

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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