Subjection of Servants to Their Masters
1 Peter 2:18-25
Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the fraudulent.…

I. THE GENERAL NATURE OF THE SUBJECTION TO MASTERS. "Servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear." The word for "servants" here is more courteous than in Ephesians and Colossians. It is literally "domestics," and includes free servants and bondservants. From the strain of the exhortation it would seem that the latter are principally addressed. It belongs to the present constitution of things (and for ends of training) that some are in the position of requiring service, others are in the position of rendering service. It is proper that the will of the former should regulate the service, that the will of the latter should be subjected in the service. This is the Divine foundation on which mastership and servitude rest. The feeling proper to servants in the relation is fear. Paul uses stronger language when he says, "with fear and trembling" (Ephesians 6:5). Peter strengthens, too, but it is not by an additional substantive, but by an adjective, "with all fear." That cannot mean "all that fear can be," but rather" all that fear should be in the relation." There is fear in the sense of reverence to be shown towards the regulator of service (not diminishing or exaggerating what there is in that); and this will be accompanied by another fear, viz. anxious solicitude about coming up to all that is due in the service. There is a higher setting of the duty, which is not to be left out of view. There is fear in the sense of reverence to be shown towards him who (to our greater freedom and comfort in service) is over the earthly regulator of service; and this will be accompanied by another fearing, anxious solicitude about coming up to all the Divine requirements in the service. In this there is the condemnation of bad compliance, i.e. doing what is wrong because the master requires it. According to Roman jurists, such bad compliance was the duty of freedmen, the necessity of slaves. We can understand that Peter intended to guard against bad compliance when he does not state the duty of subjection absolutely, but with modification.

II. SUBJECTION EVEN TO MASTERS THAT ARE FROWARD. "Not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward." We cannot but admire the great sobriety that there is in apostolic teaching. There are masters that are good, i.e. amiable, and that are also gentle, i.e. showing their amiability in exacting nothing but what is reasonable. In the case of such masters there can be no question of the obligation of service. Unless the servant is ill-grained, the service is rendered freely and without any sense of burdensomeness. But what about masters that are froward, or awry, i.e. ill-dispositioned, and that show their ill disposition by making unreasonable demands of their servants, and (when they can do it with impunity) abusing them? Is there any obligation of service there? "Yes," say the apostles, with the sobriety characteristic of them, "the obligation remains, and remains the same.

III. CONSIDERATION DRAWN FROM THE PRAISEWORTHY CHARACTER OF SUBJECTION TO MASTERS THAT ARE FROWARD. For this is acceptable, if for conscience toward God a man endureth griefs, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye sin, and are buffeted for it, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God." It was the slave especially that suffered wrongfully. There was a great wrong in his being a slave, and there were many wrongs connected with his state of slavery. He was at the mercy of his owner; if he did not get justice, he had no redress. Was his position, then, unendurable? By no means; the apostle contrives even to throw a halo around it. He does so by bringing God into the question. If a man has the consciousness of God, i.e. of him as recognizing not only his rights of humanity but also his sonship in Christ; of him also as able to right all matters between him and his master, and to see to all fidelity receiving its reward at last; of him especially as appointing griefs for his earthly lot; - then he can endure those griefs, whatever they are. And if he thus encourages himself in endurance, then there is that which is acceptable. It is difficult to catch the precise shade of meaning. One way of it is "there is grace." But we must not run into the Roman Catholic error of supererogatory merit, which can be communicated to others. Another way of it is "there is loveliness." That readily passes into the meaning "there is that which, coming out into beauty, calls for praise." This meaning seems to be caught up in the following word, "glory." In enduring griefs from a bad master there is something like martyrdom. But let a man be on his guard here. If he commits a fault and is buffeted (receives a blow) for it, and takes this patiently, there is no halo attaching to that. It is when a man does well in the matter of service, and suffers for it, and then takes it patiently, that he has praise in the highest sphere (whatever men may think of it), viz. praise with God for conduct that rises into loveliness.


1. Their exemplary character.

(1) Reason for their being presented as an example. "For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps." Servants were called to endure suffering. When they were called to be Christians like others, they were called to the proper bearing of all hardships appointed for them. There was One whose example was to be studied by them. It will not be thought that Christ is unworthy of imitation. It may, however, be thought that he is too great for imitation - that he is only for admiration. The word translated "example" suggests a great picture left us in the life of Christ: how are we to copy it line for line? Christ is also put before us here as Leader of the way: how are we to follow him step for step? The solution of this is that his example is singularly imitable, that he is a Leader whom it is singularly easy to follow. There is a vulgar greatness which is full of self-importance, which is imprisoned in private interests, which multiplies distinctions. But true greatness is forgetful of self, covets nothing which it cannot communicate, goes down in hope of raising up. We are told here that Christ suffered as well as the slaves. We are told also that he suffered for the slaves (the meaning of which is afterwards brought out). He thus, on the one hand, brought excellence near to us; we do not think of his teaching theoretically as from a chair of learning. On the other hand, by the great advantage conferred on us, he obtained the right to be our Example, power over us to make us follow him.

(2) The innocence of Christ in his sufferings. "Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." Did slaves suffer innocently? Christ suffered innocently too. It is to be noted that the idea of sinlessness entered into the Old Testament conception of the Messiah. The language here, with a slight exception, is taken from the Septuagint Version of Isaiah 53:9, "He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth." The Servant of God (in this a pattern to servants) did no sin, i.e. brought no suffering upon himself by his own faults. This sinlessness extended to faultlessness in speech, especially to freedom from a common fault in slaves connected with the frequent use of force. Guile was not found in his mouth, i.e. there never passed from him, even inadvertently, an expression that was fitted to convey a false impression (with the escaping of suffering or anything else as his end). For completeness we must give this sinlessness a positive aspect, He did always what the truth required in act, and spoke always what the truth required in speech. What we have here in a general statement is given in detail in the portraiture of Christ in the Gospels. It is interesting to notice the impression produced on the apostles by what they saw. "The idea of sinlessness was by no means so common an idea that all that was necessary to lead men like the apostles to apply it to Christ was an accident or some insufficient occasion. Quite the contrary: this idea was never thought of, nor had it ever entered into the heart of man to conceive it, until it appeared, not as an idea merely, but as a reality, in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Even now to believe in the realizing of the idea of sinlessness in an individual is not so very easy a thing for human nature in its present state. Men are not in general much addicted to the weakness of believing too easily in the existence of purity of heart and true greatness; it is a fact that they are only too prone to doubt them when they really exist. It appears as something marvelous and extraordinary in the extreme, that once, and only once, in the world's history (and that, too, in a time of great moral degradation) the impression could be produced upon the minds of a number of men, that a character was unfolding itself before their very eyes, of perfect purity and sinless holiness, and that the consequence of its manifestation was to produce in them a faith for which they lived and in which they died. But once does this fact occur in the history of mankind" (Ullmann).

(3) The patience of Christ in his sufferings. "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously." There is here an echo of Isaiah 53:7, "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth." When he was reviled, i.e. was injured in what was said against him, he reviled not again; i.e. did not resent the injury by any injurious word in return. When he suffered, i.e. was injured in what was done to him, he threatened not; i.e. though conscious of power, he was not provoked by the injury to exercise his power, or even to threaten the exercise of it, against his enemies. The words have special but not exclusive reference to the judgment-scene followed by the crucifixion-scene. When reviled as a sabbath-breaker, he calmly answered that his Father worked on the sabbath day as well as himself. When reviled as casting out devils by the prince of the devils, he met the wicked suggestion by calmly showing how Satan could not cast out Satan. When reviled as a blasphemer, he simply vindicated himself by pointing to his works. When he was brought before the Sanhedrin on charges which were clearly unfounded and prompted by malice, he was silent under them; and it was only when he was appealed to by oath that he lifted his eyes to his judges, and said, "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." When, again, he was brought before Pilate on a charge of sedition which his judge knew to be unfounded and malicious, he maintained the same silent demeanor; and it was only when he was appealed to that he fearlessly asserted his claim of Kingship. He silently submitted to the rudest mockings, to the most cruel scourgings. He silently carried his cross, and when, nailed to it, he looked round on his murderers, the prayer which rose to his lips was, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." He was able to endure all this unjust treatment without being hurried into a wrong, word, without any disturbing influence on his mind, because he committed himself to him that judgeth righteously, i.e. in the consciousness of his rectitude he left himself and all his interests to him whose judgment was different from and of a higher order than the judgment of the Sanhedrin and the judgment of the Roman governor. And what a powerful argument (how touching, too, to be brought in for the sake of the slaves!) to induce them to bear patiently all their wrongs which, however great, were small in comparison with the wrongs which were heaped on Christ!

2. Their vicarious character.

(1) Punishment for our sins. "Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree." The language is still suggested by Isaiah 53. "Tree" is the word which Peter uses in his sermons for the cross. The simple statement here is that Christ carried the burden of sins. An expansion of it is that he carried the burden of sins to whom they did not belong. A further expansion of it is that he carried the burden of our sins in his body, i.e. on the ground of human nature in its completeness (body as well as soul). The statement fully expanded is that he carried the burden of our sins in his body on to the tree, i.e. to the place where death was inflicted on him for them. He carried the burden of the Divine displeasure against our sins so as to carry them away into forgetfulness.

(2) Salvation intended by them. "That we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness." This death unto sins is death not merely unto their condemnation, but unto their power. The life unto righteousness is life not merely in the possession of the favor of God, but in the possession of power to do the will of God. In the state in which Christ found us it was natural for us to seek to revenge ourselves for injuries. In the state which Christ intends for us it becomes natural for us to be placable, to be silent under injuries, and to seek by our gentleness to overcome the evil that is manifested against us. And that is part, only part, of the Divine life which Christ died to secure for us.

(3) Salvation experienced through them.

(a) Restoration to health. "By whose stripes ye were healed." The language is from Isaiah 53:5. Having changed to "we" in the previous parts of this verse, he now returns to "ye." It is implied that in their former state they were sick. "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in it; but wounds and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment." There was an irregular action of their powers, with languor, feverishness, loss of appetite, and other distressing symptoms. But the time came when healing was experienced, giving the powers their regular action and bringing back tone, endurance, keenness, and all healthful symptoms. The remarkable thing is that the healing is ascribed to the Savior's stripes. The word is literally weal (in the singular number), i.e. the mark of a stripe. It is a word with which slaves were familiar, as they were also with buffeting formerly used (to which, as well as to stripes, Christ was subjected). Weal is taken here as the symbol of Christ's atoning death; and the slaves are told, in a way that was fitted to go home to them in the remembrance of bitter experiences, that from the mark of the lash on our Lord healing had gone forth on them.

(b) Return to the fold. "For ye were going astray like sheep; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." The language is based on Isaiah 53:6, "All we like sheep have gone astray," the metaphor being abruptly changed, as in Isaiah. In their former state they were like sheep without any one to care for them, or keep his eye on them. Sheep, left to themselves, wander from the fold. So we, left to ourselves, wander from God who is our Home, our Fold, where we have shelter and abundance. They were now in the happy condition of having a Shepherd and Bishop for their souls. The words refer to Christ. The first points rather to the actual bestowal of care; the second points rather to observation that leads to care being bestowed. Christ leads us to rich thoughts; and he does not lead us to rich thoughts without keenly observing our condition. If we would have this Shepherd and Bishop for our souls, we must, like those whom Peter addresses, be turned toward him. The words would seem to indicate the action that is needed on our part. We have nothing to do but to turn ourselves toward Christ. We are to turn ourselves from our sins which have been atoned for, and no longer constitute a hindrance; and we are to turn ourselves toward Christ to have his affection in the form of care and oversight, with which our souls can lack nothing. - R.F.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

WEB: Servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the wicked.

Sinless and Guileless
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