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.…
These are words which betray their authorship. As we read our thoughts fly back to the upper room in Jerusalem, when, on the eve of His approaching sacrifice, during supper our Lord left His place at the head of the table where He was reclining, laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself, and, pouring water into a basin, proceeded to wash His disciples' feet, and wiped them with the towel wherewith He was girded. All of them wondered: one of them, Simon Peter, remonstrated with Him, but He would not be stayed in His strange work. And when He had resumed His place, He answered their questioning looks and told them what it meant. "I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you." Can we wonder that the scene, the words, were cut so indelibly into the memory of St. Peter that years after, just as though it all happened yesterday, he writes, "Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that ye should follow His steps." It is in its adaptation to the necessities of mankind the secret of the power of Christianity consists. This is why it lives on, ever fresh, ever vigorous. It is made for man as he is, apart from the mere outward circumstances and environment of his life. it is as suited for man today in his advanced civilisation as it was in the crude days of past centuries. For it gives man what his higher nature wants to have, it tells man what his spiritual being yearns to know, it meets in man the God-implanted instincts of his inner self, and therefore it claims for itself the admiration and reverence and love of all men. What, then, is the great need which is alluded to here? It is this. Man wants an ideal which shall call forth his enthusiasm and awaken his energies. He must have one. It is a necessity of his being, for every man is made up of two selves — there is the self of the man as he is, and there is the self of the man as he would be or ought to be. All through life this need makes itself felt. As soon as the child's mind begins to open and the little one commences to observe and think for itself, it all unconsciously looks round for an ideal; and if it has a loving mother, it finds what it wants in her. The child becomes the boy, and for a time, at any rate, his father is his ideal of strength and wisdom. The boy goes to school, and some schoolfellow skilled in games, or clever in learning, or born to rule his fellows becomes his ideal. The youth passes into manhood, but even in the full maturity of his developed power, even in the consciousness of his self-reliance, he seeks an ideal still, the embodiment of strength, or wisdom, or industry, or success. Ay, and not only is this ideal a deep necessity, but it is a real force. It moulds the character; it influences the actions; it shapes the life; it fills with enthusiasm. It is a great motive power. And the one man to be despaired of is the man without an ideal. See, then, how Christianity steps in and meets this yearning. It puts before man the only ideal which will satisfy his needs and meet his necessities. For it has to be borne in mind that if an ideal is to be a power it must possess certain characteristics and qualities.
1. An ideal must be definite. Many men mistake an idea for an ideal. And many lives are wasted because they are lived running after ideas which evade their grasp, and slip from their hold, and lack definiteness.
2. An ideal must be universal. This is what humanity craves. An ideal ought to be a bond of union. Alas! too often an ideal separates. Men choose each his own ideal and go their way, too busy to think of, or care for, or help their struggling comrades.
3. An ideal must be perfect. It is in this the danger of ideals consists. The man must have an ideal, and in his haste and lack of right judgment he oftentimes selects that which is unworthy. What is the consequence? It drags down the man.
4. And therefore an ideal, just in proportion as it possesses these qualifications, must be final. The restlessness within the man is calmed down and dies away before such an ideal.And in the Christian ideal all these requirements are found brought together. Is it not so?
1. The Christian ideal is definite. It stands out like a snow-capped mountain against the blue sky, its outline distinctly defined, each peak and crag, each chasm and precipice clearly mapped out. The life of the Christ has been lived before men. It is beautifully portrayed for us in the four Gospels. Each inspired artist has viewed it from a somewhat different aspect; each dwells on that part which comes most closely home to him; each puts the Christ before us as he best knew and understood Him. But there is no contradiction. Christ is a reality, not a fancy, a history, not a fiction, a substance, not a shadow. His deeds are familiar to us; His words are recorded for us. Now it is holiness — "Like as He which called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living." Now it is charity — "Walk in love, as Christ also loved you." Now it is patience — "Consider Him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against Himself, that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls." Now it is self-denial — "Let each one of us please his neighbour for that which is good, to edifying, for Christ pleased not Himself." Now it is Forgiveness — "Forbearing one another and forgiving each other, even as Christ forgave you."
2. The Christian's ideal is universal. It is not an esoteric religion, such as is the fashion of the day, whose chief recommendation is that it is unintelligible to the many, suited only to the select few, a small circle; it is for all, not for some. Christ is the ideal of all nations. But no people was ever so strong in this sense of nationality as the Jew. And Jesus was a Jew, born of a Jewish mother, brought up in a Jewish home; His environment all through His life was Jewish. Take the picture out of its Jewish frame, place it in Gentile surroundings, and though the frame is changed, the picture is just as attractive and soul inspiring. He is the ideal for all. He is the universal pattern as He is the universal Saviour. Christ is the ideal for all men. He lived the ordinary life of ordinary men and women. Christ is the ideal for all sorts and conditions of men. He was rich — yea, who so rich as He? He was poor, for though He was rich, for our sakes He became poor — yea, He had not where to lay His head. He was learned above the most intellectual of men, for He was the Wisdom of the Father, and they who heard Him were astonished, for He taught as one having authority. He was unlearned, for did they not say of Him, "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" Christ is the ideal for all men in all circumstances of life. We see Him in solitude, in the home, in society. Christ is the ideal for all ages. The child, the boy, the young man just entering life's arena, the matured in body and mind, all find in Him their ideal.
3. The Christian ideal is perfect. Where else shall we find an ideal that can pretend to lay claim to perfection? Not in the heroes of classic times. Not in Socrates, with his grave moral blemishes, Cicero, with his childish vanity, Seneca, with his miserable avarice and cowardice. We shall not find it among the great and good men of Old Testament times. He is perfect, for all virtues are concentrated in Him. He is perfect. This is the well nigh universal testimony of men. And therefore the Christian's ideal is final. We cannot sum it up better than in the pithy words of Renan, "After Jesus there is nothing more but to fructify and develop," or, as a great lay writer says of it, "It comprehends all future history. The moral efforts of all ages will be efforts to realise this character and make it actually as it is potentially universal. Humanity as it advances in excellence will only be approximating to the Christian type. Any divergence from that will not be progress, but debasement and corruption." How shall we explain this perfection? What does this character of the Christ mean? Let these men solve the difficulty if they can, who while they bear witness to His perfection refuse to accept His teaching, or else explain away His words. Our answer rings forth in the words of the Nicene Creed, "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God," or as we sing, "Perfect God and perfect man." This, then, is the Christian's ideal. It is the Christian's duty and privilege to follow and imitate Christ. It is hard, for no mere external resemblance will suffice. Christ is not a model, but an ideal, as has well been said. If He were a model it might be enough for us to copy its outline; but if He be an ideal we must imitate His spirit. It is hard, for the ideal is perfect, and therefore far above out of our reach. The higher we climb, the further the summit seems to be lost in the clouds of eternal perfection. It is hard, but it is not impossible. We can walk in the steps of our great example. How shall this likeness be ours? Little by little, through patience and perseverance. Little by little, for it is nothing less than the formation of character, and the formation of character is always slow and gradual. It is like the growth of a tree with its hard knots, its twisted branches, its smooth twigs. How gradually it has become what it is! How slow the process by which the twig of one year becomes the branch of next year! How shall this likeness be ours? Answer me another question and I will tell you. What is the lever power of the world? It is love, you say. And has love no place in the Christian's efforts to be like Christ? Surely, yes. Think again of that pale, anxious student. He is copying a lifeless face. From the picture there comes no power to inspirit him in his toil. But we are imitating a living, loving Christ. Gaze on His features. Remember He is our sacrifice as well as our ideal.
(C. J. Ridgeway, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.