Servants Submit to Receive a Reward (1 Peter 2:18-20)

Sermon by Rev. Daniel L. Sonnenberg | October 16, 2011


Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19  For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20  For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. (1 Pet. 2:18-20)


I read a passage in Ephesians similar to the one we’re considering today in my first year as a Christian while working on a dairy farm in NC, and it made a huge impact on me. The man I was working for was not a Christian and frankly he expected a lot for his nickel. For $168 a week, I was expected to work from 5am to 7:30pm most days with only half of every other weekend off. When I added up the hours after a few weeks, I discovered I was working over 80 hours a week, so I was getting paid about $2 per hour. He was not truly mean, but he was a very demanding boss with a fairly short temper, and I found myself becoming angry or frustrated with him pretty often.  I experienced a similar situation last year when I worked for a local insurance agency.

Many of you have experienced difficult employers, business owners, bosses, supervisors, teachers, professors or coaches in your day. Some of you perhaps have one or more right now.  They can drive you to tears or anger or anxiety because they are unreasonable, unfair, harsh or even cruel at times – or maybe most of the time. Many of them are unbelievers, but some are believers who are not yet fully conformed to the image of Christ. Often they don’t share the same values as you do. Many don’t consider spending time off with family or practicing one’s faith very important. They may even ridicule you for doing so, treating you as though you are weak, or unstable, or unintelligent because of your faith and values. If that’s the case, then this passage is especially for you.

As servants of Christ, we can learn two primary things from this passage about submitting to our superiors:  how we should submit and why we should submit.

Let’s look first at…


There are three ways we should submit…

  •  Like slaves submit to their masters
  • In the fear and consciousness of God
  • Patiently toward the just and the unjust

Let’s look first at how we should submit…

  •  Like servants submit to their masters

 18 Servants, be submissive to your masters

This passage is similar to those Paul wrote in Ephesians, Colossians and other places regarding slaves submitting to masters in that it falls into the category of what are called “household codes” that address the ways people should live together in society. Greek writers of the same period had much to say on these issues as well. However, Paul wrote primarily to slaves whose masters were Christians where there was a measure of brotherly Christian love, while Peter wrote to slaves whose masters were mostly unbelievers who persecuted them for their faith.

In the first century, people became slaves by being captured in wars, kidnapped, or born into a slave household. Those facing economic hardships might choose to sell themselves into slavery in order to survive. Slaves in the Greco-Roman world were under the control of their masters, and therefore they had no independent existence. They could suffer brutal mistreatment at the hands of their owners, and children born in slavery belonged to masters rather than the parents who gave them birth. Slaves had no legal rights, and masters could beat them, brand them, and abuse them physically and sexually.

As we said last week, as Christians we have become slaves of God. Rom 6:22 (NLT) says, “But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God.” As slaves of God, we voluntarily serve whoever he commands us to serve, and therefore are vulnerable to attack by them, often by means of persecution for our faith. As we live and work in a fallen world, we are exposed to unbelieving supervisors, bosses, teachers and coaches, who because they exercise a measure of control over us, can persecute us for our faith, just as Jesus was persecuted and even put to death. We will see next week we are to follow in his steps.

So we are required to submit to our supervisors vulnerably, like a slave submits to a master.

Second, we submit…

  •  In the fear and consciousness of God

18 with all respect… and  19for the sake of conscience toward God… 

The first phrase comes from verse 18 – “with all respect.” The NAS is not a very good translation, nor are most of the other standard translations. Instead of “with all respect,” it literally says, “with all fear” using the word phobos from which we get the word phobia meaning fear. Peter never uses the word fear in reference to men in his writings. That is, he never instructs Christians to fear men. We are to fear God only since he wields ultimate control in the world. As we saw in our passage last week, we are to honor all men, honor the king, love fellow Christians and fear God (verse 12). Therefore, this phrase does not refer to fearing our masters but to fearing God. So it says in effect, we should submit to masters out of reverential fear of God.

This is similar to what Paul wrote to the Ephesians 6: (5-7), Slaves, obey your earthly masters … with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.  Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.  Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.” Because God has given superiors authority over us we should submit to them as we would submit to God. Because we fear God and his authority, we should submit to those he has placed in authority over us.

A second phrase in verse 19 confirms this aspect. It reads, “for the sake of conscience toward God,” we should submit even to unreasonable masters. This is a more difficult construction, but at the bottom line it means, “with our minds toward God” or “keeping God in mind,” we may choose to obey God rather than man and have to suffer the consequences.

This is what Joseph did when he served in Potiphar’s household. When he was tempted by the lady of the house, he demurred out of respect for Potiphar, saying Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge.  He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife.” But ultimately he did so out of fear of God and consciousness of God. He said, How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 

 So we submit to our superiors like slaves to masters, and out of the fear of the Lord. But also we submit…

  •  Patiently even when they are unjust

18 be submissive…not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable… 20  …But… when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it…

In verse 18, we are commanded to obey superiors who are good and gentle with us but also those who are unreasonable, unfair, harsh or cruel. It is admitted here that there are both kinds. Because we live in a fallen world, unbelievers, and sometimes believers, out of their own brokenness, we deal with us harshly or unreasonably.

It’s quite a bit easier to submit to those who are gentle and good. Hopefully, many of you have had bosses or teachers or coaches who treated you well and fairly. They complimented your good work, they respected your values, they even encouraged you to exercise your faith and spend time with your family.

I’ve had a number of bosses, both outside the church and inside the church, that were loving, fair and reasonable. I think of Mr. J.B. Johnson – who was a framing contractor. Under him I learned to dig footers and frame up houses. He joked with me good-naturedly on my first day about my little wooden handled 16 ounce hammer when we were pounding 6 inch spikes into 8X8 sills that rested on the concrete foundation of the house. But he was always fair and reasonable in the supervision of his crew including me. I had a similar experience with the first senior pastor I served under. He supported me in every way.

However, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve had other bosses or supervisors, who were more interested in either the bottom line, their own ways, or their own glory. They were therefore overly demanding, unfair in remuneration, expected employees to deceive our customers, lied to me and other subordinates, and took credit for work that I had done, among other things.

We are to submit to them patiently even when they are unjust. Thomas Schreiner gives an illustration of the correct way to view this. He writes, “Believers cannot opt out of obeying masters who are wicked and disreputable. Peter was [not] saying that Christian slaves should participate in evil or follow a corrupt master in an evil course of action. His point was that slaves cannot exempt themselves from doing what a master says, even if the master is wicked… [For example,] a secretary cannot refuse to type a letter for a manager simply because the manager is an evil person. Refusal to type the letter would be defensible only if the contents of the letter are evil.” (Commentary, p. ?)

If our supervisor is evil, we should bear with him or her patiently until something changes. However, if he or she demands that we do something that is clearly a violation of Scripture, we should tell him or her that our conscience won’t permit us to do that, and be willing to accept the consequences, trusting God to take care of us.

So we are to submit to those in authority over us – like slaves to a master since we are God’s slaves, out of Godly fear rather than fear of man, and patiently, even when they are unreasonable, yet not participating in evil ourselves.


There are two reasons given for why we should submit – a positive reason and a negative reason.

  •  Because those who suffer for doing right will receive a reward from God
  • Because those who suffer for doing wrong will receive no reward

In the passage, Peter begins with a positive argument, then poses the contrasting negative argument, then repeats the positive argument to reemphasize the point.

The first reason given for why we should submit to unreasonable masters is….

  •  Because  those who suffer for doing right will receive a reward from God

19  For this finds favor, if … a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20  …But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

Notice the first phrase of verse 19, “for this finds favor,” is essentially identical to the last phrase of verse 20, “this finds favor with God.” Other translations render it, “this is commendable” or “this is pleasing” [to God.] The words translated “this favor” are literally “this grace” or charis in the original.

The point is that those who suffer for doing good – for God’s sake –  that is, in keeping with your Christian faith, when doing so might cause the boss to ridicule you, or worse – this finds favor with God.

And what is this grace or favor or commendation that we receive from God? It is our final salvation. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 10:22 (ESV) “and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Salvation is the reward we spoke of in chapter 1:3-5. “…Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance — an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.”

Slaves who endure unjust suffering because of their relationship with God will be rewarded by God. God is please with Christians who bear up under unjust suffering, not because there is no option, but because they know it pleases God. “Grace” here is divine favor, blessing, and reward given to believers on the last day.

Joseph was willing to suffer the consequences of his obedience to God. When he said no to Potiphar’s wife, he must have known what she might do to him. Sure enough, she lied about what had happened and as a result, Potiphar sent him to prison. Yet Scripture says, “God was with him” there as well. “But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” (Gen 39:8-9).

I still remember the first time I felt I had to stand up to a senior pastor. He had said something that really embarrassed a fellow staff member in front of the whole staff. I walked into his office immediately after the meeting, literally trembling, knowing that I might get fired for speaking up, yet believing that it was the right thing to do. I respectfully but assertively spoke my piece, and surprisingly, he accepted what I said and acted on it. Instead of firing me, he seemed to respect me for having spoken up to him.

This passage teaches us that we should be willing to suffer for doing what is right because we know that God will reward us with salvation on the day of Christ’s return.

The second reason we should submit to unjust masters is…

  •  Because those who suffer patiently for doing wrong will receive no reward

20  For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience?

 In other words, we don’t get credit or favor from God for patiently accepting our punishment for doing wrong. We only get credit or favor from God for patiently enduring suffering for doing what is right.

This is the same expression found in Luke 6.32-34. Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full.”

Jesus made a distinction between those who would receive a reward from God in heaven and those who already received their reward from men on earth when he said in Mat 6:1-2 (ESV)  “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

Rather, he said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (NIV Matt. 5:11-12)

When we do so, he said, we will be like our Father in heaven, “…love your enemies, do good to them… Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High,  because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Luke 6:35)

Click here for the series of twenty-three sermons on the entire book of 1 Peter.

Categories: 1 Peter, 1st Peter: The Church in the World, 2011, Sermons

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