1 Peter 2:19-25

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on May 7, 2017.

We live in a society that questions authority figures. We consider it a badge of honor when someone successfully challenges “the powers that be.” Although 1 Peter would not encourage us to ignore unethical behavior in organizations, the writer values endurance through difficulty over retaliation toward oppressors. To endure pain is to resist it. First Peter challenges exiles to behave like sheep in a flock under the authority of a shepherd. The book instructs them to maintain respect for human authority figures, especially those with whom they disagree and to endure opposition as a form of Christian mission.

Verses 19-25 are included as part of the instructions for persons who work together in a family business where the authority figure is not a follower of Jesus. Most ancient households were businesses in miniature. In 1 Peter 2-3, there are instructions for all persons (2:13-17; 3:8-22), slaves (2:18), wives (3:1-6), and husbands (3:7), depending on their position in the home workplace. Presumably, Christians will work for someone who does not share a belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Just as we learned in chapter 1 that Christians are not to live segregated lives, so in chapters 2 and 3 believers are encouraged to work in environments where they will encounter nonbelievers.

The quandary that believers face is two-fold. One spouse is now a convert in a household where the other spouse, slaves, and children are not. The second issue is a working environment where the practice of Christianity results in abuse from authority figures and resistance from others in the household. The believers ask, “Should I remain in a marriage when one spouse is a believer, and the other is not? Should I remain in a family business when one or more members of the business are mistreating me for my faith?”

To answer their concerns, First Peter shows how Jesus models endurance for exiles to follow. Drawing on the imagery of the suffering perfect lamb from Isaiah 53, Jesus behaves like a sheep led to the slaughter. He remained sinless in the face of abuse and did not speak deceitfully. (The word for deceit here is actually the word for “bait” in Greek. Jesus didn’t try to bait people into believing and following him. He lived authentically and transparently). Part of Jesus’ mission was to endure suffering nonviolently. He prayed in the garden, “Father if it be your will, let this cup pass from me; yet, not what I will but thine be done.” Jesus viewed success and as enduring difficulty, not escaping from it.

Just as Jesus was the sheep in whom no sin was found in his mouth, we are now God’s sheep enduring suffering for the sake of the shepherd. In 1 Peter 1:19, the writer used a pastoral image of Jesus’ blood: it’s like that which comes from an unblemished lamb. Now he returns to the metaphor to explain the exiles’ role when facing difficult working conditions. They were once like sheep who have gone astray, but now the lamb who saved them has become the good shepherd and guardian of their soul (1 Peter 2:25). The metaphorical shift is important. They experienced much worse suffering by being outside the flock of God and trusting in their ancestors’ ways. Now because God has called them out as his exiled sheep, they are able to endure a different kind of hardship for the Lord’s sake (1 Peter 2:13). The natural environment for us to endure suffering is not the political arena, the church program, or the mission trip. The place to show and reveal the suffering of Jesus is in the workplace. We are to behave like a sheep in God’s flock and imitate Jesus.

First Peter lists four characteristics of Christian endurance in suffering.

  • Suffering should occur because a believer is doing right (not being punished for wrongdoing) (vs. 19).
  • The sign of a successful witness is endurance through pain, not getting out of the problem (vs. 20).
  • Jesus’ abuse frees us from our sins and models behavior for Christians to emulate. He not only bore our sins on the cross and saved us but also showed us how to live (vs. 21).
  • Christians emulate Jesus through a lifestyle of non-retaliation and nonviolence when suffering unjustly (vs. 24).

When possible, endurance is a better witness than escape. An answered prayer is one that allows a Christian to remain faithful through difficult circumstances rather than to avoid them. As long as a person’s life is not threatened, a Christian can have the opportunity to demonstrate a different way to the nonbeliever.

Preachers must pay close attention to the circumstances of the congregation and take responsibility for the effect of this message on their listeners. A passage like this one can easily be used to excuse abuse of spouses and minors and other forms of domestic violence. A sermon on 1 Peter 2 can be faithful to the text while also protecting victims. Pastors can call believers to endure suffering without enabling abuse. Even sheep in difficult circumstances look to their earthly shepherds for wisdom.

In a society that views increased pay, promotion, better grades, and material success as signs of God’s favor, an answered prayer in an exiled community is one that sounds like a person who has remained faithful during unjust suffering. This is the example that Jesus left us to follow and the pattern of discipleship for the sheep under our care.



William D. Shiell, Ph.D.
President and Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching
Northern Seminary





Tags: endurance, suffering, witness, sheep, shepherd, wisdom

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>