"For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls."
18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. 19For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. 20For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 21For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
22 “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; [Isaiah 53:9]
23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
St. Peter now begins to give specific instructions to specific types of people, beginning with servants (literally “bondservants” or “slaves.” Slaves are to submit to their masters, whether they be good or evil, with fear. This fear is more honor and respect than terror, as FF explains: “(Peter in this epistle always uses the word fear, Gr. phobos, for the fear of God, telling Christians not to fear men; compare 3:14). Such an exhortation is needed because of the slave’s temptation to submit if the master is good and forebearing, but to disobey when the master is crooked and unreasonable in his demand (Gr. skolios, “bent, perverse”),” (80).
What is the application of verse 18 to modern day Christians, almost none of whom are slaves? It could apply to the relationship between a worker and his or her supervisor. Just as slaves in St. Peter’s day were called to submit to their masters, so should we submit to those in authority over us, whether they treat us well or not.
Sometimes this submission will result in us being mistreated. Sometimes we will suffer. But St. Peter urges us to “take it patiently,” not retaliating. This type of behavior is “commendable before God.” And not only that; it is our calling. It is God’s will for us. FF clarifies this passage: “It is the returning good for evil that brings God’s blessing, not suffering itself…it is patient endurance of unjust suffering that brings the divine reward” (80).
In enduring suffering with patience without retaliating, we are following the example of Christ. Again, FF explains this beautifully:
“The word rendered model [“example” in the NKJV] is the Greek upogrammos. It refers to the pattern of letters (Gr. gramma) that a school child copies as a way of learning how to write the alphabet. Christ’s endurance of unjust suffering thus sets the norm for His disciples. We must not protest when our lives come to imitate His, for this is how we fulfill our discipleship and learn from the Master. His path led to suffering and the Cross, and only after this to the Father’s reward. Like one following after and stepping in the steps and footprints left before us, we must follow Him to His destination of suffering. Therefore, we should not despise unjust suffering, for it is honorable. Indeed, it was this very thing that worked out our salvation” (81).
Not only did Christ suffer patiently, without retaliating, he did more: He bore our sins on the tree (i.e., the Cross). FF comments on the Greek word translated as “bore:”
“The word translated here carried is the Greek anaphero. In the Greek of Isaiah 53:12, it translates the Hebrew nasa, “to lift up, bear, carry,” but it is also the usual Greek word to describe lifting up something in sacrifice (compare Ex. 24:5 LXX; Heb. 7:27). The thought is thus that Christ carried away our sins in His own body by offering that body as a sacrifice” (81).
Finally, St. Peter points out that we (i.e., all humanity) have strayed like sheep (in saying this, he is continuing to use imagery from Isaiah 53), but now we have returned to Christ, the Shepherd and Bishop (or “overseer”) of our souls. On this verse, FF writes: “As Bishop or Overseer (Gk. episkopos), He will rule over them and provide for them. However vulnerable the house-slaves feel before their unjust master, Christ is their true Master, and He will ultimately defend them” (82).
And the same is true for us.