In His Steps
1 Peter 2:18-25
November 15, 2014 | Brian Bill
Imagine that a homeless man walked into a service and interrupted the sermon by saying, “I’ve been wondering since I came in here, if what you call following Jesus is the same thing as what He taught. What did He mean when He said, ‘Follow Me!’? What do Christians mean by following the steps of Jesus?” How would you respond if right before falling forward on his face and collapsing he asked, “But what would Jesus do?”
A week later, the pastor got up in the pulpit and spoke with considerable hesitation. He told the congregation that the man had died. He then told them that the man’s words had really made an impression on him, compelling him to ask a question he had never asked before, “What does following Jesus mean?” The pastor then leaned forward and asked everyone to pledge themselves, earnestly and honestly, for an entire year, not to do anything without first asking the question, “What would Jesus do?” He added, “After asking the question, each one will follow Jesus exactly as he knows how, no matter what the result may be…we propose to follow Jesus’ steps as closely and as literally as we believe He taught His disciples to do.”
So begins the book called, “In His Steps” by Charles Sheldon, written in 1896. This is where the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) campaign comes from. The title of his book is from a verse that’s in our preaching passage for today. Turn to 1 Peter 2:21: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.”
Have you noticed that expository verse-by-verse preaching forces us to tackle some tough topics like submission?
- Last week in 2:13-17, we learned that we have a responsibility to be submissive toward earthly government – Good Christians are good citizens.
- From our text today in 2:18-25, we’re going to discover the importance of submission in work relationships and that when we suffer we’re to remember the Savior.
- And next week, in 3:1-7 we’re going to grapple with how submission works itself out in the marriage relationship by learning that spouses are to serve one another.
Listen. Unless you submit to the Savior, you will really struggle with this section of 1 Peter. No matter what the situation, we’re to respond with a submissive attitude. Here’s a helpful definition: “To rank yourself under someone else in order to lift them up and build them up.”
Before we dive into the passage it’s important to understand the culture into which Peter is writing, especially as it relates to slavery.
- Slavery was very common in the Roman Empire, making up about 1/3 of the population. There were four main types – those who worked in mines, on farms, in cities, or in homes. Peter is referring to household slaves in our passage.
- The horrible degradation of slaves in our country was wrong. Any kind of racism in our hearts and in our church and in our community and country is wrong. That’s why we’ll be learning about racism, along with abortion, homosexuality and suicide in early 2015.
- Slaves in the Roman Empire were generally well treated and some were even managers and trained professionals. They were normally paid for their services and had some protection under Roman law.
- Nevertheless, they were held against their will. One commentator says that we need a word stronger than ‘servant’ but weaker than ‘slave.’ He suggests calling them, “semi-permanent employees without legal or economic freedom.”
- The New Testament doesn’t endorse slavery and yet, it did not forbid it. R.C. Sproul points out that all the seeds for the dissolution of slavery are sown in the New Testament. Christianity did not abolish slavery but did introduce a new relationship of brotherhood and dignity for every person that eventually led to societal transformation. We see this in Philemon 16 when Paul urged a slave owner named Philemon to receive his runaway slave back “no longer as a slave but more than a slave – a beloved brother…” Galatians 3:28 adds: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
- We can apply this passage to the workplace and the employee/employer relationship. Some of you feel like the company you work for owns you anyway! And yet, it’s different. We can appeal and in some cases use collective bargaining. OSHA protects us and employees are legally covered from harassment and job discrimination. And if things get too bad we can get another job.
- Some of you are in a really tough work environment right now. I don’t want to minimize or trivialize that you may feel trapped or hate your job or that you’re being taken advantage of. I pray that you’ll come away with a godly game plan for how to move forward.
I see five exhortations for employees in this passage.
1. Live out your position as a servant.
We see this in 1 Peter 2:18-20: “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For 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.”
Employers need to be careful to not treat people as property and employees must exhibit Christ-like qualities. Christians should not only be the best citizens but also the best employees! Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Let’s look at how to live out this first exhortation.
- With respect toward your boss. We’re called to serve with a submissive heart in verse 18: “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear.” This means to have a healthy desire to avoid their displeasure by showing deference and even reverence. This is not easy to do. Some of us conform on the outside as we grumble on the inside. That reminds me of an old Dennis the Menace cartoon where Dennis is sitting in his rocking chair facing the corner, where his mother put him for a time out. As he looks over his shoulder, he cries out, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside!” We’re called to obey on both the inside and the outside.
- Endure faithfully even when it’s not fair. Verse 18 continues: “not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.” Have you heard it said that no good deed goes unpunished? It’s much easier to serve a kind and gentle boss but really difficult when he or she is harsh. This word is skolios, from which we get scoliosis, or crooked.
Some of us have a pretty sensitive justice meter – we want to let people know when we think something’s not fair. C.S. Lewis was once asked, “Why do the righteous suffer?” I love his answer, “Why not? They’re the only ones who can take it.”
- See God as your ultimate boss. Verse 19: “For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully.” When we submit in order to honor God, it is commendable. This word means, “approval, favor or graced.” Notice that we’re called to endure grief and even suffer wrongfully. But when we do, we receive God’s favor. This word “favor” is overused by a few TV preachers who tend to only focus on health, wealth and happiness. God’s favor and approval is extended when we are sick, suffering and sad as well…maybe more so.
One of the best ways to stay on track in the workplace is to recognize that ultimately the Almighty is your employer. Howard Hendricks tells the story of being on a plane that was delayed on the ground. The passengers became upset and impatient and one obnoxious guy took out all his frustration on the flight attendant. She held her composure and smiled courteously. When they finally took off, Howard Hendricks asked the flight attendant to come over and said, “I want to get your name so I can write a letter of commendation to your employer.” He was surprised when she said, “Thank you, sir, but I don’t work for American Airlines…I work for my Lord Jesus Christ.” That explains how she could handle the mistreatment, doesn’t it?
- Persevere patiently to please God. We see this in verse 20: “For 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.” When we suffer for what is right, we please God – this is the second time the word “commendable” is used. The primary reason for submitting is to please God, knowing that our attitude will impact our workplace.
While we don’t always know in advance how much we’re going to suffer, we do know that if we’re serious about following Christ and serving Him wholeheartedly, we will face difficulty. Philippians 1:29: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” Friend, if you’re serious about serving the Savior, then get ready to suffer for the Savior.
Ministry is often a struggle but it is worth it! If you sense yourself wanting to pull back or find yourself wondering if your ministry matters, or questioning whether your work is worthwhile, allow the words of 1 Corinthians 15:58 to encourage you: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
First, live out your position as a servant. Second, follow Jesus as your pattern of submission.
2. Follow Jesus as your pattern of submission.
Look again at verse 21: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” Moody Bible Institute’s devotional called Today in the Word, puts it this way: “We might not complain when we do something wrong and have to pay the price. But we might also be tempted to believe that every time we do the right thing we should be rewarded.”
- We’re called to suffer. Are you aware that as a Christian you are called to suffer? When I get all up in wanting to be right and demanding my rights and feeling all self-righteous when I’ve been wronged, the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was martyred for his faith in Nazi Germany often come to mind: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” When you sign up to follow the Savior, you’re signing up to suffer.
“follow His steps”
- We’re called to follow His steps. The phrase “leaving us an example” is rich in meaning. When a teacher back then tried to pass along truths, he would leave a transcript so that the student could trace the words. Teachers still do that today with the ABCs, right? Jesus has left a transcript of His life that we’re to trace, a set of spiritual ABCs for us to copy. When we see how He suffered, we’re to copy that in our character. When we see how he remained silent in the face of injustice, we’re to trace the same lines in our lives. In addition, we’re to “follow His steps,” which is the picture of us putting our feet where Jesus walked, to strive to do what He did, to reach out to those He reached out to. 1 John 2:6 echoes this same truth: “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”
Verses 22-23 spell this out very clearly: “‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth,’ 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.” Peter is mixing in references from Isaiah 53 to help us understand the example of Jesus. When treated unfairly, let’s trace what Jesus did.
- Don’t act sinfully. Jesus committed no sin. While we won’t be able to achieve the same, we should certainly strive to not sin.
- Don’t speak sinfully. Make sure your lips match up with your life. Guard what comes out of your mouth. Avoid workplace gossip and complaining about the boss. Proverbs 13:3: “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.”
- Don’t retaliate. When Jesus was reviled he didn’t go ballistic on them. Peter probably winced at the memory of the time he sliced off someone’s ear when Jesus was unjustly arrested in John 18:10. Jesus told him to put his sword away. Some of us need to put our swords away as well.
- Trust God to make the wrongs right. Just as Jesus committed himself to the ultimate Judge, so too we must rely on God to handle justice. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” What are we supposed to do in the meantime? The next verse answers that – “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” In other words, serve those who are slamming you.
The first exhortation for employees is to live our your position as a servant. Second, follow Jesus as your pattern for submission.
3. Allow Jesus to deliver you from the penalty of sin.
Check out the first part of verse 24: “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” The word “bore” translates a word that means to “carry up.” The Father counted our sins against Christ. Isaiah 53:6 – “laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The reference to the “tree” takes us to Deuteronomy 21:23, which speaks about a condemned criminal being “cursed” by hanging on a tree. Never forget that Jesus took our curse and the condemnation that was rightfully ours with Him to the Cross.
4. Trust Jesus to give you the power to serve Him.
Not only have we been freed from sin’s penalty, we’ve also been given the power to serve Him. Notice the last part of verse 24: “…that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.” We have died to sins so we can live to serve the Savior.
Did you know that the word “servant” in one form or another is used over 1,000 times in the Bible? That means it’s a very big deal to God and should be to us as well. In Numbers 12:7, God refers to Moses with these words: “My servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house.” Abraham, David and Job are referred to as “my servant” by God. When Paul, James, Peter and Jude introduced themselves in their letters, the first thing they did was to identify themselves as servants. Each of them tells us who they are (their name) and then what they are (a servant). This is their fundamental identity…and ours as well. We are called first to be servants, and second to serve. We have been set free from sin in order to serve our Savior.
5. Your purpose is to stay close to the Savior.
We see this in verse 25: “For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” When the Bible says we’re like sheep, it’s not a compliment. Left to ourselves, we will go astray by going our own way. Have you been going astray? It’s time to return, which means, “to be converted” or “to turn.” I love that Jesus is both our Shepherd and Overseer.
- A Shepherd who provides. Jesus calls himself the “Good Shepherd” in John 10. A shepherd constantly cares for his sheep.
- A Guardian who protects. The word “guardian” is from a root that means “scope,” giving us words like microscope, stethoscope, and telescope. We can see little things far away. The prefix intensifies the word. In the ancient Greek world, the Overseer was one who came unannounced to the troops to see if they were prepared for battle. Our overseer watches out for us.
Jesus is not just my example but also my empowerer. He’s my savior and my sustainer. He provides and He protects.
And so we can apply this passage in our work environment by remembering these 5 exhortations:
- Live out your position as a servant
- Follow Jesus as your pattern for submission
- Allow Jesus to deliver you from the penalty of sin
- Trust Jesus to give you the power to serve Him
- Your purpose is to stay close to the Savior
I want to close by focusing on two acrostics.
WDJD – What Did Jesus Do? He died in your place, taking your condemnation and the curse that was rightfully yours. Sheldon, the author of In His Steps, was the forerunner of the social gospel movement. There’s not much in the book about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our role is not to reform society but to share the gospel that saves souls…and then those saved souls living out the gospel will bring societal change.
WWID – What Will I Do? Jesus paid for your salvation but you must submit, surrender and be saved. And then once you’re saved, you’re to serve…and they’ll be some suffering with that. A volunteer picks and chooses when and even whether to serve. A servant serves no matter what. A volunteer serves when convenient; a servant serves out of commitment. Someone said it well: “The servant does what he is told when he is told to do it. The volunteer does what she wants to do when she feels like doing it.”
And so, what will you do? I want to give you some silence right now so you can respond accordingly.