Pastor Skip Heitzig guides us through 1 and 2 Peter in the series Rock Solid.
Would you turn in your Bibles, please, to 1 Peter, chapter 2; 1 Peter, chapter 2. I don't want to offend you if you're a country music fan, but you've heard the old joke: What do you get when you play country music backwards? You get your home back, you wife back, your car back, your dog back. And that's because country music is sort of notorious for recounting a lot of bad luck, losing things, losing opportunities, losing jobs. There was a song years ago, a country song, very famous, written by Johnny Paycheck; who, incidentally, went to prison.
It's called "Take This Job and"---you remember it. Right.---"Shove It." And I'm calling this message "Take This Job and Love It." Show of hands, how many of you love your job? That's it? I was actually doing that to look at my staff to see how they were faring. [laughter] Years before Johnny Paycheck ever wrote his song, Peter wrote a letter and gives better lyrics than anything that Paycheck ever could have written. The song that he wrote, by the way, was a song about losing his love, losing his girlfriend, and then because of that walking out on his job.
Because, after all, as the lyrics say, "I've lost my reason for working here." Well, we're going to begin in 1 Peter, chapter 2, and we're going to look at four verses beginning in verse 18. But before we even get there, I just want you to remember that the theme that Peter is addressing is a theme of living your life in such a way as to leave before the world a compelling Christian testimony. In other words, the world is always watching to see why we do what we do and believe what we believe, and why they might do something like that.
And so look at verse 12 where he says, "Having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles." That's the theme of this: here's how to live your life before an unbelieving world in an honorable way. And he talks about several ways to do this: societally, before the government. The relationship of the Christian to the government, as we saw last week, is to submit, to subject ourselves, to be good citizens. Number two, socially, that's what we're going to look at today, between the employee and the employer; or in this case, the ancient slave and his master.
And then, finally, a wife to an unbelieving husband in chapter 3. But we're going to look at verse 18. It says in verse 18, "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.
"For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow in his steps." Next to your home, your job is where you spend most of your time. In fact, more than half of your waking hours will be spent on the job. It's estimated that by the time you are seventy years old, you will have spent twenty solid years working. Now, don't mishear that. I didn't say by the time you're seventy you will have worked twenty years, you will have worked many more years than that, but you will have worked nonstop twenty years in labor, in work.
Now because we spend so much time there, the workplace then becomes for us as believers a stage that unfolds the grace of God before unbelievers. It's a chance to make an impact. As our Lord said, "Let your light so shine among men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven." And, honestly, some of my best years of ministry were in the secular workplace. I was able to reach people that would never think about coming to church, never had any interest in God. They were agnostic or they were atheistic, most all of them were antagonistic.
And I had an opportunity to have conversations with them and to spend weeks and months and even years with those people in secular settings. In fact, I was often asked---because I brought a Bible to work, when I had some down time I'd read it, or I'd read a commentary, or I would share my faith, or invite people to an event like church. I remember a lot of people saying, "Um, Skip, do you think you'll ever go into full-time ministry?" And I always said, "I am in full-time ministry talking to you right now. This is as good as it gets."
And sometimes we can make an impact far greater than any pastor or evangelist could, because you're right there with them. Did you know---I read a study. Did you know that 50 percent of Christians have never heard a sermon on work? When I read that it sort of puzzled me, because I thought, "Fifty percent?" Well, they don't come here, because I've given several sermons on work. But in that study 70 percent have never had a theology of work or of vocation. And I want to change that. I want to look in these verses that we just read at four principles that emerge.
Now the verses that we just read tell us four things: a practical command, a potential complication, a powerful consideration, and a personal calling. That's how I've divided it. I like to outline everything in solid, logical thought. And that's how it proceeds in those four swashes. They're written out for you in your worship folder. But you'll notice on your outline you have principles after that. Principle number one, all the way down to number four, and then there's a blank afterwards. That blank is not there to be left blank; it's there for you to write the principle in.
And here's the promise I'm going to make, and I believe this: if you learn these principles and they become part of the fabric of your ethic, your work ethic, it will change your work life, your job forever. So let's begin with the practical command. Notice the verse 18, "Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear." You could translate the term "servants," slaves. Because in the Roman Empire when this letter was written, that was the workforce of the Roman Empire.
And many of those in the audience to whom Peter is writing, Christians, found themselves in that position as servants or slaves. But the word for servant here is not the typical word for servant. Some of you know a little bit of Greek words just from being a Christian, and you know that the typical word for a servant or a slave is the word doulos or the plural douloi. That is not the word that is used here, but it's the word oiketai, which means a household slave. Now, let me explain. Household slaves could be anything from a doctor to a menial servant.
They can be well educated; they were educators themselves. They could be managers of an estate. They could be, as I mentioned, doctors all the way down to menial laborers. It ran the gamut. The word "master" in our text, listen to it: despotais. You've heard of a despot? an autocrat? a tyrant? That's the word that is used. It simply describes somebody who has unlimited and absolute authority over another person. So we're looking at the relationship between servants and masters. Slavery two thousand years ago was an established institution.
The Roman Empire had sixty million people who were slaves. Half of the Roman Empire were slaves. Now, to be fair, some masters were great masters. They loved their servants. They were like family to them and treated them like family members. But others were not, others were cruel, they were harsh, and the slave had no rights. He had very little protection. And as a slave he was considered a nonperson. The Roman citizen looked at a slave as simply a piece of property. Did you know that? Now, that had been an ongoing idea for many, many years, because slavery has been around for a long time.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle---and it's amazing how people quote Aristotle and read Aristotle and think he was so cool. Listen to his view on human rights: "A slave is a living tool and a tool is an inanimate slave." One of the Roman noblemen named Varro said, "The only thing that distinguishes a slave from a beast or a cart is that a slave can talk." And one author recommended that if you're going to buy a farm, that you should toss out the old slaves to die, because they're just "broken tools."
Okay, now get this, something else: if you were a slave and you ran away and you got caught, they would brand the flesh of your forehead once you came back with a big F. Not for you get an F on the test, but fugitivus, fugitive. This is a runaway slave. This is a fugitive. And he would be ill-treated the rest of his life. In fact, they could even be put to death without any kind of trial whatsoever. That's how little rights they had in that culture. So, I wanted to paint that background.
Now, what does Peter have to say to that group if they're a believer? "Servants, be submissive." Whoa, whoa, whoa! What?! You mean Peter doesn't say, "Servants, rebel," Servants go on strike," "Servants, hire lobbyists against the union"? He says, "Servants, be submissive." "Use your slavery in such a manner that even that is going to compel somebody to listen to your message." Now, I have to state something very plainly to you: slavery is wrong on any account. It's wrong. The Bible sees it as wrong.
In fact, slavery goes against the very grain of the New Testament idea of redemption, which means to set somebody free by paying a price. Redemption is to set a slave encaptured free by paying their redemption price. Also, every year the Jews celebrated, and still do, the yearly celebration of Passover, which celebrates their redemption. They were once slaves, Egyptian slaves under Pharaoh; being set free, they still celebrate Passover. Now, having said that, we find it a little bit interesting, in fact, puzzling that none of the apostles, including Peter, ever campaigned against slavery, nor did he ever tell a slave to rebel.
That bothers some people. Why is that? Why doesn't Peter say, "Slaves, rebel," you know, "Do something to get out of where you're at"? Well, I could actually preach on that for weeks, and we don't have the time, so let me just give you a couple reasons. Number one, because slavery was such a part of the social fabric of these ancient cultures that predated Christianity for centuries, not just the Roman culture. I quoted Aristotle back to the Greek culture. Virtually every culture around the world, slavery was a part of that social fabric.
Number two, because Christians were such a minority without any political power whatsoever that for them to lift a finger in that direction, they would be seen as more subversive than they were already known as. And so he says, "Submit." It's a very practical command, "Servants, submit to your masters." But here's what you need to know: what the New Testament did is teach enough principles that eventually slavery would become undermined in the Roman Empire. It started in the second century AD, by about the fourth century there was no slavery.
And virtually every resource I looked up to discover why, including Encyclopedia Britannica, was that enough people in the Roman Empire had now become Christians that they started looking at people differently. So it served to eradicate slavery. They started looking at people with compassion and the image of God, not a piece of property, but a human being like they were. And so slavery was abolished. As time went on slavery persisted, but there were antislavery movements, usually led by Christians.
In England, William Wilberforce is a notable example along with his friend John Newton who wrote the song "Amazing Grace." In America there were the abolitionists, mostly led by Christian believers. So New Testament principles that would say "submit to your harsh employer, your master," also gave enough information and inspiration that when a person adopted the Christian message, eventually it permeated his culture. So that's the practical command. And now I want to give you a principle to write down.
Here's principle number one: Work hard and work well. Be a hard worker. Be the kind of worker that any employer would want to hire. How's that for being a Christian? Just work hard and work well. Many years ago when I was jobless, I had been trained in the medical profession, my field was radiology, and I needed a job. And so I went to a local hospital to a department and I put in my resume. And I had an interview, and they asked me questions.
And at the end of the interview they said this, it's the words everyone hates to hear: "Thank you, we'll call you." "Don't call us, we'll call you," which usually means, "Bye-bye, you don't get the job." And I knew that. And I was turning around to leave, and I paused and I remembered this, this idea, this text. I turned and I said, "Hey, listen, I know you're going to interview a lot of people, but I just want you to know something. If you were to hire me, I will be the best worker you have in your department."
He sat up in his chair and he said, "You got the job." And then I left going, "Oh, dear! [laughter] Now I gotta make good on that promise." Right? But isn't that what it's all about? Christianity in the workplace, this is a stage by which to prove that that is true. You want to be the kind of worker to an employer that they would want to hire and want to keep. Work hard, work well. Notice he says something in verse 18, that you are to "be submissive to your masters with all"---what?---"fear." It means respect. Be respectful. Don't be a bitter employee.
Don't be the kind of person who always has a negative disposition. Work hard, work well---that's a practical command. The second is a potential complication, for you'll notice as we go through verse 18 down in the words that follow that not every boss is good, not every boss is gentle. He says, "Be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh." Harsh is the word skolios. Ever heard of scoliosis, a twisted spine? It means a twisted person, harsh, twisted, crooked, because of that.
Now, if a person is that way, the employee is going to suffer. And you'll notice the wording in verse 19. You "endure grief," he says. You are "suffering wrongfully," he says. Verse 20, "If you do good and yet you suffer." And why would they suffer? Because their boss, their master is harsh. Ever had a boss like that, a harsh boss? And you just think, "Great, I thought this job was so cool, and that's my boss?" And then it gets worse. You might be having that boss right now. I might be just---you might be that boss. [laughter]
One job that I had there was this supervisor that I had and she didn't like me. One of the reasons she didn't like me is because I was a believer, and she just thought that stuff was hokey-pokey, hocus-pocus, weird stuff. But one of the reasons is that Monday mornings I would come in happy, and she just thought that is not possible. I came in, like, humming a tune, whistling, singing, and she finally turned to me and she goes, "Would you stop that." I go, "What?" "Stop singing, it's Monday." She just resented any happiness on Monday morning.
So, it was very hard for me to do that. But I do remember that she would give me lots more work and the kind of jobs nobody else in the department really wanted, and life wasn't easy because of that. Here's the second principle I want to give you, and I want you to write this one down: Life is a mix of good and bad, use both to advertise. Life is a mix of good and bad, use both, good and bad, to advertise. You're going to have good bosses, you're going to have bad bosses.
You're going to have great jobs that they ask you to do; you're going to have jobs that are distasteful and that you hate. But can I be as bold as to simply say---at least you have a job. I mean, can't we as believers just start right there and say, "Okay, you know, I really don't like what I'm doing here. I don't like this job. I don't like this situation. This work condition, I don't like. But you know what? You know what, I have a job. I get a pay check. I have employment." And then to say beyond that, "I believe the Lord put me here." It elevates your position and it changes your attitude.
You know, Harvard did a study, I was reading this week, Harvard did a study that when people get hired, you know what 85 percent of the time they get hired for? Their attitude, not their smarts. Only 15 percent of the time people get hired because they're really smart and they know facts and figures. Eighty-five percent of the time it's attitude. And for believers it ought to be the attitude of gratitude. Gratitude is the attitude that sets the altitude for living, and for working, especially for working. So, life is a mix of good and bad, use both to advertise.
The third swash of this is: a powerful consideration. He continues in verse 19, please notice, and he says, "This is commendable," this is good. You're going to have good bosses and bad bosses. And when you have a really bad boss, he says, "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?" You're a bad worker, you mouth off, you slack off, and you get punished for it. So what? You deserved it.
But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. In other words, God is really pleased with that. Now, this gets to the very motive for which we work. Why do you work? Is it just to get a pay check? I know that's important. It is just to make a living? That is important. It is just to provide for your family? All of that is very, very noble and very important, but could there be yet another level of motivation that is better than all of those? You just read it, God is pleased, "This is commendable before God."
No doubt, and you gotta think back, no doubt many people two thousand years ago when they read this letter were servants who had been beaten by their masters, who were given unreasonable tasks and worked unreasonable amount of hours, far more than our labor board today would ever allow. But back then, two thousand years ago, they did not have what we have today. They did not have union representatives. They did not have human resource departments. They did not have government agencies to appeal their case.
They could not bring a civil lawsuit against an employer. They were slaves to a master and life was harsh, and Peter knew that when he wrote. And so he said, "Sometimes you suffer because you deserve it." You cut corners. You don't finish the job. You get in trouble. You quit early. There's a sign in a business in San Francisco that says, "If you don't believe in the resurrection of the dead, you ought to be here five minute before closing time." [laughter] It's sad if any of those were believers.
I read an interesting survey, they did a lot of digging for this one, and they discovered that American workers admitted to goofing off 20 percent of the time. That's one whole day per week, essentially. Talk about extra things they do for themselves, extra phone calls they make, extra time spent at lunch or break or whatever, their own little deal 20 percent of the time goofing off. Sometimes, Peter says, the suffering you have is undeserved suffering. Peter says in that case, be patient, endure. You've been accused falsely, this is commendable with God.
If you take it patiently for the conscience sake before the Lord, God loves that. Now can you think of a few others? Gosh, they're all over the Bible, are they not? Of people who at their work were shamefully treated. Daniel was; he was accused by his peers of wrongdoing even though he did nothing wrong. Joseph was; he was accused of doing things wrong. He was put in prison a couple different occasions by the lies of other people. He did nothing wrong. In fact, at the end of all that he said, "You meant it for evil, God meant it for good."
I have a question: How on earth can a person live like that, live victoriously when treated like that? How could they do that? How can you do it at work? Here's the answer: Take God to work with you. That's principle number three. I want you to jot this down: Take God to work with you. If you want to transform any job into a real joy, take God to work with you. Ephesians, chapter 6, "Work with enthusiasm," Paul writes, "as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people." He goes on to say, "Not as men-pleasers, but pleasing God," not with your eye on the clock.
Not with your eye on the boss: "The boss is coming, look busy." Be the kind of worker whose eye is on the Lord and not on the clock. Take God to work with you. How about if you looked at that lousy job and said, "Lord, I'm doing this as unto you, because I want you to be pleased with my---I want to leave at the end of the day saying, 'I worked for God today.' " Stradivarius violins are known for not being cheap instruments. Am I right? Is that an understatement?
I was talking to a music store owner in this town who has one of the finest instrumentation, fine musical instrument places in the country, in the world, it's known for. And he said, "I've had three or four different Stradivarius violins here that I've sold. I said, "How much did they sell for, like twenty bucks?" [laughter] He said, "Each instrument sells for several million dollars apiece." Why? Why is that? Just because it's some fancy Italian dude's name on it? You want to know why? You want to know his secret?
Antonio Stradivarius the owner of that shop believed that no instrument should leave his shop unless it was near perfect as humanly possible. And here's why, quote, he said: "God needs violins to send his music into the world, and if any violins are defective, then God's music will be spoiled," close quote. Did you hear that? Do you know what Antonio Stradivarius did to every worker in his factory that felt they had a mundane job of cutting and gluing wood together? He just elevated their task in saying, "You're doing this for God. This is God's music. I want these to be God's instruments. Do it as unto the Lord."
I've told you before about those three workers. Each one was doing exactly the same thing. One person went up to the first worker, said, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm breaking rocks," scowling at him. The second one, he goes, "What are you doing?" He goes, "I'm earning a living." Asked the third guy, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm building a cathedral." Three different attitudes, exactly the same job. "I'm just making it through," or "I'm doing something for God." That's the powerful consideration. Bring God to work with you.
Fourth, and we close on this: A personal calling, a personal calling. I want you to read something that I hope will floor you like it did me when I read it again. Verse 21, "For to this you were called"---stop right there, stop right there. To what are they called? Well, he just said, "You're going to have jobs where your employer is really good, and you're going to have jobs where your employer is really harsh. And you're going to be treated wrongfully and you're going to suffer for it." Okay, what's the good news? The good news is you were called to that.
Huh? "To this you were called," to suffer. Look what he says in the rest of the verse: "Because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow in his steps." I can only imagine what this sounded like as they read this verse. "I'm called to this?" And here's why: Who do you follow? What's his name? Jesus Christ. You follow him. What happened to him? He got crucified. He suffered. You are following a suffering Savior, which means by necessity, from time to time, you're going to be called to suffer. Paul wrote about "the fellowship of his sufferings." "To this you were called."
"To this you were called." That's really submission. To look around and go, "I hate this job. This job hurts. And maybe, just maybe, God has called me to this." Brings you to principle number four. Principle number four, life transforming principle: God's plan isn't that you just show up, but that you grow up. God's will, his plan isn't that you just show up to work, but that you grow up. This job isn't just to satisfy you or supplement you, it's to shape you, it's to shape you.
How many of you would agree that suffering can be beneficial? Anybody? I mean, do---that's all? Do you believe that suffering can be beneficial? Absolutely! If you're a Christian, you must admit suffering can be beneficial. I can think of a few things it can do. Number one, it keeps us pure. Nothing will purify you like suffering, like a goldsmith who heats up the gold and pours the hot golden metal from vessel to vessel and the impurities rise to the top. Suffering will keep you pure.
Number two, suffering will keep you humble. Paul the apostle was lifted up and prone to pride because he saw revelations of God nobody else saw. And he said to counteract that "God gave me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me. I hated it. I asked God to take it away. He goes, 'Uh-uh.' " I'm paraphrasing. [laughter] "My grace is all you need, Paul. My grace is all you need." So you know what he said? "Then I'm going to rejoice in my suffering, because it keeps me humble."
It keeps you pure. It keeps you humble. Number three, it keeps you dependent. When you're brought low through suffering, you depend on God. Your prayer life is never better than when life hurts. Is that right? So is it any wonder that God allows or even prescribes periods of suffering? So God's plan isn't you just show up, it's that you grow up. "To this you were called." But I want to say this, because I remember the bad job, I remember bad job situations, a couple of them. Life has been pretty good, but there's a couple of bad ones.
I remember as a believer going, "Could this be God's will?" And it wasn't his will permanently, or eventually, but it was his will temporarily, because I needed to be shaped. I needed to be whipped into shape. And some of those harsh bosses were God's tool. I close with this story: "Sid was an ugly caterpillar with orange eyes. He spent his whole life groveling and squirming in the dirt on God's earth. One day Sid got a terrific idea. He crawled up the stem of a bush, made his way to a branch, and secreted a translucent fluid onto that branch.
"He made a kind of button out of the fluid, turned himself around, and attached his posterior anatomy to that button. Then shaped himself into a J, curled up, and proceeded to build a house around himself. There was a lot of activity for a while, but before long Sid was entirely covered up and you couldn't see him anymore. One day an eruption took place. Sid's house shook violently. That little cocoon jerked and shook till a large, beautiful wing protruded. Sid stretched it out in all of its glory. He continued his work until another gorgeous wing emerged.
"At this stage of Sid's life you might have wanted to help him, but you didn't. Because if you tried to pull the rest of Sid's house off, you would maim him for the rest of his life. So you let Sid convulse and wriggle his way to freedom without any outside intervention. Eventually, Sid got his house off his back, ventured out onto a branch, stretched, spread his wings. He was nothing like the old worm he used to be. And you know what? Sid didn't crawl back down the branch and start groveling and squirming in the dirt again.
"Instead he took off with a new kind of power, flight power. Now instead of swallowing dust, Sid flies from flower to flower enjoying the sweet nectar in God's wonderful creation." Did that process hurt? Did his life get shaken because of it? Yeah, but the submission brought a great sense of freedom at the end.
Our Father, we see these lessons in nature as we just heard with the chrysalis of a worm, a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but also, Lord, from the pages of your Word directly to those who are suffering difficult employment situations. Lord, it could be that you're shaking up our world because you have something better planned for us in terms of employment. And that's entirely possible. It happens a lot. But it could also be that you're doing a deep work of reconstruction.
So help us, Lord, with these principles, to work hard, to work well, to take the good and the bad, the mix of life, and to advertise in both of those situations, that we serve a God who is victorious. Lord, I pray that we wouldn't leave you at home, we would take you to work with us, you'd be a part of our lives. We would do all things as unto you, knowing that your plan isn't that we just show up, but that we grow up in all things in Christ. I believe, Lord, that these principles will transform the job of any believer who takes them to heart. May we do that, in Jesus' name, amen.
For more resources from Calvary Albuquerque and Skip Heitzig visit calvaryabq.org.