1 Peter 2:18-21
Here are some difficult words for the Christian, and yet they go right to the heart of the Christian faith. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” Jesus said (Matthew 5:11-12). And in that same sermon: “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (5:39-42). So Peter, who would have been sitting at Jesus’ feet when he proclaimed those hard words, echoes those same words here in this very epistle.
I have addressed slavery in several other places and so will not duplicate that here except to say that it was never a part of the created order and always a result of the fallen world. Peter takes up the matter under the general rubric of suffering which at that time nearly all Christians were enduring. And in doing so, the Apostle returns to the same teaching as his Master: “It is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” Please note, it is only a gracious thing when the Christian is “mindful of God”; otherwise, suffering would be unbearable. The Christian nails his suffering to the cross with his Savior such that his suffering becomes redemptive as he learns to love his tormentor while growing in holiness. This is a gracious thing in God’s eyes whose Son led the way. And we are to follow his example; indeed, it is even to this that we have been called: As Christ suffered for us, we must suffer on behalf of others in the hope that they too will come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through our witness, even martyrdom, which comes from a Greek word meaning, “witness.”
Behind this difficult word is the warning that we should never earn our suffering through sin. This happens far too often.
These are the passages we find some way to explain away. I’m not saying that there are not legitimate times to defend oneself, family, and neighbor, but I wonder if they might be fewer than we think. How many Christians apply to the judicial system rather than suffer injustice (1 Corinthians 6:7)? How many fight back? How many return blow for blow? That was not our Lord’s way, and so it cannot be ours. We must understand that we follow a crucified Messiah, the Suffering Servant, and following in his steps. This separates the Christian from everyone else.