Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
1 Peter 2:19-25—Enduring Suffering for Christ
May 3, 2020
Perpetua and Felicity (believed to have died in AD 203) were Christian martyrs of the 3rd century. Perpetua: young, well-educated, a noblewoman of Carthage in North Africa. Nowadays it is called Tunisia. She was the mother of an infant son. Perpetua endured persecution during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus. Perpetua’s mother was a Christian, and her father a pagan. Her father continually pleaded with her to deny her faith. She refused and was imprisoned.
Despite threats of persecution and death, Perpetua, Felicity–a slave woman and expectant mother–and three companions, refused to renounce their Christian faith. For their unwillingness, all were sent to the public games in the amphitheater. There Perpetua and Felicity were beheaded, and the others killed by beasts. Felicity gave birth to a girl a few days before the games commenced.
The apostle Peter writes his first letter to persecuted Christians. He talks to slaves and women who were enduring hardship and physical abuse because of their faith. His letter is addressed to all persecuted Christians regardless of their gender. But his main focus in chapters 2 and 3 is on slaves and women who represent the lowest class in the Roman Empire.
Slaves were the most vulnerable group in Greco-Roman society. The apostle Peter is using them as an example for the Christian believers who are committed to following Jesus Christ. Many noble Christians like Perpetua lost their status and were treated like slaves to convince them to renounce Jesus Christ.
The apostle Peter recognizes the plight and suffering of the Christians. So, he encourages them to live their lives as slaves of God (2:16). The English version of the bible translates slaves as servants, but the actual Greek word means slaves. The apostle Peter advises the persecuted Christians, “as slaves of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil, honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the Emperor” (2:16-17). How interesting to see that the apostle Peter is encouraging the persecuted Christians to honor the Emperor, who was responsible for their suffering.
The apostle Peter does not intend to change the social order of the Greco-Roman society. He encourages slaves to endure suffering. It seems that some slaves understood the freedom of the gospel as a tool to liberate themselves from slavery, and some wanted to respond violently to their masters who abused them. But the apostle Peter in verse 18 encourages slaves to accept the authority of their masters, the gentle and the harsh ones.
This teaching sounds very harsh. During the slavery period in the United States, those who obtained slaves read Peter’s letter to their slaves to assure them that their slavery is God’s will. I believe that many African Americans will not feel comfortable with Peter’s teaching on slavery. I agree with them 100%. However, we need to understand the apostle Peter’s teaching within its context.
First, the apostle Peter states that Christian slaves were suffering unjustly. Those Christians refused to participate in pagan worship as their masters did. As a result, they faced physical punishment. The apostle Peter calls this punishment unjust. According to Aristotle, who influenced the Greco-Roman culture, “no true injustice can be done” to slaves. For the apostle Peter to claim unfair treatments to slave “implies an unprecedented status for the slave.” 
Secondly, the apostle Peter elevates the status of slaves by comparing their suffering to the suffering of Jesus Christ. As the slaves suffered unjustly for their commitment to Jesus Christ, the Lord Jesus suffered unjustly, too. Despite not sinning, Jesus Christ suffered on the cross and bore our sins (vv.22-24). By enduring unjust suffering, Jesus leaves us an example (v. 21). Here, the apostle Peter explains that the bruises of Jesus Christ are manifested in the plight of the slaves. In other words, the suffering of slaves like Felicity and the suffering of any faithful Christian is the suffering of Jesus Christ himself.
Finally, the apostle Peter talks about Jesus as the Good Shepherd and persecuted Christians as sheep. The imagery of Shepherd and sheep has to do with following Jesus' steps in enduring suffering. Despite unjust suffering, the shepherd Jesus Christ provides safety and protection.
Suffering is essential to our Christian identity. We might not become martyrs like Perpetua and Felicity, but we might lose our job. We might face rejection by families or loved ones. We might lose our social status because we are committed to our Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter encourages us to endure our suffering patiently and to follow the steps of our Shepherd Jesus Christ, who will continue to take care of us.
We live in a society similar to the first church, where religious diversity is dominant. To continue to be faithful and committed to our faith is very challenging, much more than any other time. I encourage you to continue to pray to God through Jesus Christ to help you to remain steadfast in faith and to endure all harassment, persecution, and rejection for the sake of Jesus Christ. If you stay faithful to the Lord Jesus, he will always remain faithful to you, and as a shepherd, he will guide and protect you.
 Jobes, Karen H.. 1 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 4494-4495). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.