House servants, in all fear give due obedience to your householder. But not only to those who are good and kind to you, but also to the erratic. For it is to a person's credit when, keeping God in mind, he or she has to endure pain unfairly. What status is there if, having transgressed, you deserve a right ballocking? But if, having acted with integrity, you have to endure punishment, this counts to your credit with God. In fact it is to this that you were called, since Christ suffered on your behalf, presenting you with an underscored example so you can [indeed] follow in His steps. He committed no transgression nor did any bitterness come from His mouth. Having been abused, He did not abuse in return. When He was punished, He uttered no threats but instead committed himself to the One who judges with justice. And so it was in that way that He carried our transgressions in His own body [up] onto the tree, so that by dying to transgression we might live in pursuit of justice. By His bruises we were cured. There was a time when you were like sheep that had lost their way. But now you have turned to the One who is the shepherd and overseer of your lives.
Over the millennia, since it was initially penned, Peter's advice in this letter has been subjected to repeated "applications". It has not always been recognised that he gets to the nub of the issue by identifying the new way that is open for human life from the suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. This is no pious redirection of thoughts to the hereafter. On the contrary, this is all about what Jesus' work means in the specifics of everyday life, here and now. This letter is a reiteration of Peter's address to the confused crowds at Pentecost who, having heard about the wonders of the Lord Almighty in their own local languages, still couldn't grasp what it all meant. Peter addresses house servants in specific terms. Recall that he has already addressed all of his readers, not only as sojourners and emigrants (2:11), but also as
kin of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of [his] purpose, so that you may proclaim the great good of Him who called you forth out of darkness into His marvellous light (2:9).
There is an obvious question here about the relation of sojourning and asylum-seeking to the role of house servant. Perhaps this was the kind of work that many of the dispersed Christians initially found available in their sojourning. If so, it also means that Peter uses the ancient sojourning examples of Abram and Sarai, and the children of Israel in Egypt, as a way of redefining the life of faith now that the Messiah, the Ruler of all the princes of the earth, has come. But there is more to it, as well.
Having advised his readers - "Consider all people to be precious" (2:17) - Peter turned his specific attention to house-servants. They, like all believers, are to consider themselves as new-born lambs, hungrily thirsting for pure milk, and thus growing in knowledge of the great and glorious things the Lord has done and will continue to do as they walk in His footsteps (2:21). Peter goes out of his way to emphasise their work. Why would he do this, if he hadn't thought that their value might be under-valued in some way? All are to be held in high regard. All are precious. All should be honoured. So why emphasize house-servants?
At Pentecost, Peter had cited the prophet Joel to explain what was going on - this same outpouring of God's Spirit is maintained in this letter's specific advice. Recall Joel's prophesy:
And in the last days, God declares, I shall pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams; indeed, and on my menservants and my maidservants at that time I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and manifest day. And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:17-21; Joel 2:28-32).
The New Testament continues the older covenant's style of endorsing human life in the way God presents Himself to His people. The Lord is depicted dealing with his Old Testament people and us as "father", bride-groom and husband, shepherd, king, warrior. Jesus encouraged such thinking about God in His parables where the Almighty's power is presented to us as comparable with that of a householder, a housekeeper, a farmer, an employer who pays his employees or his servants when the job is complete at the end of the day. But now the Messiah has come, and He has not only been revealed as Son of God, but He is also the suffering servant of the Lord! It is to this specific office that Peter now turns. This is nothing less than a message of how God has poured out His love and respect, His glory and honour, on us in our many occupations, and particularly upon those who are (merely) house-servants as Joel the prophet had foretold. Here the inheritance of Jesus Christ, the Servant of Lord, is passed on to those who follow in His footsteps. His Kingdom is overall, and His Spirit is poured out indiscriminately upon all, sons and daughters, men and women, older and younger. With ongoing wonders, portents and trials that remind us that the time is short, God's own house-servants are flooded by the Spirit's out-pouring.
Such "trials and tribulations", stresses and strains, challenges and temptations, are clearly on Peter's horizon (4:7, 4:17, 5:8). This is not say, "You don't need to think about that!" On the contrary. This letter confirms Peter's concern for the "What now?" question, just as he had been in the aftermath of Pentecost. Like John the Baptist, in answer to the question, "And what do we do now?" Peter encourages his readers to henceforth live as true servants, "keeping God in mind" (2:12). The bruises of Christ Jesus have a healing effect, even as they remind us of the manner in which He walked when He suffered.