From Luther’s exegesis on 1 Peter chapter 2:18-25:
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing. For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if when you do wrong and are beaten for it, you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it, you take it patiently, you have God’s approval.
So far St. Peter has taught us that we must be submissive to secular authority and show it honor. In this connection we have stated how far this power extends and that it should not meddle in matters pertaining to faith. This is stated about government in general and is a teaching for everyone. But now the apostle continues and speaks of the kind of power that does not extend to a community but pertains only to particular persons. Here he teaches, in the first place, how servants should conduct themselves toward their masters. This is what he means:
Manservants and maidservants are Christians just as other people are; for they share the Word, faith, Baptism, and all blessings with everyone else. Therefore before God they are just as great and high as others. But according to their outward way of life and before the world there is a difference. They are in an inferior station and must serve others. Therefore since they are called to this estate by God, they must let it be their duty to be subject to their masters, to look up to them, and pay attention to them. From this the prophet David draws an excellent analogy and points out how they should serve. “Behold,” he says in Ps. 123:2, “as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God.” That is, manservants and maidservants should fulfill the wishes of the master or the mistress with humility and fear. God wants this. Therefore it should be done gladly. You can be sure and confident that this is pleasing and acceptable to God if you do it in faith. Consequently, these are the best good works you can perform. You need not go far afield and search for others. What your master or mistress commands, this God Himself has commanded you to do. It is not a command of men, even though it is given through men. Therefore you should not consider what kind of master you have, whether good or bad, friendly or irritable and angry; but you must think as follows: “The master may be as he wants to be, I will serve Him and do his bidding in honor of God, because He wants me to do this, and because my Lord Christ Himself became a Servant for my sake.”
This is the true doctrine. It should be taught constantly. Today, unfortunately, it is disregarded and suppressed. But only those who are Christians teach it. For the Gospel preaches solely to those who accept it. Therefore if you want to be a child of God, impress this on your heart, so that you serve as if Christ Himself were ordering you to do so, as St. Paul, too, teaches in Eph. 6:5–7: “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ; not in the way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to men, etc.” Thus he also says in Col. 3:24: “You are serving the Lord Christ.” Would that priests, monks, and nuns were in such a station! How they would thank God and rejoice! For not one of them can say: “God commanded me to celebrate Mass, to sing matins, to observe the seven canonical hours with prayer, and the like.” For they do not have a single word in Scripture about this. Therefore when one asks them whether they are certain and convinced that their station is pleasing to God, they say no. But if you ask a lowly housemaid why she washes dishes or milks the cow, she can say: “I know that what I do is pleasing to God, for I have God’s word and command.” This is a great blessing and a precious treasure of which no one is worthy. A prince should thank God for being able to do work of this kind. It is true that in his position he can also do what God wants, namely, punish the wicked. But when can he perform such a service properly? How rarely it happens! But in this station everything is ordained in such a way that if they do what they are ordered to do, all this is pleasing to God. God does not consider how small the works are; He considers the heart which serves Him with such small works. But here, too, it happens as it does in other matters. No one does what God has commanded. But when man institutes something, and God does not command, then everybody comes running.
So you say: “What indeed am I to do if I have a queer and illtempered master whom no one can serve satisfactorily? One finds many people like this.” St. Peter answers: If you are a Christian and want to please God, you must not ask how eccentric and rude your master is; but you must always turn your eyes to what God commands you to do. Therefore this is what you should think: “In this way I shall be serving my Lord Christ. He wants me to be obedient to this rude man.” If God were to order you to polish the shoes of the devil or the worst rogue, you would have to comply. And this work would be just as good as the greatest work of all, because God orders you to do it. Therefore you should have no regard for any person in this matter, but you should regard only what God wants. Then the most insignificant work, if it is done properly, is better in the sight of God than the works of all the priests and monks put together. If a person is not persuaded that this is God’s will and good pleasure, then nothing else will help. You can do no better than to comply; you can do no worse than not to comply. Therefore one should do this “with all respect,” as St. Peter says. One should proceed in the proper manner, since it is God’s command, not the command of men.
And here, of course, St. Peter is speaking of servants as they were at that time, when they were slaves. In some places one still finds people of this kind. One sold them like cattle. They were mistreated and beaten by their masters, and the masters had so much freedom that they were not punished, even if they killed the slaves. For this reason it was necessary for the apostles to admonish and console such slaves by telling them that they could serve even irritable masters and even suffer harm and injustice from them. He who is a Christian must also bear a cross. And the more you are wronged, the better it is for you. Therefore you must accept such a cross willingly from God and thank Him. This is the true suffering that is pleasing to God. For what would your boasting of the cross amount to if you were severely beaten and had deserved it? Therefore St. Peter says: “For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly.” Such suffering is pleasing and acceptable to God. It is a real service to God. Behold, here the truly precious good works we should do are described, and we fools have trampled this teaching underfoot and have invented and proposed other works. We should lift up our hands, thank God, and rejoice that we now know this. The apostle continues:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on His lips. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten; but He trusted to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but now have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
This is what we have said, namely, that servants should impress it on their hearts and be moved to do and suffer willingly what they must, because Christ did so much for them. They must think as follows: “Since my Lord served me even though He was not obliged to do so, and since He sacrificed life and limb for me, why would I refuse to serve Him in return? He was completely pure and without sin. Yet He humbled Himself so deeply, shed His blood for me, and died to blot out my sins. Ah, should I then not also suffer something because it pleases Him?” Now he who contemplates this would surely have to be a stone if it did not move him. For if the master takes the lead and steps into the mire, it stands to reason that the servant will follow.
Therefore St. Peter says: “To this you have been called.” To what? To suffer wrong, as Christ did. It is as if he were saying: “If you want to follow Christ, you dare not argue and complain much when you are wronged; but you must suffer it and be forgiving, since Christ suffered everything without any guilt on His part. He did not appeal to justice when He stood before the judge. Therefore you must tread justice underfoot and say: ‘Thank God, I have been called to suffer injustice. For why should I complain when my Lord did not complain?’ ”
And here St. Peter has taken a few words from the prophet Isaiah, who says in chapter 53:9: “Although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth.” Likewise: “With His stripes we are healed” (v. 5). Christ was so pure that not a single evil word was on His tongue. Had He been treated as He deserved, everybody would have fallen at His feet and held Him in affection. Furthermore, He surely had the power and the right to avenge Himself. Yet He permitted Himself to be reviled, scorned, blasphemed, and even killed; and He never opened His mouth. Why, then, should you, too, not suffer this, since you are nothing but sin? You should praise and thank God for being worthy of becoming like Christ. You should not murmur or be impatient when you are wronged, since the Lord neither reviled nor threatened but even prayed for His enemies.
So you might say: “Do you mean to say that I should justify those who wrong me and say: ‘They have done well?’ ” Answer: No. But you should say: “I will suffer this very willingly, even though I have not deserved it and you are doing me an injustice. I will suffer it for my Lord’s sake. He also suffered injustice for me.” You should leave the matter to God, just as Christ leaves it to His heavenly Father. God is a just Judge. He will reward it richly. St. Peter says: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree”; that is, He did not suffer for Himself. No, He suffered for our benefit. We crucified Him with our sins. We are still far from suffering what He suffered. Therefore if you are a pious Christian, you should tread in the footsteps of the Lord and have compassion on those who harm you. You should also pray for them and ask God not to punish them. For they do far more harm to their souls than they do to your body. If you take this to heart, you will surely forget about your own sorrow and suffer gladly. Here we should be mindful of the fact that formerly we, too, led the kind of unchristian life that they lead, but that we have now been converted through Christ, as St. Peter concludes when he says: You were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
But this is a quotation from the prophet Isaiah, who says: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way” (53:6). But we have now acquired a Shepherd, says St. Peter. The Son of God came for our sakes, to be our Shepherd and Bishop. He gives us His Spirit, feeds and leads us with His Word, so that we now know how we have been helped. Consequently, if you realize that your sins have been removed through Him, you are His sheep, and He is your Shepherd. Moreover, He is your Bishop, and you are His soul. This is now the comfort all Christians have.