The Motive for Submission
For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, (2:19–21a)
It should be of little consequence to believers what their circumstances are in the workplace, whether they are chief executive officers or custodians, whether they receive a substantial pay raise or settle for a salary cut so the company can stay solvent. The factor of overarching significance is that they maintain their testimony before the watching world of sinners (cf. Matt. 5:15–16; Mark 4:21; Phil. 2:14–16), and in the workplace that occurs when believers labor with an awareness of God’s glory. Such awareness is the motivation not only for godly behavior and submission on the job, but also for trusting in God’s sovereignty in every situation. Theologian A. W. Pink wrote,
As [one] sees the apparent defeat of the right, and the triumphing of might and the wrong … it seems as though Satan were getting the better of the conflict. But as one looks above, instead of around, there is plainly visible to the eye of faith a Throne.… This then is our confidence—God is on the Throne. (The Sovereignty of God, rev. ed. [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1961], 149–50; emphases in the original)
The motivation for believers’ submission in the workplace resides in the short phrase, for this finds favor, literally, “this is a grace.” God is pleased when believers do their work in a humble and submissive way for their superiors (cf. 1 Sam. 15:22; Pss. 26:3; 36:10; James 1:25). It is especially favorable to God when for the sake of conscience toward God a person [believer] bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. Whether it was a slave in Peter’s day patiently enduring brutal treatment, or whether it is a modern-day employee not retaliating against an unkind and unjust supervisor, God is pleased. This is what James referred to as a “consider it all joy” experience by which believers are perfected (James 1:2–4). The greater blessing is actually for the one who suffers.
Conscience toward God refers to the aforementioned general awareness of His presence, which again is believers’ main motivation for submission in the workplace. The word rendered bears up under means “to endure,” and the term sorrows implies pain, either physical or mental. The Lord wants believers, when suffering unjustly in the workplace, not to falter in their witness but humbly and patiently to accept unjust treatment, knowing that God has sovereign control of every circumstance (Pss. 33:11; 103:19; Prov. 16:1, 9; 19:21; Isa. 14:27; 46:9–10; Acts 17:28; Rom. 8:28–30; cf. 1:6–7; 2 Cor. 4:17–18) and promises to bless.
Undoubtedly many recipients of this epistle endured painful and unjust beatings as slaves. Their masters might have deprived them of food, forced them to work unreasonably long hours, or punished them unfairly in a variety of ways. Unlike modern-day employees in Western industrialized countries, those slaves had no one to turn to for redress of grievances—no union representatives, no government boards or ombudsmen to settle disputes, and no way to file civil lawsuits. They just had to endure whatever painful and difficult circumstances their masters imposed on them—and they did so, much to the glory and honor of God (cf. Matt. 5:10; 2 Thess. 1:4–5; James 5:11), which evidenced their heavenly perspective.
Peter pressed his argument with a negative rhetorical question, followed by a positive statement. The implied answer to his question, For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? is, “There is no credit.” Believers who sin deserve chastening (cf. Ps. 66:18; Jer. 5:25; Dan. 9:8; Heb. 12:5–11), and they ought to endure it with patience.
On the other hand, Peter offered the positive assertion, But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. When the believing slaves did what was right some still had to suffer for it, even to the extent of being harshly treated as if they really deserved punishment. This indicates that, among various forms, harsh treatment came physically, by means of repeated, hard blows with the fists or instruments (cf. Mark 14:65). Perhaps some were punished because of their Christian convictions. Again, those who endured such suffering patiently found favor or grace with God. It always pleases Him to see believers faithfully accept and deal with any adversity (cf. 3:14; 4:14, 16; Matt. 5:11–12; 1 Cor. 4:11–13; 2 Cor. 12:9–10; James 1:12).
Peter concluded this section with the amazing statement at the beginning of verse 21, For you have been called for this purpose. Have been called refers to the efficacious salvation call (1:15; 5:10; cf. Rom. 8:28, 30; 9:24; 1 Cor. 1:9; Gal. 1:6, 15; Eph. 4:1, 4; Col. 3:15; 2 Thess. 2:14; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 9:15; 2 Peter 1:3). As soon as the Holy Spirit calls people from darkness to light, they become an enemy of the world (John 15:18–19; 1 John 3:13) and a target of unjust and unfair attack as they seek to obey Christ. Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12; cf. Mark 10:30; John 15:20; 16:33).
It is more important to God that those who are citizens of heaven display a faithful testimony, marked by spiritual integrity, than that they strive to attain all their perceived rights in this world. It is more important to God for believers to uphold the credibility of gospel power than to obtain a raise or promotion in their vocation. It is ultimately far more important to God that believers demonstrate their submission to His sovereignty in every area of life than that they protest against problems at their workplace. Martyn Lloyd-Jones illustrated the value of Christians’ submitting to God’s purpose—the rigor of discipline and trials in everyday life—as follows:
We are like the school boy who would like to evade certain things, and run away from problems and tests. But we thank God that because he has a larger interest in us and knows what is for our good, he puts us through the disciplines of life—he makes us learn the multiplication table; we are made to struggle with the elements of grammar. Many things that are trials to us are essential that one day we may be found without spot or wrinkle. (The Miracle of Grace [reprint; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986], 39)
Whenever believers encounter trials on the job, they ought to view them as opportunities for spiritual growth and evangelism. The chief reason God allows believers to remain in this world is so He might use them to win the lost and thereby bring glory to His name. Those who suffer with the right attitude will be blessed in this life and honored later in the Lord’s presence.
2:20 / Peter gives an example of what he has in mind, thereby introducing his comments on Christ’s attitude toward suffering (vv. 21–24). Bearing up stoically under punishment for, say, insubordination or inefficiency, is hardly meritorious, since the penalty is deserved. But on occasions punishment may be meted out when some good action is misconstrued, either by accident or by design. It is in such a situation that believers are to reveal their Christ-centered life. The faithful are to endure it, accepting the undeserved pain, physical, mental, or emotional, as an inevitable consequence of living a God-honoring life in an environment that is not only godless but is, for that very reason, antagonistic to anything which exposes its own lower standards. Such acceptance of unjust suffering is commendable before God.
2:19–20. Thus, Peter broadened his scope to include anyone who had experienced the pain of unjust suffering. The key in these verses is the emphasis on unjust suffering in verse 19 and doing good in verse 20. These expressions stand opposite doing wrong in verse 20. Peter was not commending suffering that enters our lives because we sin or do something wrong. His focus in this extended section was on living a good life on behalf of the Lord. He described a situation in which the believer does everything by the book but still suffers negative consequences and reactions.
Peter’s praise was directed toward the believer, who in the vice of unjust suffering, bears up under the pain, or is able to endure it. These expressions suggest that the believer patiently endures or puts up with the mistreatment. How is that possible? Peter’s answer is found in the niv’s translation of the last part of verse 19—because he is conscious of God. Paraphrasing Peter’s words of verse 19 could suggest this wording: “For this wins God’s approval when, because he is conscious of God’s presence, a person who is suffering unfairly bears his troubles patiently.”
Merely enduring unjust suffering and the accompanying pain is not what is pleasing to God. What pleases God is being mindful of God, cultivating a trusting awareness of God’s presence and of his never-failing care while we endure pain. When we are conscious of the presence of God in our lives, God gives us the necessary strength to bear the pain, and he extends his grace and mercy to enable us to respond positively as we continue to trust in him.
20. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.
Here is the conclusion to the argument on suffering that Peter develops. First he states the negative, and then the positive. The negative part he puts in the form of an inverse conditional sentence. The last clause of this sentence he places at the beginning so that it receives emphasis: “But how is it to your credit?” In the original, this particular word for “credit” differs from the term commendable. The word credit has its root in the verb to call. Whatever is reported favorably about someone is to a person’s credit; that is, he receives praise and honor.
The conditional clause in the sentence depicts indisputable reality. “If you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it,” why should you receive praise? Peter describes the situation of a slave whose master beats him with blows of a fist because the slave transgressed. Presumably the slave knew the instructions his master had given him. He chose to ignore them, however, and now being caught he has to endure his punishment. He deserves no sympathy and certainly no praise.
The original readers of Peter’s letter appear to have suffered pain unjustly. They have been trying to do that which is good, and yet have received physical blows for doing so. “But if you suffer for doing good and endure it, this is commendable before God.” Peter repeats this theme a few times in his epistle (see 2:19; 3:14, 17; 4:13–16). Furthermore, in the second half of the verse Peter echoes Jesus’ words: “And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?” (Luke 6:33).
When the Christian slave does his work in harmony with the will of his master, he generally does so in harmony with the will of God. If the slave performs his duties well, but his perverse master beats him nevertheless, then he suffers unjustly.
Whenever possible, we should avoid seeking undeserved punishment. If we solicit punishment for the sake of glory, we are defeating ourselves. But when suffering is unavoidable, we should endure it patiently without complaint, for then we know that we are doing God’s will and receive his commendation. Such suffering, says Peter, who repeats the words of verse 19, “is commendable before God.” Moreover, although unjust suffering may arouse sympathy among men, in the sight of God the sufferer receives praise and commendation.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. [Matt. 5:11–12]
2:20 There is no virtue in patient suffering for our own misdeeds. Certainly there is no glory for God in it. Such suffering will never mark us out as Christians, or make others want to become Christians. But suffering patiently for well-doing is the thing that counts. It is so unnatural, so other-worldly that it shocks people into conviction of sin and, hopefully, into salvation.
2:20 Credit suggests benefit or personal gain. There is no advantage to believers for successfully enduring a deserved punishment for wrongdoing, yet there is great value when we honor God with our actions when we are unfairly condemned by others (3:17). take it patiently: Endurance and perseverance in the face of suffering please God.
2:19–20. Peter set forth a principle here that may be applied to any situation where unjust suffering occurs. The commendable (lit., “for this is grace”) motivation for patiently bearing up under … unjust suffering is a believer’s conscious awareness of God’s presence. No credit accrues for enduring punishment for doing wrong. It is respectful submission to undeserved suffering that finds favor with God because such behavior demonstrates His grace.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 160–163). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 Hillyer, N. (2011). 1 and 2 Peter, Jude (p. 84). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Walls, D., & Anders, M. (1999). I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude (Vol. 11, pp. 35–36). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 105–106). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
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 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1682). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
 Raymer, R. M. (1985). 1 Peter. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 847–848). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.