“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.”
“Servants” here is not the usual word for “slaves.” This word means a house-slave. This person serves in a menial sense, a house-servant. These servants were domestic servants who lived with their masters serving in the house itself. Even though they were domestic servants, many were doctors, teachers, musicians, actors, and stewards over great estates.
This role was relevant to a large number of Peter’s readers. Both servants and slaves made up a significant number of early church members. During the writing of First Peter, there were about 60 million slaves. Romans looked upon them as a “thing,” not a person. A lot of these slaves were not always wretched. Many of them were loved and treated as members of the family. However well they might be treated, they remained things with nothing in the world to call their own, including themselves. The Romans thought if they were the master of the world, why should they do work. Let the slaves do that.
Into this situation, Christianity came with its message that every person is precious in the sight of God. This was indeed good news. Within the church, the social barrier was broken down between slaves and citizens of the Roman Empire. Callistus, one of the earliest bishops of Rome, was a slave. A slave could be the chairman of the board and his master a member of the congregation. This was a revolutionary idea.
This gave rise to the danger that the slave might take advantage of his master. He might shirk his work and do as he liked.
God expects us to do our job not primarily for our employer but for God himself.
The problem of people taking advantage of their employers because they are Christians is still present with us. There are still people who trade on the goodwill of their bosses. Some think that because they are Christians that this gives them the right to loaf on the job.
God expects the Christian to be the best worker he can be. His Christianity should make him more conscientious than others. God wants us to recognize the authority of our employer in business. After all, no one forced us to take the job. We took it from our own free will.