“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle but also to the harsh.”
not only to the good and gentle
Many of the masters of the first century were “good and gentle.”
The word “gentle” means seemly, fitting, hence, equitable, fair, moderate, forbearing, not insisting on the letter of the law. Some masters were equitable and fair. Some were considerate of their servants. They were gracious and forbearing.
“Gentle” here does not mean gentle in our 20th-century sense of the word. If a manager or supervisor were gentle, the herd would trample him to death. The idea is more “fair” or “reasonable.”
All born again bosses should be both good and fair. Anyone in charge of any number of people always finds employees he likes and some dislikes. However, personal feelings should have nothing to do with how we treat them. Often nice people do the worst job, and the sorriest do the best job. The responsibility of the employer is to treat employees fairly, regardless of how he feels about them. He should never allow his personal feelings to enter into the role of the employer at all. God wants him to treat all people the same.
but also to the harsh
The word “harsh” means bent, curved, not straight. We get our medical term “scoliosis” (curvature of the spine) from this word. Ancient Greek used this word for rivers and roads that wound and twisted through the terrain. It comes to mean metaphorically perverse. These masters were unscrupulous and dishonest. They were unfair in their treatment of those under them. No doubt, they were cooked. Peter asks these servants to submit themselves to perverse masters! Peter here challenges the house servants to a new plane of commitment.
All of us face authority all of the time. Regardless of what kind of boss we might have, we do our job as unto the Lord. It makes no difference if he is unkind or grumpy; we do our jobs unto the Lord. What kind of personality our boss has is not the issue. The issue is we are in full-time Christian service.
Having an unfair boss does not give us the right to loaf on the job. It does not give us an excuse for going behind his back and complaining. We represent the Lord Jesus at our job. We might lead that grumpy, surly boss to Christ one day. We will not do it by complaining but by doing our job as unto the Lord.
The fact that our employer is not fair does not justify the employee sinning. It is normal to “get back at” an unfair employer by whatever means possible – careless work, loafing, pilfering. This attitude is so widespread today that even when the employer is a good employer, employees tend to get away with everything they can or do as little as possible, or resort to petty thievery.
The boss may not always be right, but he is still the boss. He may try to give the impression that he is omniscient, but he does not know it! His wife knows it. Everyone else knows it, but he does not know it. The Christian nevertheless gives him an honest day’s work for a fair day’s wage.
Our place of employment is full-time Christian service.
God expects us to do our job not primarily for our employer but for God himself. What is your attitude toward your job? What is your state of mind toward your boss? “Well, my boss is about the most unreasonable, unrelenting, implacable, and merciless man you have ever seen. He makes demands that are not just. It is impossible to please him. No matter how much I extend myself, he still isn’t pleased.”
The believer is to give his employer a full day’s work. It does not make any difference whether the boss is fair or has a miserable personality.