What is the believer’s responsibility when his freedom is taken away? This can occur, if one is forced into servitude (slavery), when one nation conquers another, when powerful, unmerciful men are in authority in civil and commercial institutions and one might add other examples. What is a Christian to do under such circumstances? I believe both Peter and Paul offer reasonable solutions to these questions when they speak of the haustafel codes pertaining to servants or slaves. While it may not be a popular solution in our modern society, we need to remember the New Testament speaks to those who have freely chosen to follow Christ, and such a choice involves bearing wrongful treatment without complaint.
It is interesting that Peter addresses slaves in his epistle (1Peter 2:18), to be specific, domestic slaves ( G3610). It is interesting, because Jewish and gentile duty codes do not mention slaves, probably because they are not free, implying no moral responsibility. They have codes for the behavior of masters, but not for slaves. Only Christianity includes slaves, because there is no distinction in the Church even concerning masters and slaves (cf. (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; 1Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10). In Christ all are free to obey him, and a slave is to use his freedom in Christ to choose to be in submission to his human master, until freedom can be obtained (1Corinthians 7:21-22).
The servant was expected to serve his human master out of reverence toward the Lord—as though it were God whom the servant served (1Peter 2:18; cf. Ephesians 6:5-7; Colossians 3:22-25). This was extremely abused in American history concerning African slaves. The word of God was actually used to compel the slaves’ consciences to be faithful to their white masters, but this false gospel resembled India’s cast system rather than the love of Christ. We need to remember that the American masters claimed to be Christian, yet it can hardly be said that they submitted to the master’s code in Paul’s haustafel lists.
Peter doesn’t offer a command for the masters in Asia Minor. I have to wonder why. Could it be that the then current trial demanded all believers to behave as though they were servants/slaves in their communities? It was expected that the servant respect and submit to the authority of his human master. If all believers were under some type of persecution, it may have been prudent for all to behave as though he were the servant of all (cf. Mark 9:35; 10:44).
Nevertheless, no matter what the reason Peter didn’t address masters, the believing servant was expected to behave with an attitude of respect and submission to his human master (cf. 1Timothy 6:1-3; Titus 2:9-10)? This behavior was expected so that God and the Gospel would not be blasphemed in the world (1Timothy 6:1-3; Titus 2:9-10). The Gospel changes people, not culture. The Gospel speaks to the hearts of people, and people change their culture when enough people are led to see the wisdom in doing so. The Gospel has always been interested in getting people to end their rebellion against God. Once believers come under the influence of the Holy Spirit, behavior and cultural changes do follow, but this would be due to men, acting under the influence of love, wanting to please God and to extend mercy and kindness to their fellow man. Equality in Christ is as a seed that reaps equality in one’s behavior and attitude in the world.