There are many passages of scripture dealing with work and masters (or bosses) but let’s focus on just one for the purposes of today’s discussion. In the book of 1 Peter, Peter is encouraging persecuted believers to “prepare your minds for action” and “fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13) and then goes on to tell us how to do to be Godly witnesses and examples in spite of extreme persecution. Although most of our workplaces do not qualify as places of extreme persecution, there are Biblical principles we can learn from these words. I would encourage you to read the longer passage in context. (1 Peter 2:12-21).

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.

1 Peter 2: 18-20

I once worked for someone who, in my opinion, had no clue what they were doing. I considered him incompetent, aloof, and someone who expected others to pick up all of his slack. After all, he had inherited the company and not really earned it. I had no respect for him and freely expressed my opinion. I spoke disrespectfully behind his back and did not submit to his leadership. I would have qualified him as an “unreasonable” boss. I’m ashamed to admit that I did not respond to this situation in a Biblical way and ended up leaving the organization.

Scripture is very clear on our responsibility to submit and be respectful to those in authority over us for God in His providence has ordained our particular circumstances. This passage commands us to be submissive by putting ourselves in a subservient position of obedience (or doing what we are directed to do) and doing so with a respectful heart and attitude.

Here are some specific ways that you can Biblically display submission and respect:

1. Pray for your boss

Pray for your boss, whether he or she is a believer or not. If not, pray specifically for their salvation. If he or she is a believer, then pray that God grants them wisdom to lead in a Godly and Biblical way. It’s hard to be angry at someone when you begin to pray for them (Matt. 5:43-45 ; Luke 6:27-28 ; 1 Timothy 2:1-4).

2. Understand your Boss’s Expectations

Understand the expectations your boss has for you and make every effort to not only achieve them, but exceed them! If you need to meet with your boss to clarify your work objectives, then do so. Meet on a weekly, or bi-weekly, basis if necessary to determine if you are on track. Prioritize the requests your boss asks of you and make a plan to do excellent work. (Col. 3:23; Eph. 6: 5-8; 1 Cor. 10:31 ; Eph. 6:5-8)

3. Guard Your Speech

Don’t speak ill of, or gossip about, your boss to anyone, co-workers or family (Proverbs 20:19; Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20; 1 Timothy 5:13; 2 Timothy 3:3).

4. Don’t Complain

Don’t grumble and complain about your work assignment or position. (Phil 2:14).

5. Be Selfless

Be the type of worker that is a joy to supervise. Be a blessing to your boss and be concerned for his or her interests (Phil. 2: 3-4).

6. Be Humble and Respectful

If it becomes necessary to confront your boss about a work issue, do it privately, respectfully, and with a humble heart. Provide factual information, not hearsay. They may not even be aware of the issue that is causing harm to you or others. Your respectful and humble approach may be exactly what is needed to increase this awareness in a gracious way. If he/she responds negatively, thank them for their time and leave. Don’t argue! (Prov. 27:17 Titus 2:9; Matt. 18:15)

7. Never be confrontational to your boss in a public forum

There may be times to respectfully challenge publically, but never be confrontational. If you are berated or criticized in public, remember Christ did not respond by defending himself or proving he was right (and He had every right to). ( 1 Peter 2: 21-23; Romans 12:17; 1 Tim. 6:2; Mark 14:61)

8. If necessary, resign or seek another position.

In the end, if you determine that you cannot willfully submit to your boss’s leadership, then you must make preparations to resign from the organization or move to another position. If your boss is behaving contrary to legal or Biblical mandates (or asking you to do so), or if you have hardened your heart and chosen not to submit, then this is the only Godly and honorable thing to do (1 Tim 6:1). (It is important to note that there are other potential reasons for leaving an organization that are not unbiblical. Those are not discussed here. I would recommend that you seek Godly counsel before making the decision to leave an organization.)

So, to put this in a practical example, when your boss comes to you in the ninth hour of a project or job and tells you that you are not doing it according to his earlier direction when you are certain that you understood him perfectly and were following his directions to the letter, don’t respond with anger and defensiveness and desperately make attempts to prove yourself right or by “standing up for yourself”.

Responding in a submissive and respectful way looks completely different than our natural reaction. A Biblical response would be, “Sorry, I must have misunderstood. Just so I’m clear, is this the way you want it done?” Ask for clarification and repeat back to him/her what you understand his/her expectations to be and make every effort to not only fulfill them, but do over and above what’s been asked (Prov. 16:14). If you respond with grace and patience, with submissive words and a respectful attitude, you may be the only model of grace and mercy that they ever see. A true expression of the Gospel, and that’s much more important that proving yourself right (Matthew 5:7).

We must also remember this, we will never respect or submit perfectly, it’s not our nature. There is only one who could ever do that and He is our advocate in spite of our failure (1 John 2:1-3 ). Christ was the perfect representation of respect and submission to authority, being obedient even to the point of death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). He was showing us that God’s way is better than our own, and submission to God reveals the Gospel (Matt. 26:39). As a result of Christ’s perfect obedience and submission, we have the gift of eternal life. Through Christ’s sacrifice alone, God pours out His grace, mercy and steadfast love.

So why even make the effort to be obedient to this command? Why would we even put up with an unreasonable boss and unreasonable expectations, to willingly submit to and respect their authority? The major reason is explained above; to honor and worship Christ’s submission to the Father and His sacrifice on our behalf. Another is, this sacrificial love was extended to them as well. The same love He had for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). Remember, we were once sinners in need of a Savior.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3: 1-7

Only through fixing our hope in Christ are we even able to have any desire to be obedient and respectful to those in authority over us. In doing so, we are able to respond Biblically and with humility, for the rest of the 1 Peter passage states;

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable19 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.

1 Peter 2: 18-20

Trust in Christ and prove yourself to be a trustworthy and honorable servant to your boss, an example of grace and mercy, even to unreasonable ones, for this finds favor with God.

  1. Lord, help me show your love.
    Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God.Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.– 1 John 4:7-8
  2. Lord, help me forgive.
    Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ. – Ephesians 4:32 (GNTD)
  3. Lord, defend me. 
    He is like a shield for all who seek his protection.– Proverbs 30:5 (GNTD)
  4. Lord, help me to keep my eyes on you.
    Of course, my friends, I really do not think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. 14 So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God’s call through Christ Jesus to the life above.– Philippians 3:13-14 (GNTD)
  5. Lord, help me to be humble.
    Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves. And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own. – Philippians 2:3-4 (GNTD)

Further Study

  1. Read 1 Peter 2:12-22. List the reasons why we are to be subject to every human institution.
  2. How does submission to those in authority over us display God’s sovereignty?
  3. Is the teaching of submission to those in authority over us a call to be passive or inactive?
  4. Read Matthew 26: 36-46. How does Christ’s submission reveal the Gospel? What actions did He take and what was He preparing Himself for?
  5. If God in His sovereignty, places us in authority under what we would define as an “unreasonable boss”, is He trying to punish us into submission? (Read James 1:2-3 ; 1 Peter 1:6-7)
  6. Compare 1 Peter 2: 12-22 and Romans 13: 1-7.

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