What was really important for Peter was that the Christian slaves imitate the example of Christ. This is the basic calling of all Christians wherever they are, and it was the basic calling of the Christian slaves to whom he was writing. Therefore, in order to know what they should do, they had to think about what Jesus did in difficult situations. To follow in his steps is both challenging and comforting. It is a challenge because we are sinners, but it is comforting because Peter’s words indicate that we can imitate Jesus in a measure. It would be possible for a slave to disrespect his unjust master and have no inner peace as a consequence, but a Christian slave of an unfair master would have the peace of Christ even after unjust suffering.
Peter focuses on how Jesus spoke in difficult situations, which suggests that the apostle was concerned about verbal disrespect by Christian slaves towards unjust masters. Of course, Peter here is writing about what he himself had witnessed when he saw Jesus unjustly treated after his arrest.
Of course, it would be possible to control one’s speech in a variety of ways. One can imagine a person doing so from a stoical point of view. Many a person has managed to keep quiet under extreme pressure by this method. Indeed stoicism used to be a common feature of British character. Listen to this advice from the stoic, Marcus Aurelius: ‘Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil… I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.’ I have heard similar advice given by Christians. Yet it is an outlook based on self-sufficiency.
In contrast, how did Jesus prepare for difficult situations? Peter tells us that his Master ‘continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly’. In other words, he continually committed himself into the care of the heavenly Father. In this, Jesus is an example of faith, of love, of patience, of acquiescence in the Father’s wisdom.