Submission and Marriage
We’ve been working our way through 1 Peter chapter 3v1-6. Those verses present the third of Peter’s series of examples of what it means to obey the command he gave in chapter 2 verse 13 for believers in Christ to “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution”.
This third example hangs on the command that we find in verse 1 which is given as “wives, be subject to your own husbands” in the ESV or as “Wives……. submit yourselves to your own husbands” in the NIV. So, in this case Peter is speaking of Christian wives submitting themselves to their husbands. From verses 1 and 2 we considered the Properties and Purpose of that submission. Last time, from verses 3 and 4, we considered the Practice of that submission and we noticed that Peter was talking about what he referred to as the adorning of Christian wives. We saw that what is far more important than any outward adorning is the inward adorning of “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” because that “in God’s sight is very precious”.
We finished last time by reminding ourselves that this was all in the context of the command for wives to “submit yourselves to your own husbands” and we wondered what this question of adorning had to do with Christian wives submitting themselves to their husbands. Well, that will become clearer as we move on now to look at verses 5 and 6 where Peter goes on to say: “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening”. From those verses we see: The Pattern of submission.
By “Pattern” I really mean “example”. You see, in verses 5 and 6, we find that Peter points back to the example of what the NIV refers to as “the holy women of the past”. In particular, he then goes on to single out Abraham’s wife, Sarah. I want us to note five things about these women from the past that Peter is referring to by way of example. We see their Description, Distinction, Decoration, Deference and Daughters.
Firstly, let us consider what Peter says in terms of a: Description We see in verse 5 that he described them as “the holy women”. This is the only place in the whole of the Bible in which the expression “holy women” is found. Which women did he have in mind? We’re not told. The one thing we can say for sure about “the holy women” is that Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was one of them. We see that from verse 6. What did Peter mean by “holy women”? You might think he was referring to particularly good, virtuous women. After all, we speak of God as being holy and what we mean by that is that He is perfect. He is absolutely pure and utterly sinless.
You’ll remember that Peter said in 1 Peter 1v14-16: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy””. There, Peter was exhorting believers in Christ to be holy as God is holy in terms of their conduct. Now, we know full well don’t we that our conduct isn’t holy as God is holy. That’s why we need the exhortation! Are we to take it that Peter is suggesting that there were some women of old who were holy as God is holy? Well, no. Invariably we find that when the word “holy” is used of things or people it’s used in the sense of them belonging to God, being set apart for God and being used by Him for His purposes. That’s the sense in which Peter used the word “holy” back in 1 Peter 2v9-10 when he said: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”. You see, he says believers in Christ together are “a holy nation”. That’s not to say that we are perfect in holiness as God is. No.
Peter goes on to explain what he means by “a holy nation”. He says that it is “a people for his own possession” and then he says: “now you are God’s people”. So, by “holy”, he means “God’s possession” or “belonging to God” in a special way. In 2 Peter 3v1-2 we read: “This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles”. There, Peter refers back to the “prophets”. The prophets weren’t necessarily particularly good men, in fact, some of them were very disobedient. Think of Jonah for example. He consistently disobeyed the Lord. Nonetheless, Peter spoke of them as being “holy prophets”. Why? Because they were being used by God to do His work and speak on His behalf.
It follows then that the “holy women” that Peter is referring to as an example were women who also belonged to God in a special way and were set apart for Him and used for His purposes. In that sense, Christian wives are also “holy women”. They’re female saints. Having seen their description as “holy women” let’s go on to note their: Distinction What distinguished these “holy women”? What should distinguish those who are set apart for God? Well, the significant thing that we’re told about them here, according to the ESV, is that they “hoped in God”. The NKJV, I think helpfully, refers to them as the holy women “who trusted in God”. The NIV says that they “put their hope in God”. So, the idea is that they “placed their trust in God”. They didn’t put their trust in themselves. They didn’t put their trust in their husbands’. But, they weren’t without hope because their trust was firmly in God. In other words, they had faith in Him. We’ve noted that Sarah was one of these “holy women” and we’re told something about her in Hebrews 11v11 where we read: “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised”. You see, Sarah’s faith was in God to keep His promise. She considered Him to be faithful. She was sure that He was trustworthy so she trusted Him to do what He had promised. Was that trust well founded? Yes it was because, incredibly, she gave birth to Isaac just as God had promised even though she had been barren and was way past normal child-bearing age. So, these “holy women” were characterised by the fact that they “hoped in God” and the trust that they had in Him was well founded.
The next thing to note about their hope is that the Greek is in the present continuous tense. So, it wasn’t that they once hoped in God or that they’d hoped in Him from time to time. No, their whole lives were characterised by and built upon hope in God. In the bad times as well as the good times they continued to trust Him. They “considered him faithful who had promised”. They knew that what had been promised to them was certain because God who had made the promise is faithful. Their ongoing hope wasn’t dependent upon circumstances. Because their hope was in God who is faithful, their hope continued throughout their lives despite any outward circumstances. That it was a lifelong, ongoing hope is confirmed if we look at Hebrews 11v13 where we read: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth”. That, of course, refers to the catalogue of the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11 and it includes Sarah so this would apply to “the holy women who hoped in God” that Peter was referring to. You see, we’re told that they “all died in faith”. In other words, they all trusted in God right up until the day they died. It was an ongoing, lifelong trust. But then you’ll notice that the verse goes on to say that they did so “not having received the things promised”. That prompts some questions doesn’t it? If they’d not “received the things promised” does that then mean that they’d wasted their time? Had a lifetime of trusting in God been pointless? Or, on the other hand, was it perhaps not really the case that they had not “received the things promised”? After all, Sarah had given birth to Isaac as promised. Yes, Isaac had been promised but he was not “the Promise”. He was but one stepping stone on the way to the fulfilment of the promise.
The verse goes on to make it clear that they had an awareness of the things promised that they were trusting God for but they had also “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth”. In other words, they didn’t expect to receive the things promised in this life. That’s exactly what we’re told in Hebrews 11v14-16 where we read: “For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city”. That’s why they “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” – they were desiring a heavenly home, a heavenly country that God had promised and has prepared.
You’ll remember that throughout this letter Peter has frequently referred to believers in Christ as being “strangers and exiles on the earth” too. We don’t look for God’s promise to be fulfilled in this life either. We also trust in Christ for “a better country, that is, a heavenly one”. Will the believers of old receive what they’d hoped for? Yes! Look at what the writer to the Hebrews goes on to say in verses 39 and 40: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect”. You see, they’d lived in the era of promise but God has “provided something better for us”. What is that something better? Well, He’s sent Jesus and Jesus has died on the cross and shed His blood and that shed blood is the blood of the New Covenant. We live in the age of fulfilment. We will receive what was promised and that is through Jesus Christ. Those who believed of old “did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us”. In other words, they didn’t receive what was promised because Jesus had not yet come. The writer goes on to say: “that apart from us they should not be made perfect”. In other words, now that Jesus has come, they will be made perfect along with us. We and they together will “receive what was promised”.
Having seen that the women that Peter pointed to as examples were described as being “holy women” and were distinguished by the fact that they “hoped in God”, let us next notice their: Decoration That heading comes from the fact that the text tells us that these holy women whose hope was in God “used to adorn themselves”. Remember that Peter had just been speaking about the adorning of Christian wives back in verses 3 and 4. Now he’s talking about the adorning of “the holy women of the past”. Notice the logic of the grammatical flow here. In the ESV, verse 5 begins: “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves”. The NIV has: “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves”. Both versions begin with “For this is…. ”. That expression indicates a logical connection with what had gone before. He’s providing a reason for what he had said before. What had gone before? Well, Peter had said to Christian wives: “but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious”.
The logic of Peter’s argument here is that Christian wives are to let their “adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” because that’s what “the holy women of the past” did and they adorned themselves in that way because they “put their hope in God”. You might think that it seems strange to speak of a hidden, inner adorning. After all, isn’t adornment something that can be seen? Well, next we see that this beautiful inner adorning was worked out in terms of their: Deference That heading comes from the fact that the passage goes on to say that these holy women whose hope was in God “used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands”. That’s how the ESV renders it. The NIV has: “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands”. The NIV’s version is a bit misleading because it mentions the adorning in one sentence and then speaks of the submission in a new sentence giving the impression that they are two separate things. The ESV is correct in emphasising that they “used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands”. Their adornment was seen in their submission to their husbands with “a gentle and quiet spirit”. This really brings us full circle.
We’re back to the command in verse 1 for wives to “submit yourselves to your own husbands”. From the context of what we’ve been considering it’s important to recognise that they didn’t submit to their husbands because their hope and trust was in their husbands. They didn’t submit to their husbands because they considered their husbands to be intellectually superior or spiritually superior. Neither did they submit because they were forced to or because they feared their husbands in some way. No, they submitted to their husbands because their hope was in God. That’s what enabled them to adorn themselves by submitting to their husbands with “a gentle and quiet spirit”. Having said that these holy women whose hope was in God “used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands”, Peter then goes on to give a specific example by adding “as Sarah obeyed Abraham”. So, Peter considers “submitting to their own husbands” to involve obeying their own husbands. That’s certainly not a popular idea in our society in these days of women’s lib is it? In the traditional marriage service the Bride vowed: “I, _____, take thee, _____, to be my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth”. The word “obey” is invariably omitted nowadays because it’s not in keeping with modern sensibilities. But, Peter makes it clear that, for a Christian wife, being submissive to her husband includes being obedient.
Women’s libbers would make that sound very ominous and suggest that it is very repressive. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be taken in by their distorted view. To understand this obedience aright we must firstly recognise that it doesn’t mean “mere obedience”. It is obedience in the context of a loving relationship. Peter has already made it clear that the submission was to be with “a gentle and quiet spirit”. So, it’s not “mere obedience” but a willing and wholehearted obedience. The way in which Jesus obeyed God the Father is very much the model for such obedience. He was one with the Father just as a wife and her husband are one. He loved the Father and we find in John 4v34 that He said: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work”. He was obedient to the will of the Father and that obedience was as important as food to Him. He gladly obeyed. He enjoyed obeying even though obedience was far from easy. We read in Philippians 2v8: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”. Obedience to the Father took Jesus to His death on the cross but He didn’t go to the cross reluctantly because He was one with the Father in the plan to save sinners.
Well, in the same way, wives aren’t to obey their husbands grudgingly or half-heartedly but willingly and enthusiastically in the context of a loving commitment and with the conviction and confidence that doing so is pleasing to God. It’s to be so much more fulsome and satisfying than “mere obedience”.
Secondly, we must recognise that it isn’t “blind obedience” either. As we saw when we were considering the submission of citizens to rulers and the submission of slaves to masters there is always the caveat that we must obey God rather than men. So, wives aren’t to blindly obey their husbands come what may – they’re only to do so in so far as it is not contrary to the standards that God requires. It’s interesting to note what made Peter cite Sarah as an example of such obedience. He said that “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord”. So, he didn’t point out an example of a great act of obedience from the life of Sarah. He simply mentioned that she called him “lord”. That’s almost certainly a reference to Genesis 18v12 where we read: “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure? ”” In that context Sarah was speaking to herself and the expression “my lord” is almost incidental.
The point is that, even in the privacy of her inner imaginings, she thought of her husband as “my lord”. That attitude of deference and respect was an integral part of her very being. It wasn’t a façade put on to keep Abraham happy or to impress others. Even in her secret, unguarded moments such as this one when she was musing on the fact that she was worn out and Abraham was old, she still considered him to be her “lord”. So, the holy women whose hope was in God adorned themselves by submitting to their husbands.
Finally, notice that Peter said that Sarah, as one of them, had: Daughters. We see that because Peter went on to say: “And you are her children” or “daughters” in the NIV. Of course, Sarah had physical descendants but that isn’t what Peter is talking about here because he said “you are her daughters”. Who did he mean by “you”? He meant the Christian wives that he was addressing in the letter. Most of them would have been Gentiles so they certainly weren’t Sarah’s physical descendants. They were her spiritual descendants. Before we go any further we need to be aware that the ESV and NIV are both quite misleading at this point as neither version translates the Greek text very well. The ESV says “And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” and the NIV says: “You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear”. Both versions give the impression that the text is saying that “you are only Sarah’s children so long as you do good and are not afraid”. However, a literal translation would actually be something like: “of whom you became children, doing good and not fearing any consternation”.
So, Peter was actually saying that the Christian wives he was addressing had become daughters of Sarah. When had that happened? It was at their conversion. When they came to faith in Christ they became holy women whose hope was in God just as Sarah had been a holy woman whose hope was in God. Prior to that, in the words of Paul in Ephesians 2v16, they had been “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world”. But now they were in Christ and their hope was in God. Consequently, they are characterised by “doing good and not fearing any consternation”. That flows from having hope or faith or trust in God.
Women who hope in God have confidence in His sovereign power as the ruler of the universe and are sure of His amazing love for them. That being the case, they “do good”. They want to please Him and He wants them to submit to their husbands with “a gentle and quiet spirit” – even if their husbands are unbelievers and even if their husbands don’t seem to deserve such respect. Sometimes for a Christian wife to “do good” it will mean obeying God rather than her husband and that might bring about an angry response. She might face intimidation whether physically or emotionally or socially. In that case, the Christian wife is not to fear because her hope is in God. Peter could well be alluding to Proverbs 3v25-26 here. It says: “Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught”. Why not be afraid? Because “the Lord will be your confidence”. This has all been in the context of exhorting Christian wives to be submissive to their husbands but the spiritual reality that lies behind that is true for every believer in Christ.
Is your hope in God? If it really is, it will affect your life in such a way that you “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening”. Well, we’ve spent three sessions considering what Peter had to say about Christian wives submitting to their husbands.
Next time we’ll look at verse 7 and see what he went on to say to Christian husbands. ESV: 3 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. 7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you[a] of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. NIV: 3 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. 7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.