We’ve spent the last three sessions looking at 1 Peter verses 1 to 6. Those six verses were devoted to the submission of Christian wives to their husbands. That subject was the third of Peter’s series of examples of what it means to obey the command that 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 chapter 3 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. The previous examples had been the submission of Christian citizens to civil authorities in chapter 2 verses 13 to 17 and the submission of Christian slaves or servants to their masters in chapter 2 verses 18 to 20.
We’re now going to move on to consider 1 Peter 3v7. The ESV renders that verse as: “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 of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered”. The NIV renders it as: “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”.
So, having addressed Christian wives, Peter went on to give instructions to Christian husbands. What I find interesting about that is the fact that when he exhorted Christian citizens to submit to civil rulers he didn’t go on to give instructions to rulers and when he addressed Christian servants to submit to their masters he didn’t go on to give instructions to masters but having exhorted Christian wives to submit to their husbands he did go on to give instructions to husbands. Why was that? It could simply be that there were no Civil Rulers or Masters among the believers he was writing to but there certainly were husbands. However, we know from other New Testament letters that there certainly were Masters in the early church. Think of Philemon for instance. Paul’s letter to him was about resolving an issue between him and his runaway slave Oneisimus.
So, I think a significant reason for Peter going on to address husbands must be because, although the relationship between a husband and wife is similar to the relationships between rulers and subjects and masters and servants in that it also involves headship and submission, it is, nonetheless, also a very different relationship from those between rulers and subjects and masters and servants. Why do I say that? Well look at Genesis 2v24. That verse speaks of God’s design for the relationship between husband and wife as follows: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh”. You see, when a man and a woman get married there is a leaving behind of old relationships to form a new and lasting relationship which is so unique and intimate that they are described as becoming “one flesh”. That is nothing like the relationships between rulers and subjects or masters and servants. You and David Cameron cannot possibly be described as being “one flesh”. You and your employer cannot be described as being “one flesh”. A husband and wife are “one flesh”.
The relationship between a husband and wife is also very different from that between rulers and subjects or that between masters and servants for another reason that we’ll see if we read Ephesians 5v22-33: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband”.
We won’t go into that passage in any detail but you’ll see that it starts by exhorting wives to submit to their husbands as Peter did in chapter 3 verse 1. It then goes on to exhort husbands to love their wives which is what Peter goes on to explain in chapter 3 verse 7. But that’s not all. Throughout the passage a parallel is being drawn between the relationship between a husband and wife and that between Christ and His church. So, when speaking of the submission of wives to their husbands Paul says: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands”. When speaking of husbands loving their wives he says: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church”. You see, unlike the relationships between rulers and subjects or masters and servants, the relationship between a husband and wife mirrors the amazing relationship that exists between Christ and His church. No wonder Peter goes on to address husbands as well as wives.
So, what does Peter have to say to Christian husbands? In approaching this verse I would point out that we see a relationship, a rule, a reason and a result. Firstly, let us consider the:
Obviously, there is a relationship between a husband and wife but that isn’t what I have in mind by this heading. You see, Peter begins verse 7 by saying “Likewise, husbands”. In using that word “likewise” as he begins to address Christian husbands he’s indicating that there’s a connection or relationship between what he had been saying to Christian wives and what he is now going on to say to husbands. You could equally well say “similarly”. What is that connection or similarity or relationship? Superficially, you could get the impression that, since he’d just been saying to Christian wives “submit yourselves to your own husbands”, he must now be saying that Christian husbands are to do likewise and submit to their wives. But, that doesn’t really make sense. How would that work? Would they be competing to out submit one another? Neither does it fit in with the pattern that we saw in Ephesians 5. So, in what sense are Christian husbands to do likewise? To avoid the impression that Peter is saying that husbands should submit to their wives in the same way as their wives are to submit to them, the NIV, I think quite helpfully, uses the term “in the same way“. That makes it clear that Peter wasn’t saying that husbands are to do the same thing as their wives but that what they do is to be done in the same manner and with the same attitude as that of Christian wives when they are submissive. Is the NIV justified in providing that translation? I think it is. Chapter 3 verse 1 began by saying: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands”. When we considered that verse we noted that there is a Greek word that means “in exactly the same way” but that isn’t the word that Peter has used here. There’s another Greek word that means “in every way” but that isn’t the word that Peter has used here either. The Greek word that he has used and that has been translated as “likewise” or “in the same way” is a somewhat softer term that really means “in a similar way”. We saw that the submission of a Christian wife to her husband is to be similar to that of Christian slaves to their masters or Christian citizens to their rulers in that there is to be a similarity of attitude. That attitude is to be characterised by honour and respect. There is also to be a similarity of motive. That motive is summed up in the words “for the Lord’s sake”. The motive isn’t selfish. Neither is it primarily altruistic. First and foremost, the motive is the desire to please the Lord.
So, although husbands are not exhorted to be submissive to their wives, they are to relate to them with honour and respect in a way that is pleasing to God. We see that as we go on to consider the:
By “rule” here I really mean command or imperative. We’ve already seen lots of imperatives as we’ve been working our way through 1 Peter. What is Peter’s command to Christian husbands? Well, we see that he says: “live with your wives in an understanding way showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel”.
The basic imperative that is being given to husbands there is “live with your wives”. The Greek word that has been translated as “live with” only occurs on this one occasion in the New Testament but it is often used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to a sexual relationship. Even in modern day parlance, in our modern day society that is so ready to disregard and denigrate marriage, the expression “living together” is often used and it doesn’t simply refer to two people who happen to live in the same house. It usually implies a sexual relationship. So, the exhortation for husbands to “live with your wives” certainly carries sexual overtones. The fact is that God provided marriage as the right context for sex so it is important that Christian husbands and wives ensure that their sexual desires are fulfilled within their marriage.
However, I think we would be making a big mistake if we took it that that was all that Peter was referring to in giving this exhortation for husbands to “live with your wives”. We must also take the expression at its face value. Peter is surely saying that husbands are to spend time with their wives, to enjoy being with their wives and doing things with their wives. There might be times when they have to be away from their wives but that is not to be something they want or enjoy. A Christian husband is to spend as much time with his wife as possible. We’ll all be aware that there are some husbands whose lives are largely centred around their work or hobbies or friends. Their wives are almost as widows because their husbands are forever fishing or watching football or spending time pottering about in the shed or going out with their mates. Obviously, there’s a place for Christian husbands to enjoy hobbies or social activities but they should be secondary to time spent with their wives. A man’s wife should be the focus of his attention because he and she are one flesh. That’s what Paul was getting at in Ephesians 5 when he said: “He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it”. Because you are one flesh with your wife, you should love her and cherish her.
Peter goes on to flesh out the command for Christian husbands to “live with your wives” by adding the words “in an understanding way”. That’s how the ESV puts it. The NIV has “be considerate” but neither version really captures the right sense. When you read the words “in an understanding way” in the ESV it brings to mind the words “you just don’t understand” or “you don’t understand how I feel” that wives sometimes utter and leave their husbands absolutely flummoxed! Of course, husbands are to do their very best to understand their wives in that way but it’s not what Peter is emphasising here. When you read the words “Be considerate” in the NIV it gives the impression that Peter is saying something like “be courteous” or “be polite” or be “well mannered” which sounds quite impersonal. However, a literal translation of the Greek would be “according to knowledge”. There are really two factors involved there. Firstly, there is “knowledge” and then there is the idea of living with your wife according to that knowledge. So, it’s not just knowledge. It’s knowledge in action with respect to your relationship with your wife. So you have the sense of husbands living with their wives in way that is based on and consistent with knowledge.
Now, Peter doesn’t make it clear what knowledge he has in mind when he exhorts Christian husbands to live with their wives according to knowledge but I suspect that, primarily, what he has in mind is knowledge of God. By that I don’t mean an intellectual knowledge about God. It’s the sort of knowledge that Paul prayed that the Colossian believers would have. He said in Colossians 1v9-10: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God”.
That’s not intellectual knowledge. It’s personal, relational knowledge. It’s being tuned in to what pleases God and increasingly knowing Him better and that should inform and affect every area of our lives. The whole of Peter’s section on being “subject to every human institution” has been informed by and undergirded by this sense of personal relationship with God. So, in chapter 2v13 when he said that we’re to be “subject to every human institution” he stressed that that was to be “for the Lord’s sake”. It was to be with the awareness, or knowledge that it was for God and pleasing to God. In chapter 2v15 he went on to say: “For this is the will of God”. In chapter 2v16 he spoke of “but living as servants of God”. In chapter 2v19 he said: “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God”. You see, Christian living is to be informed and directed by an awareness of serving God and doing what pleases Him. Our relationship with Him is to undergird all that we do. So, Christian husbands are to live with their wives in a way that is consistent with their relationship with God and what they know of Him and His will and that includes His design and purpose for marriage.
Peter goes on to mention an aspect of God’s design for marriage and so further clarifies what he means by “in an understanding way” by adding the words “showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel”. The NIV has “treat them with respect as the weaker partner” but the word “respect” is a bit misleading. That’s, partly, because it sounds too distant and formal to apply to the intimacy and oneness of the marriage relationship and partly because it is altogether too low key to convey the right sense. You might respect someone without particularly liking them, let alone loving them. The ESV rightly captures the sense by saying “showing honor”. The idea is not just of respect but of elevating her and lifting her high. Christian husbands are to treat their wives as being very important and very special. That was a radical concept. In the Patriarchal society of Peter’s day. Women were looked down upon. They were strictly second class. Husbands were to keep their wives in their place. But, Christian husbands are to be very different. They are to love and honour their wives.
Now, contrary to what women’s libbers might claim or assert, this is not because husbands and wives are the same. It’s interesting to note that Peter didn’t say “showing honor to your wife”. He said: “showing honor to the woman”. A more literal translation would be: “showing honor to the feminine one”. You see, male and female are different. Back in Genesis 1v27 we’re told: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”. So, although male and female were both made in the image of God, they are not exactly the same. God Himself draws attention to the fact that there is a distinction between them. Peter goes on to highlight one of the differences by referring to the woman as “the weaker vessel” or “the weaker partner”. Superficially, that might sound as though Peter is saying that women are inferior to men. Certainly, in the Greek world of Peter’s day it was widely held that women were intellectually, morally and spiritually inferior to men. However, nowhere does the word of God suggest that women are inferior in any of those ways. I think we are to take it that Peter is simply referring to the very obvious fact that women are physically weaker than men. There’s a reason for women’s rugby teams not playing men’s rugby teams!
You see, husbands, because of their greater physical strength, could easily dominate and subjugate their wives and that was commonly the case in Peter’s day. But Christian husbands are to be radically different. Rather than exploiting the fact that their wives are physically weaker, or belittling their weakness, they are to honour their feminine qualities. Why is that? Well, Peter goes on to tell us the:
You see, he goes on to say “since”. He’s giving a reason. What is the reason? It’s “since they are heirs with you of the grace of life”. The words “with you” speak of togetherness and oneness. Perhaps a better translation than “heirs with you” would be “joint heirs” or “fellow heirs”. There’s a fundamental equality between husband and wife. They might be different as male and female but they are involved as heirs together as equals. They are of equal value to God as people made in His image and, as believers in Christ, they share exactly the same relationship to God. So, in Galatians 3v28 we read: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
What is it that Christian husbands and wives share in together? Peter says that they are “heirs” together “of the grace of life”. What does he mean by “the grace of life”? Well, whatever it is, Christian husbands and wives are “heirs” of it so it’s their inheritance. Remember that Peter spoke of the believers’ inheritance back in 1 Peter 1v3-5 where he said: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”.
So, Christian husbands and wives share in eternal life together. They share exactly the same eternal salvation in Jesus Christ. That’s the reason for the command for Christian husbands “live with your wives in an understanding way showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel”. Finally, we’re told the result of doing so. Having considered the reason let us note the:
You see that Peter goes on to say: “so”. That indicates that he’s telling us an outcome or a result and the result is “that your prayers may not be hindered”. That probably comes as a bit of a surprise. Peter is suggesting that if Christian husbands don’t live with their wives in an understanding way and don’t show honour to them then the husbands prayer life will be adversely affected.
The first thing to notice from this is the importance of prayer. We were thinking before about our knowledge of God being an experiential and relational thing and prayer is an important part of that. A relationship in which people didn’t talk to one another would be very strange and unrewarding but we can speak to God as our loving heavenly Father and it’s important for our spiritual growth and wellbeing that we do so.
The next thing to notice from this is that our prayer can be hindered. If you like, it can be blocked or interrupted. The line of communication can be temporarily cut or the signal can be jammed. What causes that to happen? If you look at the NIV you’ll see that it renders this phrase as: “so that nothing will hinder your prayers”. That gives the impression that there can be external factors that can get in the way and block your prayers. However, the NIV has not captured the right sense of the Greek text in translating it in that way. The ESV is much better in saying “that your prayers may not be hindered”. It’s really saying that there’s a direct link between how husbands relate to their wives and the efficacy of their prayer lives. If a Christian husband lives with his wife in an understanding way and shows her honour his prayers will be unhindered but if he fails to live with his wife in an understanding way and fails to show her honour he can expect his prayers to be hindered. It’s speaking of a deliberate, intentional hindering. Who does the hindering? I think the answer is God. It’s an indication of His discipline. We are perhaps accustomed to think in terms of praying in order to affect the way in which we live but here we see that the opposite is true. We have an example of the way in which we live affecting our prayers. In this particular context the example is of the way in which husbands live with their wives affecting their prayer lives but that is in keeping with a general principle. For instance, in 1 Peter 3v12 he will go on to say: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil””. You see, the Lord hears the prayers of those who do right and please Him but not so those who do not. Their prayers are hindered. We find a similar example in 1 Peter 4v8-12 where we read: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers”. The implication is that if you’re not self-controlled and sober-minded your prayers will be hindered.
So husbands, you are given the command to “live with your wives in an understanding way showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel”. Failure to do so will make life difficult for your wife. Failing to do so will not please God. Failing to do so will ruin your prayer life and spoil your daily walk with God and so stunt your growth in the knowledge of God. In the words of Wayne Grudem: “No Christian husband should presume that any spiritual good will be accomplished by his life without an effective ministry of prayer. And no husband may expect an effective prayer life unless he lives with his wife in an understanding way bestowing honour on her. To take the time to develop a good marriage is God’s will; it is serving God; it is a spiritual activity pleasing in His sight”.