Godly Wives & Husbands
As I said last week, Peter has strategically focused on the particularly difficult circumstances of being under governing authorities, being under the authority of earthly masters as a slave and now the particularly difficult circumstance of being a wife under the authority of her own husband. He does this in order to instruct the entire church, a church waiting as salt and light in a world of death and darkness for the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So we are taking up the first six verses of chapter 3 in which God has supplied us with purpose and focus and encouragement – if we will hear it.
There are some things in this passage that we all need to think deeply about given the cultural context in which we find ourselves. Whether we like it or not we are all affected by the thoughts and ideas of those around us and so we must come to God’s Word with humility and eagerness to hear and submit to Him.
I trust that is what we will do together this morning.
Scripture: 1 Peter 3:1-7
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, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 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. 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.
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.
So, verse 1 of chapter 3 says,
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands…”
(be subject: be submissive, be willing and inclined to submit to the orders or wishes of your husband)
Depending on where you are coming from Peter’s instructions here may be fighting words. Without a doubt, many in our society would hear this exhortation as sexist, insulting, bigoted and ‘on the wrong side of history.’
And if we consider ‘the history’ of this society you can trace the steady pull away from the idea that God created men and God created women with intrinsic differences and specific roles in marriage, in the church, and in society. And that pull, we must note, was motivated in large measure by a genuine desire to guard women from abuse and degradation. And of course that desire for the good of women we ought to praise and those who led the West in honoring and valuing women we ought to esteem.
But, as with any reactionary movement, the tendency is to pull so hard in the opposite direction that the perversions you abandon become the excuse for a new set of perversions. Much of the insanity we see in our society today is done in the name of an ill-defined ‘inequality.’
It is remarkable to see someone so fixed on the grand goal of “equality,” pulling so hard, that they actually rip the fabric of what it means to be a human being made in the image of God. In the name of equality many have torn themselves away from the God-given beauty of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man.
My goal is not to offer an in-depth analysis of this societies imbalances, but I think it is necessary for us to realize that we are people “from the nations.” We have come out of this culture; a society that has abandoned biblical categories and each of us must always be correcting our own wrong assumptions by the standard of God’s Word. So, we too ought to be pulling, but let all our pulling, as Christians, be, not primarily away from perversions, but toward the Scriptures.
Normative or Not
So, Peter instructs wives, who have been called out of the nations, in the first century to willingly submit to their own husbands. The first thing we need to wrestle with is whether this command is normative (setting the standard of belief and behavior) for all Christians until Christ returns or whether this is Peter speaking into a specific context of oppression and perversion with application only within the boundaries of that context.
There are those who try to make the case that Peter’s goal here is not to establish or confirm that God requires all wives to submit to their own husbands, but that He is concerned simply to instruct Christian wives in a first century patriarchal society, whose husbands were not believers to submit to that societal norm for the purpose of winning their husbands to the faith.
So which is it? Are these words setting a standard for the conduct of all Christian wives until Christ returns or simply advice on how to win an unbelieving spouse?
To Win Spouses
First of all, notice what the ‘advice for how to win an unbelieving spouse’ view has going for it.
We have seen in the past few weeks that Peter has reminded us of who we are in Christ: a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession built upon the foundation of Christ by faith in Him. Once we were not a people, now we are the very people of God! and we are that people here, in this world, to proclaim His excellencies. And the immediate application of this is that we are to live such honorable lives among the gentiles that they may see our good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
* So the great aim of our lives is to draw attention to our King while we are here and we do that by living here in such a way that demonstrates that our hope is in the Lord and in nothing else. Peter then chooses particularly difficult circumstances to instruct the church about what our conduct should look like while we are awaiting that day of visitation:
- It looks like all of us submitting to governing authorities for the Lord’s sake and as servants of God (2:13-17).
- It looks like slaves submitting themselves to their masters will all respect, even to those who are not gentle or good or just. It pleases God, when we are willing to suffer to make Christ known. We are called to continually entrust our lives and circumstances to God as Jesus did – not fighting for our own rights and our own comfort or vindication in this world (2:18-25).
- And now, “likewise,” it looks like wives submitting to their 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, when they see your respectful and pure conduct (3:1-6).
So those who see this instruction to wives as ‘advice for winning unbelieving husbands’ are certainly picking up on Peter’s aim here. In addition, they argue that just as Peter spoke into the context of first century slavery without condoning it, so here he is speaking into the context of first century patriarchalism without condoning it.
But we must guard ourselves from pulling, with our society, so hard away from perversions that we pull past the Scriptures and fall headlong into other perversions. As unpopular as it is among unbelievers, we must submit to God’s Word where ever it leads us. And, even as Peter is choosing specifically difficult circumstances in order to instruct the church about how to draw attention to Christ in this world we need to be careful that we do not ignore the rest of Scripture in our zeal to find egalitarianism in Peter.
This morning I do not plan to build a full case for a complementarian view (the view that men and women share identical worth and value and have equal access to the Father through faith in Jesus Christ, while each continues to have a distinct God-given role which complements (fills out, brings to perfection, makes complete) the other as male and female) but I would direct you to my sermon entitled, Husbands, Wives, and the Glory of Christ, preached during our Colossians series in which I did argue for that view.
God made us with gender. God made us male and God made us female in His image (Genesis 1:27,31). And God created the institution of marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life for a grand purpose (Matthew 19:3-6). And Jesus and the New Testament writes consistently point us back to Genesis and the creation for instruction about how we are to relate to one another as husbands and wives. The institution of marriage cannot be equated with the institution of slavery.
In Ephesians 5:22-33 Paul shows us why marriage matters do deeply. It is because our marriages are designed to point the greater reality of The Marriage of Christ to His bride, the church. Headship and submission are not societal perversions of God’s egalitarian design. The testimony of the Scriptures is that they are His design to trumpet the glory of Christ the church.
But even Peter here gives us some clues that he is not simply giving advice to those in perverted circumstances. For example, notice that Peter is addressing all the wives in the church, both those with believing husbands and those without.
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word…”
The fact that Peter said, “even if some” is significant. This implies that wives are to be subject to their own husbands regardless of whether they are obeying the word or not. The instruction is to all Christian wives.
* Notice also that Peter appeals in verse 6 to Sarah’s holy example from Genesis 18:12 of some 2000 years before Peter’s day.
“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…”
Obviously, Peter did not understand his own instruction simply in terms of advice to wives in a specific context of oppression about how to win an unbelieving spouse, but how to be a godly wife regardless of times and circumstances.
So, I am going to move through this passage with the assumption that Peter understood his instruction to apply to all Christian wives, as verse 7 is for all Christian husbands – even as Peter is focusing in on those Christians wives who find themselves in the particularly difficult and challenging circumstance of being married to an unbelieving spouse.
So, let’s make sure we understand what Peter says here. Again verse 1 and 2 say,
“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, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”
What does it mean to ‘be subject’ or to ‘submit’ exactly? Is Peter saying wives must obey every last whim of their husbands? No. Obviously some of the wives Peter is speaking to have investigated the truthfulness of the gospel and without their husbands have believed in Him. And Peter is telling them to seek to win their husbands to the truth. So it can not mean a wife must never disagree with her husband. Nor can it mean that she must never seek to change him.
Instead, biblical submission is an eager willingness to come under the God-given leadership of her husband, offering her gifts and competencies and strengths, which are so needed for the flourishing of their family together. Biblical submission is the acknowledgment of and the respect for the legitimate God-given weight of responsibility upon the husband to lead.
And Peter says, wives, even if your husband does not obey the word, be subject to him.
Obeying the Word
Now, I have assumed that Peter uses the phrase “some do not obey the word” refers to unbelievers. And you can see why as Peter says these are those who still need to be “won.” Won to what? Won to faith in Christ. Peter loves to talk of our faith as “obedience.” He said in chapter 1 verse 2 that we were chosen for obedience to Jesus Christ and he spoke of those who stumble over Jesus in disbelief as those who disobey the word. So here Peter is referring to husbands that have rejected Christ and have not entrusted their souls to Him.
So Peter says that being a Christian in this world looks like a wife willingly submitting to her own husband even if he is not a believer so that he might be won to the faith by the respectful and pure conduct of his wife. Notice that she does not seek to change him through manipulation or nagging, but by her respectful and pure conduct.
Without A Word
It is significant that Peter does not instruct wives to keep preaching the gospel to their unbelieving husbands.
Now, this does not imply that the Word of the Gospel is not necessary as they seem to have heard the word and yet are disobeying it. These husbands, I believe, have heard the Word of the Gospel but have rejected the Cornerstone. So, let us never use this passage to say that the Word of the gospel is not necessary for the conversion of sinners.
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).
But, Peter is saying that when the Word has so taken root in someone’s heart that it begins to transform their conduct, that is what will be potent to win the unbelieving. Words matter. Heralds matter. But without genuine faith that produce Christlike conduct words are empty and shallow and hollow and bring disrepute to Christ. When a person’s heart is satisfied and confident in God’s provision in Christ their life will cause unbelievers to pause and perhaps reconsider the hope that they have.
Not Just for Unbelievers
I believe this instruction can be applied to all of our difficult relationships. What do you do when you come to an impasse with your believing spouse? You truly believe he is wrong in his decision with this or that (here, I am not talking about asking you to participate in sin). How do you seek to change him? Demonstrate that Christ alone is your hope.
Now, look at how Peter unfolds this. He says,
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 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.
Consider that phrase, “do not let your adorning.” What is your adorning? What is an adornment? One of the greek lexicons said it is ‘any decoration used to relieve plainness.’ So Peter is saying Christians are not to “seek to relieve plainness,” that is “seek to be noticed” because of our external appearance. Although we are to seek to relieve plainness.
We are not to be plain or common. We are not to be like everyone else, but it is not our appearance that should be striking.
It is so tempting to try to impress with our external appearance. We live in an incredibly visual time – advertisements, television, movies, video games – we are bombarded with images. We are so impressed and intimidated by those who appear with external beauty and power. But image and appearances will not last. Riches and power and beauty have an extremely limited value.
We are to be striking people, but not with external riches and beauty and power.
Rather, Peter calls us to be unlike everyone else, to relieve plainness, to be markedly different, markedly beautiful with the imperishable beauty of a quiet and gentle spirit which is God’s sight is very precious – because it grows from genuine faith which is more precious than gold that perishes (1:7).
People may know that we are followers of Jesus because we wear Christian t-shirts, but it will not be until they see a different kind of adornment that they will be won to Christ. Are we a people who are quiet and gentle in spirit? Wives, is this the adornment you are striving to put on?
Who Hoped In God
I love how Peter cuts to the heart of the issue in verse 5.
“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.”
The heart of the issue here is whether we are hoping in God or not. If we are hoping in God alone what grows in our lives is a quiet and gentle spirit which is precious in the sight of God and what that looks like in the life of a wife is submitting to your own husband – not because he is so smart and so godly and so wise, but because your hope is fully in God to order and to accomplish and to keep her life and her future in His care. God has you where you are and in the circumstances you are in for His good purposes and you need not fear that you will loose out on some blessing or some experience because in Christ it is all yours. Hope in God!
I love that Peter draws this example from the Old Testament of Sarah calling Abraham lord, which was title of respect and submission. I love it because it was taken from Genesis 18:12 when Sarah was speaking when she thought no one would hear! She still respected and obeyed her husband.
And Peter says,
“And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”
That is, the evidence is that you have become her children (you have been born again) if you hope in God which is expressed by the fact that you do not fear in your vulnerable circumstances – because truly you know that your circumstance is not vulnerable at all – because the One who watches over you and keeps you and has promised to bless you is the Lord God Almighty who sent His Son to suffer that you might live.
Now, Peter’s focus has been on those in vulnerable circumstances to instruct the church, which is in a vulnerable circumstance in the world, but Peter, it seems, could not resist the necessity of speaking to husbands and I think this is because of the great need for husbands to guard themselves from abusing their brides.
So rather than seeing Peter’s 6 verses for wives and 1 verse for husbands as being an indication that wives need more instruction, I think the fact that Peter addresses husbands at all in his effort to encourage those suffering and under other people’s authority is a testimony to how much husbands need to hear this word. – notice the word “likewise” in verse 7 – Peter is carrying on the application of hoping in God as he turns to husbands. And we will turn to them as well next time.
For the past number of weeks we have been exposed to the same biblical truth applied to different contexts and the point has been this: Let your conduct be so honorable among others that they see that your hope is not in anything this world can provide – it is fully in God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This week, about Tuesday, I realized that my plan for the week was pretty much ruined. I had planned to spend all day Tuesday working on this message, well that didn’t happen and I have to tell you I was not happy about that. I was loud and harsh not quiet and gentle. I was frustrated and anxious. Where was my hope on Tuesday?
Where is your hope? Is it in God – who sent His Son to save your soul?
Let the anxieties of our heart and the fear that rises in our heart be a trumpet to us that we need to turn again to the Lord of lords and King of kings, the sovereign Shepherd and Overseer of our souls and hope in Him everyday.
Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes.
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
Glad songs of salvation
are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,
the right hand of the Lord exalts,
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”
I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord (Psalm 118:5-9 and 14-17).